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The Morning Skate from NBC: A TV primer

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For the first time in 68 years, the Stanley Cup champions from the four most recent seasons (Los Angeles Kings, 2012; Boston Bruins, 2011; Chicago Blackhawks, 2010; Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009) are the last four teams standing. Today, they will play Game 1 of their respective best-of-seven conference finals. (Which you can watch live online here.)

The last time the four most recent Stanley Cup champions (Montreal Canadiens, 1944; Detroit Red Wings, 1943; Toronto Maple Leafs, 1942; Boston Bruins, 1941) met in Game 1 of semifinal series, on March 20, 1945, Maurice Richard had just become the first NHL player to score 50 goals in 50 games, the Battle of Iwo Jima was being fought by American and Japanese armed forces, and the “Curse of the Billy Goat” lamenting the Chicago Cubs’ World Series title drought was six months from entering someone’s mind.

Game 1: #5 Los Angeles Kings at #1 Chicago Blackhawks, 5 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online)

Season series: Blackhawks 2-1-0

  • January 19 “Banner Raising”: Chicago 5, at Los Angeles 2 ( Marian Hossa, CHI, 2 goals, assist)
  • February 17: at Chicago 3, Los Angeles 2 ( Brent Seabrook, CHI, goal, assist, 2 hits)
  • March 25: Los Angeles 5, at Chicago 4 ( Dustin Brown, LAK, goal, 5 shots, 6 hits)

Coming off tense seven-game series, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Blackhawks and defending Stanley Cup champion Kings are back at it, as they meet in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at the United Center. Chicago rebounded from a three-games-to-one deficit, defeating their Original Six rivals, Detroit, 2-1 in overtime in Game 7, on a goal by defenseman Brent Seabrook. Meanwhile, Los Angeles maintained their perfect 7-0 home record this postseason by ousting San Jose, also 2-1, on two goals by winger Justin Williams.

The Blackhawks won the regular season series, 2-1-0, outscoring the Kings 12-9. All of the top Hawks players contributed, in particular Jonathan Toews (three goals, three assists), Patrick Kane (two goals, assist), and Marian Hossa (two goals, assist in season opener). Even Michael Frolik chipped in with three goals. On the flipside, three key Kings players compiled forgettable statistics: goaltender Jonathan Quick (1-2-0, 4.05 GAA, .857 save %) and second-line skaters Mike Richards (two goals, -7) and Jeff Carter (0 points, -3).

DID YOU KNOW?

11 of the Kings’ first 13 games this postseason have been decided by one goal. That’s as many one-goal playoff games as they had played in their previous 31, from Game 2 of the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals through their 2012 Cup run.

WHO ON EARTH IS … NIKLAS HJALMARSSON?

Stephen Walkom wasn’t really focused on it, but the rest of the hockey world was, when Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson [pronounced /YAHL-mahr-sohn/] rifled a slapshot past Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard with 1:47 left in a deadlocked Game 7 on May 29. Not only did the controversial disallowing of the goal prevent Chicago from taking a 2-1 lead, and subsequently get Twitter chirping loudly from Madison Street to Hjalmarsson’s native Småland (Sweden) province; it also extended his personal postseason goal drought to 42 games (since April 24, 2010).

With veteran blueliners Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on the team, it’s easy for Hjalmarsson to get overlooked, even though he is an integral part of the Blackhawks’ top penalty-kill unit that is an NHL-best 40-for-41 (97.6%) this postseason. That’s efficiency that even IKEA can’t match.

Game 1: #4 Boston Bruins at #1 Pittsburgh Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (on NBC and live online)

Season series: Penguins 3-0-0 … Pens have won five straight meetings since Feb. 4, 2012

  • March 12: at Pittsburgh 3, Boston 2 ( Brandon Sutter, PIT: 2 goals, 3 shots)
  • March 17: at Pittsburgh 2, Boston 1 ( Tomas Vokoun, PIT: 31 saves)
  • April 20: Pittsburgh 3, at Boston 2 ( Tomas Vokoun, PIT: 38 saves)

The top-seeded Penguins and fourth-seeded Bruins will hit the ice for their first competitive games in a week when they meet in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at the Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh scored 13 of their league-leading 47 goals in Games 4 & 5 to close out the Senators in five games, while Boston played solidly on both ends of the ice to eliminate the Rangers, also in five.

The Penguins swept the season series, 3-0-0, and have won five consecutive meetings vs. the Bruins since February 4, 2012. This season, in the absence of second-line center Evgeni Malkin for all three games (upper-body injury), seven different Penguins skaters lit the lamp, led by Brandon Sutter (two goals on March 12). Tomas Vokoun, then the back-up behind Marc-Andre Fleury, won two starts, posting a 1.50 GAA and .958 save%. Three of the Bruins’ five goals came off the stick of Tyler Seguin, while the line of Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton combined for zero points. Although he lost two of the starts, Tuukka Rask (2.54 GAA) played fairly well against the NHL’s most-explosive attack.

For viewers – live or on television – it will be a challenge distinguishing “oohs” from boos throughout this series. For all the cheering fans at Consol and TD Garden will do in support of their goalies – Vokoun and [Tuukka] Rask, respectively – there will be equal parts jeering when Jaromir Jagr returns to Pittsburgh as a Bruin, and Matt Cooke or Jarome Iginla suit up for the Pens in Boston. Jagr won Stanley Cups in his first two of 11 seasons in the “Steel City” (1991 & 1992), but after leaving the NHL for three seasons, chose to sign with the archrival Philadelphia Flyers in 2011. Cooke became a Boston antagonist after (likely) ending the career of Bruins forward Marc Savard after a hit to the head in 2010. Iginla went from potential Bruins fan favorite to enemy after a trade from Calgary to Boston fell through and he joined Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.

DID YOU KNOW?

The streak of nine distinct Stanley Cup champions (2003-12) will end this season. In North American professional sports, MLB has the record for the longest stint of distinct champions, at 10 (1978-1987).

Strome saga continues, will be a healthy scratch for Game 3

Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
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Ryan Strome‘s tough year just got a little bit tougher.

After seemingly re-establishing himself in the Islanders lineup, Strome will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

Head coach Jack Capuano will drop Strome in favor of Josh Bailey, who returns from a two-game absence due to injury.

“I try to be a good team guy and I don’t want to draw any negative attention to myself,” Strome continued, per Newsday.

The fifth overall pick in 2011, Strome endured a difficult campaign that included a three-week stint in the AHL.

Those difficulties have carried over to the postseason. After playing the first four games of New York’s opening-round playoff series against the Panthers, Strome was dropped for Games 5 and 6 — but Bailey was hurt in the clincher, meaning Strome drew back in for the opening two games of the Bolts series.

It’s hard to say what exactly got him scratched. In Game 1, he assisted on both of Shane Prince‘s goals, helping the Isles to a 5-3 win — despite fairly limited ice time (12:26, third-lowest among forwards.)

In Game 2, his numbers weren’t as good — no points, two shots on goal, minus-1 rating, 35.9 Corsi — but his ice time jumped to 17:59, easily his biggest of the postseason.

The decision to park Strome probably isn’t about numbers. Following the Game 2 loss, Capuano said the Isles were “a little soft,” which has been one of the complaints about Strome’s game this year.

In fact, the 22-year-old alluded to it today.

“Last series [the message was] I needed to be a little harder to play against,” Strome said. “Points don’t always tell the whole story. I’m always confident in my game, but unfortunately I don’t make the decisions.

“I have to live with it.”

Boudreau wants a new job right away, and it sure looks like he’ll get one

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Bruce Boudreau doesn’t like being unemployed.

“I’ve always worked,” Boudreau said this week, per the O.C. Register. “Since I was 17 years old, there was never a time I never had a job. In the hockey jobs when I’ve gotten fired, I’ve tried to get back into work right away.”

You don’t say.

Back in 2011, Boudreau was out of a job for 48 hours when — after getting fired by the Caps on a Monday — Anaheim hired him that Wednesday.

Now he’s looking at a similar situation.

Last Friday, Boudreau was fired after Anaheim’s disappointing opening-round playoff exit to Nashville.

Today, the Ottawa Sun reported the Senators have officially received permission to speak with Boudreau about their vacant head coaching gig.

Oh, and guess what else happened today? Calgary fired Bob Hartley, just one year after Hartley captured the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

Almost immediately, Boudreau was floated as a potential replacement in Calgary — or, depending how you look at it, part of the reason GM Brad Treliving decided to turf Hartley.

There’s another team believed to be interested in Boudreau’s services as well — Minnesota.

Sportsnet reported that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher reached out to Anaheim about interviewing Boudreau. But the Minnesota situation seems to be on hold, until all discussions have wrapped with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

There’s little surprise teams are clamoring to get Boudreau on board.

Playoff failures aside, his resume is stacked. He won eight division titles in nine years with Washington and Anaheim, boasts a 409-192-80 career record, and won the 2008 Jack Adams Award.

In firing Boudreau, Ducks GM Bob Murray lauded him as a “good coach” and “very passionate hockey guy.” Boudreau’s also earned the reputation as a player’s coach, largely because of his communication skills — he comes by that “Gabby” nickname honestly — and open door policy.

“He was a friend, you could talk to him at any point and time,” Corey Perry said following Boudreau’s dismissal, per the Ducks website. “The door was always open. He coached this team, and I can’t say enough about him.

“He did a lot for my game.”

So yeah, all signs certainly point to Boudreau being back behind a bench next year.

Unless he’s not.

The coaching world is fluid, and constantly changing. Ottawa’s got a lengthy list of candidates aside from Boudreau, Minnesota could easily stick with Torchetti and, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Calgary’s decision to turf Hartley wasn’t about who’s available, but rather about getting a new voice behind the bench.

So it’s probably too early to say what the Flames want to do next.

Boudreau, though, knows exactly what he wants to do next.

“I love the game,” Boudreau said. “I love the people involved in the game. There’s no place I’d rather be than a hockey arena.

“I just know that’s me.”

IIHF president is pessimistic that NHLers will go to the 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr
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IIHF president Rene Fasel puts the chances of NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics at just 40 percent.

Fasel’s pessimism is a result of the IOC’s decision not to cover millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the NHL players that would’ve been headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the games,” Fasel told the Associated Press. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

But Fasel is not giving up. His plan now is to go “do some begging” from the national Olympic committees of the hockey-playing countries.

Just don’t count on the NHL to cover any shortfall. The owners already don’t like shutting down the league to risk their star players’ health. If there’s no Olympic participation in 2018, they won’t be devastated.

Related:

Bettman unsure if Beijing Olympics represents ‘an opportunity to grow the game in China’

Fehr: Players want to be in both Olympics, World Cup

Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

For Blues, Pietrangelo is playing ‘heavy minutes,’ and a lot of them

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Alex Pietrangelo is used to playing a lot – especially this time of year. The St. Louis Blues linchpin defenseman plays with a high motor and appears to have no issues piling up the ice time.

Pietrangelo is fourth overall in the playoffs averaging 30 minutes, 34 seconds, including more than 35 minutes in the Blues’ overtime victory in Game 2 in Dallas on Sunday. Among the surviving eight teams, he’s at the top of the list.

“The more you play him, the better he plays,” coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday, a day ahead of Game 3 against the Stars (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a series knotted at a game apiece. “I think he keeps his focus razor-sharp, and when he’s like that, he’s going to help us.”

A key to Pietrangelo’s success is channeling attention deficit disorder and putting excess energy to good use. He’s constantly talking, compensating for soft-spoken defensive partner Jay Bouwmeester.

“He is go, go, go and guys sometimes wish he had a muzzle on him at times,” Backes said. “He’s a big reason why we’re still playing.”

Pietrangelo leads the rush at times and has a goal and five assists in the playoffs for a team savoring its first victory in the second round since 2002.

Several teammates believe Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in 2008, was the Blues’ MVP in the first round. He was instrumental in holding down Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

“I like having the opportunity to play on a big stage,” Pietrangelo said. “Sometimes it’s hard minutes, but I’ll take that as long as it’s going to help us.”

All of the minutes leaders still in the playoffs are defensemen, with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang right behind Pietrangelo at 29:24 per game. The Islanders have two players getting heavy rotation, Nick Leddy (28:33) and Travis Hamonic (27:03). Nashville’s Roman Josi (27:22) and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (27:02) also are high on the list.

Two mainstays are watching now, Chicago’s Duncan Keith (31:27) and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty (30:49).

Pietrangelo’s minutes stand out even more given he’s not on the first power play unit, duty that’s not usually as taxing as regular shifts.

“You have to recognize that those are heavy minutes he’s playing,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s getting challenged, he’s playing against top players, he’s killing all the penalties.”

The odds of Pietrangelo getting more extremely heavy duty would seem to be high, given the Stars and Blues have met seven times with four going to overtime and one decided in a shootout. He can be a calming influence, although inside he’s going 100 mph.

“I’m still amped up, you can ask my teammates,” Pietrangelo said. “I’m always on the go.”