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.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.