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.

No mic? No problem: Oilers fans sing American, Canadian national anthems

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There was apparently an issue with a microphone used for the national anthems prior to Game 3 between the Ducks and Oilers in Edmonton.

Canadian country music star Brett Kissel was supposed to perform the anthems, however, as he stepped up to the mic, he soon discovered that there seemed to be a malfunction.

With some quick encouragement from Kissel, fans at Rogers Place stole the show with stirring renditions of both the American and Canadian national anthems.

Here is the Star Spangled Banner:

Here is O Canada:

Sami Vatanen returns to Ducks lineup vs. Oilers

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Good news for the Anaheim Ducks, who trail the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 in their second round series.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen returns to the lineup Sunday for Game 3 — his first game since April 13, which was the opener of Anaheim’s first-round series with Calgary, because of an upper-body injury.

However, the Ducks will be without Kevin Bieksa, who is dealing with a lower-body injury.

Predators stifle Blues to take back series lead

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The Nashville Predators have snapped their one-game funk in these Stanley Cup playoffs, taking back the series lead over the St. Louis Blues.

For long stretches of Sunday’s contest, the Predators kept the puck away from and stifled the Blues, including a stretch of almost nine minutes at the beginning of the second period in which St. Louis failed to register a shot attempt.

The Predators’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 was eventually secured on an unbelievably dominant shift late in the third period.

Joel Edmundson‘s (costly) turnover led to a dizzying attack from Predators, who had sustained puck possession inside the St. Louis zone for about 1:10.

By the end, Edmundson and Colton Parayko had exhausted themselves as the Predators tossed the puck around with increasing ease before Roman Josi halted the madness with a slap shot to the top corner, giving Nashville a two-goal lead.

That continues an impressive trend for the Predators.

They have scored nine goals in this series, with at least one defenseman contributing directly with either a goal or an assist on eight of those goals. Nashville’s group of blueliners — including Ryan Ellis, who has been on quite a productive roll throughout these playoffs — have combined for 11 points through three games in this series.

This series resumes Tuesday in Nashville, with the Predators leading 2-1.

VIDEO: Ryan Ellis continues his incredible postseason run for Predators

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Playing in Nashville over the years it has been easy for Ryan Ellis to get overlooked, always playing in the shadow of bigger name stars on the team’s blue line.

Shea Weber (before he was traded). Roman Josi. P.K. Subban.

But Ellis has been a major part of the Predators’ blue line and he had a career-year in 2016-17, setting new personal bests in goals (16) and points (38) while matching his previous career high in assists (22).

He has continued that strong play in the postseason and is currently the team’s leading scorer after he netted his third goal of the playoffs (and eighth total point) on Sunday afternoon to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues.

You can see it in the video above.

After being held without a point in the Predators’ first playoff game, Ellis has now picked up at least one point in every playoff game since them and is now riding a six-game point streak.

The first half of Sunday’s game has been a defensive clinic by the Predators, by the way, limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots on goal through the first 34 minutes, and none through the first 14 minutes of the second period.

The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period when Cody McLeod deflected in his first goal of the playoffs to give the Predators some unexpected scoring depth. He had just five goals in 59 games during the regular season between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.