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And then there was one: Devils’ sweet run goes bitter

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Do you know a New Jersey Devils fan? If so, you should probably give him or her a hug right now. (Yes, even if you root for the New York Rangers.)

The bitter taste of the Devils’ 6-1 Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Kings probably won’t subside for some time – few endings like these dissolve quickly – yet the big picture ended up looking a lot sweeter than most people expected.

Sure, New Jersey was about as good as a sixth seed could be, all things considered. They finished with 102 points this season, which would have placed them right behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (103) and Boston Bruins (102, with more regulation/OT wins) as the fifth seed if it wasn’t based on division titles. Still, they sported plenty of question marks going into the postseason and just about everything worked out.

Until they met the Kings, of course.

What happened?

Whether you attribute it to injuries (Ilya Kovalchuk seemed banged up, for one), the Devils’ shortcomings or the Kings’ dominance, New Jersey just couldn’t score consistently against Los Angeles. A power play that scored 12 goals through the first three rounds was downright befuddled by an outstanding Kings’ PK. Zach Parise struggled just as much as Kovalchuk to put points on the board while Martin Brodeur was surprisingly strong – but not strong enough – to top the Kings.

The Devils scored just eight goals in six games in the series.

Who takes the blame?

As unfair as it might be, many will fit Steve Bernier with the goat horns. His controversial hit earned an ejection and resulted in three Kings power play goals, essentially ending Game 6 – and the series – before the first period was even over.

Of course, that’s an overly simplistic approach. As many pointed out, a five-minute major doesn’t necessarily justify such a porous PK showing. (Overall, the Devils’ penalty kill was strong, but that might make it hurt a little bit more.)

If anything, Bernier takes the heat off of larger concerns. The Devils lost their cool and also lost their offensive touch. Bernier’s the easy scapegoat and most will see it that way, yet an ineffective offense and a dominant Kings team did the Devils in.

What will they do about it?

In case you haven’t noticed the deluge of “Where will Parise go?” articles, the Devils’ biggest off-season question isn’t entirely in “their hands.” That being said, making a deep postseason run had to at least improve New Jersey’s chances of retaining its captain and most important player. GM Lou Lamoriello’s off-season report card likely hinges on Parise’s decision.

That’s far from Lamoriello’s only summer chore, however. He has other noteworthy free agent calls to make, with the most prominent one being Brodeur. This post goes into painstaking detail to cover the many decisions the Devils face in this off-season, as the vast majority of New Jersey’s most valuable players (not named Kovalchuk) either need a new deal this summer or in 2013.

Lamoriello faces a tough bigger picture question among many individual conundrums, then: does this group have more deep runs in them or was this just a (mostly) happy accident?

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

And then there were four: Capitals fall just short in Game 7

And then there were three: Coyotes’ run falls short

And then there were two: Rangers’ gas tank hits empty

Lombardi’s goal was to assemble USA World Cup team ‘that you think can beat Canada’

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: Dean Lombardi, an advisor to the 2014 Men's Olympic Hockey Team is introduced at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 29, 2013 in New York City.(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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When Dean Lombardi put together the United States roster for the return of the World Cup of Hockey, one model that attracted his attention was a team from 20 years ago.

That U.S. team led by Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Mike Modano and Mike Richter beat Canada to win the tournament, a title the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings hopes to duplicate this fall. Lombardi and USA Hockey finalized the 23-man roster Friday, and the result was a gritty bunch that will very much fit coach John Tortorella’s personality.

Instead of taking pure skill in the form of forwards Phil Kessel and Paul Stastny and defensemen Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk, the U.S. went with grinders Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky up front and two-way players Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson on the blue line. Lombardi said the goal was the “type of the team that you think can beat Canada,” and one that will coalesce quickly without much time to prepare.

Related: Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

“It made it essential that you do all your research in terms of not only the quality of the player and his ability but their history of being a good teammate and things like that,” Lombardi said Tuesday in a phone interview. “There was a lot to choose from, don’t forget. There are a lot of good players and you could easily argue that this guy should be here and everything else, and you wouldn’t be wrong.”

The 1996 team had high-end skill in the form of Hull, Modano, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, who scored the World Cup-winning goal that Lombardi considers the biggest in U.S. hockey history – more significant than Mike Eruzione’s from the “Miracle on Ice” against the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics.

Lombardi was quick to point to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Minnesota Wild’s Zach Parise and San Jose Sharks’ Joe Pavelski as the offensive talent that should mesh with the toughness of Dubinsky, Callahan, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler.

No Kessel came as a surprise given that he tied for the scoring lead at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and is leading the Pittsburgh Penguins in points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Lombardi said the U.S. had plenty of skilled wingers and was looking to fill specific roles with its final few players.

“He’s a top player, but so are these other guys,” Lombardi said of Kessel. “It’s a good problem to have, but you can’t have all skill just like you can’t have all grit. You’re building a team, not an All-Star team.”

Lombardi and fellow USA Hockey management members Paul Holmgren and Brian Burke like a certain amount of size and toughness on their teams, so they knew this team would have a certain MO. Hiring Tortorella cemented that, and the final roster meetings in Colorado included a lot of the coach’s input.

But Lombardi also talked to 1996 World Cup-winning players like Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin and Derian Hatcher as well as some who got a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and lost the bronze-medal game in Sochi. He wanted to know what went right, what went wrong and how to fix it, going so far as to watch the 1996 tournament again in the process.

That group was together in dorm rooms for a month in Providence, Rhode Island. The 2016 team will have some time at training camp in Columbus, Ohio, but that’s so little preparation that Lombardi and Co. wanted to define jobs in advance.

“If you’re going to pull it together quickly, it’s very clear what your roles are,” Lombardi said. “You don’t have time for players to figure that out. That’s what a player wants. He wants to know his role, then he’ll fit into your team concept.”

With a focus on NHL-sized ice and Canada as the target, Lombardi hopes he put together the right mix to win it all in Toronto.

Canada is “the benchmark and that’s what you’ve got to look at if you’re going to win this thing,” Lombardi said. “If they can come together like (the 1996) group and learn from maybe some of the mistakes they made as a group in the past and a lot of them have been together, they can beat Canada. No doubt about it.”

‘He was great, full of life’: Sharks’ Braun mourns the passing of father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the third period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a heavy heart.

According to CSN Bay Area, Braun’s father-in-law and NHL veteran Tom Lysiak passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with leukemia.

The news was confirmed Monday.

“He was great, full of life,” said Braun, as per CSN Bay Area. “Loved to hang out with the boys. Loved to talk about his hockey days. Great father, great husband. Great to me, welcomed me into the family.

“Just a tough day.”

Lysiak was a three-time NHL all-star, playing 13 seasons in the league with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 292 goals and 843 points in 919 games over the course of his career.

Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As per CSN Bay Area, he is expected to be in the Sharks lineup for Game 2.

“It’s a tough situation. To Justin’s credit, he was business as usual. He’s made some arrangements for after Game 2 to pay his respects and do what he has to do on that end,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

“There’s not much you can do. You feel for him. He went out there, he battled for us under tough circumstances. I think we all appreciate it.”

Video: Crosby has an ‘insatiable appetite’ to get better

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Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?

Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.

(On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)

“He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.

On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.

“He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.

“That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.

That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.

Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.

(In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)

The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.

“I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.

“As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

 

 

With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

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Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

(The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

“If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

“He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”