Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins - Game Three

Question: Would Horton still be playing if the NHL handled things earlier in the Cup Final?

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There have been two prevailing philosophies in the wake of Aaron Rome’s ill-fated hit on Nathan Horton. On one side of the fence, there are those who think the incident could have been avoided if the NHL took action at the beginning of the series to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. Since the hit was not properly dealt with by the league, the situation escalated and peaked with the charged atmosphere of Game 3.

For the opposing viewpoint, there are those who think the Burrows incident may have been shameful, but it had nothing to do with the disastrous hit that led Horton to Massachusetts General Hospital. Alex Burrows antics may have led to misbehavior in Game 2 and 3, but had nothing to do with the merciless hit delivered by Aaron Rome.

Hall of Fame columnist Helene Elliott of the LA Times thinks Rome’s hit in Game 3 could have been avoided had the league executed some discipline earlier in the series:

“(Rome’s hit) might have been avoided had Murphy established control by suspending Vancouver’s Alex Burrows for biting the fingers of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron in Game 1 or punished Vancouver’s Maxim Lapierre for putting his fingers near Bergeron’s mouth in a taunting fashion in Game 2. When Game 3 disintegrated, Bruins forwards Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic joined the juvenile pranks, taunting and wagging fingers at the Canucks.

“I will be speaking with both general managers and coaches before the day’s over about what we are seeing, the garbage that is going on, some of the issues,” Murphy said Tuesday during a news conference.

Just like Rome’s hit, Murphy’s lecture came a little too late.”

Not everyone shares Elliott’s opinion. Neither Comcast New England’s Joe Haggerty, nor Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien think the events are related.

“There is no correlation between the post-whistle shenanigans practiced by the Bruins and Canucks in the first three games of the series, and the predatory, reckless hit by Rome that’s ended Horton’s season. That was a piece of hockey violence born from two teams fighting for the same Stanley Cup.

It’s a major leap to say the Horton hit was caused by anything else other than a random act of violence in the playoffs that has left another B’s player dazed, confused and unsure of where he is. Julien won’t take that leap. He’s watched years and years of playoff hockey where borderline hits, broken bones and even biting all have their place within the game.

“I don’t think one links to the other,” said Julien. “What you see with the extra pushes and shoves after whistles are things you see in the playoff finals with the intensity. The referees have done a pretty good job of controlling that. I don’t see an issue there. The physicality of the game has to stay there.”

While it’s understandable to see where Elliott is coming from, Aaron Rome would still have made the same play whether Alex Burrows was suspended or not after Game 1. One play has nothing to do with the other. As Haggerty states, it was “born from two teams fighting for the Stanley Cup.” Rome made an open-ice hit—albeit extremely late. Regardless, it’s a split-second decision that is made in a fast-paced game. He didn’t have time to sit back and contemplate whether he’d receive less punishment because the standard had already been set so low. As much as fans (and I) have come to hate the term, he was trying to make “a hockey play.” Obviously, he failed and that’s why he’ll miss the rest of the series.

Even though the lack of response from the league office had nothing to do with the Rome hit, it has certainly adversely affected the rest of the series. If Murphy and Co. took care of business after the first game, all of the embarrassing finger waging by both teams could have been avoided. Chances are Maxim Lapierre doesn’t taunt Patrice Bergeron in the same manner; likewise, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi aren’t caught doing the exact same thing in Game 3.

But it still had nothing to do with Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton.

What do you think? Do you think the league contributed to a toxic atmosphere in Game 3 where Aaron Rome lost control? Was Rome’s hit completely unrelated to the rest of the series? What say you?

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning “tiptoed around this game.” Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Update: Here’s the goal Kessel accidentally “scored” for the Lightning:

Ouch.