Tim Thomas helps Boston steal a 3-1 Game 5 win, Bruins gain 3-2 series lead

1 Comment

It’s amazing that someone would claim that the 2011 playoffs lack dominant goaltending performances when you consider the astounding work by Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Whether he wins a Stanley Cup this year or not, Thomas is putting together one of the best combined regular season and playoff runs we’ve seen in a long time.*

For most of this series, the Tampa Bay Lightning carried the play but Thomas regularly bailed his Boston Bruins out. Tonight’s Game 5 might be the best example of how Thomas is carrying his team on his well-traveled back, though.

Boston 3, Tampa Bay 1; Bruins lead series 3-2

After allowing a goal on the first shot he faced (a beautifully executed one-timer from Steven Stamkos to Simon Gagne), Thomas never allowed another puck in his net. He made 33 stops overall, including a desperation stick save that might just be the best save of the 2011 playoffs.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

As you can see from that clip, he wasn’t the only goalie who played well in Game 5. Lightning coach Guy Boucher decided to start Mike Smith instead of Dwayne Roloson, a move that surprised some. Out of context, it might seem like Smith was a weak link for the Lightning since he allowed two goals on 19 shots. The thing is, the two goals he allowed were nearly unstoppable and he was an asset for most of the contest. No doubt about it, Boucher faces a tough decision regarding his Game 6 starter.

Bruins recover from lopsided first period

Tampa Bay out-shot Boston 14-4 in the first period but Thomas only allowed that 1-0 goal. The Bruins scored two goals in the second period, which ended up being all the offense they would need.

Nathan Horton made amends for his two interference penalties by rifling a one-timer through Smith to make it 1-1. Horton has been hot-and-cold in his first career playoff year, but his goals have often been game-changers.

Speaking of game-changers, Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal ended up being a nice team effort. Zdeno Chara made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, Patrice Bergeron sent an outstanding pass through the Lightning defense and Marchand overpowered Martin St. Louis to score.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

The Lightning sent steady pressure toward Thomas in every period, but the Bruins were able to hold onto that 2-1 second period lead through the rest of the game. Rich Pevereley scored the 3-1 dagger into an empty Tampa Bay net to seal the deal for Boston in the third period. Steve Downie seems to be getting reputation-based penalties in this series, as many questioned the boarding call he received while officials missed Andrew Ference tripping him behind Boston’s net. Downie was seen stewing alone on the Lightning bench after the game concluded.

Outlook for both teams

The Bruins are one win away from their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. Again, they have one man to thank above all else: Tim Thomas. It’s unclear if they did this by design, but only Thomas came out during the three stars ceremony after the game. As usual, he had something interesting to say in this post-game interview.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Boston would like to avoid another Game 7 by wrapping this up in Tampa Bay, but they shouldn’t lean so heavily on Thomas on Wednesday. The Bolts are undefeated in elimination games, so this series probably won’t get an easier for the Bruins.

The Lightning put 34 shots on Thomas, frequently catching the Bruins flat-footed with their superior overall speed. One area of concern is the health of unexpected hero Sean Bergenheim, who didn’t return after suffering a first period groin injury.

After winning games in which they were regularly out-shot thanks to outstanding goaltending and timely offense during the first two rounds, The Lightning are getting a taste of their own medicine in the Eastern Conference finals. You cannot fault their effort so far, but that will be little solace if they fall two wins short of the championship round.

* – My bet is that Thomas will win the Vezina Trophy for the 2010-11 season. The last goalie who followed up a Vezina-winning regular season with a comparably outstanding postseason was Martin Brodeur, who won a Stanley Cup after earning the Vezina during the 2002-03 season.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

Getty
1 Comment

Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

Getty
Leave a comment

The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

Getty
2 Comments

If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

Getty
1 Comment

The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).