David Legwand, Joel Ward

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

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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.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.