Five Thoughts: Canucks get all the puck luck while Sharks shake off “choker” label

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We’re down to just one series left to figure out who will take part in the Stanley Cup finals and thanks to the Canucks amazing and fortunate double overtime victory, we know how half of the final matchup will be set up. Last night’s game is one that will stand out through these playoffs as one of the better games we’ve seen. As for our thoughts on things… We’ve got a few.

1. Remember when people were bagging on Roberto Luongo as a goalie who couldn’t get things done in the playoffs? It seems like forever ago, but that series against Chicago that saw Luongo benched in Game 6 turned out to be the turning point for him. He played great in Game 7 of that series and has been out of his mind good since then in helping beat Nashville in six games and now San Jose in five. His 54 save performance last night stands out as one of his best in these playoffs, if not his career.

In a playoffs that’s seeing players shake off old criticisms and carving out new legacies for themselves, it might turn out to be Luongo that gets the monkey off his back in the biggest way. You keep waiting to see signs of the old, shaky Luongo pop up and it just hasn’t happened since the Chicago series. In the Stanley Cup finals he could prove to be Vancouver’s biggest factor should they win it all, he’s been that good.

2. One of my thoughts after the Canucks got past Chicago in the first round was that it would be the motivator they needed to roll through the rest of the playoffs. Since then they got a great series out of Ryan Kesler and stellar play from Luongo to beat Nashville and then got incredible play out of Henrik Sedin and his line as well as more great play from Luongo to beat San Jose. Whether they face Boston or Tampa Bay, those teams are going to have their hands full with trying to defend against all the depth the Canucks bring to the table.

If you shut down the Sedins, you have Kesler playing out of his mind. If you bottle up the forwards, the Canucks defense finds ways to generate offense. And if you’re able to get through all of that there’s still Luongo to try and beat. Vancouver’s depth and talent level are two major reasons why we liked them to win the Stanley Cup when the playoffs began but now they’re getting the puck luck and the other breaks that teams that win it all seem to get.

3. Ryan Kesler’s apparent injury in last night’s game gave Vancouver fans a reason to feel sickly about things. Of course, whatever it was that was ailing Kesler wasn’t enough to keep him out of action long as he got back on the ice and managed to score the game-tying goal late in the third period. His production was vastly reduced in the Western Conference finals especially when compared to the previous round against Nashville, but his importance to the team is sky high and will be vital to the Canucks chances at winning the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the key here will be to see just how hurt Kesler is. With the Canucks continuing on we may not find out right away and considering he did come back into the game, it may not be all too bad. The upside to finishing up now means he’ll get at least a few days to rest up. We’re going to assume he and the Canucks will be rooting for Boston and Tampa Bay to go seven just to be safe.

4. After the game it was revealed that Sharks captain Joe Thornton played Game 5 with a separated shoulder. Thornton had 32:15 of ice time last night while getting seven shots on goal, no points, and finishing up with a -2 plus/minus rating. Thornton was also 10-18 on faceoffs. I think we can put the “playoff stiff” label away for good on Thornton. His play was solid, his play was tough, and he continued to do all the same things he had done in the playoffs defensively. He wasn’t able to get the offense going in this one, but he did more than his fair share of work all series and playoffs long.

Anyone looking to cast negative words toward Thornton now is either a wayward fan who’ll never be happy or a long time Bruins fan still holding a grudge against him for similar injured yet point-free heroics in the 2004 playoff loss to Montreal. The Sharks failure to get out of the Western Conference finals again will make it seem like they choked yet again, but getting knocked off by a better team is no reason to hang your head in shame. It’s just how it goes sometimes.

5. Sharks fans are obviously disappointed after another shortcoming in the Western Conference finals and some may wish for GM Doug Wilson to make drastic changes. One of the names being thrown around by fans immediately is that of Dany Heatley but with three years and $19 million still owed to him, he’s not going anywhere after such a miserable playoff series. Heatley did play well defensively in Game 5, but paying $7.5 million a year against the cap for a guy who’s supposed to score bunches of goals who’s playing better as a checking forward doesn’t make him attractive to any team.

Heatley should have some soul searching to do during the offseason to figure out where his heart and focus have gone off to. He showed signs of that in Game 5, but overall his playoffs were yet again highly forgettable. Heatley is being paid to play like a force of nature on the ice and striking fear into goaltenders. He’s got to find a way to blend in that tough defensive work and reignite his offensive game.

Sens win, but empty seats get the attention

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All the talk in Ottawa today should be about the Senators’ big win over the Rangers.

Instead, the city’s playoff excitement has been hijacked by a familiar topic — attendance woes.

A crowd of just 16,744 was announced at Canadian Tire Centre last night. Pictures of empty seats were all over social media. It had to be embarrassing for the home team, not to mention its combustible owner.

Read more: Plenty of tickets available for Game 1 in Ottawa

There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain the poor attendance. The suburban arena gets blamed a lot, and it’s true that the location is quite inconvenient. Some say the defensive style that coach Guy Boucher employs does not make for an entertaining enough product.

Here’s Sens reporter Ian Mendes with his take for TSN.ca:

The truth of the matter is that Ottawa simply doesn’t have a big enough season ticket base. Though the club never publicly discloses how many season tickets they have sold, it stands to reason that the number is well under 10,000. That means on a nightly basis, the Senators have to drum up enough walk-up sales to fill at least half their building – which is located well outside of the downtown core.

A better crowd is expected Saturday afternoon for Game 2. But there are still tickets available.

 

Related: Poor attendance an early story in Ottawa

Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

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They were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup.

And then the season started.

The Nashville Predators never really got rolling during their 82-game schedule. They’d have some good stretches, followed by some bad stretches. They ended up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Most predicted they’d lose to Chicago in the first round.

Of course, most were wrong. The Preds swept the Blackhawks, and now they’re up 1-0 on the Blues in the second round.

“We come in, we’re supposed to be this awesome, amazing team and we didn’t start so hot,” d-man Ryan Ellis said, per NHL.com. “We started to get better, and then some injuries crept into our locker room. We battled the whole year, losing guys at various times in the year and some younger guys stepped up. But overall, it’s adversity that makes you stronger. This was one of those years we faced a lot of adversity.”

A quick glance at Nashville’s roster and it’s not hard to understand the preseason hype. The Predators have a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen, a tremendous goal-scorer in Filip Forsberg, and one of the more underrated wingers in the league in Viktor Arvidsson.

But the real jewel is their blue line. Roman Josi is the No. 1 defenseman, paired with puck-mover Ryan Ellis, a former 11th overall draft pick. On the second pair is a former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, who skates with the dependable Mattias Ekholm.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better top four than that. And to think, the Preds also had Seth Jones, until they traded him to Columbus for Johansen.

The wild card heading into the playoffs was Pekka Rinne, the 34-year-old goalie who was spectacularly inconsistent during the regular season. He had a .949 save percentage in November, followed by an .875 in December. It was .933 in January, down to .888 in February, then back up to .923 in March.

So far this postseason, it’s .962.

Tonight in St. Louis, the Preds can make it six straight wins in the playoffs. More importantly, they can take a 2-0 lead over the Blues back to Nashville.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” winger Colin Wilson told reporters. “But when we played our game, we were always unstoppable. We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth.”

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Rangers won’t let Drury interview for Sabres GM gig

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As a former player and well-regarded young executive, there was a fit for Chris Drury in Buffalo’s front office.

Of course, there’s the exact same fit with the Rangers.

That’s why today’s news can’t come as a huge surprise. Per Sportsnet and TSN, New York has turned down Buffalo’s request to interview Drury for its vacant general manager gig.

Drury, 40, has spent the last two years climbing the Rangers’ executive depth chart. He was brought aboard in 2015 as the club’s director of player development and, a year later, was promoted to assistant GM under Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers aren’t the only ones enamored by Drury’s front office skills. Recently, USA Hockey tabbed him — along with Bill Guerin — as the braintrust responsible for building Team USA’s entry in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

As mentioned above, it was easy to see why the Sabres were interested. Drury played three seasons in Buffalo, served as team captain, and the club appears primed to make a splash with its next hire after dismissing Tim Murray.

Drury, of course, spent four seasons with the Rangers and also wore the “C.”

Should Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal have counted?

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We’re only one game into the Sens-Rangers series, and we already have a little bit of controversy.

Ottawa won Game 1, 2-1, thanks to Erik Karlsson‘s game-winning goal from a seemingly impossible angle (seriously, he scored from the corner).

But should it have counted?

There’s no issue with the Karlsson shot going off Henrik Lundqvist‘s mask and in, but the Rangers felt that the referees missed an icing call moments before the goal happened.

Karlsson is standing near his own blue line when he sends a pass in Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s direction. Did Pageau get a piece of it? It’s hard to tell from the angles we have at our disposal, but Alain Vigneault seemed to have had a good look at the play.

“We felt on their game-winning goal it should have been icing,” Vigneault said, per Sportsnet. “When we look at it, and look at the angles we get, I think it should have been icing. But at the end of the game you gotta play and you gotta do more than we did tonight to win.”

Challenging icing calls isn’t permitted, so when the officials decided that Pageau touched the puck, there’s nothing more the Rangers could do to reverse the call (except get the puck out of the zone when they had the chance).