Brian Leetch

Tim Thomas looks to become first American Conn Smythe winner since Brian Leetch

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Tim Thomas is compiling quite the list of accolades between his Vezina Trophy-worthy 2010-11 regular season and his Conn Smythe-worthy postseason.

Beyond drawing abstract comparisons to all-time great goalie performances made by legends such as Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek, Thomas is putting his own stamp on the NHL record books. He broke Hasek’s single season save percentage record, seems primed to win the Conn Smythe regardless of how Game 7 turns out and is one save away from breaking Kirk McLean’s all-time record for saves in a single playoff year.

While Thomas is breaking records for goalies of any nationality, some people might take added pride in the fact that he is putting together possibly the greatest playoff run by an American netminder. To hammer the point home, he would also be the only U.S. born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy aside from New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch.

In a cruel twist, Leetch also managed that feat against the Vancouver Canucks as the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

A golden era for American goalies?

This pending honor is quite the accomplishment for Thomas, no doubt, but it must also be a promising sign for U.S. Hockey. For the second year in a row, an American-born netminder had the best run of any goalie in the world. Last year, it was Ryan Miller’s outstanding work in the Olympics and Vezina Trophy victory for the 2009-10 season that made him the goalie of the year. Now it’s Flint, Michigan-born Thomas whose combined regular season and playoff outputs make him the most successful goalie of 2010-11.

While other elite goalies (perhaps most notably Henrik Lundqvist?) would certainly get their fair share of votes, it’s not crazy to think that Thomas and Miller could be considered the best goalies in the world at this moment. With all due respect to the work done by Mike Richter, Tom Barrasso and “Miracle on Ice” goalie Jim Craig, it’s tough to think of higher point for American goaltending.

Miller and Thomas are at the top of the heap, but there are a few other American goalies who could approach All-Star level performances if things work out. Jonathan Quick was excellent at times for the Los Angeles Kings and might just hold off Jonathan Bernier as the team’s goalie of the present and future. Craig Anderson has struggled here and ther but currently ranks as the Ottawa Senators’ savior in net. Jimmy Howard might be overshadowed by the veteran talent in Detroit, but he is the Red Wings’ franchise goalie.

Thomas’ style and journey make him a truly American success story

In a way, Thomas might be the “American dream” in goaltending form. His free-form style is as democratic as netminding technique comes, although it’s probably most accurate to call his sprawls “anarchic.” His oddball career path almost looks like an immigrant’s dream, too: he was barely drafted and spent his formative years bouncing around the world but just would not be denied. Thomas fought for every opportunity he’s been granted and now finds himself at the top of his profession.

It probably seems silly to root for the Canadian-heavy Boston Bruins for patriotic reasons, especially since the Vancouver Canucks employ one of America’s best players in Ryan Kesler. Yet when you look at Thomas, it’s tough to see a more American goalie, which makes his probable Conn Smythe victory (and previously improbable shot at a Stanley Cup) even more satisfying for hockey fans in the United States.

Early thoughts – and praise – for Capitals landing Kevin Shattenkirk

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Jaws dropped around the hockey world when news broke that the Washington Capitals landed Kevin Shattenkirk in a blockbuster trade. Heads were then scratched as people tried to make sense of the “conditions” of a conditional second-rounder involved in the move.

With a little time for the smoke to clear and with the assets revealed, here are some scattered thoughts.

PHT will likely cover more of the fallout on Tuesday and beyond, though, so stay tuned.

Brian MacLellan deserves consideration as a top GM

Judging an executive can be really tricky; while a GM of the Year award is easy to justify, it’s also easy to mock. Even the best managers inherit a roster (aside from MacLellan’s predecessor George McPhee, who will build one in Vegas), so you have to credit some successes to the guy who came before.

And, yes, McPhee helped put together a core that includes Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even so, MacLellan evokes Stan Bowman in masterfully adding tremendous electrons to a fantastic nucleus.

He added Matt Nisknanen (and, admittedly, flubbed it with Brooks Orpik) to beef up a defense to help the shrewd hiring of Barry Trotz as head coach. Trotz seems like he’s ending what was a busy procession of shaky bench bosses.

MacLellan really nailed it the next summer, trading for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a bargain deal. A year later, the Capitals added a fantastic third-line center option in Lars Eller via a smart trade.

And now this. It’s not clear where Kevin Shattenkirk will fit in the Capitals’ lineup, but either way, he boosts an already formidable group.

Misc.

Let’s lightning round some other thoughts.

  • Circling back to the MacLellan praise: the price for Shattenkirk really wasn’t that different than what Martin Hanzal cost the Minnesota Wild, was it?

  • Scottie Upshall joked about all the one-timers Shattenkirk is primed to set up for Alex Ovechkin … but he has a point.
  • It’s difficult to imagine the Capitals re-signing Shattenkirk, putting continued emphasis on the talk of Washington being in the last season of a “two-year window” to make their greatest push for a Stanley Cup. At the same time, there aren’t a lot of problem contracts beyond Orpik’s in Washington, so the plus side is that MacLellan can also show how he might be Bowman-like in making the right calls in who to bring back. Make no mistake about it, getting Shattenkirk is about now, not later.
  • Oh yeah the Capitals also got a nice sneaky bonus in landing Pheonix Copley, who better have the nickname “typo.”

All things considered, it’s no surprise that the Capitals are excited.

There’s at least a chance Shattenkirk might be able to suit up for Washington as soon as Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but either way, this sure looks like a slam dunk.

Wild just wouldn’t stay down, edge Kings in OT

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Don’t blame Ben Bishop if, deep down, he was glad that he didn’t make his Los Angeles Kings debut on Monday.

After seeing the kind of speed, drive and all-around electric play displayed by the Minnesota Wild, you can understand a goalie shuddering at the often wide-open action. Despite falling behind four times against the Kings, the Wild ultimately edged Los Angeles 5-4 in an overtime thriller.

Mikael Granlund‘s 20th goal of the season ended it in OT, and quickly. And it was beautiful:

…. Unless you’re Jonathan Quick and the Kings, that is.

Granlund is absolutely on fire right now.

Ryan White made a great first impression for the Wild, scoring a goal and an assist (while displaying great flow). Martin Hanzal wasn’t able to score, though he did make his presence felt with five hits. And, again, Bishop might have secretly been relieved to put his Kings debut on hold.

Marian Gaborik turned back the clock a bit to his Wild prime, scoring a goal and an assist. He generally made quite a bit happen for Los Angeles.

It was a tough one for Anze Kopitar, meanwhile, who was unable to generate offense and suffered a -3. He wasn’t able to stop Granlund in OT, though who could?

The Wild still must worry as mumps sidelined at least Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, but for now, they’re battling on. Just ask the Kings how resilient this group really is.

Sell this: Kucherov, Lightning put trades behind them, blast Senators

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The Tampa Bay Lightning might be in sell mode, but that doesn’t mean their players are quitting on this season.

After shipping Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle out of town, they could have rolled over against a hungry Ottawa Senators team. Instead, they blew them out, winning 5-1 on Monday.

Nikita Kucherov was the biggest standout, collecting a natural hat trick, which you can watch above. (He also generated an assist.)

Jonathan Drouin had a big night in his own right, assisting on all three of Kucherov’s goals. Victor Hedman and Tyler Johnson generated two assists apiece, as well.

And, yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy inspired at least a few “Ben who?” jokes by making 39 out of 40 saves, including this beauty:

As you can see, Ottawa actually had a 1-0 lead at that point, so it could have been a different game if the agile goalie did do the splits there.

The Lightning are still five points out of the final wild card spot, trailing Boyle’s new team in the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Senators, meanwhile, find themselves slipping a bit out of the race to win the Atlantic Division, especially considering Montreal’s comeback win against New Jersey.

Tampa Bay may may not be done making moves and recognizing painful truth that the odds are against them rallying to a playoff spot. That said, nights like these make you wonder if a run is at least possible.

Canadiens’ big guns trigger comeback OT win against Devils

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 27:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates the game winning power play goal by Alex Galchenyuk #27 at 2:54 of overtrime against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 27, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Canadiens defeated the Devils 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were looking a little grim there for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.

The New Jersey Devils had, at one point, a 2-0 lead. At least in some corners there were murmurs about a bad start for Claude Julien. Then their big guns swung the game.

The comeback started with Alex Radulov, though the drama was just beginning:

Travis Zajac made it 3-1 for the Devils on the power play, only for Radulov to assist on two Max Pacioretty goals to send the game to overtime.

From there, Alex Galchenyuk scored the overtime-winner for Montreal on the man advantage. Radulov got yet another secondary assist – he ended up with four points tonight – while Shea Weber nabbed the primary helpers on the last two tallies.

Long story short, the Canadiens biggest names came through, allowing Julien to maybe utther a sigh of relief.