Mike Fisher, Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler, Canucks grind their way to Western Conference finals with 2-1 win vs. Predators

1 Comment

For most of this series, the focus revolved around what the Vancouver Canucks couldn’t do. They couldn’t get results from the Sedin twins. Some misguided media members thought that Roberto Luongo couldn’t win big games. With a 1-4 record in elimination games coming into tonight, there were many who wondered if this team lacks a killer instinct.

In many cases in which a favorite struggles, the underdog’s problems tend to go unreported. Ultimately, the Nashville Predators were booted from the second round of the playoffs because they couldn’t score on the power play, couldn’t get results from some of their big guns and couldn’t beat the Canucks at home.

Perhaps most of all, they couldn’t stop Ryan Kesler. (Kesler ended up with 11 points in the series and was strong defensively as well.)

Vancouver 2, Nashville 1; Canucks win series 4-2.

There’s some dark humor to the fact that the Predators were ultimately undone by a power-play goal that resulted from a diving penalty. After all, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa called out his own team for embellishing calls against the Preds, yet Nashville was betrayed by the NHL’s renewed emphasis on those penalties. Daniel Sedin ended up scoring what would be the series-winning goal on that first period man advantage to make it 2-0.

Kesler received credit for an assist on that play, but his greatest effort came on the first goal of the contest. The all-everything forward took advantage of a lethargic play by Ryan Suter, who made a predictable pass to Shea Weber that Kesler forced into a turnover. Kesler eventually sent the puck to Mason Raymond, who scored his first goal of the playoffs.

That 2-0 first period lead would stand through the whole game, as the Predators were only able to score another weird goal from behind Roberto Luongo’s net. David Legwand continued his great run with that tally, which survived the goal review process.

The Predators have some reason to complain about the Jordin Tootoo penalty that lead to that Daniel Sedin goal, but still must accept the fact that they couldn’t overcome a two-goal deficit from the first period. They failed to score on five power play opportunities and rarely threatened on any of those chances.

With all the heat sent toward the Sedin twins, the Predators’ most explosive players struggled mightily as well. Sergei Kostitsyn earned one assist in the entire series while Patric Hornqvist went without a single point. Perhaps most disturbingly, Norris-level defenseman Shea Weber went pointless in this series, as well. You can’t really fault him for a lack of effort (six shots in Game 6, consistently feisty defense throughout the series), but Weber was tied with Hornqvist for third place in team scoring with 48 points in 2010-11. They expect more from him, even if they generally ask for too much.

Outlook for both teams

The Canucks can sit back and watch the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks slug it out in one or two more games. Vancouver played 13 games so far this postseason, so getting a brief break could be very useful for a weary team. There’s been a lot of criticism sent their way, yet they continue to earn accolades. Perhaps the most interesting recent milestone is that they reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1994, when Pavel Bure was captivating hockey fans all over the world.

I get the feeling that the Sedin twins will have a little more room to operate in the next round, regardless of which team they face. They’ll need it, too, because Kesler might not be able to carry the offense alone against a more powerful opponent.

The Predators have a lot of positives to take from this defeat. They made the second round for the first time ever and also survived one elimination game (another franchise first). Nashville played Vancouver tough even if they frequently trailed in puck possession and scoring chances.

The challenge will be to add creativity to their blue collar approach. Their power play was ineffective and many of their goals were fluky in this series. If they want to be more than just a charming story, they’ll need to find a way to take that next step. At some point, fans and pundits might not be so patient with their slow-but-steady approach.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

‘We were awful’: Duchene calls out Avs after latest shutout loss

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers at Pepsi Center on December 19, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.

They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.

But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.

Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.

It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.

“Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”

Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!

One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.

No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.

Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.

“We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.

“We’re not playing good hockey right now.”

With Corey Crawford out, ‘Hawks recall goalie Lars Johansson from AHL

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.

With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.

On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.

Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.

In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.

His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.

The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.

Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.

The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.

Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.

It sounds like there’s friction between Canadiens captain Pacioretty and coach Therrien

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

After an incredible start to the season, the Canadiens have cooled off a little bit, but they still own an impressive 16-6-2 record.

One of the reasons they’ve hit a rough patch, is because some of their top forwards can’t seem to find the back of the net.

Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov continue to generate scoring chances, but captain Max Pacioretty, who’s hit the 30-goal mark four times in his career, is stuck on five goals.

Pacioretty hasn’t looked comfortable all season, and although he tends to be one of the streakier players in the league, he hasn’t put together many great performances in 2016-17 and it seems to be causing some friction in the room.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos is reporting that there’s some tension between Pacioretty and head coach Michel Therrien.

“There’s no indication that Pacioretty wants out of Montreal,” Kypreos said on Saturday. “But it’s clear from a few other teams that they want to watch this situation closely.

“Pacioretty is not being used like a four-time 30-goal scorer by the Montreal Canadiens. There seems to be some friction between Pacioretty and Therrien.”

The 28-year-old hasn’t been productive, but in fairness to him, he’s bounced around the lineup quite a bit. Lately, he’s been skating with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, who are also slumping.

In the past, Plekanec had been regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game. That’s no longer the case. His slump doesn’t just date back to the start of this year, it can be traced all the way back to 2015-16 (he has two goals in his last 31 games).

But getting back to Pacioretty, it’s interesting that the friction is caused by his utilization because he’s been getting plenty of ice time.

If you look at Montreal’s last 13 games, he’s played at least 18:22 in 10 of those contests. In two of his last four games, he’s played over 20 minutes.

Looking at the way the situation has unfolded from the start of the year, there’s a good chance he’s unhappy about being bounced around from center to center.

As I mentioned before, he’s played with Galchenyuk, Plekanec and he also had a stint with Phillip Danault.

Adding a second line center and another defenseman will be a priority for GM Marc Bergevin, but don’t expect him to sacrifice his captain to get a deal done.

Pacioretty still has two years left on a team-friendly contract that pays him $4.5 million per season.

But hey, the Canadiens have shocked us before.

Penguins score four unanswered goals in the third to take down Red Wings

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: The Pittsburgh Penguins congratulate Phil Kessel #81 after he scored a goal at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 27, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel scored twice, including one of Pittsburgh’s four goals in the third, and the Penguins rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 on Saturday night.

Nick Bonino, Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen also scored in the third, helping Pittsburgh win back-to-back games for the first time in a month. Marc-Andre Fleury had 28 saves in his second straight start.

Detroit had recorded at least a point in five straight games. Henrik Zetterberg scored his 314th career goal, matching Pavel Datsyuk for seventh in team history, and Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen got the other goals for the Red Wings.

Detroit goaltender Jared Coreau stopped 32 shots in his NHL debut. Coreau was poised early, making a sprawling save on Sidney Crosby in the first five minutes and later denying Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, but he struggled in the third period.

Bonino’s goal was his second in as many games, and Schultz has two goals and four points in his last three. Malkin had two assists, extending his point streak to a season-high five straight games.

Bonino started the comeback with his third goal at 2:05 of the third. Schultz tied it at 3 at 6:28, beating Coreau with a shot from the point. Kessel then put Pittsburgh ahead to stay when he got a pass from Carl Hagelin and Coreau from the top of the crease.

Cullen was awarded his fifth goal when he was hauled down on his way to an empty net with 41 seconds remaining.

The Red Wings played without seven regulars due to injuries. The group, which includes Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard, has accounted for 36 man games lost in the last three weeks.

Forward Justin Abdelkader was placed on injured reserve Saturday morning after suffering a knee injury Thursday against Florida. He had four points in six games prior to his injury.

Pittsburgh is the healthiest it has been the entire season. The Penguins activated forward Chris Kunitz from injured reserve Saturday morning after he missed six games with a lower-body injury.

NOTES: Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall played in his 750th game. … Pittsburgh scratched Tom Kuhnhackl to make room for Kunitz in the lineup. Rookie Jake Guentzel also sat for a second straight game. … The Penguins honored the 1991 and ’92 Stanley Cup-winning teams, as nearly 40 former players, coaches and team executives attended the morning skate and were recognized during an on-ice ceremony before the game.

UP NEXT

Red Wings: Continue a three-game road trip Sunday at the New York Islanders.

Penguins: Complete a three-game homestand Monday against Ottawa.