Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Six

Five things to watch for in tonight’s Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay

With Game 7 upon us in just a short amount of time now, it’s only right that we take a look ahead to what we very well may see shake loose in this evening’s game to decide on who goes to the Stanley Cup finals. With so much at stake for both teams including a date with Vancouver starting next week, there’s so many factors that can go into deciding how things go tonight.

Out of everything you could see tonight, we’ve picked out five fancy ones really worth zeroing in on for tonight’s tilt in Boston.

1. Very little referee involvement

After all the gamesmanship we’ve seen out of Guy Boucher and Claude Julien in the wake of  and lead up to Game 6, don’t expect tonight’s officials Dan O’Halloran and Stephen Walkom to go out of their way to help decide tonight’s game. The ticky-tack calls will go away and the pressure will be on both teams to settle it themselves. Of course, should infractions occur that eliminate an immediate scoring opportunity, the arms will go up and power plays will occur. For Boston that means a two minute long fight with themselves to do something with the man advantage while Tampa Bay will be looking to continue their hot play from Game 6 on the power play. If you’re hoping your team can rely on penalties occurring, you might be sorely disappointed.

2. Who will Zdeno Chara match up against?

The safe answer would be “everyone” as Chara is their main defensive stopper and through the first five games of the series he played between 26 and 28 minutes per game. In Game 6 he played over 30 minutes as he was also being used out in front of Dwayne Roloson on the power play, a tactic the Bruins started using in Game 5.

Defensively, however, the question is who will he see more ice time against? Chances are he’ll be out there against whoever Martin St. Louis is riding shotgun with be it Steve Stamkos or Vincent Lecavalier or both of them at the same time. St. Louis is the most dangerous man on the ice for Tampa Bay and he’s found room to score all series long. Chara’s going to have to be at his best to keep up.

3. Can Dwayne Roloson stay undefeated in elimination games?

As crazy as it sounds, Dwayne Roloson has been the lights out closer in his career in goal. The 41 year-old netminder is 7-0 in his career in elimination games including going 4-0 this season alone for the Lightning. He won three straight against Pittsburgh and he was the big winner in Game 6 on Wednesday night. Roloson has had a rough go of things against Boston in this series with a 4.33 goals against average and a .851 save percentage and he’ll need to be a lot better tonight because banking on Tim Thomas to give up five or more goals again is not a wise gamble to make.

4. Boston’s first line: Help or hindrance?

Which version of Boston’s top line with David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton shows up tonight? If it’s the version from Game 6, the Bruins are in good shape as they saw Krejci net a hat trick while Lucic had a goal and an assist and Horton added two assists of his own. If the version that we saw in Game 1 that had a combined eight shots on goal and no points while seeing Lucic and Horton meltdown with penalties, the Bruins are in for some trouble. That top line has played better as the series has gone on but with how poor they played early on in the series, the worry about a relapse is there especially if things get chippy and the Bruins trail.

5. Does Guy Boucher have one more trick up his sleeve?

Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher caught the Bruins by surprise in Game 1 by deviating away from the more relaxed version of the 1-3-1 defense that lulled Washington to sleep and instead stifled the Bruins with pressure and counterattacks that forced the Bruins defense to turn the puck over and create scoring chances for the Lightning on their way to a 5-2 win. While both teams have adjusted well to each other, you have to wonder if perhaps there’s an attack strategy left in Boucher’s bag of tricks to surprise the Bruins. When in doubt the Bruins will look to defend stronger and work counterattacks of their own, but Boucher’s a sharp coach and if there’s something he’s seen in tape as the series has gone on with the Bruins defense that he can have his team expose, he’ll go to it.

The Bruins will want to play tough, physical, and aggressive no matter what in this game and they’ll want to get better play from defensemen like Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg to shore things up. If Boston can play what they call “Bruins hockey” and get rolling with that, Tampa will have a hard time countering that easily but the easiest way Tampa Bay can get the jump on Boston is to score first. If Boucher has a game plan worked out that can make life miserable for the Bruins, you’ll see it tonight.

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 percenate 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.

Blue Jackets move back to first in Metro, NHL after beating Hurricanes

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 7:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the New York Rangers on January 7, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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After stumbling for a bit, Tuesday was a reassuring night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus moved back to the top of the Metropolitan Division (and thus, the NHL) because they now match the Washington Capitals’ 64 points but have more wins (30 to 29) and hold a game in hand.

Also comforting for Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the Blue Jackets net, allowing one goal on 25 shots.

They were probably also happy to see Brandon Dubinsky enjoy a strong night (two goals) and Boone Jenner collect an assist and this absolute beauty of a goal:

The Hurricanes actually did hold a 1-0 lead in this game, but it lasted all of 11 seconds, as that Jenner goal erased that advantage.

The Blue Jackets face the Senators in Columbus on Thursday and then host the Hurricanes once again on Saturday. They follow that up with five straight road games and six of seven away from home beginning on Jan. 22. Columbus will pass another big test if they can stick with the Capitals and the rest of the NHL’s best through that stretch.