Patrick Kane, Roberto Luongo

Western Conference playoff field all set – Familiar faces get reacquainted


After the Wild disposed of the Dallas Stars and put the Chicago Blackhawks into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it set the table for the Western Conference playoffs to have a familiar feel to it all. While there’s some new flavor in some of the pairings, there’s a couple match-ups that will look really familiar to fans from last year.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks

For the third straight season these two teams will meet in the playoffs. This time it’s in the first round and this time it comes with Vancouver in a much more dominant position. They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’ve been killing it all season long and now they have destiny set things up nicely for them so they can exorcise the demons of playoffs past right off the bat. Should Vancouver get over this psychological mountain in the form of a Blackhawks team living like they’ve been granted a new life, they’ll be very dangerous to deal with throughout the playoffs.

Chicago will instead hope to get in the Canucks heads like they have in the past and pull off a tremendous upset in their effort to retain the Stanley Cup. For Vancouver, this series has a Ric Flair feel about it: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings

An all-California playoff series is something we’ve been rooting for to happen for all season long and with all three California teams in the playoffs, things broke down perfect to get these two to face off against each other. The Sharks have the “playoff choker” thing still following them around but that doesn’t apply to this team. Antti Niemi has been lights out, they’ve got a host of new blood in the form of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to go along with the quietly monstrous year from Patrick Marleau as well as his running crew of Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks are firing on all cylinders now and very dangerous.

Los Angeles meanwhile is hurting without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Their offense isn’t as lethal as it once was without them and it’ll be up to Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown to score goals while Jon Quick will need to be lights out to keep the Kings involved. One thing they’ll really need is for Drew Doughty to once again look like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year. He’s been off a bit and they could really use big production at both ends of the ice from him.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes

They meet yet again. Last year it was Detroit ending Phoenix’s dream season in Game 7 in the desert during the first round of the playoffs. These two teams are more than familiar with each other and they’ll get to dance once again, this time with Detroit having home ice advantage. Detroit’s been a bit erratic to close out the year and they’ll start their series without Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll have a fully healthy defensive corps with Niklas Kronwall returning but they’ll need to be tough offensively to deal with the tough Coyotes defense.

Phoenix has been similarly hot and cold going into the end of the season and matching up against a skilled veteran squad like Detroit means they’ll have to be especially sharp. It’s a dangerous draw for both teams as they each have parts of their game that the opponent can struggle with. Phoenix’s physicality can give Detroit fits and the Wings’ savvy in big moments frustrates the Coyotes. If Shane Doan can break out his “DoanFace” a couple more times, the Coyotes might be able to finally make the second round.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

What a brawl this one should be. Both teams play overtly physical hockey. Anaheim comes in with offense to burn with Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry and old man dominator Teemu Selanne scoring tons of goals. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan along with defensemen Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, these Ducks aren’t like the Ducks from 2007 that won the Cup and would mug your grandmother to do it. The Predators are going to have to add that kind of snarl to the series if they’re going to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne will need to be the best player for Nashville while they try to generate offense from Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan. The Preds have been here before and at some point they’re going to get through. Whether or not captain Shea Weber can rally his team to do it this time against a Ducks squad that’s been uber-dangerous the last two months should make for some great drama and even better hockey.

Bernier (upper-body injury) gives way to Gibson in Ducks net

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #1 of the Anaheim Ducks during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson began Tuesday’s game on the bench, but was forced into action to begin the second period against the San Jose Sharks.

Jonathan Bernier, who got the start, left the game with an upper-body injury and was doubtful to return, the Ducks stated on Twitter.

Bernier has played in only one other game for Anaheim so far, making 42 saves on 45 shots in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 15.

‘Dig in there with the rest of the guys,’ says Babcock after leaving Andersen in against Bolts

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: In his first game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs Frederik Andersen #31 puts his mask on against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Frederik Andersen‘s difficult start to the season continues.

After an interesting exchange when questioned about his goaltender prior to Tuesday’s game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning and some guy named Steven Stamkos, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was once again forced to answer inquiries about the play of Andersen, who allowed seven goals on just 24 shots.

Andersen stayed in the crease for the entire game, as the Leafs lost 7-3. He certainly didn’t get much help in the defensive end from his teammates in front of him.

Stamkos started the scoring for Tampa Bay, and continued it with a rocket one-timer past Andersen, before finishing with a four-point night.

But in Toronto, the conversation about the amazing play of rookies like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner seems to have shifted to the play of their goalie, acquired in a blockbuster deal with Anaheim, in which Toronto parted ways with a first- and second-round pick to make it happen. The Leafs then signed him to a five-year, $25 million deal.

Playing on a new team in a hockey-crazed market has likely been an adjustment. His season also started with an injury in Olympic qualifying.

Following the loss Tuesday, Babcock explained his reasoning for leaving Andersen in net for all seven Tampa Bay goals, two of which came late in the third period.

“I want him to play. He’s my guy. I want him to play,” said Babcock, as per Jonas Siegel of The Canadian Press. “So I could pull him and then say, ‘Okay I showed you!’ But what did I show him? To me, dig in there with the rest of the guys, make the next save and give us a chance to come back and win the game. You can’t do that sitting on the bench.”

The Maple Leafs face the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Florida’s goalie Roberto Luongo knows all-too-well about the pressures that come with playing the position in a Canadian market.

It is early in Andersen’s Toronto tenure.

But Babcock will likely be facing a similar line of questioning until his goalie turns it around.

Video: Flyers complete the comeback, defeat Sabres in the shootout

Leave a comment

The rookie got it started. The stars finished it.

The Philadelphia Flyers looked like they were headed for a second straight loss, down three goals to the Buffalo Sabres on home ice entering the third period of Tuesday’s game.

Matt Moulson had a pair of goals for Buffalo, both on the power play. He capitalized six seconds after Claude Giroux was called for hitting Zemgus Girgensons from behind the into the boards.

But the Flyers, who played Monday in Montreal, came roaring back in the third period.

Travis Konecny began the comeback, scoring his first career NHL goal. He had five assists coming into this game, but finally buried his first goal on a nifty deflection in front. The milestone moment got the Flyers on the board.

Late third-period power play goals from Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit just 1:05 apart sent this game to overtime, as Philly was able to capitalize on a pair of late Buffalo penalties.

Giroux and Jakub Voracek scored in the shootout to complete the comeback and give Philadelphia a 4-3 victory.

Meanwhile, the Sabres, without Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, are still searching for their second win of the season.

Crosby returns, and so does Penguins’ balanced attack in win

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 14: Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on November 14, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — With Sidney Crosby back in the lineup for the first time this season on Tuesday night the Pittsburgh Penguins roster is starting to resemble the one that lifted the Stanley Cup four months ago.

About half way through their 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, they finally started to look like that team on the ice, too.

Entering the game having lost three out of four (while looking quite bad and being outscored 15-7 in the process) it looked like that early season slump was going to continue on Tuesday when they faced a 2-0 deficit midway through the second period.

They looked sluggish. They couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. The Panthers were completely shutting the game down and had just put on a penalty killing clinic where they played a 40-second game of keep-away, sparking a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

And then Sidney Crosby showed up.

It was at that point that Crosby found himself wide open in the middle of the ice to accept a pass from Evgeni Malkin and rip it past Panthers goalie Jamies Reimer for his first goal of the year.

In the end, it was a typical night at the office for Crosby.

He scored a goal, was a possession-driving machine (better than 63 percent of the shot attempts with Crosby on the ice belonged to Pittsburgh) and finished with a team-leading four shots on goal and seven attempts.

But for his good as he was in his 2016-17 debut, the biggest impact his return had is it made once again made their lineup a nightmare to match up against.

The Penguins’ calling card in last year’s playoffs was their ability to play fast, and their deep, balanced attack that had four lines that could all contribute. It was a matchup problem that nobody could really handle as they kept rotating lines with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel out one after another (not to mention a fourth line that has some scoring potential as well).

They obviously lose a lot of that advantage when Crosby is out of the lineup and teams only really have two big-time scoring threats to worry about.

On Tuesday, you could see it eventually start to become an issue for the Panthers as the Penguins received goals from three different lines in the win.

After Crosby scored to get the Penguins on the board, Carl Hagelin scored his first of the season to tie the game five minutes into the third period. Then fourth line provided the winner four minutes later when Eric Fehr finished a perfect pass from Tom Kuhnhackl.

Even with the win on Tuesday and a 4-2-1 start to the season it is still pretty clear the Penguins have some things to work through and are not quite where they need to be at this point. They have to cut down on the penalties. They really haven’t played a complete 60-minute game yet. The HBK line (which was broken up in the third period against Florida) has not really clicked the way it did in the playoffs. Kris Letang is still injured. But on Tuesday you started to see flashes of what made the team such a force in the playoffs.

With Crosby back on the ice and extending the lineup, you might start to see it happen a little more often.