Ryan Kesler

Five Thoughts: Ryan Kesler breaking out just in time

We’re a bit overdue for this today, but we hope you’ll indulge us at lunchtime with our Five Thoughts.

1. The arrival of Ryan Kesler to the party during the Canucks’ series with Nashville has been just what they needed to help turn what could’ve been another dogfight of a series into one where Vancouver is one win away from the Western final. With two goals in Game 3 and a big goal in Game 4, Kesler has been a difference maker now in two straight games in Nashville. Kesler is the leading scorer for Vancouver in this series with three goals and four assists. Pretty solid work against a team that prides itself of defending.

Sure, you might want to complain about some of his exaggerations on penalties, but right now he’s playing like the guy who scored 40 goals during the year and was one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. With Kesler stepping up his game while the Sedin twins remain mostly non-factors shows how dangerous the Canucks could be if they were playing at full capacity.

2. We know we’ve been marveling at Pekka Rinne’s play in this series, but imagine where the Predators would be without him? All of a sudden Rinne’s work in Game 2 to stand on his head and steal one for Nashville is the only thing keeping this series from being another sweep. Rinne’s had to be outstanding because Roberto Luongo’s been even stronger at the other end of the ice.

We know that defense is what makes the Predators go but without a virtually flawless goalie like Rinne, they’d be dead in the water. Sure he didn’t look too hot against Anaheim and the Preds offense was able to support him in that series, but that might just speak more to how flawed the Ducks were. Against a beast of a team like Vancouver, Rinne has to be outstanding and the offense has to find a way to make it better. The latter is not happening. Unless the Canucks get complacent and the Predators get back to playing “Predator hockey” they’re toast.

3. While Alex Ovechkin is headed to Slovakia for the World Championships, his teammate Alexander Semin is not and it’s because Russian national coach Vyacheslav Bykov had strong reasons why. Dmitry Chesnokov from Puck Daddy updated via Twitter that Bykov told Sov Sport, “We won’t invite Semin under any circumstances. His play in the last Washington game was very weak.”

Now we don’t want to say that the Russian national coach noticed something that perhaps the Caps staff hasn’t, but that’s a damning statement when your own country doesn’t want to take you in for a tournament where the added help would go a long way to helping a Russian team that’s struggled. The Caps go year-to-year with contracts for Semin but he looked awfully poor against Tampa Bay after looking decent against the Rangers. Perhaps he’ll be part of a roster shake-up in Washington this summer.

4. If anyone is thinking that this year’s version of the Flyers has it in them to do what last year’s Flyers did to Boston I think you’re fooling yourself. Last year’s Flyers team showed a lot of guts throughout their first few losses against the Bruins in that series. This Flyers team hasn’t shown any of that and on top of things, they’re playing sloppy.

If nothing else though, the Flyers can be proud of how these playoffs have become James van Riemsdyk’s coming out party as an offensive force. The former second overall pick in the draft has been outstanding in the playoffs and he along with Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere have been their steady offensive guys. With Jeff Carter hurt and Mike Richards doing more to earn a poor reputation than leading the team to wins, they’ve needed it… It just hasn’t been enough.

5. Crazy to think that if all the teams that are leading win their next game, the second round will be over with. It’s a decided letdown after the excitement of the first round and while we don’t expect that every round will be bonkers, one sweep along with two potential other sweeps and a fourth series that could end in five leaves us feeling a little flat. Perhaps we’re just spoiled.

That said, the series that are setting up for the next round have us tickled, especially for what could be coming from out west with a possible San Jose-Vancouver Western Conference final.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…