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Five things to look for in tonight’s Game 4

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Tonight’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals arrives with intrigue pouring out of every possible angle you could draw up. After a Game 3 that saw vicious hits, tons of Boston goals, and lots of frustrated Canucks before and after the game there’s a lot of things Game 4 is going to tell us about how this series goes from here on out.

There’s a lot of different ways you could see happen tonight and we’ve got a list of five things to keep your eyes out for tonight.

1. Referee impact

We’ve seen so many different things happen in this series that’s required the attention of the officials and tonight’s referees Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland are going to have their hands full with all sorts of things to look for. The series has been overly physical and while everyone’s minds will be stuck on what happened with Nathan Horton and Aaron Rome and the various taunting, the officials have their marching orders to put that to an end should it occur again.

It will also be curious to see if any of the play around the goalies gets monitored right away. Tim Thomas’ physical play has the Canucks all up in arms and they want to see things straightened out there. O’Halloran and Sutherland will have to set the tone early about what sort of game they’re going to call. A loosely officiated one could lead to more dramatics.

2. The Replacements

With Nathan Horton out with a severe concussion and Aaron Rome out for delivering the blow, both teams will have guys to work into the lineup to fill holes in Game 4. Tyler Seguin will be back into the lineup after losing his sport to Shawn Thornton in Game 3. As for who takes Horton’s spot on the top line, you could see either Michael Ryder or Rich Peverley get the call there. Peverley took Horton’s spot there in Game 3 and played well while Ryder had a strong Game 3. Claude Julien may not want to move Ryder away from his Game 3 linemates however.

As for Vancouver, it’ll be Keith Ballard getting the nod to take Rome’s spot on the blue line. Ballard has a wealth of NHL experience but has struggled in dealing with Alain Vigneault’s choices on defense and has been passed over for the likes of Rome and even Chris Tanev at times this year. Vigneault is opting for experience this time around and Ballard will look to make it pay off.

3. Capitalizing on turnovers

Both teams have been excellent at making each other cough up the puck and while the Canucks did well to bury their chances in Games 1 and 2, it was all Boston in Game 3 as they pressured Vancouver’s defense into making bad plays and mishandling the puck, especially on the power play as they helped make the pairing of Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler look poor. While the Canucks had their chances off turnovers in Game 3, Tim Thomas helped stop them. We’ll see more of the high pressure defense from both teams and how they handle it may help determine the outcome of the game.

4. Home ice strikes back… In more ways than one

Remember how we were talking about how great road teams have played in the playoffs? So far in the finals the home teams have taken control winning all three games. Home teams are finally back on the right side of the ledger in the playoffs with a 45-40 record. The actual physical ice in TD Garden will be a topic of discussion as well.

After this morning’s skates there were complaints from some players that the ice was in bad shape. A concert was held last night here at TD Garden and today’s been abnormally warm in Boston which means we could see some strange bounces and slower moving pucks during the game. How it holds up later on in the game will be the real test.

5. How Vancouver bounces back

After such a beat down on the scoreboard and on the ice and all the complaining and politicking we’ve heard out of the Canucks since Game 3 ended, how they come back in Game 4 is going to be fascinating to watch. The last time we saw Vancouver take such a wicked beating in the playoffs, a 7-2 loss to Chicago in Game 4 in this year’s first round, they followed up in the next game by losing 5-0 which led to Cory Schneider starting in Game 6. We saw Vancouver get past all that by the skin of their teeth, but following up this beating in the finals with a similar stink bomb would change the focus of the series entirely.

Vancouver will need a better all-around game from Ryan Kesler and a more focused effort from Alex Burrows if they’re going to win this game and set up the potential of winning the Stanley Cup on home ice. Without that they’re in trouble.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.