Five Thoughts: Chicago’s heart of a champion giving Vancouver deja vu

1. We were kidding around before about how Chicago’s Game 4 win would put some doubt into Vancouver’s mind. After all, Vancouver was heading back home with a chance to lock up the series in Game 5 and you can always shake off a bad loss. But after a brutal 5-0 loss in Game 5, Vancouver should be honestly worried because Chicago is playing like a focused and vengeful team. The kind of vengeance they’re enacting upon the Canucks is the harshest kind because they’re not doing it with their fists, they’re doing it by getting in their heads.

2. What turned this series around for Chicago? I hate to say it but Raffi Torres’ hit on Brent Seabrook seems to be the spark that got Chicago’s top players to snap out of their haze and start playing to their level. Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith weren’t exactly focused in the first three games of this series. Now they’re playing possessed hockey and Keith is as dangerous offensively as he is defensively. Now the series heads back to Chicago for Game 6 where the haunting refrain of Chelsea Dagger awaits the Canucks.

Momentum can be seized or continued with the next goal, but there’s no doubt that Vancouver is beyond frustrated and the Blackhawks have seen and dominated the Canucks when they’ve been in this mindset before.

3. While the Canucks are frustrated and some of their postgame quotes show that’s the case, good on Alain Vigneault for instantly committing to Roberto Luongo being the starter in Game 6. Avoiding the question of who would start the next game would’ve created a media circus debating who should start. Luongo’s been bad the last two games, but he’s their guy and they have to see it through. If he continues to fail and the Canucks should find a way to lose this series, Vigneault and GM Mike Gillis will have a lot to talk about in the offseason.

4. Tough to imagine that the Boston-Montreal series would see the road team winning all four games so far. What’s incredible about Boston’s Game 4 win is that it was a true redemption game all around for the Bruins. Down 3-1 early, they bounced back to tie the game and send it to overtime where they’d win it.

The guys making it happen were guys getting a lot of heat in Chris Kelly and Michael Ryder. Ryder in particular made coach Claude Julien’s seeming stubbornness in leaving him in the lineup pay off as he scored the Bruins’ first and last goals of the night while also adding an assist. Performances like that make fans forget that Tyler Seguin is parked in the press box.

5. The Kings teased their fans one more time in Game 4. After getting down 3-0 to San Jose, they scored twice in the second period and started to get control in the game just before the period ended. Turns out that intermission is all the Sharks needed to calm down and get focused again as they went on to roll in the third. With how that played out it’s just a sample of how this series has been for L.A. They would get close, even drag the Sharks into overtime, but they just weren’t good enough to pull it off.

That Game 3 collapse was a tremendous blow to this team, but unless they figure things out in a big way they’ll have to start thinking about the future. The Kings will be good and with Kopitar back and the Kings being in the mix in free agency, things are looking up in Hollywood even in the face of potential elimination. One area to figure out aside from forward depth might be defense. Guys not named Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell have looked poor. Doughty is a restricted free agent after this year as is Alec Martinez, everyone else is locked up though. Time for Dean Lombardi to think about shopping around.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.