Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin

Sedin twins’ struggles aren’t that different from other star slumps in recent Cup finals history

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Whenever a superstar player (or two, in this case) struggles on the league’s highest stage, the opposing defenses rarely get the credit they deserve. Usually media members and fans blame a deficit in an individual’s game – typically their “toughness” or ability to deal with pressure – for Stanley Cup finals failures.

The toughness factor certainly seems to be the major component of the criticism lobbed at the Vancouver Canucks’ Sedin twins, who are struggling to create their typically steady stream of offense against the Boston Bruins. Henrik Sedin hasn’t scored a single point in the 2011 finals series while reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel Sedin scored a goal and an assist in Game 2 for his only points of the championship round. Henrik has a -2 rating so far while Daniel is -1.

For many old-timers, the Sedin twins fall victim to the supposedly “soft European” style of play that many believe doesn’t translate as well to the playoffs as the perceptively more “rugged” North American mindset. Yet when you also look at the struggles of two of the NHL’s biggest stars – two Canadian stars, by the way – in previous years, it’s clear that there’s nothing particularly special about the Sedins’ struggles. In fact, it’s possible that we probably should have seen it coming.

Jonathan Toews won last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy, but he was far from the finals MVP

It’s likely that more than a few sportswriters would love to depict Jonathan Toews as the mighty, hard-working antidote to the floating Sedin twins. Unfortunately for that knee-jerk reaction, the parallels between the Sedins’ slump and Toews’ title round torment are pretty clear.

In six games against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, Toews managed three assists and an ugly -5 rating. Much like the Sedin twins, Toews was forced to deal with an all-world defenseman (Chris Pronger) and needed his teammates to help him win a Cup. As hot as Michael Leighton was during the playoffs, I think we can all agree that the Sedins also face a far more formidable goalie in Tim Thomas.

Sidney Crosby was often foiled by the Henrik Zetterberg-Nicklas Lidstrom combo

In 2009’s seven-game finals series against the Detroit Red Wings, Crosby managed just a goal and two assists with a -3 rating. Much like the Sedin twins against Zdeno Chara, Thomas and the Bruins’ forwards, Crosby found himself frequently frustrated by Lidstrom and Zetterberg.

Luckily for Crosby, Evgeni Malkin exploited the Red Wings’ lesser defensemen enough to win the team’s third Stanley Cup and take the Conn Smythe as well.

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The Sedin twins don’t deserve a “free pass” for their struggles, but they shouldn’t be singled out as “soft” either. Crosby and Toews received some mild criticism when they had tough moments, but the speculation didn’t focus on some perceived lack of intestinal fortitude. (Unless you’re talking about Washington Capitals or Red Wings fans critiquing Crosby, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

It’s really not that tough to figure out why the Sedin twins are having so much troubling filling the net. Much like their first round series against 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and their second round skirmish with Norris finalist Shea Weber’s Nashville Predators, the Sedin twins are trying to score points against some of the world’s best at denying scorers. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Sedins devoured a looser defense in the San Jose Sharks, either.

The Sedin twins aren’t above criticism for their struggles. The Canucks will probably need more production from them, whether it comes from the power play or 5-on-5 play. That being said, their issues have nothing to do with their manliness. It just shows that they’re human.

Anisimov out six to eight weeks after undergoing ‘successful’ wrist surgery

Chicago Blackhawks' Artem Anisimov tries to handle a rebound from Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Artem Anisimov on Tuesday underwent successful surgery on his injured right wrist, the Chicago Blackhawks announced.

“We anticipate his return to full hockey activities in approximately six to eight weeks,” said team physician Dr. Michael Terry in a statement.

The news comes eight days after the Blackhawks were ousted in the first round, eliminated in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.

Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in last summer’s blockbuster deal for Brandon Saad, the 27-year-old Anisimov enjoyed the second 20-goal season of his career and fell just two points shy of his previous career best of 44 when he was with the New York Rangers.

He played the bulk of this season on a line with two highly skilled players in Patrick Kane, the league-leader in points with 106, and Artemi Panarin, named as a Calder Trophy finalist on Monday.

Prior to his surgery, Anisimov was named to Russia’s preliminary roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, although the recovery schedule should allow plenty of time for Anisimov to be physically ready for the tournament when it begins in September.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks, who won’t be champs in 2016

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4

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The Pittsburgh Penguins may hold a 2-1 series lead over the rival Washington Capitals, but they will be without defenseman Kris Letang for a pivotal Game 4 on Wednesday.

Perhaps for the Capitals, the absence of Letang — suspended one game for a high, late hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3 — on the Penguins blue line can provide an opportunity to help swing the series back in their favor heading to Washington and home ice in Game 5.

“He’s the backbone of their defense,” Capitals blue liner Karl Alzner told CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“He goes back for pucks and gets them out of his zone with a pass or a flip. He transitions the puck and logs key minutes on their PP.”

In addition to seven points in eight games this post-season, which puts him into a tie for third among defensemen in the playoffs, Letang is also among the leaders in ice time, averaging 29:13 per game.

So yes, that’s a significant loss at this juncture of the series, even if for one game.

The Penguins were already without Olli Maatta for Game 3. He was injured on that late, high hit from Brooks Orpik. That forced Derrick Pouliot into the lineup for Pittsburgh. The 25-year-old Justin Schultz, who the Penguins acquired from Edmonton earlier this season, figures to be next in line for Pittsburgh with Letang out.

Schultz entered the league with plenty of hype surrounding him, billed as a dynamic offensive defenseman. But nothing seemed to pan out for him in Edmonton, there were growing concerns about his play in his own end, and his time there ended with a trade prior to the deadline.

This could mean added minutes, too, for Trevor Daley, who played 22:20 in Game 3.

Between Pouliot and Schultz, they have a combined two games worth of Stanley Cup playoff experience.

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

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The National Hockey League has suspended Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang one game for a high, late hit on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson during Game 3.

The incident occurred late in the first period of Monday’s game, as Johansson had passed the puck off after entering the Pittsburgh zone. Letang was given a minor penalty for interference.

“After Johansson moves the puck, Letang delivers a high, forceful hit that makes significant head contact,” stated the league’s Department of Player Safety in a video.

“It is important to note that Johansson is not eligible to be checked on this play. Players who are not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a case.”

The DoPS did state that Letang didn’t leave his feet making the hit, but that they leave the ice due to the “force of the hit.”

“This is also not an illegal check to the head,” it states in the video. “While there is significant head contact here, the head is not the main point of contact.”

Following the game, both Letang and Johansson broke down the hit for the media, but of course, both had totally different opinions of what occurred.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1 and have the opportunity to take a stranglehold with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Of course, without Letang, that task gets even more difficult.

Meanwhile, the bad blood between the rival Penguins and Capitals continues. This series has already run afoul of the DoPS, with the Orpik suspension and Tom Wilson receiving a fine for kneeing Conor Sheary.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.