Expecting a bloodbath in Chicago tonight for Sabres-Blackhawks? Think again

With Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson coming back tonight from his two-game suspension for his hit from behind on Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville, his return to the ice comes at a rather peculiar time as the Blackhawks face the Sabres once again tonight in Chicago. Revenge is on the mind of many fans and perhaps on the minds of some Sabres players (Patrick Kaleta most notably) but is there a reason to think that tonight’s game will go the way of “Slap Shot” and turn into a game-long brouhaha? Perhaps yes, but it won’t happen for the reasons you think it will.

The Sabres go into tonight’s game with Chicago struggling. Struggling to win, struggling to score goals, struggling in most facets of the game. They’re 1-3-1 to start the year, and the only win came opening night against Ottawa, 2-1 over the Senators. Since that game, they’ve been inconsistent as anything. Either their defense has let down goalie Ryan Miller the way it did against the Rangers in a 6-3 loss and the Blackhawks in a 4-3 loss, or the offense has disappeared the way it did losing in overtime to the Devils 1-0 or their loss to Montreal last night 2-1. It’s all part of the bumps in the road early in the season when trying to find your way, but the Sabres are looking for a spark to get them going. Enter Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Tonight, the Sabres get the match needed to light their fire in getting to have their “revenge” game against the Blackhawks so soon after Hjalmarsson’s hit on Jason Pominville that’s knocked him out of the lineup since then. With the teams being in opposite conferences, it’s rare that they get to play each other again so soon or even a second time at all. While the Sabres may look to settle the score with Hjalmarsson via fisticuffs, and the Blackhawks should be ready for this and expect something to happen, this is the exact kind of catalyst the Sabres need to get going.

After all, if the team can’t rally together to stand up for their fallen teammate and get back at the team that took him out and beat them on the scoreboard last weekend, where else do you go from there? The Sabres are already a grumpy team as last night’s loss got Lindy Ruff up in arms with the play of some of his forwards, most notably Tim Connolly.

Having a frustrated team come into this situation is the sort of thing that all-out brawls can be made of, but settling things out recklessly like that with no regard for the game isn’t going to help the Sabres overall. They’ll need to bottle those emotions and release them in the form of playing better hockey. Settle the score with Hjalmarsson early in the game (and by the books, no dirty hits) and then ride that emotional high to win the game.

For you fans with a ravenous blood lust and hoping for a line brawl and a tussle like you used to see in the 70s and 80s, you might want to look elsewhere for your testosterone rage tonight. That’s not to say you’re going to see a bad game tonight in Chicago, in fact you might see one of the best ones of the night there. Games where everyone is playing with a hot head and on the edge are great, just look at the playoffs. Expect that sort of intensity tonight from the Sabres, just don’t go expecting everyone and their brother to be putting on the foil.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.