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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Bruised Blackhawks will be without Seabrook, Toews vs. Rangers

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 13: Brent Seabrook #7 and Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks
celebrate a second period goal by Seabrook against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on February 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Scott Darling isn’t the only member of the Chicago Blackhawks who will be asked to step up with key players out of the lineup.

The Blackhawks have already ruled out Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, as CSN Chicago notes.

This will mark the eighth consecutive game Toews is missing, although the bright side is that Joel Quenneville didn’t dismiss the possibility of Chicago’s captain playing on Sunday.

Seabrook is considered day-to-day after being shaken up by this awkward spill from Wednesday:

A few days ago, Patrick Kane called upon others to step up with Toews out. That message can now apply to Chicago’s defensemen with Seabrook banged up.

Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

— TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

— Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

— Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

— Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

Price, Weber will be key to Canadiens’ survival without Galchenyuk, Desharnais

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens congratulates Carey Price #31 for their victory over the Boston Bruins during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens were already starting to wobble. With just four wins in their last 11 games, now the Habs will be forced to play without centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais for the next six to eight weeks.

It’s a heck of a challenge for any team, let alone one that endured a horrendous collapse last season when Carey Price was lost to injury.

Galchenyuk is the big loss now. The 22-year-old is Montreal’s leading scorer with 23 points (9G, 14A). He’d developed great chemistry with Alex Radulov, who is likely to skate now with Tomas Plekanec on the first line.

To be sure, the Habs still have Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw to provide scoring. Shaw can also play center. So can Phillip Danault, the 23-year-old who came to Montreal in February in a trade with Chicago.

But above all, they’ll need Price to be Price. The best goalie in the world (sorry, Bruce Boudreau), Price can keep the Habs in any and all games, even ones where they’re outshot badly.

Given the standings, the Canadiens just need to survive this next month or two without a full-on collapse. They’ve already built a nice playoff cushion. They don’t have to worry if they lose a couple here and there, which they’re bound to do given their situation.

This is also where Weber’s leadership will be tested. GM Marc Bergevin traded away a pretty popular player to get Weber, whom he called a “tremendous leader,” as well as a “complete and reliable defenseman.” Bergevin made that move for times like these, when the heat in that hockey-mad market goes way up.

Montreal starts a four-game home stand tonight against New Jersey. Looking ahead on the schedule, there’s a six-game road trip after Christmas, with stops in Tampa Bay, Florida, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Dallas and Toronto.

If they can survive that trip, they can survive anything.

It should be fascinating to watch them try.

Goalie nods: Oilers give Gustavsson shot at cooling off Flyers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Goalie Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up before the home opener against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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With six straight wins, Philly is one of the NHL’s hottest teams — and tonight, the Flyers will look to make it seven as Edmonton and backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson come to town.

Gustavsson hasn’t been used much this season, but has fared well when called upon. He made 31 saves in a 2-1 OT loss to the Wild this past Sunday and, on the year, has posted a 2.00 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Of course, those numbers have come in a small sample size. The Monster has just five appearances this season, and only three of them were starts.

Now, he’ll be thrown into arguably his biggest test of the year at Wells Fargo. The Flyers are rolling, Steve Mason has been lights out and the team continues to get terrific production from Wayne Simmonds, who has four goals in his last two games (and 15 total on the year, to lead the club).

Of note, tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Oilers — they play in Minnesota tomorrow — so Gustavsson goes in Philly, while regular No. 1 Cam Talbot faces the Wild on Friday.

Elsewhere…

Calvin Pickard gets his first start since Nov. 29 when the Avs take on the B’s in Boston. No word yet on a Bruins starter.

— The red-hot Jake Allen, who has won his last eight starts, will be in for the Blues. The Isles will counter with Thomas Greiss, who draws in after Jaroslav Halak performed well over the last three contests.

Roberto Luongo has lost three of his last four, despite posting a stellar .928 save percentage over that span. He’ll be in for the Panthers tonight as they host Pittsburgh. Matt Murray is in goal for the Pens.

Ryan Miller‘s back in goal for Vancouver, after Jacob Markstrom got last game in New Jersey. Miller will face Ben Bishop, who gets the nod for the host Lightning.

— Marquee matchup in Montreal, as Cory Schneider and the Devils take on Carey Price and the Habs.

Henrik Lundqvist gets a night off after starting four straight, as Antti Raanta will face the Jets. Winnipeg is likely to go with Michael Hutchinson, who occupied the starter’s net at practice this morning.

Pekka Rinne will look to beat the Stars for the second time this season. Dallas has yet to name a starter.

— To nobody’s surprise, Chad Johnson will be back in goal when the Flames take on the Coyotes in Arizona. Johnson has won seven of his last eight. For the Coyotes, Mike Smith is in goal.

Jeff Zatkoff, who made 25 saves in a win his last time out, looks to be the Kings starter. No word yet from the ‘Canes, but Cam Ward was in for last night’s 6-5 shootout loss to Anaheim.