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Five things to look for in tonight’s Game 4


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.

We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

David Poile

“I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

“We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

“You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

“When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

“In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

“There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

“In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

OK, fine, fair enough.

P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

Now we’re starting to see why.

On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.

Missing McDavid: Yakupov’s goalless drought now at 15 games

Cononor McDavid, Nail Yakupov
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When Connor McDavid went down with a broken collarbone, many expected his linemates — Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov — to be adversely affected.

But probably not this affected.

Yakupov — who, prior to McDavid getting hurt on Nov. 3, had 10 points in 12 games — has gone in the tank offensively since losing his running mate.

The Russian’s goalless drought (which, to be fair, began while McDavid was still playing) is now at 15 games, and he’s failed to score a point in seven straight — all of which is a cause for concern for head coach Todd McLellan.

From the Edmonton Journal:

When does [McLellan] say “he’s got to score a goal.”

“We’re at that point now,” the coach said.

“He’s had some great looks,” said McLellan.

There are a few issues at play here.

Chief among them is that Yakupov’s gone from skating with Pouliot and McDavid to Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks — and no offense to Letestu and Hendricks, but that’s a significant downgrade in offensive talent.

So when Yakupov does get time with the likes of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl, it’s usually on the power play — which only ratchets up the pressure to score (because who knows when the next power play will come?)

McLellan acknowledged the team needs to set up Yakupov more — “we’ll work with his linemates to help him, we’ll get him out on the power play where his strengths are,” he said — but, like any coach, stressed that the player needs to help himself out, too.

Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

From the Washington Post:

“No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

“Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

“I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.