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.

***

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.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.