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Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 10

Philadelphia 3, Toronto 2

For most of the year, the Flyers were at/near the top of the hockey world while the Maple Leafs were struggling to find their game. Over the last couple of weeks though, their roles have been reversed. The Leafs had been playing well with points in 14 of 16 games after the All-Star break while the Flyers suffered a season long 4-game losing streak. Well, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted because it looks like things are getting back to normal. The Flyers win was their 2nd in a row; the Leafs loss was their 3rd in a row.

The tone was set early when Mike Komisarek leveled Dan Carcillo with a boarding hit that put the Leafs on a 5-minute PK to start the game. A goal and multiple chances later and the tone had been set. The Flyers eventually jumped out to a 3-1 lead and the Leafs were unable to make the comeback.

Buffalo 4, Boston 3 (OT)

The Bruins are 31-0-3 when leading by two or more goals at any point in the game. But here’s an interesting tidbit: the Sabres represent the 3 losses in extra time. Including the win in Boston, the Sabres have ridden a 6-1-2 streak to the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. Overtime game-winning goal scorer Brad Boyes is proving to be quite the deadline pickup for the Sabres. He now has 3 goals and 3 assists in only 6 games since coming over from St. Louis.

Zdeno Chara was able to put the Max Pacioretty incident behind him with a 2 assist effort; but the rest of the team had a more difficult time bouncing back from the emotional game in Montreal—not even Tim Thomas’ 41 saves were enough for the B’s. The OT loss means that the Bruins have now dropped 3 in a row.

Ottawa 2, Florida 1

It was only 2 seasons ago that Craig Anderson was making a name for himself as Tomas Vokoun’s capable back-up in Florida. For those people who forgot about him in South Florida, he served up quite a reminder as the Senators rode yet another strong performance to their 6th win in Anderson’s 9th start for the Sens. He now has a 1.44 goals against average in Ottawa with a fantastic .956 save percentage. If he keeps this up, he’s going to mess up the Sens draft pick.

St. Louis 4, Montreal 1

The game was supposed to be the big Jaroslav Halak vs. Carey Price matchup—but turned out to be a hangover game after their teammate Max Pacioretty was carried off the ice in Montreal on Tuesday. Price played well, but the rest of the team looked sluggish and never really gave their goaltender a chance to win.

Andy McDonald had a goal and two assists while the Blues continued to claw their way towards the 8th spot in the West. The win against the Habs was their 3rd straight; they’ll need to continue that kind of play if they want to have a chance to sneak into the top 8.

Nashville 4, Minnesota 0

In an important game for both teams, the Predators jumped all over the Wild at home by scoring 3 goals in the first 13 minutes of the game. The win vaults the Predators to the 9th place spot in the West, only 1 point behind the 8th place Kings. The effort from the Nashville players and crowd were exactly what you’d expect for a team battling for their playoff lives.

The Minnesota Wild’s performance was something different altogether. The Wild failed to show up and never really had any pushback once they fell behind. Worse yet, the game is the first of a back-to-back as they play in Dallas tomorrow and were kicking off a 4-game road trip with the game in Nashville.

Phoenix 3, Calgary 0

The Coyotes haven’t been playing their best hockey of late but they were able to beat the streaking Flames to win their 2nd game in their last 8. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 39 shots he saw to earn his 6th shutout of the season in front of the home crowd in Glendale. The huge win moves the Coyotes ahead of the Flames for the 4th spot in the ever-changing West.

The Flames played much better than the score reflects. All but two players had at least one shot on goal—but it was just one of those nights. If they play like this every night, they’ll win far more games than they’ll lose.

Vancouver 5, San Jose 4 (SO)

Easily the game of the night, the Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead only to see the Sharks repeatedly come back to tie the score. The Sharks and Canucks traded goals at the end of the 3rd period before the game went to overtime. Despite outshooting Vancouver 9-0 in OT, the Sharks were unable to get a puck past Cory Schneider—eventually losing in shootout. Even though Schneider gave up 4 goals, the 44 shots he kept out of the net made him Vancouver’s MVP for the night.

Ryane Clowe did his best to keep the Sharks in it as he flirted with a hat-trick, but ultimately it wasn’t enough. The good news for fans in San Jose is they went toe-to-toe with the best in the West and deserved to win. The bad news is that Alex Burrows didn’t let that happen in the shootout.

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    Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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    Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

    Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

    Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

    And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

    In only three games.

    For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

    They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

    Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

    1. They are 10-0
    2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
    3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
    4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

    The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

    On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

    But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

    Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

    It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

    They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

    Twice.

    Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

    He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

    He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

    He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

    He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

    The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

    The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

    But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

    It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

    As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

    Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

    He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

    From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

    Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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    When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

    Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

    All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

    In this case, anything did happen.

    Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

    It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

    The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

    On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

    The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

    After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

    Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

    Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

    Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

    Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

    It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

    That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

    “The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

    Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

    Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

    With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

    Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

    (Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

    Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

    In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.