The Morning Skate: Will Vokoun, Penguins rebound vs. Bruins?

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A quick look at the Eastern Conference finals and notes from Chicago’s impressive win against L.A., including Corey Crawford’s NHL first.

Game 2: No. 4 Boston Bruins at No. 1 Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. ET (on NBCSN and live online) – Bruins lead series, 1-0

After a surprisingly dominant performance in Game 1, the Bruins will look to take a firm grip of their Eastern Conference Final series when they meet the Penguins tonight at Consol Energy Center.

In the series opener, David Krejci scored two goals (his first two since posting a hat trick in Game 4 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series vs. the Maple Leafs), linemate Nathan Horton added another, and Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 Penguins shots for his first-career postseason shutout. The Penguins got nine shots on goal combined from top centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team as a whole appeared unfocused and largely frustrated by the Bruins for the last two periods. The captain told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the gameplan shouldn’t change too much in Game 2: “We have to do a lot of the same things. If anything, just eliminate a couple of mistakes and make sure our focus is in the right place.”

Coach Dan Bylsma was coy in his off-day press conference yesterday when referencing his starting goaltender. Tomas Vokoun was shaky at times in Game 1, allowing three goals on 30 shots, but there is no indication that Marc-Andre Fleury (the backup since Game 5 of the first round) will step in. Vokoun won two of the three regular-season meetings vs. the Bruins.

Despite not getting a goal from a defenseman for the first time in seven games, the performance of the Bruins’ defensive unit was exceptional in Game 1. The blueline corps, already boasting depth, was bolstered by the return of veteran Andrew Ference, who logged 17:27 after missing seven games with a foot injury.

DID YOU KNOW?

Only one team, the 1944-45 Detroit Red Wings, have lost Games 1 & 2 at home in a NHL semifinal or conference final, and gone on to win the series. The Wings’ opponent that postseason was the Boston Bruins.

WHO ON EARTH IS … TUUKKA RASK?

Mention Bruins trade acquisitions from Toronto, and most people will think of the first-round draft picks that became Tyler Seguin (2010) and Dougie Hamilton (2011), in exchange for Phil Kessel. Even more valuable during the Bruins’ 2013 playoff run, however, has been #1 goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was acquired from Leafs Nation in 2006 for fellow goalie Andrew Raycroft. This postseason, Rask is 9-4, with a 2.06 GAA, .933 save % and his first-ever playoff shutout in the Eastern Conference Final opener.

Rask served as the Bruins’ backup to Tim Thomas in 2011, and got his “Day with the Cup” in his hometown of Savonlinna, Finland, a town best known regionally for its abundance of lakes and annual summer opera festival. The 26-year-old netminder assumed the starting gig in 2012 when Thomas decided to take a leave of absence. During the lockout, he went to the Czech Republic and suited up for eventual Extraliga champions HC Plzeň, making it a possibility that he plays for two champions in one season.

In his off-day press conference yesterday, Bruins coach Claude Julien used the words “stable” and “normal” to describe Rask, as opposed to Thomas the “battler.” Judging by the meaning of his last name in the official languages of his home country, the 6’3”, 169-lb. goalie can be characterized in other ways. Rask means “quick” in Swedish, and raskas means “heavy” in Finnish. He has done some heavy lifting this postseason.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Chicago 4, Los Angeles 2 (Blackhawks lead series, 2-0)

The Blackhawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Bryan Bickell and Michal Handzus, and cruised to a 4-2 win over the Kings in Game 2 to take a two-games-to-none series lead. Defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick was pulled for only the second time in 47 career postseason appearances after giving up all four goals in the first 29:20 of the game. Quick had gone an NHL-record 34 straight playoff games (since April 25, 2011) without allowing more than three goals before tonight. On the other side of the ice, Corey Crawford made 29 saves to become this postseason’s first 10-game winner.

The Kings’ leading scorer, Mike Richards (10 points), was scratched after pregame warmups with an upper-body injury sustained late in Game 1 on a hit by the Blackhawks’ Dave Bolland. Richards was replaced by rookie Tyler Toffoli, who contributed with a goal and an assist in the loss.

The series moves to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Tuesday evening, on NBCSN. The Kings are a perfect 7-0 at Staples Center this postseason, outscoring their opponents, 18-8.

Player Team

Games

Last goal

Rob Scuderi Penguins/Kings

68

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 19, 2009) w/PIT
Shawn Thornton Bruins

55

2009 ECQF, Game 3 (April 20, 2009)
Michal Rozsival Rangers/Coyotes/Blackhawks

45

2008 ECQF, Game 5 (April 18, 2008) w/NYR
Niklas Hjalmarsson Blackhawks

44

2010 WCQF, Game 5 (April 24, 2010)
Mark Eaton Penguins

33

2009 ECSF, Game 6 (May 11, 2009)
Jarret Stoll Kings

24

2012 WCQF, Game 5 (April 22, 2012)
Matt Cooke Penguins

23

2010 ECSF, Game 2 (May 2, 2010)
Viktor Stalberg Blackhawks

22

2011 WCQF, Game 2 (April 15, 2011)

LINKS

  • Matt Cooke faces the music for his hit on Adam McQuaid [CBC]
  • Angry birds crash in series opener [Postmedia News]
  • Penguins need to control emotions, faceoffs [Globe and Mail]
  • Corey Crawford adds new role in Game 2 win [CSN Chicago]

Pre-game reading: Does the NHL’s playoff format need fixing?

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— Up top, Brian Boucher and Mike Milbury have their say on NHL participation in the Olympics, something Gary Bettman continues to put into doubt.

— At least fans can still be certain there will be playoff hockey. That being said, does the NHL’s format need fixing? Because as it stands right now, at least one of Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus is guaranteed to be gone after the first round, and only one of those three can survive past the second round. The Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets are first, second, and third in the overall standings, respectively. Hence, the debate. (The Washington Post)

— The Caps take on the Blue Jackets tonight in D.C., and Barry Trotz is looking forward to the fight for playoff positioning. The Caps, you’ll recall, coasted to first place in the Metro Division last season. But they can’t afford to coast now. “Having gone both routes now, I prefer this,” Trotz said. “Because it’s more meaningful. … It was in our hands too early last year, and I think it took a little edge off. You get too comfortable for too long, you get too soft.” (Washington Post)

— Don’t expect the NBA’s controversial practice of resting star players to become a common problem for the NHL. Said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “I just think hockey’s a different kind of animal where I don’t think guys would want to do it. Guys are stubborn enough to probably fight it if they were asked and that’s how I would see that going down.” (Canadian Press)

— Why Dave Hakstol won’t be fired, by Flyers beat reporter Dave Isaac, who writes: “It took multiple pleas to woo Hakstol from a much more comfortable college job at the University of North Dakota. To fire Hakstol this early would be an admission from Hextall that this part of his grand plan — hiring the coach that he thought would grow with the roster — was wrong.” (Courier-Post)

William Nylander may sometimes get overshadowed in Toronto by fellow Maple Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But with 20 goals in 70 games, what Nylander has done is still very impressive. (The Hockey News)

Enjoy the games!

Bowling Green goalie Nell leaves school, signs with Rangers

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The Blueshirts added to their goaltending depth on Thursday, signing Bowling Green junior Chris Nell to an entry-level contract.

Nell, 22, just wrapped his junior campaign at Bowling Green, going 17-14-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .916 save percentage. This year, he became the school’s all-time leader in career shutouts, this after a terrific sophomore campaign in which he finished with a sparking 1.31 GAA and .930 save percentage.

An undrafted free agent, Nell now joins an organization with several young netminders in the mix. Mackenzie Skapski, a 2013 draftee, made his NHL debut two years ago but has struggled this season, splitting time between AHL Hartford and ECHL Greenville. Brandon Halverson, a second-rounder in ’14, has also split time between Hartford and Greenville, and was recently recalled to New York on an emergency basis.

New York has also drafted Russian netminder Igor Shesterkin (fourth round, ’14), Slovak Adam Huska (seventh round, ’15) and UMass-Lowell product Tyler Wall (sixth round, ’16).

 

On verge of missing playoffs, Red Wings aim to keep winning culture

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The Detroit Red Wings have no intention of tearing their roster down and undertaking a painful rebuild, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Why not, you ask?

Because even though the Wings are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and even though their leading scorer (Henrik Zetterberg) is 36 years old, they don’t want to lose the culture that made them so successful over the past quarter century.

“There are organizations where they have lost culture,” said head coach Jeff Blashill, per the Detroit Free Press. “They have missed the playoffs, and they miss it 10 straight years. We don’t want to be in this position again. This isn’t OK. That is the approach we are taking every day.”

We have heard other teams say similar things. For example, the Vancouver Canucks. (Which won’t make Wings fans feel great to hear.)

While there’s nothing wrong with trying to maintain a winning culture, the biggest challenge the Wings have is a lack of talent — particularly on the back end.

That’s up to GM Ken Holland to solve, and solve relatively quickly, given his lack of appetite for a lengthy rebuild.

“We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said a few months ago.

“To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding.”

Related: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings

Yeo more surprised than anyone to learn of Stastny injury

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For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.

This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.

“It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.

“Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.

The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.

There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.