Looking for a new way to play? Canucks take psychology seriously to get an edge

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If there’s something we can recall about Vancouver teams from the recent past in their playoff losses to Chicago it’s how they always seemed to fall apart mentally against the Blackhawks. While Chicago found ways to frustrate them with their play on the ice and doing lots of chirping to get the Canucks to respond with dumb penalties or poor play, this year’s Canucks team has had a brand of cool about them that gives them a sort of Zen feel to their game, especially after their comeback win in Game 2 against Boston to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.

No more do we see Roberto Luongo throwing his defensemen to the wolves after a bad loss nor do we see the harsh acting out from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. These Canucks are calm, cool, and collected and there’s a good reason for that. Vancouver’s getting the assistance of a Boston University professor and sports psychologist to help them better prepare.

Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe tells us about Len Zaichkowsky and the magic he’s been working on the Canucks to help them better prepare for games.

“We try to quantify everything, measure stuff as well as we can,’’ Zaichkowsky said. “There are some things that are hard to measure, but it’s hard to argue with the success of the team. You can’t make attributions to any one thing. I think it’s a lot of things, starting with getting good players and good coaches and then we try to add value in everything that we do, in preparation and in their playing.’’

Much of the work Zaichkowsky does is making sure players know “the importance of total preparation in both mind and body.’’ It’s something, he said, that is always talked about, but is not always done. It’s his job to change that.

This kind of in depth attention to detail can be key and Zaichkowsky’s work has clearly paid off this year for Vancouver. The Canucks aren’t as distracted by things these days and it’s obvious. Even the Alex Burrows biting situation didn’t force the Canucks to change their demeanor or how they’ve prepared for the series. With that sort of circus surrounding the team, it’d be easy to lose your focus but the Canucks have stayed strong no matter what. Should the Canucks go on to win the Stanley Cup giving Zaichkowsky a Stanley Cup ring would be more than worth it.

Video: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler lose cool in scuffle with Kassian, Oilers

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In the first round, Zack Kassian reminded the hockey world why he came into the league with considerable hype as a first-rounder, as he scored some big goals for the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, there’s a reason why Kassian has 522 penalty minutes in 313 career regular-season games. He can be a nasty presence who straddles the line.

He did as much late in Game 1, getting into it with Ryan Kesler, and then things really got out of hand. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and others were involved in “histrionics.”

(Who wants to start a Patreon to find out what Getzlaf and Andrej Sekera were saying to each other, by the way?)

It looks like the players involved were only whistled for roughing minors rather than fighting majors. This caps a tough night for Anaheim, who lost 5-3 and saw Kevin Bieksa suffer a troubling lower-body injury.

King Leon: Draisaitl collects four points vs. Ducks to give Oilers a Game 1 win

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So far, the Edmonton Oilers had been showing that they can win tight, low-scoring playoff games. And then the third period of Game 1 against the Anaheim Ducks happened.

The two teams entered the final frame tied 1-1, with smaller breaks and bounces being the story. Then just about everything happened in the third, with Leon Draisaitl guiding the Oilers to a 5-3 win to take a 1-0 series lead.

Draisaitl ended up with a goal and three assists, extending his point streak to three games (seven points during that span).

He wasn’t the only Oilers player to raise some eyebrows, and actually, the other two starring members were a lot more surprising. Mark Letestu seemed to make the early difference with two power-play goals, while low-scoring defenseman Adam Larsson found the net twice, including on the game-winner.

Phew, that’s a lot to absorb, right? This video captures the wildest scoring stretch of that period, even if there would be more:

While Connor McDavid hasn’t been bad, he’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – so far in the Oilers’ run, and that was mostly true on Wednesday. He ended up with a mere secondary assist in this one,

Yet, that might just be part of the good news for the Oilers. They advanced after McDavid had spotty series against the Sharks, and they just gave the Ducks their first postseason loss of 2017 with Draisaitl and others stealing the headlines.

Things got nasty at the end of this game, with key Ducks such as Ryan Getzlaf being prominently involved. Such moments make it clear that Anaheim isn’t likely to bow out of this one easily (and perhaps not gracefully?) but that should only make for a captivating Game 2.

That Game 2 airs Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; you can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Keep an eye on Oilers’ Slepyshev (the Ducks certainly should)

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The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.

Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.

In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)

Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:

Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/postsanother theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.

And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:

The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.

Jake Allen takes blame for Predators’ game-winner vs. Blues

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Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.

He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.

The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:

Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:

Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.

Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.

That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)