Five Thoughts: Yzerman and Boucher make magic in Tampa; Habs stung by own gameplan

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After an incredible first round of the playoffs, there’s no rest for the weary as the second round kicks off tonight in Vancouver. Before we move along to that, we give our thoughts on how things shook out last night before we look ahead to the future.

1. If they’re not lauding Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher already in Tampa Bay, they’ll probably start building them statues soon enough. What’s most interesting about how Yzerman has handled things in Tampa is that he recognized early on in the season that his team had a major issue in goal. With Mike Smith and Dan Ellis struggling and the Lightning defense not jelling quite yet, Yzerman made the move to get Dwayne Roloson out of Long Island.

While Roloson goes through his fits of giving up lots of goals now and then, it’s never for an extended period. He shakes off bad games and plays strong in the next one. The kind of strong backstopping he’s provided Tampa has been immense and it’s paying off in a big way now. Shutting out the Penguins in Game 7 and looking calm and cool while doing it speaks volume for how he works.

2. I know the Penguins getting bounced out of the playoffs is a disappointment for fans in Pittsburgh, but they should be proud of that team for doing as well as they did. If nothing else, the worth of both GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma was proven and thensome in dealing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well as the circus sideshow of Matt Cooke. They dealt with injuries, suspensions, and the perpetual focus on Crosby no matter what he was doing to keep his team locked in and ready to win. If only Bylsma could cast a magic spell to fix his power play and make it work better against the Lightning (1-35 in the series). If nothing else, going out in such a tough way this year will only light the fire more to win it all next year.

3. For all the problems the Penguins had with their power play in losing, somehow Boston and their even worse power play (0-21 in the series) managed to soldier on and beat Montreal. While Boston was able to get past a lower ranked team with such inability, getting past Philadelphia while not taking advantage of power play time will make life a lot harder on them. For all the answers Tomas Kaberle was supposed to provide for the Bruins power play, it’s somehow gotten even worse in Boston. It’s been pointed out too often by now that Kaberle doesn’t shoot enough or at all on the power play, he’d better get his confidence up to pull the trigger now. The Bruins will need the offense.

4. Sure fans in Montreal are disappointed with losing and I understand that coach Jacques Martin is able to coach and stress defensive strength with the best of them, but one thing the Habs should do next season is learning to push the game offensively over the course of a full 60 minutes. Too many times did the Habs turn tail and dig in defensively when getting a lead and with the sort of offensive talent they’ve got there’s zero reason to sit back and do that. With guys like Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyn there ready to break out and score, it’s a shame to not see them not utilized more for anything other than to just dump the puck into corners and go off for a change when they’ve got a lead.

That kind of strategy worked great before the lockout, now it leads to heart attack inducing closing minutes of games. In the Habs case, the final period and a half of a game would turn into a game of “dump the puck out of the zone and wait for a power play to go back on the attack.” It’s a crap style to play and while it’s hard to argue with a coach that’s made the playoffs doing things that way, playing it obscenely safe like that is death.

5. I can’t quite recall a round of the playoffs in the NHL being this exhilirating in a long time. The last hockey-related playoffs I can remember being this memorable was the 2009 NCAA Tournament that saw thrilling games, overtime games, and upsets all throughout the tournament that culminated with Boston University’s unreal comeback. There they came back from being down two goals in the final minute of the game to tie Miami University and then eventually winning the national championship in overtime.

This time around, we saw four series go to Game 7 and two of those Game 7s went to overtime. That’s just incredible drama to have right at the start of the playoffs. If you’re thinking the rest of the way will be hurting for drama, a pair of second round rematches with San Jose facing Detroit and Boston facing Philadelphia should convince you otherwise.

Stanley Cup Final odds: Penguins open as favorites over Predators

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The 2017 Stanley Cup Final is set with the Pittsburgh Penguins, continuing their quest to repeat as champions, facing the Nashville Predators.

Both teams come in missing some key players (Kris Letang, Pittsburgh; Ryan Johansen, Nashville) but both still have plenty of star player with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg and the rest of Nashville’s defense headlining the series.

According to the folks at Bovada, the Penguins open the series as favorites to win it over the Predators.

NHL Stanley Cup Finals Series Price
Nashville Predators +135 (27/20)
Pittsburgh Penguins -155 (20/31)

The series begins on Monday night in Pittsburgh.

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2017 Stanley Cup Final Schedule: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators

Canucks sign free agent defenseman Philip Holm to one-year deal

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The Vancouver Canucks announced on Friday that they have signed free agent defenseman Philip Holm to a one-year, entry-level contract.

Before signing with the Canucks Holm had been rumored to be on the verge of joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that obviously did not come together.

“Philip is a mobile, two-way defenseman who adds depth to our blue line,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement released by the team. “He made strides in his development last season with Vaxjo and played a strong series with Sweden at the World Championships We’re pleased to welcome him to the Canucks organization.”

The 25-year-old Holm has spent the past seven seasons playing professionally in Sweden for Vaxjo HC and Djurgardens IF.

He is regarded as a smooth skating, puck-moving defenseman and had a pretty strong season for Vaxjo this past year, scoring four goals and adding 17 assists in 52 games. He was the top-scoring defenseman on the team.

He also had three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games for Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships. Sweden won the Gold Medal at the tournament by defeating Canada in the championship game.

The Canucks already have six defensemen under contract for 2017-18 (and they do not seem to be in a hurry to trade any of them) but it was a unit that clearly needs an upgrade, so Holm should be an opportunity to make an impact next season.

Sabres fire AHL coach Dan Lambert

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The Buffalo Sabres continued to overhaul their organization under new general manager Jason Botterill on Friday when they announced that Dan Lambert, the coach of the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate, has been relieved of his duties.

“I would like to thank Dan for his hard work and contributions to our organization during the last two seasons and I wish him the best in the future,” said Botterill in a statement released by the team.

“I felt this was the right move for both the Sabres and Amerks and we will begin the process of searching for a new head coach immediately.”

The 2016-17 season was Lambert’s only season as the head coach. The team ended up finishing with a 32-41-3 mark.

When he was hired by the Sabres Botterill talked about wanting to improve the team in Rochester and this appears to be the first step in that process. The entire Sabres organization took a pretty significant step backwards this season with the NHL team finishing with a worse record than it did a year ago. That resulted in general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma all being replaced.

The Sabres have yet to hire a replacement for Bylsma.

Now both of the top teams in the organization are in need of a new head coach.

Report: KHL team in talks with Capitals’ Orlov

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After losing in the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs again and entering an offseason where they have several free agents, it is expected that the Washington Capitals roster is going to be look very, very different next season.

One of those upcoming free agents already seems to be drawing some interest, and not from an NHL team.

According to a report from Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, the KHL’s CSKA Moscow is in talks with defenseman Dmitry Orlov.

Orlov, who turns 26 in July, is slated to be a restricted free agent this offseason. He has played in every game for the Capitals the past two seasons and has emerged as a solid defenseman on the team’s blue line. He has posted pretty dominant possession numbers the past two seasons and has tallied 29 and 33 points during that stretch. He played nearly 20 minutes per game for the Capitals this season and should be in line for a pretty significant pay raise.

Along with the Orlov news, the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan mentioned on Twitter that another KHL team may also be in talks with restricted free agent Evgeny Kuznetsov, though she downplayed the possibility of him leaving. Given that Kuznetsov is one of the top offensive players in the league that would certainly be a shocking move, but it still seems like a long-shot to think that he would leave the NHL.