Mark Recchi, Zdeno Chara, Michael Ryder, Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley

Did Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton actually hurt the Canucks more than the Bruins?

On paper, the Vancouver Canucks seemed like the obvious “winners” amid the fallout of Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton. While the Boston Bruins lost a big, talented top-line forward for the rest of the playoffs (and sadly, perhaps quite a while longer than that), the Canucks lost a marginal depth defenseman.

Of course, professional sports aren’t played in a vacuum. Emotional reactions might cause athletes to make mistakes hear and there, but a pivotal event can also turn the tide of momentum in ways that defy dry statistics and logic.

Joe Haggerty makes the justifiable argument that Rome’s devastating and dirty hit fueled the fire of almost everyone on the Bruins roster. Saying that anger and pride were the main catalysts for Boston’s 12-1 run stretches things a bit – and discounts the undeniable talent on this Bruins team – but there was the sense that the atmosphere was bound to change because of that unsettling moment.

The angry B’s have outscored the Canucks by a 12-1 margin in the five periods since the Rome/Horton incident, and the series is starting to look a great deal like the Bruins/Habs series in 2002 after Kyle McLaren decked Richard Zednik with a head shot and riled up the Habs at exactly wrong time.

The disclaimer is that the series is still just tied at 2-2, and the Bruins still have to win a game in Vancouver. But they’ve clearly taken control of the series by punishing the Western Conference’s best with aggressive physical play and a choking forecheck.

The whole tenor of the series has changed as the Bruins continue to beat up the Canucks and pilfer their lunch money.

As marginal as Aaron Rome can be, it also must be said that Vancouver’s defense is looking awfully shabby in its current state. Looking at price tag alone, it seems ridiculous that Keith Ballard and his $4.25 million salary cap was parked in street clothes so often during the 2011 playoffs. Yet after watching his turnover-filled Game 4 meltdown, it’s pretty clear why Canucks coach Alain Vigneault scratched him for so many playoff games.

Bruins rolled with punches while Canucks struggled to adapt to lineup changes

Is it possible that losing Rome is just as problematic for Vancouver as Horton’s absence might be for Boston? It seems ridiculous considering the disparity in those two players’ talent levels, but Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley have done a nice job of filling that gap so far. Ryder is something of a poor man’s Horton, anyway; he’s smaller and less imposing than Horton, but they both possess a rifle of a right-handed shot. That was on display when Ryder fired a shot past Luongo in Game 4 while Sami Salo failed to close the gap. Peverley brings different skills to the table, but his skating ability and versatility make him a great change-of-pace option if Ryder struggles.

Compare the Bruins’ ability to plug in that gap with Vancouver’s inability to deal with the absence of Rome – but especially top stopper Dan Hamhuis – and one wonders if both teams truly wish that the hit didn’t happen. While plenty of the focus is justifiably centered on the debate to start Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider in net, neither goalie will be in a position to succeed if the Canucks cannot cut down on their back-breaking turnovers.

Horton’s absence might be more pronounced as the games get bigger

Don’t get me wrong, losing Horton is absolutely tougher than losing Rome. Yet after considering the intangible motivation Boston generated from it and the lineup alterations for both teams, the trade-off may not have been as one-sided as most of us expected.

Of course, one of Horton’s trademarks in the 2011 playoffs was scoring huge goals. As the Stanley Cup finals wind down to what is essentially a three-game series, we’ll see if the Bruins miss him when the games get even bigger.

Goalie nods: With Lundqvist struggling, Raanta goes back-to-back

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29: Antti Raanta #32 and Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrate the Rangers 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No shortage of storylines at play when the Rangers take on the ‘Hawks at the United Center this evening.

First, the big one — Antti Raanta, fresh off stopping 17 of 18 shots in a win over Winnipeg last night, will get back-to-back starts in place of the struggling Henrik Lundqvist.

“Of course you want to play, but Antti’s playing well,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I know I need to raise my level a little bit.”

Lundqvist is 3-4-1 with a 3.05 GAA and .902 save percentage in his past eight starts and, as Brough wrote about this morning, admitted some “bad decisions” have been costing him.

Raanta, meanwhile, is 6-1-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .932 save percentage in his last eight starts.

From a personal perspective, there’s a big narrative at play for Raanta as well. This will mark the first time he’s faced Chicago since being traded to New York in 2015. The Finnish ‘tender made his NHL debut for the ‘Hawks and spent two seasons with the team, but was supplanted by Scott Darling as the club’s No. 2 behind Corey Crawford en route to the ’15 Stanley Cup win.

(Raanta’s time in Chicago ended oddly, you may recall. A Finnish-language publication ran a piece in which Raanta appeared to be critical of the ‘Hawks, followed by Raanta denying he said what was reported. The writer that conducted the interview said the quotes were legit, but needed context — and then, just to put a bow on it, Raanta’s name was left off the Stanley Cup. Chicago insisted that decision had nothing to do with his remarks, though.)

For the ‘Hawks, Darling gets the start.

Elsewhere…

Braden Holtby gets a night off, as the Caps will start Philipp Grubauer (for the first time since Nov. 25) in Buffalo. Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres.

— No surprises from Columbus, who will start the in-form Sergei Bobrovsky yet again. The host Red Wings have Jimmy Howard back in the fold but will continue to ride Petr Mrazek, who made 31 saves in a win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

Cory Schneider played last night against Montreal, so Keith Kinkaid goes for the Devils. He’ll face off against Jake Allen and the Blues, who also played last night.

— After Jonas Gustavsson was beaten six times in last night’s loss in Philly, Cam Talbot is in for the Oilers. He’ll face off against Devan Dubnyk, who continues to play lights-out for the Wild.

Martin Jones will start for the Sharks in an all-California battle in Anaheim. The Ducks will give Jonathan Bernier a shot at redemption, as he’ll start for the first time since allowing eight goals in a loss to Calgary on Sunday.

The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Erik Gudbranson got his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck last night in Tampa.

It was not the most beautiful goal ever scored, coming halfway through the first period, after Gudbranson wristed a point shot wide. The puck bounced off the boards, hit Ben Bishop‘s left pad, and slid into the net, giving the Canucks a surprising 2-0 lead.

Vancouver would go on to win, 5-1, handing the Bolts an embarrassing loss to a team they should’ve been able to beat.

But the night was a welcome reprieve for Gudbranson, who’s “struggled a little” since coming to Vancouver in an offseason trade with Florida. The 24-year-old defenseman is a minus-13 in 27 games, partly due to his team’s lack of goal-scoring, but also because of his own inconsistent play.

“I personally struggled a little with the new systems and adapting to it and finding a way within that system to play physical,” he told the Vancouver Sun recently. “I want to be tough to play against. I want guys to know they’re going to get hit if they come to my side. For a while there, I was struggling to find a way to have that presence.”

Gudbranson (1G, 4A) has been paired exclusively with young Ben Hutton, and those two have been playing big minutes with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev out injured.

It’s actually a good opportunity for the Canucks to see what they’ve really got, because Gudbranson is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights. This is his sixth season in the NHL, so he only needs one more season before he’s into his unrestricted years. His current cap hit is $3.5 million, and he probably won’t be looking to take a pay cut.

What to do with Gudbranson represents a huge decision for Canucks GM Jim Benning, who sent a good prospect in Jared McCann, as well as a second-round draft pick, to Florida to get the former third overall pick. Signing Gudbranson to a long-term contract is one option. But another has to be flipping him for help elsewhere, especially if Tanev isn’t going anywhere.

“We have depth on defense,” Benning said recently. “We’ve rebuilt our defense. (Nikita) Tryamkin is 22 years old, (Troy) Stecher is 22 years old. (Alex) Edler at 30 is our oldest defenseman, so we have a young, good group back there. We have depth back there. So if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.”

Gudbranson, Tanev, and Stecher all play the right side, and Tryamkin can play it, too. Edler, Hutton, and Luca Sbisa play the left side. So does Olli Juolevi, who could be in the NHL next season.

So, do the Canucks see Gudbranson as a top-four defenseman? Or, is he a bottom-pairing guy behind Tanev and Stecher? Because if he’s a bottom-pairing guy, it’ll be hard to justify paying him big money on a long-term deal.

In fact, that’s why the Panthers traded him. It’s not because they didn’t like him. They just didn’t like him enough. They wanted puck-movers like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, and Gudbranson is about as stay-at-home as it gets in today’s fast-paced NHL.

To be sure, there is a lot to like about Gudbranson. He’s big and he’s tough and he sticks up for his teammates. He’s always got a positive attitude.

“He’s a player that, in the analytics, maybe things don’t always measure out like you’d want them to,” Benning conceded back in September. “But as far as the intangibles, I really think he’s going to help our back end and our whole team.”

But again, how much is that worth?

Because in the salary-cap era, where every dollar counts, teams have to be very careful about overpaying for “intangibles.” The Canucks do have some cap space for next season, but remember that Bo Horvat is a pending RFA whom they’d like to get signed long term. And let’s face it, Vancouver isn’t good enough to waste cap space. If the money’s not going to good use, it needs to go elsewhere.

Trade: Holland, who wanted out of Toronto, acquired by Coyotes

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 18:  Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs stretches in the warm-up prior to play against the New York Rangers in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 18, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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In late November, the agent for Maple Leafs forward Peter Holland confirmed the club was trying to move his client, amid reports Holland was displeased with his playing time under head coach Mike Babcock.

On Friday, Holland got what he wanted.

Per Sportsnet, Holland has been traded to Arizona for a conditional draft pick. Coyotes GM John Chayka has since confirmed the trade, to AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan.

Holland has been a bit player in Toronto this year, appearing in just eight games while averaging 10:43 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since getting just over nine minutes in a win over the Caps on Nov. 26.

The 25-year-old has been with the team since the middle of the 2013-14 season and has been fairly consistent in his production during that time, recording 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 65 games last year. That came after a 25-point (11 goal, 14 assist) performance in 62 games the year prior.

Holland’s production was enough to get him a one-year, $1.3 million extension from the Leafs over the summer.

In Arizona, he’ll have a shot at replacing some of the minutes at center that became available with Brad Richardson’s injury.

 

 

McLellan calls out ‘red-rotten’ performances after loss in Philly

Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan stands on the bench behind Connor McDavid, left, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the second period of a pre-season NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The Oilers blew a pair of two-goal leads in last night’s 6-5 loss to the Flyers and, not surprisingly, head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t happy with a number of performances.

“If you score five, you should be able to win,” McLellan said on Friday, per the Oilers’ Twitter account. “There were some individuals who were red-rotten.”

It’s not hard to speculate who McLellan was referring to.

Defenseman Oscar Klefbom scored his fourth goal of the year, but was on the ice for five of Philly’s six goals, and finished minus-4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was minus-3 with three giveaways, and went scoreless.

McLellan was also displeased with his club’s lack of discipline.

“One of the things we didn’t want to do was put them on the power play, and we put them on the power play continually,” he said following the game, per NHL.com. “Whether they score or not — I thought our penalty-killers did a tremendous job, [but the Flyers] gain a lot of momentum and energy and belief off of that.”

Rookie Jesse Puljujarvi took a hooking and holding penalty in a 10-minute span in the first period. The Flyers were unable to capitalize on either power play opportunity, but did seem to generate some energy — as McLellan alluded to — and Puljujarvi was a virtual non-factor for the remainder of the night, finishing with just 7:51 TOI.

The Oilers are back in action tonight in Minnesota, and are still atop the Pacific Division, so there’s hardly a feeling of panic. That said, they have surrendered 10 goals in their last two games.

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose