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.

Dion Phaneuf trade pays early dividends for Kings

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

If nothing else, Dion Phaneuf knows how to make a first impression.

Think back to when Phaneuf burst onto the season as an NHL rookie. He scored 20 goals during his first season in 2005-06, which still stands as a career-high, and he enjoyed 50 and 60-point seasons in the next two years. During his first three seasons (2005-06 to 2007-08), Phaneuf collected 159 points, tying him with Brian Rafalski for sixth-most among defensemen. No other blueliner was even close to his 54 goals during that same span.

Between that scoring prowess and such a tendency to throw hard hits that his last name became a Kronwallian verb, it seemed like Phaneuf was destined to be the next Scott Stevens or Chris Pronger, or maybe the next Rob Blake.

… That’s not how things turned out, of course.

Phaneuf’s been known as much for a shaky contract as anything else lately, which is part of the reason Blake was able to get the Ottawa Senators to eat 25 percent of his salary to make a trade happen.

[Trade: Senators send Phaneuf to Kings.]

At the time, it was a puzzling deal, with the main takeaway being that the Senators get to save money while the Kings hope to rejuvenate Phaneuf. So far, that rejuvenation has been remarkable, even if small sample size red flags pop out so much, they practically poke you in the eye.

Still, it’s been a cool, under-the-radar story. Through four games, Phaneuf already has three goals for the Kings. All three have come on the power play; Phaneuf scored in his debut for L.A. and also found the net last night, helping them carve out a 4-3 win against the Jets.

[A deeper look at debuts for Phaneuf, Marian Gaborik.]

Let’s watch all three of his Kings goals.

Phaneuf’s goal in his Kings debut is the anomaly, as he saw an opening for something of a backdoor goal, which isn’t really what you picture if you hear “Phaneuf power-play goal.”

His past two goals have been to type, with slappers from both points getting the job done:

Even skeptics would probably admit that Phaneuf can still fire the puck, so maybe the Kings will find a nice use for one of his enduring strengths.

Again, there really couldn’t be enough signs that this is a brief surge of luck.

Phaneuf has scored his three goals on 11 SOG, which translates to a 27.3 shooting percentage. He brought a 3.5 shooting percentage (in 53 games) with him from Ottawa, and his career average is 5.7 percent.

(You can stretch this out further to absurd PDO numbers and others, if you want to go exploring.)

The most interesting question will come down to how much value Phaneuf can bring to the Kings.

So far, his possession numbers are shaky, much like they were in Ottawa. He’ll get a chance to improve over the long haul, especially if he remains tethered to a solid middle pairing blueliner like Alec Martinez. Phaneuf has spent more even-strength time with Martinez than he has with any other King, Jonathan Quick included, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This brief but compelling surge is actually reminiscent of some other trades for the Kings. As you may recall, both Vincent Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla enjoyed brief-yet-notable surges in their swan songs in L.A.

Of course, the stakes are higher with Phaneuf. Even at a discounted rate, his $5.25 million cap hit is frightening, especially when you realize that it runs through 2020-21.

One must grade the trade with Marian Gaborik‘s also-challenging contract in mind, making this all a bit convoluted. If one were to wager, it seems most likely that this move will be remembered as a costly, creative, and somewhat confusing lateral move.

But, hey, at least it the first chapter has been captivating.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

 

Jarome Iginla skates with AHL Providence, still wants to play

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Jarome Iginla is still without a team but isn’t giving up hope just yet on one last ride in the NHL.

The 40-year-old Iginla, who last played in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, was spotted on the ice at Providence Bruins practice on Tuesday, but there’s nothing in the works as far as a deal anywhere, he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver.

Iginla’s name popped up in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this fall, but a hip procedure cost him time on the ice and ultimately a place in GM Sean Burke’s final roster for PyeongChang. (The Canadians are doing just fine without him having reached the semifinals of the tournament.)

Now living in the Boston area after buying a house last spring, Iginla, who played 78 games with the NHL Bruins during the 2013-14 season, was simply taking advantage of a favor from the team. He’s expected to skate with AHL Providence again on Thursday as he continues to see where his body is physically.

Iginla — and for that matter, U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, who’s also looking to continue playing — can sign with any NHL team, but to be eligible to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs a deal needs to be inked before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline next Monday.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Fight Video: Nicolas Deslauriers lands several good shots on Brandon Manning

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Montreal Canadiens may have come out on the wrong end of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime decision in Philadelphia, but Nicolas Deslauriers definitely won his fight against Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning.

This was Deslauriers’ first game since signing a two-year, one-way contract extension worth $950, 000 per year. The 26-year-old has brought a physical presence to Montreal’s lineup, but he’s also chipped in with seven goals. On Tuesday, he made more of an impact with his knuckles than anything else.

Take a look four yourself by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time these two players go head-to-head on the ice. They also fought when Deslauriers was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

If you’re more interested in finding out what happened last night’s game, click here.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Vegas might have best line in hockey; 3 things NHL should take from Olympics

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The rivalry between Canada’s women’s team and the United States women’s team doesn’t have the same bite it did a few years ago. (NBC Olympics)

• American twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson have been playing like they have something to prove. (The Ice Garden)

• Former NHL goalie Jonas Hiller won’t play for team Switzerland anymore. (Swiss Hockey News)

• There’s a group of Kenyan hockey players that want to take part in future Olympic Games. (ESPN)

• The NHL can grow in popularity if they sample three things from the Olympics. (Vice Sports)

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

• Trade rumors can weigh on a player as the trade deadline approaches. Just ask Tyler Johnson how that feels. (Tampa Times)

• The Rangers will go through a hard time over the next little while, but it could all be worth it in the end. (NY Post)

• Don’t expect the Golden Knights to make big moves before Monday’s trade deadline. (Knights on Ice)

• Speaking of Vegas, they might have the best line in hockey. (TSN.ca)

• Winnipeg has had a hard time trading for players with no-move clauses, but that’s nothing to be offended by. (Jets Nation)

• Even though they won’t make the playoffs this year, the Panthers certainly have a bright future ahead. (Fan Rag Sports)

• As bad as things are for the Montreal Canadiens, they’ll probably get a whole lot worse. (Rabid Habs)

• The San Jose Sharks acquired veteran forward Eric Fehr from the Maple Leafs. (NHL.com/Sharks)

• Is Blues forward Patrik Berglund still a useful player? (Blues Rants)

• The World’s Longest Hockey Game raised over $1.2 million for cancer research this year. (Edmonton Journal)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.