Five Thoughts: Apparently home ice is that important

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Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals provided fans without a rooting interest in who wins just about everything they could hope for in these finals. A physical game loaded with scoring chances paired up with great goaltending and an exciting finish is about all you can hope for out of a Stanley Cup finals. The histrionics were kept to a minimum and the players just shut up and played. Perfect, right? We can only hope the trend continues.

1. Some readers who commented on our last Five Thoughts column found it silly that something as simple as getting last change could make all the difference in the world in how things broke down in this series. Getting home ice isn’t just about having the fans rallying around you and trying to raise the volume level high enough to make everyone deaf, it’s about giving coaches the chance to get the right matchups they want and it’s proving to make a huge difference here.

You noticed Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin a lot more last night because coach Alain Vigneault was able to get them away from the Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg pairing. Sure they didn’t score any points again but they created chances and got the cycle going against guys like Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk as well as Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. That’s no accident. Claude Julien did his best to get his matchups right but just couldn’t do it consistently.

Then again, Maxim Lapierre was able to score the game’s only goal against Seidenberg and Chara. Hockey’s a funny game that way.

2. We’re sure that Boston fans are going to be good and lathered up still over what Roberto Luongo had to say last night when he told the media that he would’ve made the stop on Lapierre’s goal because he doesn’t wander from the crease the way Thomas does. Bruins fans will yell about how Luongo has no class in victory and they’re more than welcome to that opinion of him. Let’s just hope they remember that the next time we see something like Brad Marchand comically “wiping his hands” after getting involved with half of the Canucks on the ice in Game 4.

Fans in seek of moral high ground on either side of these Stanley Cup finals are going to find themselves coming up very empty. There’s a lot to dislike about both of these teams but coming up with ways to get yourself even more worked up about things is a self-defeating process. Enjoy the wins, get bummed about the losses but getting caught up in how the players are acting out at each other isn’t going to save your sanity. Let them handle it… They are professionals after all.

3. Claude Julien’s insistence on putting Gregory Campbell on the power play over Tyler Seguin is one of the more baffling choices he’s made in these playoffs. Campbell is a penalty killer and a grinder normally and while Julien insisted that Campbell’s job out there on the power play was to help screen Luongo and tip shots in front he did neither of these things. No one on the Bruins had any sort of net presence at all in fact as Luongo’s night was made easier thanks to not having to deal with any traffic.

Seguin is a purely offensive player at this point in his career and not giving him the few extra minutes in an opportunity made for offense is just stunning. Boston, of course, went 0-4 on the power play including going 0-3 in the first period alone. The Bruins power play hasn’t been anything to write home about at all in the playoffs but it’s choices like this that help it fail.

4. One thing we didn’t see out of Vancouver last night was shoddy defensive play and turnovers from their blue line corps. What that means to us is that we’re probably done seeing Keith Ballard as a Vancouver Canuck in this series and perhaps for good. With Vigneault opting for Chris Tanev over Ballard and Tanev playing a solid Game 5 paired up with Andrew Alberts we’d be stunned to see Ballard again in this series , barring injury of course.

Ballard makes $4.2 million against the salary cap through 2014-2015 and if he’s being utilized as Vancouver’s 7th or 8th defenseman now it’s impossible to see him sticking around after this season. He’s a good player but he’s struggled in Vigneault’s system and his shoddy play in Game 4 will keep him in the press box the rest of the way. The Canucks would be better off with Ballard if he was fitting in as he can be a solid guy, but with how his mental shape has to be and how his confidence has to be shot it’s hard to see him sticking around in Vancouver now.

5. The Canucks have now scored just six goals in this series and they’re one win away from the Stanley Cup. That’s a stunning lack of offense but it proves what it takes for them to win: Keep it tight. Two 1-0 wins in Game 1 and Game 5 as well as a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. The fact Boston has outscored them so badly in the finals (14-6) makes things look really lopsided but the Canucks are doing the things they need to win. Piling up goals in lopsided games help make things look far different, but the Canucks are a team that’s adjusted all playoffs long to do just what they have to to get by. Whether or not they make the adjustments needed to win in Boston and take home their first Stanley Cup on the road in Game 6 will prove to be their biggest test to date. If they can keep the Bruins uncomfortable at home, they’ll prove to be a champion.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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