Ken Hitchcock

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock wins Jack Adams

8 Comments

Prior to this season, Ken Hitchcock had been nominated for the Jack Adams three times in his career but had never taken home the award.

Turns out the fourth time was a charm.

Hitchcock captured his first-ever coach of the year trophy at the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night, beating out fellow Adams nominees Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators) and John Tortorella (New York Rangers).

The win caps off a truly remarkable season for the NHL’s oldest head coach. Hitchcock, 60, had been out of the NHL since Feb. 2010 before taking over a struggling Blues team that was 6-7-0 and in 14th in the Western Conference.

What transpired after the November takeover was one of the greatest in-season turnarounds in franchise history, as the Blues went 43-15-11 to finish the year atop the Central Division (first win since 1999-2000) and second overall in the Western Conference.

With the win, Hitchcock becomes the fourth coach in St. Louis history to capture the Jack Adams, joining Red Berenson (1981), Brian Sutter (1991) and Joel Quenneville (2000).

Hitchcock reflects

Hitchcock had plenty to say about winning the award, especially when it came to connecting with young players. That meant finding ways to connect with players, which perhaps wasn’t that difficult since Hitchcock said that he enjoys “their music.”

(He wouldn’t name any names, but he raved about watching concerts on the Palladia network. Go ahead, imagine Hitchcock listening to The Arcade Fire now.)

“I pride myself in being current,” Hitchcock said. “More than anything I’m fascinated by this age group because Generation Y, the big thing is ‘why?’ They ask that question every day. They don’t just do what they’re told, they want to know why … this generation is making us as coaches more accountable than we’ve ever been in our life. If they don’t buy what we’re selling, they’re not going to go and play for you.”

Hitchcock did an interesting job putting that Blues team in perspective. Interestingly enough, he said that the best team he ever coached was the 2004 Philadelphia Flyers, not one of the Dallas Stars squads. His best work as a bench boss might surprise some people, too.

“The best job we’ve ever done as a staff was the one in Columbus when we went to the playoffs,” Hitchcock said. “That team over-achieved every day.”

This might have been his first Jack Adams, but you got the feeling that the nod was as much a validation of a great body of work than a singular achievement. Still, Hitchcock gives every indication that we haven’t seen the best of this Blues team – but that might require some of his best work, too.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

2 Comments

Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

7 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

23 Comments

The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

13 Comments

With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.