Vancouver Canucks v Boston Bruins - Game Four

Five things to look out for in Game 6

The Stanley Cup is in the house and while the Canucks are doing all that they can to not be distracted by its glorious silver shine, the Bruins know they’ve got a job to do tonight to try and force a Game 7 Wednesday night in Vancouver. While a lot of the senseless talk has subsided and the taunting has gone away, there are actually some hockey-related things to look out for tonight in Game 6. Stunning, right? Here’s a few things to keep your eyes peeled for at TD Garden in Boston.

1. Get the first goal, win the game

That’s just how it’s gone in this series. Whoever has scored first has gone on to win as the one goal edge was enough to either carry the Canucks to victory or spur Boston on to deliver a beat down. Of course, scoring first has also coincided with home ice so there’s that as well. Boston’s played great when getting the lead in this series and throughout the playoffs they’ve been virtually unbeatable going 10-1 after scoring first. Vancouver meanwhile has been 11-2 after scoring first. A Vancouver goal first would sap the energy out of the building while a Bruins goal first would blow the roof off. It’s imperative to both teams to get out to the lead first.

2. How pumped will Roberto Luongo be?

After all the recent bluster made of Roberto Luongo’s comments on how he and Tim Thomas differ in how they play goal, there’s going to be especially strong focus placed on how Luongo plays tonight. After all, his two least memorable performances in the playoffs came in Games 3 and 4 in Boston in the finals. Vancouver could stand to see the Luongo’s who’s showed up in every game at Rogers Arena tonight in Boston. Back in Vancouver, Luongo’s been nothing short of brilliant and a brilliant performance tonight, one that sees him outduel Tim Thomas in goal could not only see him win Vancouver the Stanley Cup and shake off that pesky “choker” label, but also see him take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as well. If the bad Luongo shows up, not only will Thomas not “pump his tires” we’ll all be too busy throwing him under the bus to notice he’s gone flat.

3. Comeback of the Bruins offense

The Bruins played a less-than stellar Game 5 in Vancouver and got less than nothing out of their forward scoring units. The top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Rich Peverley after looking so strong in Game 4 was virtually invisible in Game 5. Don’t expect this line to be quiet tonight as they’ll get the matchups they’re looking for thanks to having the last change. If the Bruins can’t get that line going tonight, look for things to get a slight shakeup and for Michael Ryder to again get swapped in and out with Peverley to see if they can get things firing offensively. If that can’t get the offense going, it might be tough sledding for the Bruins tonight.

4. Can Vancouver stay physical and smart

The Canucks came out and pounded the Bruins physically in Game 5 and put the pressure on Boston to be perfect with their passes and puck handling. That all didn’t work out too well for Boston and they wilted as the game wore on and the Canucks found ways to keep the pressure up. Boston gets their opportunity to turn those tables tonight and given how turnover prone the Canucks were during Games 3 and 4, they’d be wise to keep it up. If Vancouver figured out how to attack the Bruins in Game 5 and how to be physical and smart with them, the Bruins will be in for quite the fight tonight.

5. Not-so special teams for everyone

Both teams’ power plays stink. Flat out, they’ve been bad. While a lot of credit is due to the penalty kill units for both teams, much of the fault comes from the ineptitude of both teams’ power play units inability to adjust on the fly. The Bruins problems through the playoffs are well documented and the Canucks issues have come against Boston. While Vancouver’s power play looked improved in Game 5, they’ll have to build on that tonight in Game 6 if they want to steal an advantage from the hometown Bruins. Boston, meanwhile, will look to have their shorthanded units stay lively and try to turn the game around on Vancouver. They were able to score twice shorthanded in Game 3 and they’ve been able to do that throughout the playoffs as well. If they can’t do it with the man advantage, they’ll try to turn the tables when on the kill. Either way, if either of these teams can generate offense with the man advantage, they’re probably leaving Game 6 victorious.

Joel Ward believes NHL should retire No. 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 15:  NHL ambassador Willie O'Ree talks with the Capital City Crew and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association during a clinic, Hockey is for Everyone, sponsored by the NHL and the Carolina Hurricanes at the Cary Ice House on May 15, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images for NHL)
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Sometimes players wear a jersey number as a tribute to a childhood favorite. Sometimes it’s merely to mark their birth year and other times it’s merely what was handed to them.

For Joel Ward, his 42 has a lot of meaning, and it brings to mind black athletes who were pioneers in their respective sports.

Yes, indeed, Ward wears No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. As the San Jose Sharks forward told ESPN, he’d love it if the NHL discussed retiring No. 22 in honor of its first black hockey player, Willie O’Ree.

“I definitely think Willie should be recognized for sure,” Ward said. “The league obviously does that with task force but I do think that Willie should definitely be a big part of the league for sure for what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today. I definitely think Willie should be a big part of this.”

Sounds like a great idea, one that would echo the MLB doing the same with Robinson’s No. 42.

For more, check out that great ESPN story.

Sharks and DeBoer ready for Pittsburgh, ‘the fastest team in the league’

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Peter DeBoer talks to his team during their game against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center on October 10, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The San Jose Sharks are one of the NHL’s best skating teams.

Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette, who watched his Predators get bounced by the Sharks in Round 2, said as much.

So too did St. Louis bench boss Ken Hitchcock, whose Blues were eliminated by San Jose in the Western Conference Final.

“They’re a fast team,” Hitchcock said. “They skate fast. They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players.

“They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players. They got a lot of guys that can motor.”

Yeah, the Sharks are quick.

But according to their head coach, maybe not the quickest.

During today’s Stanley Cup media availability, Peter DeBoer called the Pittsburgh Penguins “the fastest team in the league,” adding this series wouldn’t be just about skating, but the possession game as well.

“If you control the puck,” DeBoer explained, “it’s harder to create speed.”

And with that, the 2016 Stanley Cup Final blueprint took shape.

To be fair, the speed-versus-speed angle had already been established. Almost immediately after beating Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Pens captain Sidney Crosby was asked about his club’s looming matchup with the Sharks.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous.

“It’s going to be quite the series.”

On defense, both teams feature good mobility, highlighted by a star offensive defenseman: Brent Burns for San Jose, Kris Letang for Pittsburgh.

“Both have great shots and get pucks through,” Pens d-man Justin Schultz said, per the Tribune-Review. “Both are always jumping up. And great skaters. Both are very mobile.

“Tanger is for sure a lot smoother [as a skater]. But Burnsy is still fast. And more powerful, maybe. He’s a big boy, and he’s going to be tough to handle.”

Each respective blueline plays a big role in the generation of team speed. Both the Pens and Sharks have excellent transition games featuring quick, speedy forwards, so it makes sense — the defensemen, tasked with getting those forwards the pucks, need to be mobile too.

Up front, there’s speed across the board. Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin won fastest skater competition at All-Star weekend four years ago. Last week, Sharks d-man Brenden Dillon said 36-year-old Patrick Marleau is “still one of the fastest skaters in the league.” Phil Kessel and Matt Nieto can fly, too.

So when previewing the Stanley Cup Final, don’t be fooled when you read predictions of a “quick series.”

That doesn’t mean it’ll be over quick.

Just means it’ll be quick.

Related: Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

Penguins or Sharks? PHT makes its Stanley Cup Final picks

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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After 14 series, just one pick left — the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

It’s a great match-up, with tons of talent on each side. However, we’d be lying if we said we saw it coming. (We didn’t.) The Penguins, who fired their coach halfway through the season, haven’t been this far since 2009. The Sharks, who missed the playoffs altogether last season, have never been this far.

Looking back on our conference finals picks, PHT staffers did fairly well, with both yours truly and James O’Brien nailing each series score (Penguins in 7, Sharks in 6) on the nose. Unfortunately, the virtual coin continued to struggle, as did the actual Ryan Dadoun.

Conference finals results (Overall record)

Brough: 2-0 (10-4)
Halford: 1-1 (8-6)
O’Brien: 2-0 (10-4)
Dadoun: 1-1 (6-8)
Tucker: 2-0 (10-4)
Alfieri: 2-0 (9-5)
Just Flip A Coin: 1-1 (6-8)

On to the Stanley Cup Final…

Brough: Sharks in 6

Despite what happened last season, I believed Pete DeBoer when he predicted a “big bounce-back” in San Jose. Because when a roster still boasts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it shouldn’t be written off. That being said, I didn’t think they’d get this far. The one thing I was skeptical about was the goaltending, since Martin Jones had never been a full-time starter in the NHL. But he’s been solid enough. And besides, the Sharks have so much firepower, and they’ve been so committed to checking in these playoffs, that they’ve rarely needed their goalie to stand on his head. Obviously, the Penguins have been great too, but the Sharks look like an unstoppable force to me.

Halford: Sharks in 7

The Sharks either have incredible luck or a really good medical staff, because I can’t remember the last time a team came into a Stanley Cup Final this healthy. Right now, San Jose’s only injury concern is Matt Nieto‘s upper-body ailment, and it sounds like he might be back soon anyway. This is why I give San Jose the edge. I could honestly see Trevor Daley‘s broken ankle being the difference in a series between two such evenly matched teams.

O’Brien: Sharks in 6

Mike Sullivan’s turn with the Penguins has been both beautiful (in the exhilarating pace) and brilliant (in how that tempo leverages Pittsburgh’s strengths and camouflages weaknesses). The Sharks strike me as the antidote, however. If the pace is frenetic, San Jose boasts comparable firepower. If transition goes from lightning-fast to molasses-slow, Peter DeBoer enjoys a significant advantage on defense. Here’s hoping this series boasts the sort of thrilling hockey that can convert new fans. Either way … advantage Sharks.

Dadoun: Penguins in 7

There’s a lot of love for the Sharks so far and I have to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally win a championship, but the Penguins shouldn’t be overlooked. This is a team that has the luxury of putting Phil Kessel on the third line, after all. That kind of offensive balance in the Penguins’ top three lines will make them the biggest challenge that goalie Martin Jones and the Sharks’ defense has faced yet. That depth is also the difference between this year’s Pittsburgh squad and the ones that have fallen short in recent years. Certainly there’s a lot of reasons to like the Sharks, too. This should be a great series.

Tucker: Sharks in 7

This series features the top scoring teams in these playoffs. The Sharks averaged 3.5 goals per game, while the Penguins averaged 3.2 goals per game. I expect this to be a thrilling match-up featuring some of the league’s most talented players on both sides. I think goaltending is going to be a huge factor. Can a 22-year-old rookie in Matt Murray continue his strong run of play in the biggest series of them all? He’s done well with every test so far, but if the Sharks get to him and force Marc-Andre Fleury into the series — or force Mike Sullivan to make that decision — I don’t think Fleury will be able to conjure a championship-winning performance against the lineup the Sharks possess.

Alfieri: Sharks in 6

At this stage of the game, there’s no doubt that these two teams are as evenly matched as can be. Offensively, the Sharks are led by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, while the Penguins are led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. In goal, Martin Jones and Matt Murray have both had their moments of brilliance this postseason, but both have zero experience when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest difference is on defense. That’s where I think the Sharks will win the series. San Jose is loaded with Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and company. The Pens, who area already without Trevor Daley, have Kris Letang, but the drop-off is significant after that.

Just Flip A Coin: Penguins in 6

Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.

Yet when Team USA announced its final World Cup roster on Friday, Kessel wasn’t on it. Four forwards — David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky — were added instead.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”

Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.

Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.

Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?

“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.

At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.

“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”