Canucks dominate third period, take 1-0 series lead over Sharks with 3-2 win

The Vancouver Canucks went into the third period down 2-1 but simply outlasted the San Jose Sharks in the final frame. CSN’s Ray Ratto points out that the Canucks took 21 of the last 28 shots in Game 1, as the home team wore down their talented opponents.

Many wondered if the Sharks’ seven-game tussle with the Detroit Red Wings caused that weak finish, but that seems like a flimsy excuse. It disrespects the physical game the Canucks bring to the ice (they were credited with 38 hits) and seems like a “too bad, so sad” complaint since San Jose had plenty of opportunities to earn some rest earlier in that second round series.

Let’s not forget that the Canucks were in a similar situation (but with two less nights of rest) against the Nashville Predators in Round 2, yet they prevailed in that Game 1.

Vancouver 3, San Jose 2; Canucks lead series 1-0

No doubt about it, the Canucks wanted more from the Sedin twins going into this series. The duplicate duo seemed to gain confidence as the contest went on (much like their team). Daniel Sedin didn’t manage to find the net, but his six shots on goal indicate that he was involved in much of the play. Henrik Sedin might have been the MVP of the game, though. Henrik earned a secondary assist on Kevin Bieksa’s game-tying goal and then cashed in on a brilliant Christian Ehrhoff pass to put home the game-winning goal on the power play.

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A look at the goalies

Roberto Luongo should thank his teammates for pulling out the win tonight, because he was responsible for the type of goal that can earn a “goat” label. Luongo and the Canucks defense experienced a lapse in communication late in the first period, leading to an ill-fated pass that landed right on Joe Thornton’s stick and into Vancouver’s net. The Canucks went into the first intermission with a bitter taste in their mouths down 1-0.

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Antti Niemi was brilliant at times in a losing effort, making 35 saves. Still, he showed that Luongo isn’t the only goalie who struggles to move the puck, as his failed clear helped to set up Maxim Lapierre’s 1-1 goal.

Sharks build a small lead

Early on in this game, it seemed like the Sharks were going to get the “easy” goals. Along with that gimme for Thornton, Patrick Marleau was able to score on the power play to give San Jose a 2-1 lead going into the third.

Niemi’s most brilliant moments probably came late in the second period, as he made some gorgeous saves and survived a rugby-like scrum.

Canucks dominate third

Some will say that San Jose “choked” in the third, but it’s more appropriate to say that Vancouver took over. Henrik Sedin sent a pass to Alexander Burrows, who set up Kevin Bieksa for an odd angle goal Niemi probably regrets. Sedin then scored that PP game-winner about a minute later, rapidly changing the tone of the game.

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Outlook for both teams

The Canucks took care of business tonight and must feel content about their efforts. They played their game – and perhaps most importantly – didn’t sit on their lead when they earned it 8:21 into the third. Ryan Kesler didn’t get on the board, but the team was still able to win because of their quality depth and Henrik Sedin’s much-anticipated production.

The Sharks cannot be happy with coughing up another third period lead, even if they were tired. The Canucks are a deeper team than Detroit and a more explosive one that Los Angeles, so they must finish stronger. The Sharks converted on their only power play, so they can look at that as a silver lining since they’ll almost certainly get more opportunities in future games.

On the bright side for those blaming fatigue, the two teams will play on Wednesday instead of the traditional two-day turnaround. We’ll see if the Sharks can take advantage of that extra rest or if the Canucks will remain too much for that talented San Jose squad to handle.

Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

Things will be different in 2017-18.

Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

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John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

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For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”