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]

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT

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The Columbus Blue Jackets made franchise history last season, reaching 50 wins and 108 points in a highly competitive Metropolitan Division.

Their campaign included a winning streak of 16 games and putting up 10 goals against the Montreal Canadiens. Consider last season a sizable step forward for this young group and a bounce-back year for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina Trophy winner.

Not only was their goalie recognized, but coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award — several months after oddsmakers stated he’d be the first coach fired last season.

Despite a terrific regular season, the Blue Jackets were bested in the opening round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would eventually move on to win the Stanley Cup.

Following their playoff defeat, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a blockbuster deal with Chicago GM Stan Bowman, as Columbus acquired 2016 rookie of the year Artemi Panarin, forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick in exchange for Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a draft pick next year.

In Panarin, the Blue Jackets get a 25-year-old forward that has reached the 30-goal mark in each of his first two NHL seasons while getting to play on a line with Patrick Kane in Chicago. He also has two more years remaining on his current contract, which carries an annual $6 million cap hit, per CapFriendly.

Columbus also acquired Jordan Schroeder from the Wild and signed him to a two-year contract extension, and bought out veteran forward Scott Hartnell. On Monday, the Blue Jackets signed college free agent defender Doyle Somerby.

Right now, the Blue Jackets still have two restricted free agents in Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg to get signed.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Blue Jackets as training camp approaches.

 

Weight hopes Eberle can re-discover ‘eye of the tiger’ with Islanders

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Jordan Eberle had a difficult season at times in 2016-17.

Yet he still managed to score 20 goals, hitting that mark for a fourth consecutive season and fifth time in six years. (He put up 34 goals in 2011-12.)

You can understand why having a skilled winger to perhaps play alongside center John Tavares — at least that’s the expectation prior to training camp — would be intriguing for head coach Doug Weight as the new season approaches.

“Jordan, to me, is really, really exciting,” Weight recently told the NHL Network.

Eberle’s first foray into playoff hockey was a struggle, as he recorded only two assists in 13 post-season games and the Oilers made it to the second round.

And that is where Weight’s extended comments get interesting, because it sounds like the 27-year-old forward’s confidence took a bit of a hit during his final campaign in Edmonton and, in particular, during the playoffs, when his offensive production wasn’t there and the public scrutiny intensified.

Several weeks later, Eberle was traded to the Islanders.

“I want him to come in with that eye of the tiger; that fire back that sometimes gets lost,” Weight continued. “It’s tough. You can get cemented in certain roles, you can have some tough times. But Jordan still produced. He’s a helluva talent and I’m excited to get that confidence back in him and excited for him to get here.”

It didn’t take long after the trade for discussions about a possible Eberle-Tavares reunion to begin. Playing for Team Canada, they combined for a thrilling tying goal against Russia in the dying seconds of the 2009 World Juniors semifinal.

One of the Islanders’ top priorities is to get Tavares secured to a new contract, as he enters the final year of his current deal.

Adding a proven scoring winger to Tavares’ line may also help the team’s captain rebound from a season in which his bottom-line production dropped as well, which would certainly boost the Islanders’ chances of getting back to the playoffs.

“[Eberle’s] bringing a right-handed shot as a forward that can obviously shoot and score from anywhere,” Islanders forward Anders Lee recently told NHL.com.

“He’s a playmaker out on the ice and sees the ice extremely well. He can add some extra threats for us on the power play that can really help elevate us.”

Report: Rangers among ‘final two or three teams’ in running to sign Kerfoot

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One of the big issues facing the Rangers this offseason was about depth up the middle.

New York could take a step in addressing that, with a potential solution in college free agent Alex Kerfoot, the former New Jersey Devils draft pick who decided to test the open market.

From the New York Post:

The Rangers are among the final two or three teams under consideration by Harvard free-agent center Alex Kerfoot, The Post has learned.

J.P. Barry, the 23-year-old center’s agent who confirmed the parties’ mutual interest, told The Post that Kerfoot likely would reach a decision no later than Tuesday following a weekend of reflection.

The Rangers traded Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes and lost Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft, leaving them in a difficult spot at center heading into the summer months.

Now 23 years old, Kerfoot played four years at Harvard University — the same school as Jimmy Vesey, who became a college free agent last summer and signed with the Rangers — and had a terrific senior year. He put up 16 goals and 45 points and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

The Rangers are facing competition to land Kerfoot, who is from Vancouver and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam. The Canucks are reportedly still in consideration, as well.

According to agent J.P. Barry, Kerfoot and the Canucks management group reportedly had a “productive” meeting last week.

Luongo: ‘I haven’t had any issues’ in return from injury

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Roberto Luongo continues preparations for the upcoming season, after an injury cut his 2016-17 campaign short.

Luongo’s last game was on March 2. He didn’t play again after that due to reported aggravation of a previous hip injury that had required surgery.

However, per the Miami Herald on Monday, the 38-year-old netminder has returned to the ice. Luongo then gave a promising update on his status with training camp approaching in a few weeks.

“It’s good to be able to get back to my regular summer training program. This is my second week … everything feels great and I haven’t had any issues. That’s good,” Luongo told the Miami Herald.

“It’s comforting mentally to know I can go through a rigorous workout and go all out and not have any issues nor think about it. That’s a big first step for me after going through the ups-and-downs of having to deal with my issue last year. It’s nice to have that piece of mind.”

Luongo appeared in 40 games for Florida last season. He still has five years remaining on his contract, which carries an annual cap hit of $5.333 million, per CapFriendly. James Reimer, in his first season with the Panthers after signing there for five years and $17 million, played in 43 games with a sound .920 save percentage.

Once heavily relied upon as a workhorse netminder, starting a career high 75 games one year in Vancouver, the reality is Luongo has a lot of mileage on him and is approaching 40 years of age. As he comes back from this latest injury and considering his age, it will be interesting to see exactly how many starts he gets and who will emerge as the No. 1 goalie in Florida over the course of this upcoming season.

“Listen, this has always been his team,” Panthers goalie coach Robb Tallas told the Miami Herald. “But everyone these days has to manage time better, not just us. Roberto can’t play 60, 65 games a season any more. Reimer shouldn’t either. It only gets tougher every year.”