Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks

Bruins and Canucks most likely to become villains in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals

Back in simpler times, the difference between “bad” and “good” was clear and undeniable. Antagonists wore suspicious mustaches and tied damsels in distress to train tracks while heroes shined like Superman. Blame it on “Generation X” or any other catalyst of cynicism, but most modern rivalries come down to shades of gray rather than obvious black-and-white battles. (Seriously, if professional wrestling catches on to the concept of anti-heroes, you know that simpler times are going away.)

When it comes to professional sports, a player can be a hero at home and receive boos whenever they touch the puck on the road. How often have you heard some variation of the phrase: “You hate the guy until he ends up on your team,” after all?

The 2011 Stanley Cup finals feature two physical teams who carried themselves this far based on plenty of factors, with their overall talent levels probably ranking the highest. That being said, they made some enemies along the way. Here are our picks for the players most likely to earn “villain” status in opposing venues during this best-of-seven championship series.

Vancouver Villains

Ryan Kesler – The one thing more infuriating than a talented opponent is an opponent who is fully aware of his talent. Kesler came into the NHL as a full-time chirper with some undeniable talent brimming within. Now he’s almost the opposite: a world-class two-way forward who can still get under opponents’ skin. Kesler became a true villain in Nashville by dominating the Predators and hamming it up in the process. The Bruins’ defense is pretty thin after their dynamic top duo, so if Claude Julien sics Zdeno Chara on the Sedin twins, Kesler could secure himself a golden opportunity to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Raffi Torres – Torres always struck me as the type of guy who owned the face of a villain, but he justified that instinctive assumption through three rounds of the playoffs. His most infamous hits remain the two checks that left Brent Seabrook reeling in the first round, but Torres continues to land thunderous blows that won’t endear him to the opposition.

Kevin Bieksa – He’s a gritty blueliner who has been on a scoring tear lately. Bieksa managed four goals and five points in Vancouver’s five games versus the San Jose Sharks, including that wacky double-OT goal that ended the series. His rough style makes him unpopular with other teams already, but recording heart-breaking tallies pushes him over the top.

Boston Baddies

Brad Marchand/Andrew Ference – Here are two players who received negative attention for their questionable goal celebrations. Marchand made that ill-fated golf swing gesture (that ended up ultimately being accurate) toward the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the regular season while Ference flipped off the Montreal Canadiens crowd in the first round. Marchand’s scoring skills and pest-like tendencies make him a stronger choice for villainy, but it makes sense to monitor both of them.

Nathan Horton – Speaking of questionable gestures toward the opposing crowd, what are the chances that Vancouver’s Green Men will come up with an absurd comedy bit regarding Horton’s water bottle incident? Is it 95, 98 or 99.99 percent? Maybe Horton will be more of a source of mockery than villainous anger, though.

Zdeno Chara – He might be a relatively even-keeled fellow for a man of his stature, but he is a physical force nonetheless. Tim Thomas is an equal obstacle in Vancouver’s path to a first Cup, but Chara’s size and defensive assignment might make him easier for Canucks fans to hate. Fair or not, that notorious hit on Max Pacioretty makes him a candidate for villain status for at least a little bit longer too, doesn’t it?

Milan Lucic – Could the Vancouver-born behemoth come back to haunt his former hometown? Chances are high that Cam Neely comparisons will make Canucks fans queasy either way.

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Ultimately, just about anyone can become a villain in the framework of a championship series. All it takes is an unfortunate hit, questionable comment to the press or an overly boisterous goal celebration to become the object of disaffection. Feel free to speculate in the comments regarding which Bruins and Canucks are likely to earn villain status in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 22:  Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings tries to knock down the puck between Henrik Lundqvist #30 and Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers during the second period at Joe Louis Arena on January 22, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.

WATCH LIVE: New York Rangers at Detroit Red Wings

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings looks to block a shot by Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City. The Red Wings defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Red Wings are trying to play their way back into playoff contention and have gained points in four consecutive games, including wins in each of their past three home games.

On Sunday they trying to extend that home winning streak against a New York Rangers team that is one of the highest scoring teams in the league, but has had a heck of a time stopping teams in recent weeks giving up 50 goals in their past 12 games.

All of the action starts on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET and you can watch all of it there, or online via our live stream.

It is also a Star Sunday that will focus on Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin and Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Click here for the live stream

Preview: Red Wings look to take advantage of Rangers’ struggling defense

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