Canucks cash in on shaky penalty call, beat Predators in OT for 2-1 series lead

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Not long ago, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis aired his grievances regarding officiating before the team’s Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Now one must wonder if he’ll send the league’s officials a Christmas card.

If you want my honest opinion, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber should not have been whistled for that overtime hooking penalty on Ryan Kesler. Yet the officials might have felt obliged to give the Canucks a “makeup call” after Jerred Smithson got away with a questionable hit shortly before that penalty. It didn’t take long for the Canucks to score on that man advantage as Kesler appeared to deflect the winning goal through Pekka Rinne.

Vancouver 3, Nashville 2 (OT); Canucks lead series 2-1

It’s fair to say that Vancouver was the better team in this game, even if they won the game in a very controversial way. Kesler was clever to lock Weber’s stick into his body for a few precious extra seconds, sending the team’s best defenseman into the box in overtime. Again, the Canucks didn’t take long to shine the spotlight on that goal by winning the game.

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As usual, the game was close on the scoreboard, although the Canucks were the aggressors for most of this contest after sitting back for much of Game 2. They out-shot the Predators 15-8 in the first period but Dave Legwand scored a shorthanded goal to give Nashville a 1-0 first period lead.

Kesler finally broke through to score his first goal of the playoffs in the middle frame by tapping in a one-timer in front of a mostly-open Predators net.

Chris Higgins made it 2-1 early in the third period, but the Predators wouldn’t go away, as Joel Ward scored thanks to the type of move from behind the net that made me think of my own cheesy offense in the video game NHL ’11.

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That Ward goal notched things up at 2-2, which forced yet another overtime game. (As James Gralian pointed out, the 2011 playoffs already feature more overtime games than all of last year’s games. Yes, that is indeed pretty amazing.)

It was a tight checking overtime period until those controversial moments ended the game. Here’s what David Legwand said about the call, via Mark Spector.

“I don’t know if Timmy Peel had a date or something, but he wanted to get outta here pretty quick.”

As great as the playoffs have been, inconsistent penalty calls have been one of this year’s biggest issues. Jeremy Roenick explained the problem quite well in the video found in this post.

The outlook for both teams

Once the “we stole that one” vibe dies down for the Canucks, they’ll probably feel relief more than anything else. The team needed to earn at least one win in Nashville to feel comfortable in this series, so now they can play with house money in Game 4. Vancouver is also one of the few teams who can be pleased with their power play, which converted on 2 of 4 opportunities.

They still must improve in some areas, though. While Daniel Sedin earned an assist, each Sedin twin had a -2 rating in the contest. Kesler had a breakthrough game, so the team would love it if the twins tried to top him.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Predators react to such a dispiriting loss. My guess is that they’ll continue to bring their grinding, defensive-minded game to the ice to make things as difficult as possible for their Canucks. Nashville has a lot of good things to take from these games, even if they’re down 2-1.

You don’t have to be keenly observant to notice how great the Nashville atmosphere has been in these playoffs. Let’s just hope they opt against another “Gold Out” in Game 4, though, or all of our eyes will suffer. (This post’s main image gives you a small glimpse of that eye-straining unified color experiment, which I called the NHL’s answer to Boise State’s horrid blue field.)

Flames sign free agent defenseman Josh Healey

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The Calgary Flames announced on Saturday that they have signed undrafted free agent defenseman Josh Healey to a two-year entry level contract. He will join the Stockton Heat of the AHL for the remainder of this season on an Amateur Tryout contract before his entry level deal begins next season.

Healey, 22, has spent the past four seasons playing for Ohio State and has developed a reputation for being one of the biggest hitters and most physical players at the NCAA level.

“Hits too hard for college,” is how one NHL scout described his play back in February.

That style of play has resulted in him getting himself into hot some water in the form of several ejections and suspensions over the past two seasons.

Along with his willingness to play a physical game, Healey’s offensive game took off a bit during his junior and senior seasons, including the 2016-17 season when he finished as the top scoring defenseman on the Buckeyes with 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 35 games.

In 133 games over four years at Ohio State he has accumulated 212 penalty minutes, leading the team by a pretty wide margin the past two years.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Ryan O’Reilly comments on Sidney Crosby spearing incident: ‘It happens’

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Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has made some headlines this week for a couple of stick infractions that were overlooked by the on-ice officials during his games.

They were not overlooked by everybody else.

On Thursday, he caught Marc Methot with a slash to the hand that ended up busting the defenseman’s finger on a play that made Senators owner Eugene Melnyk go berserk on Ottawa radio the next day. On its own it would have been an incident that received a ton of attention, if for no other reason than the gruesome image of Methot’s finger dangling around. But what added to it was the fact that two days before that incident there was the spearing incident involving Buffalo Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly that you see in the video above.

On Saturday, O’Reilly was asked for his thoughts on the play after everything that has happened with Crosby over the past couple of games.  He does not seem to have any hard feelings regarding the play, via TSN’s Mark Masters:

“It was a weird thing,” said O’Reilly. “You know, it happens. I didn’t expect it and he apologized after the play and it was understood. It just threw me off. I wasn’t expecting anything and then something happens, but he’s a good guy and he is just playing hard and he takes a beating every night too so it happens.”

He was then asked if he knew who initially hit him, and O’Reilly said he did not until Crosby apologized later in the game.

“No, I didn’t,” said O’Reilly. I was watching the puck and the next thing I know I had a stick right to the crotch and it threw me off for sure. I got up slowly and turned around to see who it was, and then off the won faceoff he comes up as we’re skating down the ice and says, ‘yeah, sorry about that, I was kind of going for your stick.’ I go, ‘meh, it happens, I guess. Would’ve been nice to have a penalty, but it happens.”

Crosby was not penalized for either play and received no supplemental discipline from the league. The latter part is not a surprise, and it is not because of some sort of preferential treatment from the league. Since the NHL’s department of player safety has been put into place it has never suspended a player for spearing (it has fined seven players) and suspended only two players for slashing (it has fined six).

Bruins will not have Tuukka Rask for massive game against Islanders tonight

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Massive game in Brooklyn on Saturday night when the New York Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins in a key game in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The day is already off to a bad start for the Bruins, losers of four in a row, when coach Bruce Cassidy announced that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask did not make the trip with the team and will not be available for the game. Anthon Khudobin will get the start in his place, while Zane McIntyre has been recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.

Cassidy said that Rask is dealing with a lower body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Rask did not practice with the team on Friday.

It is a massive game as both teams enter the night tied in the standings with 82 points. But because the Islanders have played one fewer game, they currently occupy the second wild card spot. They are both just one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning in what is now pretty much a three-team race for that spot. It is the last meeting of the season between the two teams (Boston does play Tampa Bay once more).

Overall it has been another frustrating season for Rask, whose .910 save percentage is currently the worst of his career. He has really struggled during the Bruins’ current four-game losing streak, giving up 15 goals during that stretch.

Khudobin, meanwhile, has been on a bit of a roll for the Bruins in his recent starts following a terrible start to the season. He has won each of his past four starts, allowing just eight goals.

The Islanders are coming off of a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh on Friday night against the Penguins with Jaroslav Halak making his return to the team and picking up the win.