Five Thoughts: Alex Burrows’ weird, wild, and triumphant night; A tale of two goalies

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If tonight’s two Game 7’s provide the kind of excitement last night’s game between Vancouver and Chicago did we’ll all be better off for it. We also might pass out or have a heart attack as well. That kind of excitement is unbeatable and what makes the NHL playoffs unlike any other. If Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh and Montreal-Boston can weave some of their own magic tonight, the following rounds of the playoffs will have their work cut out for them to beat the drama of the first round. Here’s our five thoughts for today.

1. How relieved was Alex Burrows after scoring the game-winner in overtime to send the Canucks to the second round? After getting the Canucks out front early with a goal, Burrows’ night started skidding towards hell after not converting a penalty shot, then turning the puck over late that led to Jonathan Toews’ tying shorthanded goal and then taking a penalty for holding Duncan Keith in overtime. So many possible dire outcomes there for Burrows and the Canucks and yet they prevailed. Alex Burrows lived Vancouver’s series with Chicago just over the course of a night starting out sky high then hitting rock bottom only to surface again on top of the world. The Canucks aren’t quite there yet, but Burrows’ goal could be the catalyst to get them there.

2. Poor Ryan Miller. He was carrying all the swagger for a Buffalo team that distinctly lacks a personality. He’s had an “off” season for his abilities and for half of the playoff series with Philadelphia, he showed signs of the Miller we’re more used to seeing. Then Game 7 happens and the Flyers beat Buffalo in virtually every way possible and Miller gets yanked from the game. Tough way to go out but this Sabres team learned a lot about themselves this year. After such a rough start to the season they stuck to each other and rallied hard. Unfortunately for them, the Flyers rediscovered who they were in Game 7. It’s tough to match up with a team that plays that hard every shift.

3. Can’t help but wonder if any of the voters for the Calder Trophy felt a bit awkward seeing Corey Crawford stand on his head and thensome against Vancouver last night. Coach Joel Quenneville couldn’t have heaped more praise on him for how he played and he earned every bit of it. Considering how things played out for Chicago this season, the impending restricted free agent was truly their team MVP given how things shook out with Marty Turco to start and how Crawford seized the day and owned the job. Here’s to hoping the Blackhawks don’t screw the pooch in dealing with Crawford the way they did with Antti Niemi.

4. Quite the contrast we got in Game 7s last night. One a beat down from the get-go, the other a classic drama with sudden death overtime there to decide it all. Incredible that after seven games it all comes down to whoever scores last. It’s easy for us hockey fans to talk about how amazing Game 7 is but there truly is nothing that tops Game 7 overtime in the NHL. Doesn’t matter what round of the playoffs it happens in, it’s the most edge-of-your-seat madness you encounter. It’s only perfect that that’s how things broke down between Vancouver and Chicago. With their history, with how the series played out, with all the shared animosity it was a perfect way to wrap that series up. And to think… That’s just the first round.

5. A lot of people probably didn’t know who Kevin Pollock was before yesterday’s Game 6 between Montreal and Boston. When you read or hear the name you’re more likely to think of actor and comedian Kevin Pollak, but it was no laughing matter for either team last night. Pollock’s rough night started right off the bat in the first as he blew a play dead for losing sight of the puck when it very much was not smothered up by Tim Thomas. Brian Gionta pounced on the loose puck and put it in only to have it waved off. A brutally bad call but not one that even replay could change. Then in the second period Pollock whistled Milan Lucic for a boarding major after he took out Jaroslav Spacek with a terrible hit from behind.

In such a wound up and hostile atmosphere with both teams champing at the bit, having one awful call getting evened out by a very dubious one makes both teams angry. The Habs are angry because they were cost a goal and the Bruins are mad because they lost a player for more than half the game. The stress of being a referee is sky high in the playoffs and only more so between these two teams. It’s not just the players that can have an off night, the guys in stripes have to be sharp too, just that when an official boots a call (or two) it can drastically swing the fortune of the game. Let’s hope things go a lot smoother tonight.

Butcher not seeking guaranteed NHL roster spot

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Even with numerous suitors lining up to try and sign him, Will Butcher isn’t making any unreasonable demands as a free agent.

Case in point, the 22-year-old defensemen — the same guy who just won the Hobey Baker Award after a terrific senior year at the University of Denver — isn’t saying he needs to play in the NHL next season.

“What ends up winning the day, I’m not sure,” Butcher’s agent, Brain Bartlett, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we have not told teams that if you don’t have an NHL spot for him in training camp, don’t bother even calling. It’s quite the opposite.”

Perhaps Butcher is using Justin Schultz‘s experience in Edmonton as a guide. Schultz, a highly sought-after college free agent in the summer of 2012, was thrown right into the deep end with the Oilers, and only the Pittsburgh Penguins could save him from drowning.

Not to suggest Schultz made unreasonable demands of the Oilers — he insisted he wasn’t guaranteed ice time — but Edmonton’s blue line was so bereft of talent that he got it all the same.

Given what Bartlett had to say, it may be that Butcher is looking for a team that, above all else, can guarantee his proper development.

The NHL ice time can come when he’s ready for it.

Related: Devils, Sabres, Vegas reportedly in on Butcher

Gorton deserves kudos for Rangers’ rebuild on the fly

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It’s easy for fans to demand a full-on rebuild when times get tough for their team.

It’s another matter for a general manager to actually commit to years of losing, with no guarantee of brighter days ahead.

For Jeff Gorton, a tear-it-down rebuild was never really an option in New York anyway, even when the Rangers were looking particularly old and worn down. That’s largely because Henrik Lundqvist was signed through 2020-21, and it’s tough to tell your Hall-of-Fame goalie that it’s time to tank.

So the Rangers chose instead to rebuild on the fly.

Two years after replacing Glen Sather, one would have to conclude that Gorton has done a pretty good job in that regard. The Rangers may not be the strongest Stanley Cup contenders next season, but consider:

— Last summer, Gorton was able to use a team with pressure to win now (the Ottawa Senators) to trade Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad, the latter of whom is five years younger.

— A year later, Gorton found another team with pressure to get some immediate results (the Arizona Coyotes) and traded Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta for the seventh overall draft pick (Lias Andersson) and Anthony DeAngelo, giving the Rangers two more talented youngsters to add to the stable.

— Gorton, whose team’s future had essentially been mortgaged by his predecessor, has been forced to do a lot of his work outside the draft, and the results have been impressive. His most celebrated move was getting Jimmy Vesey to sign, but he’s also added college free agents like John Gilmour and Neal Pionk, and he got Russian defenseman Alexei Bereglazov out of the KHL.

Throw in the fact the Rangers actually kept their first-round pick this year, selecting Czech center Filip Chytil 21st overall, and the future is looking a lot brighter today than, say, in April of 2016.

Oh, and Gorton was also able to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, the most coveted unrestricted free agent of the summer, to a below-market contract with a term of just four years. So that was pretty good, too.

Admittedly, this path may still lead to ruin — or, if not quite ruin, maddening mediocrity. The Rangers still don’t have a future Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, i.e. the kind of player that typically goes to teams that have bottomed out.

But on the path the Rangers have chosen to take, Gorton has done an admirable job, and for that he deserves credit.

Under Pressure: Kevin Hayes

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It was not that long ago — less than two years, in fact — that Kevin Hayes received a scathing critique from his head coach, Alain Vigneault.

“In Kevin’s case, I think we made it clear our expectations about him and what we felt he could do were very high,” Vigneault said in December of 2015, per the New York Post. “Obviously, he hasn’t lived up to that. Did we overestimate his possibilities? I don’t know, time will tell. But I do know that what I’m seeing now, and what we’re seeing now, is not good enough.”

It has been quite a turnaround for Hayes ever since. Now 25 years old, he’s coming off a career-high 49 points in 2016-17. And after the trading of Derek Stepan to Arizona, he’s considered the top candidate to center the Rangers’ second line next season.

Oh, and did we mention this is a contract year for Hayes? He can become a restricted free agent next summer, and he’s already seen Mika Zibanejad get paid.

Now, it goes without saying that second-line center is a tough job in the NHL. Often, it’s used against the opposition’s top players, and it still comes with the responsibility to produce some offense.

So, is Hayes up to the challenge?

That’s a tough question to answer, because Hayes was already given a tougher defensive role last season, starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone while also facing quality competition.

But his possession numbers were worrisome, as you can see below:

After crunching the numbers, here’s what GothamSN writer Brandon Fitzpatrick concluded:

Basically, Hayes got tough minutes from Vigneault last season, and despite registering career-highs in assists and points, the underlying numbers weren’t favorable to him. Much of Hayes’ point totals can be attributed to Michael Grabner’s extraordinary 27 goal season where he shot a career-high 16.7%, well above his 12.7% career average.

There’s no doubt the Rangers want to see if Hayes can be a top-six center before committing to him long-term next summer, but if he’s not ready, the Rangers are going to suffer big time.

In addition to trading Stepan, the Rangers also lost Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft. And while they did sign veteran David Desharnais, the center position is going to be under a big microscope next season.

If Hayes is up for the job, it should go a long way towards making the Rangers a competitive team, while also helping him financially.

If not, all bets are off.

Related: Lias Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers

Looking to make the leap: Anthony DeAngelo

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

He’s only 21 and already Anthony DeAngelo has been traded twice.

First he went from Tampa Bay, which drafted him 19th overall in 2014, to Arizona. That trade went down last summer. Then, just a year later, the Coyotes sent the talented defenseman to the Rangers as part of the Derek Stepan blockbuster.

Upon joining the Blueshirts, it looked like DeAngelo may get a great chance to prove his worth. But then Kevin Shattenkirk signed and it wasn’t quite as clear where DeAngelo, whose game has similarities to Shattenkirk’s, might fit.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is excited nonetheless to see what the youngster can do.

“I only saw him once last year but everything that I’m hearing … everybody seems to think this guy is legit and he’s ready to take the next step,” Vigneault said, per NHL.com. “I have not talked to anyone who has told me differently. Everybody I speak to says the same thing, that he’s going to help us as far as our quick north/south transition game, and that he’s going to help on the power play.”

DeAngelo appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes last season and finished with a respectable five goals and nine assists. The catch is that eight of his 14 points came on the power play, and with Shattenkirk in New York now, it remains to be seen how much quality PP time will be left for DeAngelo.

Barring injuries, there is plenty of competition that DeAngelo will need to beat out in order to play in the NHL next season. Assuming the Rangers’ top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and DeAngelo to battle for the two spots on the bottom pairing.

From the New York Post:

Clouding the issue is a believed contractual out-clause that would allow the 23-year-old Bereglazov to return to the KHL rather than accept an assignment to the AHL. The Rangers are unlikely to allow that to happen.

The Rangers likely acquired the 21-year-old DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the Derek Stepan deal in order to play him on the right side rather than have him sit around as a spare.

But the Blueshirts also believe that Pionk, the righty signed in May out of the University of Minnesota Duluth who will turn 22 next week, is NHL-ready.

Thus, Pionk and DeAngelo presumably will be in direct competition for a spot, with the saving grace being that both are exempt from having to go through waivers.

So it should be an interesting training camp from that perspective. While it won’t be the end of the world if DeAngelo starts out in the AHL, he should be desperate to make a good impression nonetheless.

“He knows this is his third team in a real quick span,” said Vigneault, “so he’s got to make a name for himself.”