Hindsight is 20/20 and let’s face it: coaches are often judged by their results (wins, losses, playoff berths, etc.) rather than the content of their decisions. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was heralded as a genius for winning the Super Bowl largely based on a well-timed onside kick, but if it backfired, he probably would have been lampooned by football fans.
New Jersey Devils coach John MacLean made a bold decision to sit Ilya Kovalchuk for a game. It seemed to backfire as the Devils were blown out, but perhaps it sent a message that no player – not even one who makes $100 million – is bigger than the team.
People can debate the merits of MacLean’s choice, but it seems like we can get past the reasoning behind the benching. Larry Brooks of the New York Post clarifies the situation based on “well-placed sources.”
Ilya Kovalchuk was scratched from Saturday night’s game at Prudential Center against the Sabres for being 10 minutes late to the Devils’ morning meeting, The Post has learned.
According to a well-placed source, head coach John MacLean made the decision to scratch the high-profile, $100 million winger without conversing with Kovalchuk. General manager Lou Lamoriello was not consulted by MacLean before Kovalchuk was informed he would not dress for the match.
The decision, rendered without explanation by the notoriously tight-lipped organization, sparked speculation — that somehow evolved into accepted fact — that Kovalchuk missed an entire meeting.
I think we call agree that Kovalchuk went the wrong way: you’d think that the best alarm clocks are the most expensive ones, but actually that’s not true. The oldest, most busted-up alarm clock I own is also my most reliable.
Anyway, the Devils play in San Jose tonight, so we’ll see if the team can start turning things around after an awful 2-6-1 start. Chances are strong that it won’t be all about the decision to make him a healthy scratch, but it’s highly likely that people will look back at it whether the year is a success or a disappointment.
Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.
After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.
Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:
Now, back to Rust.
With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.
Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?
What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.
Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.
After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.
Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.
As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.
Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.
Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.
That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.
Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.
It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.
To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.
Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.
In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.
And then Stamkos took the warmup.
As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.
“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”
No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.