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.

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.