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Life after Bryzgalov: how will the Coyotes succeed in net?

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There’s not much hope among the hockey community for the Phoenix Coyotes this season. There’s a shocker. Despite back-to-back season with people all over the NHL doubting the desert dogs, the Coyotes have posted back-to-back playoff seasons. Yet still, after repeated success, most people are expecting them to fail.

Each season there are question marks surrounding the team; each season Don Maloney and Co. prove that they have the answers. But this season could be different. This season there’s a larger question mark—and the old answer between the pipes that could bail the team out is 2,000 miles away in Philadelphia. So what do the Coyotes plan on doing now that star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has moved onto a new contender in the Eastern Conference?

The first thing the Coyotes needed to do was bring in a goaltender they believed could lead the team. Even though there were other alternatives on July 1 (like Tomas Vokoun), Phoenix management had a certain guy in mind: Mike Smith. Coyotes GM Don Maloney spoke to ProHockeyTalk.com earlier in the summer about the problematic goaltending situation:

“We looked at a couple of different veterans that might have been there. We looked at a couple of younger goaltenders, there were a number of goaltenders available in trades, but we kept coming back to Mike Smith. His style of game – he’s a big goaltender – Sean Burke has had good success with big goaltenders. Dave Tippett had him in Dallas and liked him a lot. We think our system will help his game progress. He has all the tools to be a top goalie in this league; we just need to bring it out of him. He was really our #1 pick.”

Smith may have been management’s #1 option—but he probably wasn’t the fan’s first choice. He’s shown flashes of potential over the course of his career in Dallas and Tampa Bay. But he’s also had bouts of inconsistency that relegated him to platoon duty or even the bench.

Many forget that Bryzgalov had similar bouts with inconsistency when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. He’s shown stretches where he could carry the team and look like a legitimate #1 goaltender. Then he’d show flashes that reminded everyone why he was the back-up and a guy who eventually hit the waiver wire.

One of the big questions surrounding Bryzgalov was if he’d be able to play well for an entire 82 game season. He succeeded—but why? Was it the Coyotes team defense? Was it the system that Dave Tippett brought from Dallas that put him in a position to succeed? Perhaps, but GM Maloney has another reason for Bryzgalov’s asset to stardom in Phoenix.

“I think it was maturity,” the Coyotes general manager argued. “I think the way we treated him—to his credit he played [well], but I thought Sean Burke did a terrific job instructing him. I think the way we handled him, and I think our system is a very detailed system. Everybody knows what’s expected. I think it helped to just get a little more consistency in his game. If you look back at Bryzgalov prior to coming to us, there were periods of brilliance and then periods where you couldn’t put him in the net. We were able to get him to the point where he was consistently a top goalie.

“And that’s the same with Mike Smith. You saw it last year; he was fantastic in one playoff game. Now we just need to get about 70 of those games out of him.”

That could be easier said than done. Everyone looks for consistency between the pipes and a starter they can lean on for 70 games per season. Judging by the preseason predictions floating around, not very many people believe that Smith will be able to step into Bryzgalov’s rather large skates. If the Coyotes can’t get elite goaltending, then it will be tough for the team to compete for their third straight playoff berth.

Of all the people worrying about the Coyotes’ goaltending situation, the folks in the Coyotes’ front office don’t seem all that worried. They got their man. They have confidence in their goaltending coach because they’ve seen him do it before. Now it’s up to Smith to learn from Sean Burke and start fulfilling the vast potential that made him the main piece in a trade for Brad Richards.

If Mike Smith is the goaltender that Maloney thinks he is, the Coyotes will be set to raise eyebrows yet again. But if he can’t—well, all of the prognosticators may finally have their doubts confirmed.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Thursday night. You can catch tonight’s action via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Dallas at St. Louis (8:00 p.m. ET) 

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Blues lead the series 2-1.

San Jose at Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on CNBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Sharks lead the series 2-1.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s games:

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

Preds smash Sharks in Game 3 to get back in series

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

Just for Men: Sidney Crosby

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People love star athletes because they can do amazing things. Even so, people also often love to see the occasional moment of weakness.

Aside from the occasional injury hiccup, Sidney Crosby‘s been as advertised after being a super-hyped No. 1 overall pick. He has that “Golden Goal,” two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of individual accolades.

… Yet he can’t really grow much of a beard.

Granted, his facial hair is thicker now that he’s “Sid the star nearing 30” rather than “Sid the Kid,” but no one will confuse him for Brent Burns and his living-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods beard.

For some, especially Crosby-haters, it’s fodder for mockery.

For the rest of us, it’s merely comforting to see that people like Crosby are human and actually have a few flaws.

Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives,’ says Caps’ Beagle

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Not many people expected the Capitals-Penguins series to be over in five games, but there’s a chance that could happen before the end of the week. After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Capitals are one loss away from being bounced from the 2016 playoffs.

The Capitals failed to take advantage of the fact that Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Letang is now set to return for Game 5 which makes Washington’s task even more difficult.

“We didn’t take advantage of it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “One thing I said to the guys coming into this, and we talked it about it yesterday, was when Kris got his suspension, is that they’re going to rally. Their whole team, their forwards are going to come back. They talked about they didn’t play their best game (in Game 3) and now they have Letang out and everybody had to step up on their side, and I thought they did.”

If you look back at the regular season, the Capitals were head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league for a good portion of the season. Washington finished 11 points ahead of second place Dallas in the league standings and it looked like they had the team that would finally take them over the hump.

Although things look gloomy, it’s important to realize that the series is far from over. Many NHLers would tell you that the fourth win is always the hardest to come by in a best-of-seven series, and by no means is anyone expecting the Capitals to wave the white flag.

“Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed, but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle, per NHL.com. “We’re looking forward. Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”

Game 5 goes Saturday night in Washington.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial: