CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 1: Goalie Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings catches the puck as Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks watches in the background in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on June 01, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Morning Skate: Can Chicago keep up Quick pressure?

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A quick look at the Western Conference finals and notes from Boston’s win over Pittsburgh.

Game 2: #5 Los Angeles Kings at #1 Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online)Blackhawks lead series, 1-0

In Game 1 last night, the Blackhawks learned that perimeter shooting and net-front presence are the key ingredients to beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. Midway through the second period, Patrick Sharp scored off a rebound of a Johnny Oduya slapshot – his league-leading eighth goal of the postseason – and Marian Hossa redirected a Duncan Keith shot from the point less than four minutes later, to lift the Blackhawks past the Kings, 2-1, at the United Center.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville jumbled the top two forward lines before the game, matching the burly Bryan Bickell with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane. The team responded quickly, outshooting the Kings 17-2 in the first period. For the game, the lines each contributed a goal on a combined 17 shots on goal. Look for those lines to remain intact for Game 2.

The Kings, who came in as the top-hitting team in the league, outhit the Blackhawks, 44-38, in Game 1. However, it was the Blackhawks who seemed to have the more effective hits. Mike Richards took a hard check from Dave Bolland in the last two minutes, and did not return for the final rush. Despite not talking with reporters after the game, Richards is not expected to miss any action. Coach Darryl Sutter quipped in his postgame press conference that he saw his second-line center “arguing with a ref” after the hit.

Jarret Stoll returned to the Kings’ lineup for the first time since Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals (upper-body injury), and won 10-of-19 faceoffs.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Kings fell to 1-6 on the road this postseason (lone win: Game 6 in St. Louis), after going 10-1 during last season’s Stanley Cup run. All six losses have been by 2-1 margins. Their last loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final vs. the New Jersey Devils was also by that score.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Boston 3, Pittsburgh 0 (Bruins lead series, 1-0)

David Krejci scored two goals – his sixth and seventh of the postseason – to extend his lead in the NHL scoring race (19 points), and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout, as the Bruins took Game 1 in Pittsburgh, 3-0.

The “HuLK Line” of Nathan HortonMilan Lucic – Krejci continued their torrid scoring pace this postseason, combining for all three goals and three assists. That trio now has 45 points (16 goals), more than each of the the high-flying Penguins’ top two lines, Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyPascal Dupuis (34 points, 18 goals) and James NealEvgeni MalkinJarome Iginla (38 points, 14 goals). The Bruins also won 32-of-48 faceoffs (66.7%), led by Patrice Bergeron (10-for-16) and Chris Kelly (9-for-12), while Crosby (6-for-17), Malkin (one-for-six) and Brandon Sutter (three-for-ten) did not fare as well.

After a week off for both teams following five-game conference semifinal wins, the Penguins tried to set the tone on the physical side. However, the rugged dimension didn’t seem to favor the Pens’ style, and after Matt Cooke took a major penalty for a check from behind on Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid early in the second period, they seemed to lose all offensive flow. (They had only 16 shots on goal in the final 28:28.) Malkin showed his frustration, going after Bergeron at center ice at the end of the second period, while Crosby confronted Rask, then got in an extended shouting match with Zdeno Chara.

In the postgame press conference, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said he thought his stars should not have let emotions get the better of them: “That’s not something we certainly want to be into. [We] don’t want to make the game that way.  We want to play five-on-five.”

Not only did the Bruins seize home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series. They also snapped an eight-game playoff losing streak to the Penguins. Game 2 is in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, on NBCSN.

DID YOU KNOW?

It was the first time in 97 games over exactly 16 months (February 1, 2012 at Toronto) that the Penguins were shut out, and the first time in 75 games (April 27, 2011 vs. Tampa Bay) that they were blanked on home ice.

Sidney Crosby, who was a -2 during 24:21 of ice time, was shadowed by Patrice Bergeron during 14 of 18 even-strength shifts (TSN). The Pens captain, who played without a face guard under his visor for the first time since breaking his jaw on March 30, was also called for interference on Bergeron in the first period, one of two minor penalties on the night.

LINKS

  • Blackhawks will adjust to quick turnaround [CSN Chicago]
  • Kings on a different road than 2012 [L.A. Times]
  • Sidney Crosby says inconsistent officiating “escalated” physical play [NESN]
  • Reformed Matt  Cooke has relapse in Eastern Conference Final opener [CBC]
  • David Krejci keeps piling up points in big games [Boston Herald]
  • Bruins mess with good thing by bringing back Andrew Ference, and it works [Boston Herald]
  • Healthy scratches feel a part of Penguins’ run [Pittsburgh Tribune]

There’s something off about the St. Louis Blues

Ottawa Senators' Mike Hoffman, second from left, celebrates after the Senators scored a goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in St. Louis. The Senators won 6-4. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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The St. Louis Blues had another hiccup last night, falling 6-4 at home to Ottawa. They only mustered 23 shots on Sens goalie Mike Condon — and that’s been a theme in their past seven games. In fact, the Blues haven’t registered more than 26 shots since beating Chicago in the Winter Classic.

It was a particularly disappointing effort against the Senators. St. Louis had just returned from a California road trip, which started with a bad loss in Los Angeles but finished with encouraging wins in San Jose and Anaheim.

“We just didn’t manage the puck very well on the boards,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We weren’t as determined and as effort-based on the boards as were the two games previous.”

The Blues’ record now sits at a modest 23-17-5. For a team that only lost 24 times in regulation last season, it’s been a fairly significant fall-off. It’s also fair to say the departures of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott have been felt.

Slightly more than halfway through the schedule, St. Louis is by no means guaranteed a playoff spot. Nashville, with a game in hand, is lurking just three points back for third place in the Central. And if the Blues are caught by the Preds, they’ll have to fend off Los Angeles, Calgary, Vancouver, and perhaps Dallas or Winnipeg for one of the two wild-card spots.

It would be easy to just blame the goaltending. But while it’s true that neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton have been very good, the Blues have not been the dominant possession team they’ve shown they can be. In their last 20 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 20th in the league. Now compare that to their last 20 games of last season, when they ranked third.

“I’d like to see us take control of the game a little bit more,” said forward Alex Steen, who’s been with the Blues long enough to know what a good performance looks and feels like.

Looking ahead, the Blues get a big test Thursday at home to Washington, then hit the road for three games in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota.

A better performance against the Caps would go a long way. But only if it’s followed up with another and another.

Bottom line: it’s time for the Blues to get back to playing the way they can. If they still can.

So much fallout from that wild Rangers-Stars game

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17:  Stephen Johns #28 of the Dallas Stars checks Pavel Buchnevich #89 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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For two teams that don’t have much history or play each other often, Dallas and New York had quite the monumental affair on Monday.

To recap:

• The two teams combined for 13 goals, and the Stars scored seven times in the first 40 minutes. The Rangers were booed while leaving the ice in the second period.

Cody Eakin, who last month served a four-game suspension for a huge hit on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was forced to answer for his antics by fighting Chris Kreider early in the second period. Today, Kreider was fined for hitting Eakin in the head with his own helmet.

• Speaking of Lundqvist, he was torched for seven goals on 27 shots,. He’s now allowed 12 goals on 49 shots in his last four periods played… and 20 goals on 113 shots in his last four games. He looks and sounds rattled, to put it mildly.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level. It’s not good enough.”

• Rangers forward Jesper Fast, who two games ago was rocked by Montreal’s Andrew Shaw, only played 6:31 last night and has now been ruled out for the next 7-10 days with an upper-body injury.

• Dallas d-man Johnny Oduya only played 8:31 and re-aggravated a lower-body injury that sidelined him earlier this season. The Stars have already ruled him out for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — the Stars and Rangers won’t meet again this season.

Well, unless it’s in the Stanley Cup Final.

Kreider fined for hitting Eakin with helmet during fight

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Rangers forward Chris Kreider has been fined $5,000 for hitting Dallas’ Cody Eakin with his own helmet during a fight on Tuesday night, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.

The incident came nearly one month after Eakin was suspended four games for hitting Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a mid-December tilt in Dallas.

There was no retribution at the time — Eakin was kicked out of the game — but many figured the Stars forward would have to atone for his earlier indiscretion… and that’s exactly what happened at the 1:52 mark of the second period.

Kreider didn’t face any additional in-game punishment for his fight, aside from the standard five-minute major penalty. It’s possible the officials didn’t see the helmet swing, or perhaps it was so brief the zebras opted against calling it.

Whatever the case, it’s probably worth noting that Darcy Tucker was ejected from a game in 2005 for a similar act — hitting Cam Janssen in the head with his own helmet during a scrap — and, like Kreider, was fined after the fact, but not suspended.

 

 

Vanek likes Detroit, but knows he could be traded

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Thomas Vanek knows the deal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs. He has a respectable 12 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, and his cap hit is just $2.6 million.

Obviously, there’s going to be trade speculation as the March 1 deadline approaches.

“I like it here,” Vanek said of playing in Detroit, per NHL.com. “I enjoy my time here. I like the guys. My family likes it here. So obviously I’m hoping to put a good streak here together to get ourselves back in the picture so I can be here. But obviously I understand the business side of it. … If I’m moving, I’m getting pretty good at that too.”

The Red Wings are Vanek’s fifth NHL team. He’s been traded twice in his career, both times in 2013-14 when he went from the Sabres to the Islanders and then to the Canadiens.

What the Wings could get for Vanek remains to be seen. The 32-year-old has 20 goals in 63 career playoff games; however, he’s also faced intense criticism during a handful of his postseason performances.

Six points back of third place in the Atlantic, Detroit has not yet given up on extending its lengthy playoff streak. The Wings are coming off two big wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal. They host Boston tonight (on NBCSN).