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.

Mrazek comes up big as Red Wings win sixth in a row

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on in the first period while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.

For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).

It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.

Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.

It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.

Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.


You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.

It wasn’t pretty, but Coyotes beat Flyers to end five-game skid

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27: Roman Lyubimov #13 and Chris VandeVelde #76 of the Philadelphia Flyers collide during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson scored the decisive goals to help the Arizona Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 on Thursday night to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Jamie McGinn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan White also scored for Arizona. The Coyotes have their only two wins this season against the Flyers.

The Coyotes salvaged one victory on a season-long, six-game road trip.

Louis Domingue stopped 28 shots and won his first game of the season. He had been 0-4 with a 5.03 goals against average and had stopped only 85 percent of his shots.

Nick Cousins, Brayden Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers.

The Coyotes snapped a tie with two straight goals in the third scored in a bit of a bizarre manner.

Schenn leveled defenseman Michael Stone and Coyotes teammate Jakob Chychrun quickly came to his defense. Chychrun and Schenn brawled against the boards as the crowd erupted – and no one paid attention to the puck.

Hanzal made it 3-2 and led to a few confusing moments as officials checked to make sure the goal was scored before the fight. Wildly cheering fans fell silent in a second when the goal was announced.

Chychrun was tossed for instigating the fight.

Richardson made it 4-2 on a goal that was reviewed because the Flyers thought he ran down goalie Steve Mason. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov took Richardson down and they went into the net together so the goal counted.

MacDonald, having a miserable season, made it 4-3 but the Flyers were out of rallies.

White scored an insurance goal late in third to send fans toward the exits. Simmonds scored with 14.3 seconds left.

The Flyers again had to rally from an early deficit, a troubling theme for a team with playoff aspirations. The Coyotes led 2-0 in the first, the latest slow start for the Flyers. They have been outscored 8-1 in the first period this season and allowed the first goal for the seventh straight game.

Coach Dave Hakstol hoped a line change would boost the Flyers offense. He moved 19-year-old rookie center Travis Konecny to the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek after that late-game pairing helped the Flyers come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Buffalo.

“We needed a spark, that’s why we’re trying something a little bit different,” Hakstol said.

Konecny, the Flyers’ first-round pick of the 2015 draft, has been solid since he opened eyes in training camp and scored his first career goal against the Sabres. He entered tied for the rookie lead with five assists and said he would keep the same approach even with the line promotion.

“I’m not going to change anything in my game,” he said. “I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them.”

The Flyers needed help early.

Moments after they honored former great Eric Lindros – in his No. 88 sweater – another 88 got them with a goal. McGinn scored his first goal of the season to beat Mason. Ekman-Larsson followed with a slapper from the point for his fifth goal of the season.

The Coyotes, who last won on opening night against the Flyers on Oct. 15, failed to hold the lead.

Cousins pounded home a rebound for his first goal of the season and Schenn followed with a power-play score to help the Flyers at least tie the game when down two goals for the fifth time this season.

Notes: The Flyers played without a suspended player for the first time this season. … The Flyers honored 14 members of the team’s Hall of Fame, along with the family of six other members, including: Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent and Dave Schultz. The Flyers have a variety of nostalgic celebrations planned this season for their 50th anniversary. … Coyotes D Luke Schenn, a former Flyer, played against his brother.


Coyotes: Host Colorado on Saturday.

Flyers: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Video: In case you wonder if Crosby will still score gritty goals

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on April 2, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Penguins shutout the Islanders 5-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Many hockey fans were sad that Sidney Crosby was absent from the start of the 2016-17 season. The New York Islanders probably would’ve preferred that he sit out a few more games.

Crosby’s been back and hasn’t really missed a beat, and Thursday provided a reminder that he’s unlikely to change the way he plays.

To be more specific, he’s a star player willing to score “greasy” or “dirty” goals (depending upon your region). Crosby operated like a power forward while scoring the game-winner against the Islanders on Thursday:

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Islanders 4-2, with the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury receiving a lot of the credit.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have an all-world player willing to get that physical on your side.

Price, Canadiens pass early test vs. Lightning

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 20:  Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulates teammates Andrei Markov #79 and goaltender Carey Price #31 after defeating the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on October 20, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Arizona Coyotes 5-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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A game in late-October doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but it never hurts to beat a team you consider a legitimate contender.

The Montreal Canadiens continued their hot start to 2016-17 by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Thursday.

There were certain familiar ingredients, such as Carey Price looking very much like himself, stopping 30 out of 31 shots on goal. He’s now on a four-game winning streak and has only allowed six goals during that span.

Of course, even a Price-led team needs to score some goals, and it seems like a different star or two steps up each night.

Before, it was Alex Radulov and then Shea Weber. This time, Alex Galchenyuk tied things up while adding to tonight’s highlight reel of boisterous celebrations:

While Max Pacioretty slapped the decisive goal home:

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman believed the difference was special teams, but either way, Montreal keeps generating wins (whether you call them statement games or not).