Roberto Luongo

Five players with most to prove in Western Conference finals

With the Western Conference finals kicking off tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Versus from Vancouver, there’s pressure on both teams to get over the hump and get their teams into the Stanley Cup finals. For the Canucks, they’re looking to get back there for the first time since Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, and Kirk McLean did so in 1994. San Jose is looking for their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in team history.

With great expectations comes great pressure and there are five players in this series who will be feeling the pressure a bit more than the others to get their team into position to win it all. We’ve got a list of five players who will come under the most scrutiny during the Western Conference finals.

1. Roberto Luongo – Vancouver Canucks

He’s won a gold medal for Canada but he’s never taken any team this far into the playoffs before. The Canucks are the top team in the NHL and his team is deep and loaded and on the precipice of getting the team into the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years. While Luongo was very nearly the goat in the first round against Chicago, he was lights out against Nashville which leads us to wonder just which Luongo we’ll see against San Jose. With those sorts of doubts in mind still, despite his pedigree in the league, it makes him a prime candidate for the playoff pressure cooker.

2. Joe Thornton – San Jose Sharks

Speaking of guys with a bad rap in the playoffs, it’s the Sharks captain Joe Thornton. When he was traded by Boston back in 2005 to San Jose he was labeled as a playoff choker who could never show up when it counted. All he’s ever done is be one of the best point producing centers in the NHL with a penchant for not appearing on the score sheet when the games got really important. Now this year he’s been solid on both sides of the puck scoring two goals and adding nine assists while drawing the assignment of shadowing the opponents top centers. Will he deal with Ryan Kesler or the Sedin line? It’ll be curious to see how that goes, but the one thing he’s got to do is keep putting points up and helping the Sharks win games lest that choker label still find a way to live on.

3 & 4. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin – Vancouver Canucks

I know, you’re thinking this is a cop out for the list by picking both guys but it’d be easier if the twins didn’t put up essentially identical numbers. Daniel Sedin has six goals and four assists while Henrik Sedin has one goal and eight assists. Both guys have put up identical plus/minus ratings of -8 and struggled against Nashville to generate any offense. They should, ideally, get better chances against the Sharks but all eyes are on them now. With Henrik being last year’s MVP and Daniel up for the award this year, they rightfully have a lot to live up to. The Canucks have been a great team with them taking care of their top line and now it’s time for their most important games of the season and they have to get it done or else the criticisms will be many.

5. Patrick Marleau – San Jose Sharks

You were probably expecting this pick right off the bat and while we can thank Jeremy Roenick for a lot of that focus after Marleau’s bumpy series against Detroit, there’s more to it than just that. Marleau was the Sharks’ leading scorer this season and in the playoffs he’s been virtually absent thanks to just scoring one goal against Detroit in their seven game series. Marleau had 37 goals and 36 assists during the regular season but in the playoffs he’s got three goals and three assists. He’s perhaps the team’s best scorer and they’ll need him to provide nightmares for Roberto Luongo by stepping up and having a monster series. Marleau was able to be huge against Chicago in last year’s Western Conference finals and similar production to that this time around would make him a hero.

Goalie nods: Coyotes turn back to Domingue for key game against Vancouver

Arizona Coyotes' Louis Domingue waves to the crowd after the Coyotes' NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Domingue earned his first NHL shutout as the Coyotes won 1-0. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Tonight is a big game for the Arizona Coyotes, as they host Vancouver, one of the teams they’re jockeying with for the final wild-card spot in the West.

If the Coyotes can beat the Canucks in regulation, they’ll move to within two points of Colorado for that final wild-card spot, with three games in hand on the Avs. Not only that, Vancouver’s playoff hopes would be dealt a significant blow.

Of course, that’s a pretty sizable “if” the way the Coyotes have been playing. The Desert Dogs are winless in their last four, with 21 total goals surrendered.

“We have to shore up some things and our goaltending has to be better,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters, while confirming that Louis Domingue would get the start versus the Canucks.

Domingue, the NHL’s rookie of the month in January, has struggled of late, allowing five goals in each of his last three starts. In the Coyotes’ last game, they turned to Anders Lindback, only for Lindback to surrender five goals himself in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim.

For the Canucks, Ryan Miller is expected to start, after Jacob Markstrom got the win last night in Denver.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers in Pittsburgh, where Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start for the Penguins.

Craig Anderson for the Senators in Detroit, where Petr Mrazek will make his third straight start for the Red Wings.

Sabres recall Justin Bailey, son of former Bills linebacker

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Justin Bailey, drafted #52 overall by the Buffalo Sabres, looks on after he was drafted in the second round during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres have recalled forward Justin Bailey from AHL Rochester.

It’s the first time Bailey, a second-round pick in 2013, has ever been called up to the NHL. The 20-year-old joins the big club after piling up 11 points (5G, 6A) in his last eight games for the Americans.

Most Sabres fans will know that Bailey is from Buffalo (technically, Williamsville), the son of former Bills linebacker Carlton Bailey. (To learn more, click on this Buffalo News story from July.)

The Sabres play Thursday in Philadelphia, where Bailey will reportedly make his NHL debut.

To make room for Bailey on Buffalo’s roster, Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) was placed on injured reserve.

Yeo was ‘disappointed’ to see Hoppy the rabbit holding a ‘YEO MUST GO’ sign

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Thing have gone from bad to weird in Minnesota, where embattled Wild coach Mike Yeo was “disappointed” to see Zenon Konopka’s rabbit holding a sign that read, “YEO MUST GO.”

Hey, we told you things had gotten weird.

Konopka, a former Wild player, took to Twitter last night after Minnesota’s latest loss.

Here’s what Konopka tweeted:

And what did Yeo think about that?

“I really don’t care what he says,” he told the Star Tribune, apparently adding with a laugh, “I will say I was very disappointed to see Hoppy holding that sign.”

Now, according to the newspaper’s Michael Russo, “Konopka and Yeo had a lot of issues behind the scenes and that’s why [Konopka] ended up on waivers two Januarys ago.”

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Wild fans agree with Hoppy, er, Konopka, and it doesn’t change the fact that the Wild could really, really use a win tomorrow at home to Washington.

Video: Anisimov, Niskanen, McDavid star in Goals of the Week

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Nice work from Artem Anisimov and Matt Niskanen this week, but Connor McDavid‘s tally is on a different level.

You can pretty much bank on McDavid being in Goals of the Year, too. Just saying.