PHT Predicts the Western Conference finals

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For the second year in a row, the Western Conference finals features the top two seeded teams and once against the San Jose Sharks are one of those two teams. This time around they come in as the second seed up against the first seed and Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks.

The star power in this series is off the charts with Roberto Luongo, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler leading the way for the Canucks against the Sharks’ power of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle. Vancouver won the season series between these two teams going 3-0-1 and winning one of those in the shootout. What’s our take on things? Well we’ve got a lot to say.

James says:

Much like the Lightning-Bruins series, these two teams made it to the conference finals in remarkably similar ways. The Canucks and Sharks played in 13 games in which their intestinal fortitude came into question, particularly in nearly “blowing” 3-0 series leads. Yet all the knee-jerk negativity overshadows the strong possibility that they’re the two best teams in the NHL. Choosing a winner is a daunting task.

Simply put, both sides haven’t dealt with anything like each other. The Canucks are a more complete (and mean-spirited) team than the Kings and Red Wings. The Sharks are deeper than the Blackhawks and far more dangerous than the Predators.

With almost a week off, the Sedin twins will be as close to 100 percent health as they can reasonably be in the playoffs. I’m concerned that Henrik Sedin has been playing outright injured, but either way, I think those dynamic duplicates will produce at a higher rate in Round 3. To some extent, it will just be the law of averages correcting itself. Yet one cannot ignore the tough matchups the ginger twins faced in the previous two rounds. I think they’ll get more room against San Jose.

That being said, the law of averages may frown upon Ryan Kesler a bit. That’s not to say he won’t play well; my guess is just that he won’t be able to beat the Sharks on his own like he seemingly did against the Predators. The Sharks offense is astoundingly dangerous, with the usual suspects Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley emboldened by the secondary help provided by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. That stupefying Sharks attack is – in my opinion – the best reason to pick San Jose.

The Canucks lack a signature blueline superstar but might have the deepest top-to-bottom group in the NHL. I think that will be helpful against the pick-your-poison Sharks. Meanwhile, the Sharks clearly boast the best defenseman of either team in Dan Boyle, a remarkably efficient one in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a terrifying hitter in Douglas Murray, but things get a bit shaky after that. The goalie matchup is very close, as Antti Niemi’s unflappable nature fits the star-crossed Sharks perfectly while people forget that Roberto Luongo remains one of the best netminders in the NHL. Far too much focus revolves around a few flukey goals when the fact of the matter is that Bobby Lou has allowed little else since Game 6 against Chicago.

There’s a lot of moving parts here, but ultimately, I’ll just go with the answer that’s on the tip of my tongue.

Vancouver wins it in 7.

Joe says:

This will be a fascinating series. The two most skilled teams in the West and two teams that are itching to win their first Stanley Cup. Vancouver hasn’t been to the Stanley Cup finals since 1994 and San Jose has never made it that far before. There’s a lot at stake for both teams and I have no doubts that these two are going to be bringing it as crazy as they did during the regular season. Expect things to be fast-paced and a lot of “choker” labels will disappear here as this is a series both teams have been dying to be in for a long time.

If you’ve been waiting for the time when the Sedins would show up, given how they performed against the Sharks this season this could be it. Of course, Ryane Clowe has had some huge games against the Canucks this season as well and he’s been on fire in the playoffs. In the end, this boils down to which way the goaltending falls and Roberto Luongo has been out of his mind good. Not that Antti Niemi has been bad, both guys had rough first rounds, but I look at it playing out the way the Sharks series with Detroit went. There, Jimmy Howard was great but couldn’t quite match up to Niemi. This time Niemi will be good, but not on the same level as Luongo.

Vancouver in 6.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”

Price’s agent, Canadiens’ GM expected to meet next week

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It seems the two big orders of business for the Montreal Canadiens this offseason will be finding a way to re-sign Alexander Radulov, and come to terms on a new contract extension with franchise goaltender Carey Price.

According to multiple reports, including Pierre LeBrun and RDS, Price’s agent, Gerry Johansson, and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are expected to meet next week to potentially begin talking about a new deal.

Price, who has one year remaining on his current contract, will be eligible to sign a new extension on July 1 and it would be reasonable to assume that is going to be one of the larger contracts among the league’s goaltenders.

Price’s current contract will pay him $6.5 million next season, a figure that places him among the top-five goalies in the league.

Given what Price has meant to the Canadiens over the past four years he should expect to make something closer to the $7.5-$8 million figure that Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky are currently making.

The 29-year-old Price has been one of the NHL’s best goalies for four years now and has a massive impact on the success of the Canadiens. When he is healthy, they win. When he is not (as he was not a year ago), they do not.

Of the 46 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games since the start of the 2012-13 season, Price currently ranks in the top-three in save percentage (first), even-strength save percentage (first) goals against average (second), and shutouts (third). He has also taken home a Hart Trophy as league MVP and a Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie during that stretch.