Tim Thomas

Boston being down 2-0 will look to Montreal and Pittsburgh for historic inspiration

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It’s not an enviable position for the Boston Bruins to be in. They’re down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals to the Vancouver Canucks and since the expansion era began in the NHL in the 1966-1967 season only two teams have battled back from that to win the Stanley Cup. 25 of the last 27 teams that jumped out to a 2-0 lead went on to win Lord Stanley’s most prized possession.

The Bruins have already fought out of a 2-0 hole this year in the first round of the playoffs against Montreal. There the teams took care of each other on one another’s home ice through the first four games before seeing Boston win their final two home games in Games 5 and 7 to take the series, culminating with a Game 7 win in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton. But when it comes to the Stanley Cup finals, they’ll have to dig a bit deeper to find inspiration to comeback and win the series.

In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins dropped the first two games of the finals to Detroit and fought back from being down two games twice in those finals to win the series in seven games. Evgeni Malkin helped lead the charge for Pittsburgh while Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head to help keep the Red Wings off the board. Malkin’s play was so inspiring that he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy at the end of everything. Considering that Pittsburgh had to win twice in Detroit in the final three games of the series to do it makes their feat all the more impressive.

The first team in the expansion era to pull off the 2-0 comeback was, of course, the Montreal Canadiens in 1971. That year the Habs got down 2-0 to the Chicago Blackhawks before winning the next two at home in Montreal. Home teams would all win each game except for Game 7 when the Habs beat Chicago 3-2 to take the Stanley Cup thanks to the work of Ken Dryden in goal and brothers Frank and Peter Mahovlich on the ice. Captain Jean Beliveau would make that Stanley Cup his tenth and final one as captain of the Canadiens.

For Boston, they’ll need to draw on the legacy of those Canadiens legends who defended their home ice perfectly and gutted it out to win on the road in Game 7, something that’s only happened three times in Stanley Cup history. Those Canadiens, the 1945 Maple Leafs, and those 2009 Penguins are the only ones to pull that off. Sure the Bruins don’t necessarily have to go seven games, they could rattle off four wins in a row and end it in six, with the way they’ve been outplayed at times through most of the first two games, seven games makes far more sense to work things out.

Much like with those past teams it’ll come down to goaltending and Tim Thomas will more than have his hands full dealing with the Canucks attack the rest of the way. While he’s played out of his mind, he’ll need better support from his defense and hope that they can eliminate the mistakes and not come up with bad turnovers and penalties that can lead to goals. Don’t expect Bruins captain Zdeno Chara to dwell on what’s been a rough couple of games for him.

History has shown that it can be done and while it hasn’t happened that often, the opportunity is there for Boston to take but it starts with one win.

Plekanec named Czech World Cup captain

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game One
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The Czechs are going with a familiar face to spearhead their leadership group at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Tomas Plekanec, who captained the team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the most recent world championship, will wear the “C” this fall, the Czech Ice Hockey Association announced on Monday.

Plekanec, 33, has a wealth of leadership experience to draw on, having also served as an alternate captain in Montreal for the last two seasons. He’s expected to be a key catalyst for an underdog Czech team at this tournament, especially in the playmaking department — last year, Plekanec’s 40 assists came within five of a career-best for helpers in a single season.

It’ll be interesting to see who the Czechs eventually add to their leadership group next to Plekanec.

One would assume that David Krejci — who’s been an alternate in Boston for the last three years — should be in the mix, along with Coyotes center Martin Hanzal (an alternate in Arizona since 2011).

It’s Tampa Bay Lightning day at PHT

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 15:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a break during a off-day practice session prior to Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 15, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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On paper, the 2015-16 season was a less impressive version of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s impressive 2014-15 run.

They made a deep run, but they couldn’t quite get to the Stanley Cup Final another time. The Bolts finished second in the Atlantic Division once again, but only with 97 standings points instead of the outstanding total of 108 from 2014-15.

In reality, the Lightning finished the year with a lot to be proud of, though.

They weathered some serious storms last season, most clearly with injuries to Ben Bishop and Steven Stamkos, not to mention endless questions about Stamkos’ future with or without the team.

All things considered, there were a lot of positives to take from pushing the eventual champs to a Game 7.

Off-season

If you weren’t impressed by the Lightning’s work during the season, maybe an impressive off-season did the trick?

GM Steve Yzerman answered to huge questions in the affirmative by re-signing Stamkos (eight years, $68 million) and Victor Hedman (eight years, $63 million) to long-term contracts at very reasonable rates.

Along with those massively important contracts, Yzerman locked down other important players in Andrei Vasilveskiy and Alex Killorn. He still has a tough nut to crack in re-signing Nikita Kucherov, but he’s laid the groundwork for that to happen.

If hitting all the right buttons with Stamkos and Hedman wasn’t enough, the Lightning made some very nice value moves.

There’s a chance Cory Conacher could re-discover some of the brief magic he enjoyed before Tampa Bay traded him for Bishop. Handing James Wisniewski a PTO could leave the Bolts with one of the deepest defenses in the NHL (or at least provide a nice Matt Carle replacement).

There’s still work to do, but overall, the Lightning’s outlook is very sunny. PHT explores the team’s biggest questions on Monday.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

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Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.