Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler confirms villain status, scores highlight reel goal as Vancouver takes 3-1 series lead

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If you ask many hockey people, Ryan Kesler is just as big a part of the Vancouver Canucks’ success as the Sedin twins. Some will even say that he is their true MVP.

He’s also a wildly different player than those Swedish siblings. While Henrik and Daniel Sedin aren’t likely to make an impact on a game if they aren’t scoring (or creating a lot of chances), Kesler’s two-way play and agitating presence requires attention even when he’s not lighting up the scoreboard.

After struggling to score goals for a big chunk of the playoffs (but doing just about everything else), Kesler is finding the net against the Nashville Predators. His tendency to draw penalties and score heart-breaking goals is making him perhaps the first true villain for the still-relatively-young Predators fan base.

Vancouver 4, Nashville 2; Canucks lead series 3-1

Kesler drew a penalty (and plenty of ire) in overtime of Game 3 before scoring the game-winner on the ensuing power play, but that image won’t live on in hockey history. Not compared to his absolute beauty of a game-winning goal from Game 4. Rather than spilling a bunch of digital ink explaining his great defense-splitting move, I’ll just let you enjoy the footage in its jaw-dropping glory.

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Yup, that’s pretty amazing. Kesler’s goal (and boisterous celebration) was the only truly captivating moment in this muck-and-grind Game 4. Let’s give you a quick rundown of how it all happened, though.

An “explosive” first period

Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead in the first period, although the biggest moment of interest revolved around Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s angry reaction. Rinne thought that Alex Burrows interfered with him on that goal, but if you ask me, Burrows was far enough outside the crease that the goal was OK.

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Joel Ward is becoming quite the success story in this year’s playoffs. He tied things up with less than minute left in the first period. To give you an idea of how tight this series has been, the opening frame’s two goals provided more offense than the three previous games’ first periods combined total of just one.

Predators don’t give up

Alexander Edler gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead through the second period, but the Predators have been a resilient group in this series. Cody Franson’s point shot beat Roberto Luongo to make it 2-2 early in the third, even if the two teams’ non-reaction reminded many of the confusion surrounding Patrick Kane’s 2010 Cup-winning goal.

That 2-2 tie set the stage for Kesler’s star-making moment. He forced a tired Ryan Suter to take a holding penalty and then scored that gorgeous goal. Henrik Sedin finally scored his first playoff goal on an empty net and also provided two assists, but the Sedin twins weren’t as effective as their improved stats would indicate in this game.

Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, though, as Kesler is carrying the mail himself.

Outlook for both teams

The Canucks must feel great about their 3-1 lead, but they better not take Game 5 lightly. They took their gas off the pedal in the first round and were an overtime period away from humiliation. Vancouver seems content to sit back on leads in individual games, too, so they need to avoid taking this situation for granted.

That’s especially true if the San Jose Sharks make short work of the Detroit Red Wings. A well-rested Sharks team would be a tough match for them anyway, but if Nashville forces an extra grinding game or two, it could be a big problem. The Sedin twins obviously need to get it going, as well.

The Predators cannot be happy right now, but they can find solace in how close these games have been. Chicago was close behind Vancouver and broke through when the Canucks relaxed. Obviously it wasn’t enough to win that series, but if Barry Trotz needs to find a light at the end of the tunnel, that might be it.

Perhaps Nashville could steal Game 5 and then see how it goes? We’ll find out Saturday night on Versus at 8 p.m. ET.

Stanley Cup Final to begin May 30

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We don’t know who’s in or where it will begin, but we do know this — the 2016 Stanley Cup Final will begin next Monday.

From the league:

The National Hockey League today announced the schedule of dates for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which will begin on Monday, May 30. Additionally, Stanley Cup Final Media Day will be Sunday, May 29, in the host city for Game 1.

The Stanley Cup Final will match the winner of the Eastern Conference Final, either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning, against the winner of the Western Conference Final, either the St. Louis Blues or San Jose Sharks.

The club which earned the greater number of points in the 2015-16 regular season standings will have home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final and will host Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, Games 5 and 7. The other club will host Games 3 and 4 and, if necessary, Game 6. The Blues collected 107 points during the regular season, most among the remaining teams, followed by the Penguins (104), Sharks (98) and Lightning (97).

The start time for all Stanley Cup Final games will be 8 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Group has exclusive coverage of the Final in the U.S., while CBC and TVA Sports have exclusive coverage throughout Canada.

2016 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
(all start times 8 p.m., ET)

Game 1 Monday, May 30
Game 2 Wednesday, June 1
Game 3 Saturday, June 4
Game 4 Monday, June 6
Game 5* Thursday, June 9
Game 6* Sunday, June 12
Game 7* Wednesday, June 15

This marks the first time the Stanley Cup Final will begin in May since 2012, when the Kings took on the Devils in New Jersey (on the 30th).

L.A. went on to capture that series in five games, wrapping things up on June 11.

After two years in Switzerland, Tom Pyatt signs with Sens

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 22:  Tom Pyatt #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Simon Despres #47 of the Pittsburgh Penguins battle for a loose puck during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Tom Pyatt is back in the NHL.

Or, at least, back with an NHL organization.

After spending the last two seasons with Swiss club Geneve Servette, the 29-year-old forward has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

“We’re very pleased that Tom has committed to our organization for next season,” said GM Pierre Dorion in a release. “He has already accumulated a significant amount of experience at both the American and National Hockey League levels and provides us with solid depth at forward. Having spent his last two seasons playing professionally in Switzerland, members of our coaching staff are familiar with his versatility. We’re looking forward to seeing him in training camp.”

The Sens, of course, just hired a head coach in Guy Boucher who’s spent the last few years in Switzerland. (Also, an assistant coach.)

Pyatt’s deal is worth $800,000 in the NHL and $200,000 in the AHL.

Before leaving for Switzerland in August of 2014, Pyatt played 245 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring 27 goals and 27 assists.

Report: Star Swedish goalie Lassinantti garnering NHL interest

LULEA, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 03: Max Gortz of Frolunda Gothenburg looks to score past Joel Lassinantti of Lulea Hockey during the Champions Hockey League Final match between Lulea Hockey and Frolunda Gothenburg at Coop Norrbotten Arena on February 3, 2015 in Lulea, Sweden.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Joel Lassinantti, the 23-year-old that captured the 2014-15 SHL Goalie of the Year, is reportedly on the radar of some NHL teams.

Per Swedish nets outlet NSD, Lassinantti’s agent confirmed there is interest in his client, who’s coming off a solid ’15-16 campaign with Lulea. He went 22-11-0 with a 1.95 GAA and .921 save percentage.

If he signs in North America, Lassinantti will definitely be one to watch.

Why? Well, he’d be majorly bucking the current trend of skyscraper goalies. He’s listed at just 5-foot-9, but hat diminutive frame hasn’t kept him from excelling at nearly every stage.

Prior to his success with Lulea, Lassinantti captured silver with Sweden’s entry at the 2013 World Juniors. At that tourney, he split time with Oilers prospect Niklas Lundstrom, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

And as mentioned above, he captured last season’s Honken Trophy as Sweden’s top goalie — which is a real feather in his cap.

The winner prior to Lassinantti, Linus Ullmark, is coming off a pretty solid campaign in Buffalo and this year’s winner, Lars Johansson, just signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

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The St. Louis Blues are going back to the guy who got them this far.

Brian Elliott will start in goal tomorrow in San Jose.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock made the announcement Tuesday, the day after Jake Allen allowed four goals on just 25 shots in a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination.

Allen also started Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. The Blues won that contest, 6-3, with Allen stopping 31 of 34 shots.

But those were the only two games that Allen has started this postseason. That’s because Elliott had been mostly excellent before getting yanked in Game 3. His save percentage in these playoffs is .925, compared to Allen’s .897.

Hitchcock said he hopes the break has allowed Elliott to “reset” after the “mental drain” of starting the first 17 games of the playoff.

“We needed the jolt from Jake, we got it to get back into the series,” Hitchcock told reporters, per the Post-Dispatch. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win yesterday but this has been Brian’s playoffs and we’d like him to finish the job.”

Related: A ‘no-brainer’ — Elliott will start Game 7 for Blues