Five Thoughts on a Stanley Cup clinching night for Boston

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An incredible run, an incredible team effort, a set of incredible performances, and one Stanley Cup championship to last a lifetime. Give it up to the Boston Bruins who fought hard all playoffs and made the adjustments necessary to win and did what no other team could do this year. Boston’s 4-0 Game 7 win showed what they had all series long in that when they get rolling, they’re tough to beat. This year, they were the toughest to knock off.

1. What more can be said about Tim Thomas? A 37-save shutout on the road in Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals is an unbelievable way to close out a season. A road shutout in Game 7 of the Cup finals is a first in NHL history. He’s also the oldest Conn Smtyhe Trophy winner in history and just the second American to win it. With the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy locked up, the only one left for him to win now is the Vezina Trophy. If/when Thomas wins that he’ll be the first goalie since Bernie Parent in the 1970s to sweep those three awards in the same year. That’s a pretty fantastic year.

2. A couple more fascinating tidbits on Thomas’ accomplishments this postseason brought to my attention by a friend of mine (Thanks Yuri). Thomas is the first American starting goalie to win the Stanley Cup since Mike Richter did it in 1994 with the Rangers. The other American Conn Smythe Trophy winner was Brian Leetch who also did that in 1994 for the New York Rangers. The Rangers opponent that year, of course, was none other than Vancouver.

If I’m on the Vancouver Canucks and my team makes a deep run in the playoffs again, I know I’d start rooting against teams with American goalies. Imagine the freakout that would ensue should the Canucks make the Cup finals against the Buffalo Sabres in the near future.

3. It’s pretty easy to make a scapegoat out of Roberto Luongo. He was solid, even great, in three games in this series. He was awful, terrible, and useless in three others. Tonight he wasn’t flawless and the Bruins took advantage of that. Of course there were other problems he had to deal with as well. Through seven games of the Stanley Cup finals Luongo had just eight goals scored in support of him and the Canucks were shutout twice themselves.

To give you an idea of how poorly the offense played here’s a fun stat: Roberto Luongo was tied for third on the Canucks in goals scored in the finals with zero. He was tied with 17 other players. That kind of offense, regardless of how well they played tight, defensive hockey in their three wins, is never going to get it done in a seven game series. Luongo will eat a lot of the blame, but there’s a lot of forwards in the Canucks locker room that have some soul searching to do.

4. How fun is it to be Patrice Bergeron? It’s got to be really awesomely fun to be that good at hockey. He’s won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, an Olympic gold medal in 2010 with Team Canada, and now the Stanley Cup with the Bruins. For a guy whose career was put in doubt thanks to a major concussion years ago at the hands of then Flyers defenseman Randy Jones, Bergeron’s bounced back from that to be the Bruins’ most steady two-way forward.

He scores, he assists, he wins faceoffs, he defends against opposing team’s top centers. Having him score two goals, including the game-winner, in Game 7 was a perfect coda to what’s been a fantastic season for him.

5. And now for the sad side show that developed in Vancouver after the game as hordes of moron fans and non-fans alike decided rioting was the best way to grieve. When you mix loads of alcohol, a reported number of 100,000 people in the streets, and a soul-crushing loss in a city where fans are known to take things a little bit too personal when it comes to hockey you get what happened last night.

The observations that there were anarachist jerks mixed in with the crowd to help feed the ill feelings that lurk in the hearts of some fans is not shocking, especially if what CTV in Canada reported was true about some of those being the same band of cretins that stirred things up at the G20 summit in Toronto last summer.

I’d like to believe that the vast majority of hockey fans in Vancouver went home peaceably to drown their sorrows with their loved ones and friends, but the sheer number of jerks clad in Canucks gear caught on video and in photographs starting trouble is hugely disappointing. I’m sure all hockey fans are proud that this pack of punks helped give everyone in Vancouver and all over the NHL landscape a bad name.

Leafs chase Rask, hold on to win Game 5

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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Saturday’s game facing elimination, but they managed to extend force a sixth game thanks to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

The Maple Leafs managed to build up a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission thanks to goals by Connor Brown and Andreas Johnsson. They also had a 4-1 lead in the second period. That’s when the Bruins pulled Tuukka Rask in favor of backup Anton Khudobin.

After the goalie swap, Sean Kuraly managed to cut the deficit to 4-2 before the end of the frame.

 

Toronto did their best to blow their lead, as they took penalty after penalty in the second half of the game. The Leafs took the final four penalties, but the Bruins failed to convert on their opportunities on the man-advantage. They even gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play for over 1:30 before Kuraly scored moments later.

Goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 42 of 45 shots. This was the third time in five games that he faced at least 40 shots in this series.

The Leafs will now return home for Game 6 on Monday night. They’ll need to perform more like they did in the first half of Saturday’s game if they want to force Game 7 in Boston.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert scores unusual breakaway goal

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We’ve all see some breakaways go horribly, horribly wrong in the past.

Patrik Stefan reigns supreme here. Devin Setoguchi didn’t fare too well on this one. And then there was this gaffe by Dennis Wideman once upon a time.

But sometimes one screws up, only to rebound quickly and turn a near-blunder into a nice-ish goal.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert did that today, in what’s already being called the best/worst breakaway attempt of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As you can see in the video above, Calvert gets a nice clean breakaway. As he attempts to first a wrist shot, he whiffs on the attempt but manages to corral the puck back, doing the whole spin-o-rama thing, and deposit the puck past Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

Sometimes it just all works out.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck