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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Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy