Alex Burrows, Antti Niemi

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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Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

The Penguins were already without defenseman Olli Maatta, who was injured on a late, high hit from Brooks Orpik, which resulted in a three-game ban for the Capitals’ veteran blue liner. With Maatta out for Game 3, the Penguins inserted Derrick Pouliot into the lineup. With Letang out for Game 4, that opens the door to the possibility of Justin Schultz entering this series.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Krug out six months, Krejci out five months after undergoing surgery

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins talks with Torey Krug #47 during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Some pretty significant health updates out of Boston on Tuesday:

— Defenseman Torey Krug will miss the next six months following right shoulder surgery.

— Center David Krejci will miss the next five months following left hip surgery.

— Winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks following left hand surgery.

Got all that?

Let’s go straight to the ramifications:

Krug

Assuming he had a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team — and given he was the fifth-highest scoring American d-man this year, you had to figure he did — that opportunity is now wiped out.

The six-month recovery window also means Krug will likely miss however many games the Bruins play in October (it was 10 this season.) That’ll prove difficult for head coach Claude Julien.

Krug’s a staple of the Boston power play and averaged 21:36 TOI per night this season. Finding someone to fill that role won’t be easy.

Krejci

Named to the Czech Republic’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup, Krejci’s participation is now (presumably) in question. Even if he’s healthy earlier than expected — say, four months, that would bring him right up to the start of September, and the World Cup runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Can’t imagine Boston would be too happy with Krejci, who just turned 30 last week, playing in this event fresh off major hip surgery.

This is also the second significant injury Krejci’s suffered in the last two years, having partially torn his MCL in 2015.

Beleskey

Figures to be back to full health in time for training camp, which has to be one of the few positives to come from today. Beleskey enjoyed a good first year in Boston during the ’15-16 campaign, finishing with 15 goals and 37 points.

It’s possible the hand injury affected him down the stretch, though. After scoring five goals and eight points in 14 games in February, Beleskey failed to produce much in March and April, and finished the year in a four-game pointless slump.

Report: Wild interested in MacLean, Carlyle for head coaching gig

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 4: Head coach Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators yells at the on ice-officials following a disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on April 4, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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With the coaching carousel now in full spin — another gig opened up today, as Bob Hartley was fired in Calgary — GMs are actively seeking permission to speak with potential candidates.

Like in Minnesota, where Chuck Fletcher is working the phones.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fletcher — who has reportedly reached out to Ducks GM Bob Murray about Bruce Boudreau — is now also looking at Boudreau’s assistant in Anaheim, Paul MacLean, along with ex-Ducks and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

More, from Mike Russo:

It’s believed on that same phone call with Murray, Fletcher asked about the status of Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean. I’ve been led to believe Fletcher has yet to receive permission to talk with MacLean. If that’s true, it likely means MacLean, the former Senators head coach, is a candidate to replace Boudreau in Anaheim. That would make sense since MacLean was Murray’s hire in the first place.

In addition, as I reported in my Boudreau piece in Saturday’s paper here, sources told me that Fletcher did plan to contact Randy Carlyle. I don’t know if that contact has been made yet with the former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Fletcher is currently in California. Logic suggests he’s getting two interviews done for the price of one, as both Boudreau and Carlyle live in southern California.

As for MacLean, he’s certainly going to be a figure worth monitoring. One has to think he’s in line to replace Boudreau in Anaheim — something predicted from the moment he was hired — but that’s assuming Murray doesn’t clean house behind the bench.