Five Thoughts: Tuning up for a Game 7

13 Comments

It almost had to be this way didn’t it? Game 7 on the way on Wednesday between Boston and Vancouver and these two teams truly do deserve each other. With the physical play, the off-ice comments, the on-ice shenanigans, and the questionable hits it’s as if these two are playing the mirror image of each other. Think of it like that final stage of an 80’s Nintendo game where you think you’ve beaten the game but then have to square off against the evil version of your own character. Of course, who you decide is the evil one in this series is a matter of opinion.

1. We know that both of these teams have played out of their minds on home ice and have protected it the way an attack dog would a rich person’s mansion. There’s a flip side to looking at things here though and it’s that both of these teams have been absolutely miserable road teams. Obviously the Canucks issues in Boston have been obvious and beyond awful. Roberto Luongo can now add Boston to his list of personal hells to go along with Chicago. The fact that the organist at TD Garden serenaded the Canucks with his own version of “Chelsea Dagger” helped add to the pain.

Boston hasn’t been much better in their three road games in Vancouver though. Sure the scores are closer and they had their opportunities to change the game in all three of them, but if they show up the way they did in Game 5, the Canucks are going to skate away with the Stanley Cup. The fact that neither of these teams have yet to play a road game worthy of the road dominance we’ve seen throughout the playoffs is somewhat embarrassing. After all, these are the best two teams left in the league and neither of them can bring their “A” game with them on the road? That’s no good. It’s up to Boston to show that they can do it in Game 7 but if they don’t we’ll be left wondering what happened to the greatness of road teams in the end.

2. Much of the talk today is going to center around Mason Raymond’s injury suffered in the first period of Game 6 thanks to an awkward but late hit from Johnny Boychuk. Now that everyone’s had a chance to sleep on things and get caught up to the news that Raymond was stretchered out of TD Garden and taken to the hospital, the outrage in Vancouver is building. After all the verbal lashing Aaron Rome took for his reckless hit on Nathan Horton, Canucks fans will be acting out in kind towards Boychuk. Justified though? Not at all as the hit just strikes us as awkward yet ugly. Should Raymond end up being hurt seriously, as is the rumor, it’ll add fuel to their fire.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse the chants Bruins fans delivered as Raymond was down on the ice. It was an ugly incident all around made worse by the spectacle this series has become thanks to everything that’s gone on. Some fans should learn to get a grip on things and that goes for everyone.

3. Interesting to see that Henrik Sedin took about five straight rights to the face from Brad Marchand late in the game to which Sedin didn’t so much as do anything in return. After the game, Sedin said that that’s the kind of player he is and it’s to be expected. Don’t think the Canucks won’t have that in the back of their heads throughout Game 7. Taking swipes at the captain is a good way to get noticed in all the wrong ways.

4. Crazy part about Game 6 is that Vancouver actually played well for most of the game. They played solid through the final 40 minutes of play and outside of the four minute span of the first period that saw them give up four goals it was a good game out of the Canucks. Of course, brain farts of any kind have cost both teams opportunities to win this series already. Here’s to hoping Game 7 will see both teams bring their best to the ice and leave all the drama and mistakes at home.

5. Some fun Game 7 factoids for you to help get you revved up for Wednesday. The last time Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals was decided in overtime it was 1954 when Detroit beat Montreal 2-1 in overtime. Your game-winning-goal scorer that year? Tony Leswick.

We’ve actually had plenty of recent Cup finals Game 7’s. Since 2000, five finals have gone seven games. In 2009, Pittsburgh beat Detroit. In 2006, Carolina beat Edmonton. In 2004, Tampa Bay beat Calgary. In 2003, New Jersey beat Anaheim, and in 2001 Colorado beat New Jersey to give Raymond Bourque his one and only Stanley Cup.

Boston will be attempting to be the first team to win three Game 7s in one playoff year. It’s never been done before. Should they pull it off, what a testament it will be to their resilience and stamina as well.

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Getty
3 Comments

The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary

Penguins end Senators’ magical run, reach second Stanley Cup Final in a row

17 Comments

The Ottawa Senators put up a resounding fight, but the Sens’ “Cinderella” story came to an end tonight.

The Pittsburgh Penguins needed a double-overtime in Game 7 to write the final chapter, yet that’s what happened; now the defending champions prepare to face a well-rested Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.

An unforgettable night for Kunitz

Hot take: Mike Sullivan made the right move in placing Chris Kunitz on Sidney Crosby‘s line.

Crosby created some chances early on in Game 7, but things just weren’t clicking for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That swap opened up some opportunities for Kunitz – once a constant linemate of Crosby – and the veteran winger provided perhaps the best performance of his impressive career.

As surprising as this turn was, maybe it should have been expected; Kunitz is one of the greatest success stories of any undrafted players, after all.

Plenty of twists and turns

After a scoreless second period, the two teams traded goals within just 20 seconds; Chris Kunitz cashed in on a nice rush while Mark Stone finished a great Erik Karlsson setup to make it 1-1.

More: Video and other details regarding those opening tallies.

The third period featured plenty of drama, even if some of the larger points echoed earlier narratives. To be more precise, the Penguins leveraged their power-play opportunity to a 2-1 lead (via Justin Schultz), but Ryan Dzingel‘s rebound 2-2 goal ensured that the lead wouldn’t last.

Read more about the 2-2 goals and some controversial moments from the third period here. You may also enjoy this Marc Methot hip check on Evgeni Malkin.

The overtime period began with a frantic pace; even fans probably needed the breather. Some great Phil Kessel chances didn’t end the opening overtime period, so things went to double-OT.

Ponder Kessel’s tumultuous times in the first overtime here.

It wasn’t beautiful, but Chris Kunitz’s knucklepuck beat a keyed-in Craig Anderson to end the contest and the series. He came into Thursday with zero goals and two assists in 13 playoff games; he generated the game-winner, the game-opener and an assist, factoring into all three Penguins goals.

Deep playoff runs come down to some combination of stars being stars and unexpected heroes shining in huge moments. The Penguins keep finding ways to get that equation just right.

Penguins – Senators Game 7 goes to double overtime, try to breathe

Getty
2 Comments

Try to breathe. Maybe meditate during this overtime intermission, if you need it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators didn’t just need overtime to decide who would win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. It turns out that, despite an angry Penguins crowd, that they’ll need double OT.

There were plenty of big chances during that span of “free hockey.” You could probably argue that Phil Kessel was the most frustrated player during that frame; he was unable to score but generated some golden opportunities.

One really looked like it might have beaten Craig Anderson:

Wow. This one likely stings more for Kessel, as he had a ton of time and space but missed the net.

Kessel wasn’t the only player to get chances. There were a ton in this first overtime as both teams took thrilling swipes at victory. Still, number 81 provided some of the most memorable moments.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.