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.

PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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–In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

–Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

–Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

–Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

–Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.