David Legwand, Joel Ward

Five Thoughts: Unsuspecting heroes making themselves known yet again in playoffs


Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers checking in today and if you haven’t gone and thanked your mother for what she’s done for you, it’d be wise to get going on that. As the character Ricky in the movie Better Off Dead¬†said, “It wouldn’t be wise to upset mother.” As for hockey, we know there’s a few very proud hockey moms out there today.

1. If this year’s playoffs have proven anything, it’s that unsuspecting heroes are always all the rage in the playoffs. Think about it. Last year it was Dustin Byfuglien, the year before that it was Maxime Talbot, and in 2008 Johan Franzen arrived on the scene. The playoffs are always about someone coming out of nowhere to do amazing things and this year we’ve got two. Nashville’s Joel Ward and Tampa Bay’s Sean Bergenheim are the active leaders in goals scored in these playoffs with seven goals and their stories are similar. Ward was essentially given up by the Minnesota Wild years ago while Bergenheim ran out of chances with the Islanders. Now their teams wouldn’t be doing as well as they are without them.

2. While Vancouver is still leading their series with Nashville, they’ve shown a tremendous lack of killer instinct in these playoffs. They’re now 1-4 in games where they could eliminate their opponents from the playoffs. They’re fortunate in that they’ve been able to give themselves the cushion needed to have room for error but after nearly giving away their series to Chicago and now giving Nashville life in heading home for Game 6 you have to wonder about them. After all, if they escape this round and make the Western Conference finals it’s doubtful that San Jose or Detroit would give them the kind of room to make mistakes like this. Staying sharp would help the Canucks tremendously.

3. For anyone wondering what, exactly, Predators hockey looks like they got a healthy dose of it last night. Tough, hard-hitting, stifling hockey is just what you saw once the Predators took the lead in the third. Vancouver had a hard time doing anything and only the superhuman efforts of Ryan Kesler even made the game a one goal game late in the third. Just think where the Preds might be in this series if it weren’t for Kesler. He’s practically a Scooby Doo villain at this point for Nashville in that they’d already be in the Western finals if it weren’t for that meddling Kesler. A win like last night’s gives Nashville a lot of confidence to stick to their gameplan and I’d expect things to be even tougher come Game 6.

4. You know things are going rough for the Sedins line with Alex Burrows when they’re getting out-chanced by the line they’re sent out to match up against and try to exploit for offense the other way. David Legwand and Joel Ward didn’t always make it look pretty for their goals (Legwand’s goal flipping it over the net and off of Alex Edler was ingenious) but that sort of thing has happened all series. Alain Vigneault obviously isn’t going to change where he puts his top line on the ice against but he desperately needs the Sedin line to play better in both ends of the ice. If you’re getting beaten by a team’s top line, that’s one thing. Getting beaten by their third line is inexcusable.

5. While the teams in the Western Conference are kind enough to help extend the second round and give us a bit more drama, the Lightning and Bruins must be sitting at home and saying, “Let’s go guys… We’re waiting.” The conference final rounds obviously can’t start until all the pairings are set and while the East is all set and ready to go, we’re still waiting for the West to wrap things up. With that, the Lightning and Bruins will have to stay sharp with practices until then. It’ll be curious to see what that sort of layoff does to both teams and what kind of effect it has going forward into the Stanley Cup finals.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
1 Comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.