Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins - Game Four

Five Thoughts: The tables have turned… For now

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After four games of the Stanley Cup finals we’re right back to where we started from. The series is locked up at 2-2 and now it’s a best of three race to the end. While the Bruins have smacked the Canucks around in the last two games, everyone’s done their part to protect home ice. Still, if momentum is a real thing the Bruins have all of it and then some. As for our thoughts after what turned out to be yet another wild game, there’s enough to pick at.

1. As you might expect, Roberto Luongo wasn’t a happy guy after the game. When you give up 12 goals in two games while your team is outscored 12-1, everyone should be pretty upset about things. For Luongo, he could be hammering away at his teammates on defense but he’s held off on tossing them under the bus. While Luongo isn’t the right guy to light a fire under the defense, someone should.

With an injury to Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome getting himself booted from the playoffs, the Canucks are working with guys Alain Vigneault would rather not have out there like Keith Ballard. Ballard had a brutal night but he’s not alone. Andrew Alberts has struggled out there and while he’s been paired up with Sami Salo, there seems to be very little in the way of communication out there between those two and some of the same mistakes kept happening in Games 3 and 4. It’s not as if Vancouver hasn’t dealt with changing defensive situations thanks to injury, they should be better prepared for such upheaval.

2. One reason why teams can win on home ice better is because they get to work the matchups the way they want to thanks to getting the last change at home. Vancouver was able to mix things up at home to tweak some of the Boston defense pairings. Remember when Johnny Boychuk was the unofficial team goat in the first two games?

The games played in Boston showed that either Claude Julien is a brilliant coach to get the matchups he’s looking for or Alain Vigneault isn’t properly doing the things he has to to minimize the mismatches that will happen. Julien did his part in Vancouver by constantly tinkering with his defensemen on faceoffs. It might start off awkward, but once the puck is dropped, the usual pairings get reset thanks to a quick change. That simple move helped keep the games in Vancouver close. The Canucks kept trying to force the issue themselves and with their defense already in disarray… Well you saw the scores.

3. Brad Marchand starting to remind everyone of another diminutive forward that mixed it up with anyone and everyone regardless of the situation. There’s a lot of Pat Verbeek in what Marchand does out on the ice and that kind of sandpaper game and skill set is something every team loves to have. Perhaps the best part of what Marchand does is that he’s able to do all of his annoying either with his words (just watch how players react to him after the whistle, I’d love to have him mic’ed up for a game but it’d likely be R-rated) or his little agitation moves.

Verbeek was known as “the little ball of hate” and we’re pretty sure if you asked anyone on Vancouver they’d say some colorful things about Marchand to back up a similar moniker for him. His play in the playoffs has been something special though as his ability to score goals and be a tremendous penalty killer have been inspiring and the Bruins have really needed that badly over time.

4. Vancouver’s got some soul searching to do and a couple of guys that could use some ethereal guidance are Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows. These two showed how great they can be earlier in the playoffs but lately against Boston they’ve gone back to old habits of falling for the petty nonsense and getting mixed up with the ancillary games that lead to nothing but trouble. If they can cut back on that stuff and go back to playing with that right mix of jerky play and high-end hockey skill the Canucks will be better off for it.

5. Ready for a fun coincidence? Before Game 3 the Bruins had Cam Neely start things off as the honorary captain to get the fans all worked up into a lather before the game started. The Bruins did right by #8 by scoring eight goals on Vancouver. Before Game 4 it was all about #4 Bobby Orr as he was the honorary captain of the night. The Bruins then shut down Vancouver by scoring four goals in beating the Canucks. Eight goals for #8 and four goals for #4.

I wonder if the Bruins want to test fate and get Raymond Bourque to do the honors before Game 6. Scoring seven or 77 goals (both numbers worn by Bourque as a Bruin) would be something else. They could just try to nail down the seven by getting both Bourque and Phil Esposito to do the honors as Esposito’s #7 is retired by Boston while Bourque’s #77 also hangs from the rafters.

Brian Elliott’s been steady for up-and-down Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) lunges to make a save against the Nashville Predators during the first period Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Sanford Myers)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Brian Elliott is on a roll. Too bad the St. Louis Blues have little to show for it.

During a prolonged scoring slump, the veteran goalie’s play has bordered on spectacular. He has seized the opportunity since Jake Allen was sidelined by a knee injury in early January.

The 30-year-old Elliott has allowed one or fewer goals in regulation and overtime in five of his last seven starts, a run that has put him among the NHL’s best with a 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage on the season.

“Fantastic,” captain David Backes said after Elliott’s latest standout effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. “You can’t complain about our goaltending, that’s for dang sure.”

“Our goalie was our best player again. Played great,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The rest of the team is in the doldrums, and the bottom line is the Blues have lost four of six. The Blues have scored no more than one goal in five of their last six.

Hitchcock said the offense didn’t work nearly hard enough to sustain chances against the Jets, then put his players through a rigorous workout the next day to drive home the point. The defense is adjusting to expanded roles without Alex Pietrangelo, who is among the league leaders in minutes played but will be sidelined at least three weeks with a right knee injury.

Elliott describes Pietrangelo as the type of player who “stick handles in a phone booth” to get the puck out of the zone.

“Umm, we have some work to do,” Hitchcock said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Elliott has thrived with a heavy work load and is set to make his 13th consecutive start on Friday at Florida. Last year, Elliott was an All-Star.

“It’s fun, it’s awesome,” Elliott said. “It’s why you play, to play the game and not to watch.”

Before relieving Allen on Jan. 8 in the second period at Anaheim, Elliott had played just three games in the previous 14. There was no question who was No. 1.

Whenever Allen returns, it’s liable to be more of a job share.

“You try not to think about the past and the future, you just focus on the present,” Elliott said. “I don’t really look at the stats, I just keep trying to be the rock back there for the guys.”

The last week or so, the 25-year-old Allen has been jumping into the latter stages of practices. Hitchcock said there’ll be something to talk about when he’s a full participant.

The team is hoping injecting Jaden Schwartz will help revive the offense. The speedy forward was third on the team with 63 points last season but has played just seven games this season and is coming off a 49-game layoff from a broken left ankle heading into Friday’s game.

“It doesn’t matter how many goals we score, you want to keep as many as you can out of your own net,” Allen said. “Obviously, we haven’t had a good amount of goals the last few games but we’re still coming out with some points.”

Despite the scoring drought, the Blues have kept themselves in the vanguard, picking up at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games. Nine of them have been decided by a single goal.

“Good teams get through tough situations,” Elliott said. “When things start clicking we’re going to be a dangerous team.”

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.