San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

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.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

Dustin Byfuglien
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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.

Slumping Wild want ‘a little home cooking’ from ‘restless’ fan base

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Minnesota Wild are in a funk right now.

They’re 3-10-3 in their last 16 games, three points back of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference and just put key blueliner Jonas Brodin on IR with a broken foot.

So, clearly, the team and head coach Mike Yeo are hoping for better times ahead, and Yeo hopes they begin tonight when the Wild kick off a three-game homestand with a date against Central Division rivals Dallas.

It’s interesting that Yeo’s addressing the Xcel faithful, while also acknowledging fans are irked by the team’s recent play. The timing of these remarks comes with the Wild boasting a good record at home (14-8-3) but having really struggled on the road — Minnesota has just nine away wins this year, the fewest among all Central teams.

Of course, there could be other reasons Yeo’s trying to get fans pumped for the upcoming home swing.

The next three games at Xcel are of the measuring stick variety. Dallas currently sits third overall in the NHL and boasts the league’s highest scoring offense (the Stars have also beat the Wild three out of four times this season already).

After the Dallas game, there’s another big one — the NHL’s top team, Washington, comes to town on Thursday.

After the Caps game, Boston — 7-2-1 in its last 10 — takes on the Wild in a Saturday matinee.

Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 10:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (L) and Fidelity National Financial Inc. Chairman and President of Hockey Vision Las Vegas Bill Foley pose during a news conference at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino announcing the launch of a season ticket drive to try to gauge if there is enough interest in Las Vegas to support an NHL team on February 10, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A Las Vegas franchise would play in a USD 375 million, 20,000-seat arena being built on the Strip by MGM Resorts International and AEG that is scheduled to open in the spring of 2016.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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On a scale of 1 to 10, Bill Foley is “9.5” confident that the NHL will grant him an expansion team for Las Vegas.

That was the main takeaway from an interview Foley did with KSNV NBC in Las Vegas.

At the same time, despite his high level of confidence, Foley would appreciate an answer sooner rather than later — especially if the team is to start playing in 2017-18.

” I don’t want to give the league too much time,” he said, smiling. “They’re doing their job, they’re doing their process and so on. We would really like to have the word by June.”

Foley was asked what he believed to be the biggest “concern” the NHL had about expansion. He replied that it was a matter of whether the league expanded by one team or two (Quebec City has also applied for a franchise), but also the expansion draft.

“Who’s available in the draft? Are players with no-trade clauses…are they going to be part of the draft or not part of the draft?” Foley wondered. “So the owners and the league have a lot of things to do and to figure out.”

Full video of the interview can be found here.

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle