Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Five

Bruins try to put last year’s collapse behind them and finish series in Game 6

If there’s any team that knows how the Vancouver Canucks feel – even if they don’t face the same around the clock criticism in their neck of the woods – it’s the Boston Bruins. After all, they are only about a year removed from dropping a second round series against the Philadelphia Flyers despite building a 3-0 series lead. The Bruins became only the third team in NHL history to author such a collapse after coughing up an all-too-fitting 3-0 lead in the Game 7 itself.

Tonight’s Game 6 in Montreal provides the Bruins an interesting opportunity to get a heavy monkey off their backs. Will they be able to put the Habs away or will they lose their fifth consecutive elimination game?

Let’s face it, the Bruins are going against a franchise that was awfully tough to shake in 2010. The Canadiens fought back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Washington Capitals and dug themselves out of a 3-2 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. They finally gave way to a Philadelphia Flyers team that was tougher and more talented, but the Habs still made quite the impression by going 5-1 in elimination games last year.

Now, obviously, the Canadiens currently roll with Carey Price instead of Jaroslav Halak in net*. Still, much of that pesky moxie remains.

So the question is: will the Bruins be able to finish them off or will they face another heart-in-your-throat Game 7 challenge? Joe Haggerty gathered the Bruins’ thoughts on the matter.

“It’s human nature to relax, you know, but successful teams – teams that have won – have always been able to play their best games in those situations, and that’s what we’re looking for from our team,” said Gregory Campbell, talking about the natural snooze button that some hockey teams can hit when they’re up in a playoff series. “We have to be at our best. It won’t be easy, but we’re taking the same approach from the last three games.”

(snip)

“We went through a lot in the Philly series last year, but Montreal went through a lot coming back in the Washington and Pittsburgh series,” Lucic said. “They’re not going to quit. There’s still a lot of fight left in that team. They’re a desperate hockey club fighting for their lives, and they’re going to do whatever they can to win.

“We’re prepared for their best game tonight. It’ll be a fun hockey game to be a part of. They’re gonna come out flying with the crowd and the city buzzing. If anything, we want to do whatever we can to have a good start.

“It won’t be easy. The fourth one is always the toughest. There’s a saying, ‘Will over Skill’, and whoever is more willing to win is going to.”

All hackneyed sayings aside, these two teams have delivered the kind of series hockey fans were hoping for once it was clear they’d square off. Some might say that it would only be fitting for it to go the distance, but the Bruins would be happy to finish off their divisional and historical foes tonight. We’ll see if they can get the job done in Game 6.

* – And, to be fair, the Bruins have a different starter this year in Tim Thomas instead of Tuukka Rask.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.