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.

John Gibson has been terrific since the start of 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09:  John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks protects the net during the season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on October 9, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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By trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto, the Anaheim Ducks were essentially crowning John Gibson as their starting goaltender, but he didn’t get off to such a hot start.

Gibson dropped his first three decisions of the season and it took a while for him to look comfortable as the go-to guy for the Ducks.

It’s not totally unexpected that a 23-year-old goalie would struggle to find consistency in his first full year as a starter, but Gibson and his team were able to weather the storm and it’s paid off in a big way.

He’s been terrific since late-December and that continued on Sunday, as he made 24 saves in a 1-0 shutout win over the rival Kings.

Since Dec. 27, Gibson has put up a 1.98 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage. Both those numbers are tops in the NHL. He also leads all goalies in shutouts after Jan. 1 with four.

“This time of the season, that’s the way it’s going to be,” Gibson said after the win over Los Angeles, per NHL.com. “Going into the playoffs and towards the end of the year, games are going to be tight. There’s not much room for error, so you have to be pretty good.”

Anaheim is currently in third in the Pacific Division with 72 points in 60 games. They have the same amount of points as second-place Edmonton, but the Oilers have a game in a hand. Both the Ducks and Oilers trail the division-leading Sharks by five points.

If Gibson can continue playing the way he is right now, he’ll give his team a shot at the division crown or at least home ice advantage.

PHT Morning Skate: ECHL jersey retirement ceremony goes embarrassingly wrong

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–Coming into this season, not many people thought of Sidney Crosby as a goal scorer. But if you look at the numbers closely, you’ll see that he can fill the net with the best of them. How does he do it? His wrist and snap shots are deadly. He scores 47.4 percent of his goals on those two shots. (Sports Illustrated)

–Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat dropped to the second round because of size (he’s 5-foot-9), but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up incredible OHL numbers. Even though he’s small by NHL standards, his former junior teammate, Connor McDavid, has no doubt that he can succeed at the next level. “He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do.” (CSN Chicago)

Charlie Coyle‘s 88-year-old grandma got to watch him play Xcel Energy Center for the first time and she was thrilled about it. She joined the Wild broadcast to talk about her grandson. FYI, this sweet lady went skydiving for her 80th birthday! (NHL.com)

–The beauty of the NHL is that anybody can beat anybody on any given night and the Detroit Red Wings proved that on Sunday with their big 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights of that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Retired pilot Ron Daley is 80 years old, but he still manages to play ice hockey. The “veteran” goalie plays in a suburb of Montreal every Monday afternoon and he’s having a blast. “Everybody I know who plays hockey loves the game, just like me, and would love to play as long as they can. If they let them play on crutches, they’d probably still be playing.” (Montreal Gazette)

–Gare Joyce of the New York Times wrote a great piece about the challenges of being a scout in the NHL. They log a lot of miles, watch a lot of games, but they can quickly get lost in the shuffle over the years. Joyce writes about a scout named Fred, who worked hard, won a Stanley Cup, but couldn’t find work after he was let go by his team. (New York Times)

–Be careful what you predict in a newspaper. One KHL reporter learned that the hard way after he predicted that Dinamo Minsk wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs. Once they secured a spot in the postseason, the reporter sat down and ate the article he wrote. Seriously. (Yahoo)

–The ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets retired Colin Chaulk’s number prior to their game on Saturday night. That’s a very special honor for any player at any level, but this jersey retirement ceremony went terribly wrong. The banner was unveiled upside down, but the team decided to go ahead with the ceremony anyway. General manager David Franke referred to it as “the most embarrassing thing I’ve been part of in 27 years with the club.” (BarDown)

Johansen is a ‘little disappointed’ the Blue Jackets didn’t recognize him in return to Columbus

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 19:  Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Ryan Johansen played 309 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets before a blockbuster trade to Nashville last January.

On Sunday, he finally made his return back to Columbus as a member of the Predators. However, he did not receive any sort of tribute whatsoever from the team that originally selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, and that is something that apparently bothered him.

“I am a little disappointed they didn’t put anything on the Jumbotron and say ‘thank you’ or anything like that,” Johansen told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “I think we all know who made that call, but whatever.”

While Johansen enjoyed some productive seasons with the Blue Jackets, his time in Columbus, particularly his final months, were dogged with contentious headlines about his contract negotiations with the club and then his working relationship with coach John Tortorella.

Johansen, now 24 years old, has nine goals and 40 points in 58 games this season for Nashville. Currently in the final year of his three-year, $12 million contract, he’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Make that four straight wins for the Bruins

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Brent Burns turned in a dominating performance. But Brad Marchand had the last laugh.

Marchand scored his 25th goal of the season and, more importantly, the overtime winner for the Boston Bruins as they defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Sunday.

That’s Boston’s fourth consecutive win since the controversial coaching change — which took another twist earlier in the week when the rival Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and hired Claude Julien. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Marchand bolted up the ice for the breakaway pass, on what appeared to be a set play, beating Martin Jones through the legs.

The Bruins move back into third in the Atlantic Division, and are now only four points back of the faltering Habs for first.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were unable to fully capitalize on another freakish Brent Burns outing. He’s been dubbed ‘an unstoppable force’ in recent posts at PHT — a defenseman possessing great size at six-foot-five-inches tall and 230 pounds, but no shortage of mobility and offensive talent with 27 goals and 64 points in 60 games. Um, and did we mention he’s a defenseman. . . ?

Against the Bruins, he had 20 shot attempts — by far the most of any player in this game — in just over 26 minutes of ice time.

Given the final score, that probably doesn’t mean much to Brad Marchand.