Special teams makes the difference for Canucks; Vancouver takes 4-2 win and 3-1 series lead

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Every once in a while, pre-game storylines end up being justified by in-game results. The Vancouver Canucks’ 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks accomplished that task in such a dramatic way that the two games at the Shark Tank seem like point/counter-point columns.

The Canucks’ penalty killing and 5-on-3 power play units failed miserably in Game 3, but they absolutely won Game 4 for Vancouver. After killing five penalties through today’s first 24 minutes, the Canucks did what the Sharks couldn’t: they made their opponents pay for their mistakes.

In fact, they did so in a way we may never see again by scoring three 5-on-3 powerplay goals in less than two minutes. The Sharks didn’t totally give up after falling into that 3-0 hole, but you can’t blame them for being a little stunned.

Vancouver 4, San Jose 2; Canucks lead series 3-1

Much like Joe Thornton before him, Henrik Sedin is silencing his critics in a dramatic way. He earned four assists to take first place in 2011 playoff scoring with 19 points. Henrik has been on a blistering streak since Game 4 of Vancouver’s series against the Nashville Predators, scoring two goals and 12 assists for an astounding 14 points in seven games. His brother Daniel Sedin had a strong game himself, earning three assists to hit the 16-point mark.

Roberto Luongo’s strong game shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle, either. He made 33 saves throughout the game and shut down the Sharks power play when it mattered the most. San Jose scored on Luongo twice during a third period in which they out-shot Vancouver 17-3, but that ultimately just made it a more respectable outcome.

Canucks played strong all-around game, despite stats

Many people will make a big deal about the shot discrepancy (the Sharks out-shot the Canucks 35-13), but in a game with nine penalties in the first two periods, special teams efficiency was more important. Besides, the Sharks’ shot advantage was a more reasonable 18-10 through the first two periods before the Canucks focused primarily on defending their lead.

For the most part, Vancouver kept San Jose’s chances to the perimeter until the Sharks started dominating late in the third period. The Canucks simply capitalized on their golden opportunities and pressured the Sharks enough to make them squander their chances.

A lot of people will blame Antti Niemi for the loss, and it’s true that he did allow a weak goal or two. Niemi would like to have that final goal back in particular, but he didn’t have much of a chance on those 5-on-3 goals.

Jumbo worries for San Jose

If the outcome wasn’t bad enough, the Sharks also must be concerned about the health of Thornton. The big center didn’t return to San Jose’s bench after landing awkwardly on his shoulder thanks to a clean hit by Raffi Torres. As much as people rush to call Jumbo Joe a choker, losing his sublime passing and big body would be a huge blow to the Sharks’ hopes for a comeback.

Special teams dominance is the lasting memory of this game, but if you want to summarize the emotional impact of the game in one clip, watch Keith Ballard’s hip check on Jamie McGinn.

Much like Game 3, this contest ended a bit ugly. Ryan Kesler was on the worst end this time around, then, as a Ryane Clowe punch sent him sprawling in the final seconds after the two exchanged slashes.

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Will the Canucks close out the Sharks and get a nice break before they try to win their first-ever Stanley Cup finals? Could San Jose continue to build up their growing reputation as a surprisingly resilient team by fighting hard to stay in this series? We’ll keep you updated about reactions, injuries and highlights as Game 5 approaches on Tuesday (which you can see on Versus at 9 p.m. ET).

Here’s the complete recap of Game 4 from NBC

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Here are the highlights of Game 4 from NBC

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After the game, Darren Pang spoke to both Sami Salo and Henrik Sedin

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Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.