Five Thoughts: Detroit is making life miserable on San Jose

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It’s probably for the best if you’re a San Jose fan that you read with caution as things are getting really awkward for the Sharks. They’ll have to find a way to inspire their inner Vancouver Canucks to prevent from being the fourth NHL team to ever get bounced out of the playoffs in a seven game series after leading the 3-0 at one point.

1. The heart of a champion is a dangerous thing. Vancouver got a taste of it in the first round in dealing with Chicago. Old demons that popped up there were eventually vanquished in overtime of Game 7 after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. Now the Sharks get to try to do the same on Thursday night at home against the Red Wings. If there is a team in these playoffs that you absolutely cannot give life to when they’re down it’s the Detroit Red Wings.

Where other teams get down in the dumps after giving up a goal, these Wings don’t do anything of the sort. They rally, they fight back, they lay the big hit, the find a way to score the big goal. With San Jose’s temperamental nature now a major factor it can’t be stressed enough how badly the Sharks will need to get out to hot start and jump on Jimmy Howard early in Game 7.
Planning it and doing it are two entirely different things, however, and Detroit has been decidedly better than San Jose over the last four periods of play. This series has been very close all along but now Detroit is showing that killer instinct we’ve seen from them in the past.

2. Enough can’t be stated about what a difference Niklas Kronwall has been for the Wings. The last few seasons he’s battled injuries, defensive lapses in favor of making a statement hit, and grief for playing a reckless sort of game. Now he’s taken to playing alongside Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom and he’s playing a smarter brand of hockey. Yes, the hits are still coming (just ask Ryane Clowe) but gone are the days of the defensively liable hit and in this new era for Kronwall he’s adding plenty of offense as well.

It was his big shot that Henrik Zetterberg tipped to get Game 6 tied up and he’s scored other goals in these playoffs. Generally when you’re thinking of offense from the Detroit blue line you’re thinking of Lidstrom. Now Kronwall is a factor that opponents have to account for on both ends of the ice.

3. Now what does San Jose do? They’ve had three shots to end Detroit’s season and now it comes down to a Game 7 where virtually anything can happen. It’s not the position that Todd McLellan wanted to see his team in and he seemed almost despondent during the post game press conference. He knows better than most how the Red Wings operate after being an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Still, all the inside knowledge in the world can’t help you if the players aren’t executing well enough to win and that’s where he’s stuck now. It’s not a comforting place for a head coach to be in as there’s no amount of riot act-reading or coddling possible that can snap a team out of a funk like this. The Sharks have to go back to the active pressure they laid out in the series’ first three games and go from there. Everyone’s got to be all in on it though and therein lies the trick.

4. The disappointing play from a pair of San Jose’s biggest stars while they’ve been slumping has been noticeable. We all have heard plenty about Patrick Marleau thanks to Jeremy Roenick’s most unkind but honest words in taking him down a peg but Dany Heatley’s been off his game as well. Whether he’s got a nagging injury throwing off his style of play or not he looked especially bad last night to the point his frustrations are showing on all shifts.

One particular shift saw Heatley get defended off and had the puck taken away from him. Rather than haul around the net and chase down the defender now skating away with the puck, Heatley flopped out in front of Jimmy Howard in an odd fashion only to get up and glare at the official to seemingly beg for a call. While Heatley should be happy the referee didn’t decide to use him as an example of diving, losing his cool after getting his pocket picked and then trying to make amends by giving up on the play to hit the ice has to make Todd McLellan want to pull his hair out. To say that Heatley and Marleau need to step it up in Game 7 is a no-brainer.

5. Speaking of dumb plays, two games in a row now Justin Abdelkader has taken a bad penalty in the waning minutes of the game. He’s been fortunate that Detroit’s killed off those penalties to prevent giving up a killer tying goal late in the game, but you have to wonder if those kinds of bad mistakes are going to cost him a start in Game 7. You can’t afford to have calls going against you and Abdelkader pushing the envelope two games in a row with selfish penalties could earn him a seat in the press box for the final game of the series. Detroit can always fall back on Kris Draper if need be to take his spot in the lineup. Detroit’s playing with fire late in games needlessly but for now Abdelkader is doing enough of the other things right to keep Babcock’s faith in him.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?