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.

Trouble for Ducks: Lindholm and Vatanen need major shoulder surgeries, will miss months

Getty
Leave a comment

Not a great week for the Anaheim Ducks.

After being eliminated in Game 6 of the Western Conference final — the toughest loss of Ryan Kesler’s career, apparently — the Ducks broke more bad news on Friday as GM Bob Murray announced d-men Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen both require torn labrum surgery, and will be out an awfully long time.

The timeline on Lindholm is 4-5 months, while Vatanen’s recovery will extend beyond that because his injury was more serious.

Looking at the calendar, four months would run Lindholm up to the end of September, meaning he’d miss a good chunk of the preseason. If it’s five months, he could miss the first three weeks of the regular season.

Murray didn’t even put a timetable on Vatanen, only saying it would be longer.

This adds to what was already going to be a pretty stressful summer in Anaheim. As we wrote earlier, Murray has some big decisions on his hands.

Vatanen and Lindholm are huge parts of the team. Both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season, and both broke the 20-point plateau. They’re also locked in long term — Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen for the expansion draft, the defense will definitely be worth watching. Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. There are already reports that extension negotiations are going well but, after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Add it all up, and the Ducks will certainly be worth watching this offseason.

In a surprise, Blues name Steve Ott assistant coach

Getty
6 Comments

Pretty wild last few days for St. Louis on the coaching front.

After gutting Mike Yeo’s staff of four assistants, then hiring hiring Darryl Sydor, the Blues went totally off the grid on Friday by announcing longtime NHLer Steve Ott would become Yeo’s new assistant.

“Steve was a competitor on the ice as a player and I expect him to bring that energy in this role,” Yeo said in a release. “He was highly respected as a player and a person among his teammates and I believe he will be a huge asset to our staff.”

The decision caught many off guard given Ott, 34, has no prior coaching experience and was playing as recently as last month, suiting up for Montreal in its opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Ott is familiar with the Blues organization, having played there for three seasons.

“I am very proud of my playing career and will devote the same work ethic to my coaching career,” said Ott. “The Blues organization is very special to me and my family and I’m excited to take the next step in my hockey career with this franchise.”

Blues GM Doug Armstrong signed Ott to a three-year deal. It’s fitting that Armstrong was the one to engineer this move, as he’s been behind unorthodox coaching moves in the past. Last summer, he defied convention by hiring Yeo as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant, with the understanding that Yeo would inherit the head man position next season.

It didn’t go exactly to plan. Armstrong fired Hitchcock in February, accelerating Yeo’s ascension.

Kesler calls Game 6 loss to Nashville the ‘toughest’ of his career

Getty
6 Comments

Ryan Kesler has lost some big games in his career.

He was on the United States team that lost to Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He was on the Vancouver Canucks team that lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

But apparently neither of those losses were as bad as the one his Anaheim Ducks experienced on Monday.

“This was the toughest loss of my career,” Kesler said of losing Game 6 of the Western Conference Final to Nashville. “This stings. It still stings. We left everything out there.”

Kesler had a particularly tough game, finishing minus-4 in the 6-3 loss. In the series, he only had one assist, failing to score on any of his 19 shots.

At 32 years old, Kesler is running out of time to win his first Stanley Cup.

And perhaps that’s why this latest loss was especially tough for him. The Ducks had a great chance to eliminate the Predators once Ryan Johansen was lost for the series, and then they would’ve faced either Pittsburgh minus Kris Letang or the underdog Ottawa Senators.

That’s gonna sting every time.

Related: Johansen wishes he was there to shake Kesler’s hand after Predators won

Fisher returns to Preds practice, but still not cleared

Getty
Leave a comment

Given the injuries Nashville’s sustained at center this postseason, Mike Fisher‘s presence at today’s practice was a welcome sight — regardless of his availability for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I feel pretty good,” Fisher told NHL.com after practicing for the first time since May 18. “I skated a few days here. Still not cleared, but it felt good to get out there with the guys.”

Fisher was knocked out of the Western Conference Final in Game 4, after taking a Josh Manson knee to the head. That, combined with the loss of Ryan Johansen to season-ending thigh surgery, whittled Nashville’s center depth down to Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissions, Vern Fiddler and Frederick Gaudreau.

Even though Fisher is pointless through 14 playoff games, his return would still be massive. In addition to serving as team captain, he was averaging just under 17 minutes per night prior to getting hurt, while winning 52 percent of his faceoffs.

He said his undisclosed injury feels “a lot better than it was a few days ago,” adding that his goal is to return for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Fisher took minimal contact at today’s skate, and worked on a line with James Neal and Harry Zolnierczyk.