Mike Fisher, Ryan Kesler

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

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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.

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Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.

Hemsky finds his groove on third line

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 11: Ales Hemsky #83 of the Dallas Stars handles the puck against the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center on April 11, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)
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When the Dallas Stars inked Ales Hemsky to a three-year, $12 million deal, the hope was that he would be a valuable secondary scorer and help round out their top-six. Things haven’t gone as predicted, but Hemsky has emerged as a significant player for Dallas lately.

Hemsky is now playing on the third line with Radek Faksa and Antoine Roussel and he’s gone on to record 15 points in his last 16 regular season games as well as another four points in seven playoff contests.

“We had hard conversations about how I felt the game needed to be played, where I felt his game needed to go,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. “Did it always go his way? No. But from his defensive responsibilities to really buying into shooting the puck a little bit more, I think he’s been a real good asset for us this year.”

The Morning News goes into much more detail about Hemsky and his resurgence, but taking a step back from that, having a third line that’s both impactful without the puck and capable of chipping in offensively is important, especially as we get deeper into the playoffs. There’s no question that the Stars have big time players on their roster, but that’s obviously not all you need in the playoffs.

A lot of the time when talking about the Stars’ areas of concern, their defense and goaltending come up and understandably so given that Dallas allowed more goals in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. But the value of a strong bottom-six shouldn’t be understated and perhaps Hemsky’s recent resurgence will play a role in the Stars having that going for them throughout the playoffs.

Dallas has taken a 1-0 lead over St. Louis in the second round and has an opportunity to build on that in Game 2 this afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET).

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.