What Went Wrong: Vancouver Canucks

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Of all the profiles done here to cover what caused the demise of a team in the playoffs, there hasn’t been one so plainly simple to draw up and point fingers at what went wrong. The Canucks issues were ultimately easy to figure out, their failure in the Stanley Cup finals was one that saw them go down without so much as a fight in Game 7.

What went wrong for the Vancouver Canucks? The paint-by-numbers crime scene investigation is pretty simple to follow.

1. Offense? What offense?
Eight goals in seven games in the finals. That’s all the Canucks could muster against Tim Thomas and the Bruins defense. Sure there was some bad luck and shots off the post but there were fanned on shots at open nets, inability to corral the puck in scoring opportunities and no wherewithal to fight harder against the Bruins to go for the goal.

The struggles of Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin in this series are going to haunt them until they’re able to win a Stanley Cup for themselves. Henrik finishes the Stanley Cup finals with just one goal and no assists while Daniel had one goal and one assist. For one former MVP and a current MVP candidate that’s patently inexcusable.

When you’re two of the best players in the game and your team’s fate rests on your production – you have to do better. The intimidation factor Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg threw at them with their physical play and positioning made them shy away from corners and pull back on their attack. Someone has to remind them that there is no fear in the Stanley Cup finals dojo.

2. Oh, Roberto
When your team isn’t scoring goals, your role as a goalie is to hold down the fort flawlessly to give your team that slight opening of being able to win games by scoring just one or two goals if possible. Roberto Luongo was able to do that twice in the finals shutting out the Bruins. He was able to hold things together well enough in Game 2 to open the door for Vancouver to come back from being down 2-1. In the other four games he lost, though, things did not go so well.

Luongo was pulled from two games in Boston while allowing a total of 15 goals on the road in parts of three games including a full 60 minutes worth of allowing eight goals in Game 3. Coming up that small in a road game is just not the mark of a championship team. Seeing Luongo get beaten in Game 7 by a great shot by Patrice Bergeron in the first period and then subsequently beaten thanks to a pair of freaky goals helped serve up all the psyche crushing a goalie needs to lose.

While no one will recall Luongo’s great games thanks to the team losing, his effort in the games he lost just was not on par with his play in Games 1, 2, and 5. That brand of inconsistency, even in spite of the Canucks inability to score, is maddening.

3. The disappearance of the vaunted power play
The Canucks power play was one of their strengths all season long scoring 24.3% of the time during the 82-game haul of the regular season. In prior rounds of the playoffs they were solid again scoring 28.3% of the time with the man advantage. In the Stanley Cup finals though, things changed for the worse.

Vancouver went a paltry 2-33 on the power play in the finals helping drop their power play percentage overall in the playoffs to 20.4%. While that number will still look gaudy their 6% effectiveness in the finals is what will stick out like a sore thumb. In three different games in the finals their power play was morbidly terrible.

In Game 1 they went 0-6 but still won. In Games 3 and 4 however, their misery with the extra man hurt them badly. In Game 3 the power play was 0-8 and in Game 4 it was another 0-6 performance. In games where they needed goals by the bunches, they were afforded the opportunity to score them and failed miserably. That lack of execution and inability to produce was their ultimate undoing.

4. A lack of defensive cohesion
Coming into this series the Canucks defense was one of their points of pride and strength. As the series wore down, it began to be a microcosm of what they dealt with all through the season as injuries and suspensions took their toll. Dan Hamhuis’ Game 1 injury proved to be a killer as his defensive ability as a top four guy was lost and forced others into roles they’re not accustomed to.

Aaron Rome’s foolish hit on Nathan Horton not only ignited the Bruins but further weakened his own team’s depth forcing coach Alain Vigneault to figure out whether Keith Ballard or Chris Tanev was going to hurt them less. Having to rely on Andrew Alberts for key defensive stopping minutes isn’t really anyone’s ideal solution to winning games.

Add in Christian Ehrhoff’s bum shoulder and turnovers all over the ice as well as Alex Edler’s two broken fingers he played with in Game 7 and you’re left with a blue line corps that was stretched to its limits and gassed when it was all said and done. With so much shuffling even the Canucks’ tremendous depth was tested to the limits. Having these things come up in the finals where even the smallest mistakes get magnified made life impossible for Vancouver against a very tight and dedicated Bruins team.

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We know everyone will be eager to blow up parts of the Canucks and will be quick to throw certain big name players under the bus for not performing, but vast changes aren’t needed here. This team will learn by losing on this stage. Whether or not they’re psychologically capable of dealing with such a crushing defeat is the question here. Professional athletes should be able to bounce back from this but sometimes getting back to the Stanley Cup finals can prove to be just as hard as winning it. Coming out of the Western Conference, that road is always a bit trickier and physically demanding.

Vancouver will again be a top team, but until they get a bit tougher mentally and learn to knock it off with the overly dramatic play to win calls from the officials, life will be that much harder for them.

The Buzzer: Penguins dominate, Sharks sweep

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Wednesday’s scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (Penguins lead 3-1):

Pittsburgh dominated from pillar to post in this one. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel each had three points nights. Matt Murray, meanwhile, grabbed his second shutout of the playoffs in the win, which puts the Flyers on the brink of a playoff exit. Philly has just six goals in four games now and five of those came in Game 2.

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, New Jersey Devils 1 (Lightning lead 3-1):

Nikita Kucherov was a force in this one, scoring the twice and adding an assist while laying a massive (and controversial) hit on Devils’ defenseman Sami Vatanen, which knocked the latter out of the game. J.T. Miller tied the game in the first period and assisted on both of Kucherov’s goals for a three-point night of his own. Andrei Vasilevskiy, up for the Vezina this year, turned aside 27-of-28 shots.

Nashville Predators 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (Predators lead 3-1): 

The Predators held off a late comeback attempt by the Avalanche to take a 3-1 series lead back to Nashville. Colton Sissons and Craig Smith scored in the second period, following Filip Forsberg‘s highlight-reel first-period marker to give the Preds a 3-0 advantage going into the third. Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Kerfoot brought the Avs back to within one, but that was as far as they’d get. The Avs lost more than just the game as goalie Jonathan Bernier left after the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

San Jose Sharks 2, Anaheim Ducks (Sharks win 4-0):

Tomas Hertl scored 1:16 after Andrew Cogliano tied the game 1-1 in the third period to give the Sharks their second sweep in franchise history (they previous swept the Vancouver Canucks in 2013). The Ducks looked better than their Game 3 effort (just showing up would likely do that), but still only managed a single goal (and just four in the series). Martin Jones made 30 saves for the win. The Sharks will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Three stars

Matt Murray, Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby each had three-point nights, but Murray’s 26 saves made sure the Flyers came nowhere near the Penguins as he picked up his second shutout of the series, sixth playoff shutout of his career and fourth in his past six playoff games. Those are some ridiculous numbers from the Pens’ No. 1.

Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: Two goals — the game-winner and the dagger into the empty net to ensure victory — capped off a big night for Kucherov, who has scored in all four of the series’ games thus far. Kucherov added an assist on the game-tying goal in the first period and laid a massive hit on Sami Vatanen (which could earn him a call from the league).

Filip Forsberg, Predators: Got the Predators off on the right foot with his first-period marker which, as you will see below, was from another world. He also assisted on Colton Sisson’s tally that gave the Preds a 2-0 lead in the second period. Forsberg now has five points through four games in the series.

Highlights of the Night

Forsberg’s theatrics:

Jones was a huge problem for the Ducks, as seen here:

Man deposited into bench:

Vezinalevskiy:

Factoids of the Night

Thursday’s schedule

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) — Bruins lead series 2-1
Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (USA, NBCSWA) — Blue Jackets let series 2-1


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

Sharks advance after sweep of hapless Ducks

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Few figured the San Jose Sharks would have had it this easy against the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim came roaring into the postseason, winners of five straight and eight of their past 10 as they worked their way into second place in the Pacific Division

Perhaps they just ran out of gas or, perhaps, the Sharks are quite good at Duck Hunt. Either way, the Sharks made quick work of their California rivals, recording the sweep after a 2-1 win on Wednesday in Game 4.

The truth is the Sharks were far and away the better team in the series and the Ducks — outside of John Gibson — were horribly inept offensively and couldn’t handle the Sharks’ offensive attack, or solve Martin Jones.

After being shutout in Game 1, the Ducks lost a close 3-2 decision in Game 2 only to follow that up with an incredibly embarrassing effort in an 8-1 loss in Game 3.

In Game 4, and on the cusp of being swept, the Ducks managed just a single goal as they went crashing out of the playoffs.

That’s four goals in four games.

Poor John Gibson. The Ducks’ No. 1 faced a combined 69 shots in Games 1 and 2 and then 24 in Game 3 before being pulled, mercifully, in favor of Ryan Miller. In Game 4, Gibson faced a further 24 shots and once again received next to no run support.

The Ducks’ veteran core of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry combined for four points in the series. Perry was shutout entirely and the trio failed to combine for a single goal.

The Sharks were very much the opposite.

Captain Joe Pavelski had a goal and four assists. Logan Couture had two goals and five points. Evander Kane, acquired at the trade deadline, scored three times and added an assist.

And then there was Marcus Sorensen, who in 32 regular season games only scored five times but had three goals and an assist in four games in the series.

Jones got all the run support Gibson didn’t and was equally as good, turning aside 131 of the 135 shots he faced during the four game.

The Sharks will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round after Vegas swept the Los Angeles Kings in four games on Tuesday.


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

Avalanche’ Jonathan Bernier forced out of Game 4 loss

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Bad news hit the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff hopes on Wednesday.

The Avs’ woes in the crease suffered another blow when the team announced that Jonathan Bernier would not return for the third period because of a lower-body injury.

It’s not known when Bernier got hurt. Andrew Hammond, the team’s No. 3, replaced the Avs’ starter for the final frame.

Colorado is already without Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out the playoffs after a late-season injury after a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco.

The Predators lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 after taking Game 4 with a 3-2 win.

Nashville had a scare of their own during the second period when Avs forward Gabriel Landeskog went to hit forward Ryan Johansen with an open-ice hit. As Landeskog approached, Johansen looked up and tried to duck out of the way but took what appeared to be Landeskog’s knee to his head.

Johansen had a tough time getting back to his feet and headed down the tunnel and out of the game once he did.

Johansen was not on the bench to start the third but eventually returned around the mid-way point of the period and played five shifts.


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

Penguins follow Matt Murray’s lead, take Game 4 over Flyers

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers came up short in what head coach Dave Hakstol called the “biggest game of the series, so far.” It was another night where the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offense could not be stopped and their 5-0 victory in Game 4 means they take a 3-1 series lead back home with a chance to close things out Friday night.

It could have been a different game if not for the play of Matt Murray, who stopped 26 shots for his second shutout of the series and fourth shutout in his last seven playoff games. One of the bigger opportunities for the Flyers was a period of extended offensive zone time late in the first, but Murray stood tall, and when the pressure subsided the Penguins transitioned the other way resulting in a Phil Kessel goal.

 

“That’s what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” said forward Carl Hagelin. “There’s going to be momentum swings. You’re going to get pinned in your zone for an extended time and that’s what happened there. But we didn’t give up many Grade A chances.”

That cool demeanor of Murray’s isn’t just effective for him, it also positively affects his teammates.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“It helps. He’s a confident guy. He calms us down,” said Hagelin. “He’s always a calm guy. It’s one of those things we have a lot of faith in him. He trusts his ‘D’ and his forwards to do the job in front of him.”

“He [makes] saves at key times, too. That’s huge,” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. “Not just here and there, but early in the game or when we’re down a goal, he does a good job switching momentum. He’s definitely a special goalie that way.”

Through four games, Murray, who became the fastest goalie in NHL history to reach 25 career playoff wins, is rolling with a .958 even strength save percentage and has allowed only three goals at five-on-five in the series. A hostile Philadelphia crowd wasn’t going to faze the 23-year old goaltender. Before helping the Penguins to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016, he was thrown into the fire for his first playoff start on the road in Game 3 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers. He’d win both those games at Madison Square Garden and the rest was history.

So with the first period nearing a conclusion and Travis Konecny on a breakaway after leaving the penalty box, the Penguins had no cuase for concern. Murray would make the save and his teammates would add to the lead in the second period, putting the game, and potentially the series, out of reach.

“When you get those types of saves it certainly helps your team’s chances of winning,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “But that’s what Matt does for our group. I thought he was locked in all night long. He made the timely saves for us when we needed him to. Those are big points in the game, but you have to get that save if you’re going to win at this time of year.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.