Guy Boucher

Let it begin: 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs get under way tonight with five games

It’s time.

The playoffs begin tonight and to make sure that your excitement levels are at their absolute highest, five series drop the puck tonight with Game 1 of the first round.

Versus will have up to three games to bring you on the air tonight starting off with Detroit-Phoenix from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit before joining the Capitals and Rangers in progress upon its completion. Then late tonight it’s Chicago and Vancouver from Rogers Arena in Vancouver to cap off the night at 10 p.m. ET. Here’s the rundown of tonight’s action. All times are Eastern.

Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh – 7 p.m.

No Sidney Crosby in the lineup as expected as he continues his rehab, but Pittsburgh kicks off the playoffs with their own most important player in goal in Marc-Andre Fleury. Can the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma win the chess match against Tampa Bay and coach Guy Boucher in what they hope turns into a low scoring affair? The Pens will need wingers James Neal and Alex Kovalev to step up their games and help Jordan Staal from having to carry the full load.

Tampa Bay will look to their stars to step up in a big way, in particular Steve Stamkos whose torrid goal pace early in the season slowed down dramatically as the year rolled along. Now would be a great time to snap out of it. The real question for Tampa Bay is which version of Dwayne Roloson do they get? Do they get the guy who inspired the Lightning’s surge and stabilized them in goal or the guy who’s prone to fits of poor play. The Penguins surely won’t make it easy on him.

Phoenix @ Detroit – 7 p.m. (Versus)

One of the playoffs more intriguing match-ups is a rematch of last year’s first round. Detroit goes into Game 1 without Henrik Zetterberg out with a knee injury and without Mike Modano who is a healthy scratch. They’ll likely get Niklas Kronwall back in on defense and they’ll need that physicality against the Coyotes. Goals should be at a premium for Detroit with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal for Phoenix but they’ll be down a defenseman as Derek Morris is out with an upper body injury. Either David Schlemko or Oliver Ekman-Larsson will take his spot.

If there’s a game Phoenix would want to seize control of it’s this one. The Wings are more susceptible without Zetterberg and depending on how much longer he’s out, the Coyotes would be wise to win the games he’s not playing in because Detroit is that much better with him.

NY Rangers @ Washington – 7:30 p.m.  (Versus – Joined in progress)

The Capitals will be hoping to put the memories of last year’s first round failure fully behind them now and doing that against a Rangers team that has no quit in them and an all-world goalie to back them up will make that task difficult. The Caps dedication to defense should at least look nice against the Rangers as New York has a hard enough time scoring goals as it is. Alexander Ovechkin will get to bring his high scoring playoff tendencies to the forefront tonight all while Michal Neuvirth gets the call in goal for Game 1. The Rangers will be bringing some magic of their own starting Mats Zuccarello over Sean Avery as well as Matt Gilroy over Steve Eminger. Opting for offensive ability over defensive toughness and annoyance? We’ll see how long that lasts in this series.

Chicago @ Vancouver – 10 p.m. (Versus)

A series that starts off and makes it well worth the time to stay up late and check it out as there’s enough intrigue here to put a novelist to shame. Vancouver is the top team in the playoffs while Chicago took the back door into the postseason. Add that to Chicago having owned Vancouver the last two years in the playoffs and the pressure being immense on Roberto Luongo and the rest of the Canucks to win it all and it’s almost too much to handle.

Almost.

How the Canucks handle things tonight and whether or not they allow Chicago to dictate the pace and their presence on the ice will be watched closely. There’s no reason for Vancouver to be timid in this game and while they’ll have to handle those first ten minutes while Chicago looks to start twisting the psychological knife early the Canucks will have to hold strong if they want to prove us right and win the Stanley Cup this year.

Nashville @ Anaheim – 10:30 p.m.

We like this series to be the nastiest one of the first round and with the kind of snarl both teams play with it’s not a surprise. While the Ducks have the advantage in the offensive department with Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne doing their thing, the Predators have a distinct advantage in goal with Pekka Rinne going up against (most likely) Dan Ellis. The underrated feature of this series is the comparison of top defensemen. Anaheim rolls with offensive studs like Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky while Nashville has crushers like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. For a series that’s not getting a lot of attention, there’s more than enough star power here to keep your eyes locked on to it. Look for both teams to come out explosive tonight in Anaheim.

Alexander Radulov is the x-factor for the Canadiens

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 16:  Alexander Radulov #47 of Russia celebrates after scoring a goal in a shoot out against Jan Laco #50 of Slovakia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day nine of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens just went through a potentially franchise altering offseason that saw them keep the coach and GM that presided over one of the biggest collapses in franchise history, trade the most popular player on the team (P.K. Subban), and then go all in on toughening up the lineup by trading for Andrew Shaw.

It was such a crazy offseason that the addition of Alexander Radulov, perhaps one of the most intriguing and fascinating moves of the offseason by any team in the league, has almost completely slid under the radar and been forgotten about. And he might be one of the most important players on the team when it comes to the Canadiens’ success this season.

Nearly a decade ago Radulov looked to be on his way to stardom in the NHL before he abruptly left for the KHL, a league he dominated for the better part of the past eight years minus his brief return to Nashville (that also had some controversy with it).

Now he is back for another run at the NHL.

While Shaw, one of the team’s other big offseason additions, was getting ejected from his preseason debut with his new team on Tuesday night, Radulov had a dramatically different night on the ice. He not only recorded a pair of points by scoring an early goal and then assisting on a Nathan Beaulieu goal, but he also looked like a top-line player.

Yes, it is only one preseason game. But it was at the very least a small glimpse at the potential that Radulov could bring to a team that so desperately needs what he could provide.

What’s especially amazing about all of this is that a player like Shaw is going to be the one that gets the bulk of the attention because of the way he plays and the energy he brings.

Beaulieu heaped a massive amount of praise on both Radulov and Shaw for the way the played on Tuesday, pointing out that both bring elements the team had lacked. But he seemed to be especially fired up by Shaw’s performance. He hit on all of the key points that come with a player like Shaw, especially when it came to his gesturing to the crowd for more noise during his fight with Nathan Walker.

“I love it. He is my favorite player,” said Beaulieu. “That was awesome. That’s also something we were probably missing the last couple of years, a little bit of emotion. That is something he brings. I absolutely love seeing that. He is instantly a fan favorite just from doing that. Although it’s a preseason game, he’s a physical guy, he’s passionate about hockey. I can guarantee you everyone in this room absolutely loved it.”

“He’s just such an emotional wrecking ball, he drove me absolutely crazy last year, for him to just step in he is so comfortable already. The way he can get 20,000 people behind him like that, he is a special individual.”

That is all well and good, and there is definitely an emotional element to all of this that Shaw does bring, and you can not completely toss things like that that out the window. But the No. 1 priority here is still putting the puck in the net and scoring goals. That is the big thing that has been missing for the Canadiens over the past two years, a window where the team only scored 430 goals. That number put them 20th in the league over that stretch. Of the nine teams below them, only two of them (Vancouver and Philadelphia) qualified for the playoffs in either those seasons (one appearance for each, with neither advancing beyond the first round).

The lesson here: You can not succeed being as punchless as the Canadiens have been offensively the past two years.

Even with players like Subban (before the trade), Max Pacioretty (one of the NHL’s best goal scorers) and Alex Galchenyuk (already a 30-goal scorer whose best days should still be ahead of him) offense has been a major struggle for the team. They need to score more, and you are not going to emotion the puck into the net. Whether it comes down to the system put in place by the coaching staff, the talent assembled by the front office, or some other intangible factor, the team has simply not scored enough goals and has fallen into a hole where it will only go as far as a healthy Carey Price can take it.

Fortunately for Montreal, Price looks ready to go after missing almost all of the 2015-16 season due to injury. But for as good as he is, he still should not need to be constantly put into a position where he has to be nearly perfect every night for his team to have a chance to win.

Even though Radulov might not be the player he was eight years ago (he is, after all, 30 years old instead of 22) or score the way he did against lesser competition in the KHL, he is still a big-time NHL talent that can be a top-line player.

He is still a player that brings a potential element that the Canadiens have lacked more than emotion and fire.

His ability to be that player (and he has to get the opportunity from the coach, and not get instantly glued to the bench the first time something goes wrong with him on the ice) might have a much bigger impact on the success of the Canadiens than almost anybody else not named Price.

Canada beats Team Europe 3-1 in Game 1 of World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Stamkos #91 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a first period goal against Team Europe during Game One of the World Cup of Hockey final series at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The good news for Team Europe is they were able to hang with Team Canada for most of the night in Game 1 of the World Cup final on Tuesday night.

The bad news for Team Europe is Canada, while playing perhaps its worst game of the tournament, was still good enough to win, 3-1, and take a 1-0 lead in the series. Canada is now in a position where it can win the tournament with a victory on Thursday night.

Early on this seemed like it was going to be Europe’s chance to get the upper hand in the series, but they just could not generate enough offense, especially on the power play that has still not scored a goal in the tournament, to take advantage of what was probably an off night for Canada. That sort of off night from Canada probably will not happen again on Thursday.

Even though it did not look as dominant as some of their other performances in the tournament, it was still pretty much the same recipe for Team Canada. The Sidney CrosbyBrad MarchandPatrice Bergeron line provided the bulk of the offense, they shut the game down over the second and third periods defensively, and Carey Price built a wall around his net and made the saves his team needed him to make.

Marchand, just one day after signing his eight-year contract extension with the Boston Bruins, opened the scoring just two minutes into the first period when he scored his third goal of the tournament. Ten minutes later Steven Stamkos gave Canada a 2-0 lead when he scored his first goal of the tournament, finishing an odd-man rush with Ryan Getzlaf.

After a Tomas Tatar goal cut the deficit to just a single goal for Team Europe in the second period, they had a great opportunity to tie the game when Andrej Sekera had a breakaway that was turned aside by Price to keep the lead. Even though the game remained close, they never really had a better opportunity to tie the game. They were clearly missing Marian Gaborik who was injured in the semifinal game against Sweden. He could be sidelined for eight weeks as a result of that injury.

Bergeron added to the Canada lead and pretty much put the game out of reach midway through the third period with his second goal of the tournament. That goal was assisted by Crosby, his second point of the game, giving him a tournament leading nine points.

Canadiens’ Andrew Shaw ejected for boarding Capitals’ Connor Hobbs

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Will Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw be the first player to get a phone call from the NHL’s department of player safety this season? Based on the second period of Tuesday’s preseason game against the Washington Capitals, he certainly could be.

Shaw, playing in his first exhibition game with his new team, was ejected from the game late in the second period for boarding Connor Hobbs.

Immediately after the hit, Shaw found himself in a fight with Washington’s Nathan Walker, a sequence that involved Shaw earning 30 penalty minutes — a five-minute major for boarding, a five-minute major for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct, and a 10-minute game misconduct. As Shaw was involved in his fight with Walker, he was gesturing to the Montreal crowd for noise and then managed to get one extra shot in at Walker after he was down on the ice.

It was a eventful period for Shaw who found himself in the middle of multiple incidents in a short period of time. Along with everything mentioned above, he was also taken down in the neutral zone by Jay Beagle on what looked to be a slew foot. Here is a look at both of those incidents (the Beagle on Shaw incident, and the Shaw on Hobbs hit) via @MarcDumont.

Shaw was a major addition for the Canadiens this offseason, along with Shea Weber in the P.K. Subban trade, as they tried to add more toughness to their lineup.

Islanders goalie situation could leave Jean-Francois Berube in tough spot

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Jean-Francois Berube #30 of the New York Islanders watches a shot just miss the net during the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 2, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The problem with having two capable NHL goaltenders is that only one of them can play at a time, and somebody that probably deserves to get more playing time is going to be stuck on the bench.

That situation gets even more complicated when you have three capable goalies, all of whom are signed to one-way contracts.

That is the situation the New York Islanders are looking at as they enter training camp with Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube all under contract for this season. It is a similar situation to the one they faced at times last season when all three goalies were healthy and Berube spent most of the year sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch, never really getting any meaningful playing time at either the NHL or AHL levels.

With Halak and Greiss both playing for Team Europe at the World Cup (Halak is stealing the show, and perhaps the tournament) it is allowing Berube to get some early playing time in camp. But once Halak and Greiss return, things are going to get very crowded, very quickly.

Berube acknowledged that possibility on Tuesday. Here he is talking about the situation this week, via Newsday‘s Arthur Staple:

“I know it’s a possibility to happen again. I have no idea what’s going to come when those guys get back. I’m trying to focus on getting as much work in as I can and use this time to get prepared for the season.”

“We all know it’s not the greatest situation,” Berube said of having three goaltenders. “For me, I play my best when I play a lot and I’m used to playing a lot. We just have to see what happens.”

Halak is by far the most established of the three goalies, both in terms of experience and performance.

His overall career numbers don’t put him among the NHL’s elite at the position, but he has always been a solid starter. Plus, as he has shown in the World Cup (just as he did in the 2010 playoffs) he is capable of going on hot streaks where he carries his team. There is a lot of value in that. He still has two years left on his contract.

Behind him you have Greiss and Berube. Greiss has turned into a rock solid backup over the past few years and played great for the Islanders in the playoffs last season while Halak was sidelined due to injury. Berube has pretty much established that he has little left to prove in the AHL and is probably ready to be a full-time NHL player in some capacity.

A trade at some point is probably the easiest way to remedy this situation for the Islanders, but even that isn’t going to be easy. Trading Halak (which the Islanders reportedly considered over the summer until he had surgery) doesn’t seem like it would make a great deal of sense at this point because there are almost no teams that are in the market for a starting goaltender. That would make it next to impossible to get a worthwhile return, and you don’t want to just give him away.

Berube is still only 25 years old and still eligible for restricted free agency after this season, is still cheap against the cap, is still the youngest out of the trio (by a few years), and seems to have an upside that the Islanders like. That leaves Greiss, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

The only other option, outside of a trade emerging at some point (even though the market is slim now, it should pick up once the season begins as teams need upgrades for starters and backups), is a repeat of most of last season where they carry three goalies until one gets injured, which means Berube is likely to once again be the odd man out.