Now that the Eastern Conference finals are over and Boston has their spot in the Stanley Cup finals booked, it’s up to the Western Conference to figure things out. Chicago can make that very easy by winning tonight.
Game 5: Chicago Blackhawks host Los Angeles Kings (8 p.m. ET, NBC/Live Extra)
Chicago leads series 3-1
It feels almost as if the writing is on the wall for tonight’s Game 5 in Chicago. The defending champion Kings are down 3-1 in the series and face a do-or-die situation on the road where they’ve won just once in this postseason (Game 5 against St. Louis in Round 1). These Blackhawks are just a tad better than the Blues and they’re 8-1 at United Center in the playoffs. That sense of dread coming from L.A. is almost palpable.
If the Kings are going to win a second road game in these playoffs and extend the series to a Game 6, they’ll have to find a way to get their offense going away from Staples Center. In eight road games they’ve got just 11 goals and have been beaten 2-1 in six of their seven road losses. While you can point to their defense and even Jonathan Quick letting them down in Thursday’s Game 4, there’s no doubt the lack of goals has been a major factor in their lack of road success.
Chicago, on the other hand, looks like they’ve got things under control. Getting in a situation where you can end the series on home ice before it’s a Game 7 situation has to feel pretty good. Even better for the Blackhawks is that they get defenseman Duncan Keith back from suspension tonight. Some of the gaffes they had in Game 4 without him aren’t likely to reoccur. Sorry Sheldon Brookbank, but your one-game audition wasn’t so hot.
If the Kings are going to win Game 5 they’ve got to get someone other than Slava Voynov to score goals. Voynov, Jeff Carter, and Justin Williams all lead the team with six goals in the postseason and Carter’s last goal came in Game 2 of this series. With Mike Richards’ status still in doubt, Carter’s been piling up assists. Perhaps tonight L.A. can finally see some production from captain Dustin Brown and center Anze Kopitar as they’re both pointless in this series.
The Boston Bruins are going to be aggressive in their pursuit of a “transitional” defenseman this offseason.
GM Don Sweeney understands it won’t be easy, given all the other teams that will be looking for the exact same thing, but he plans to pursue a puck-mover “either through free agency or through acquisitions.”
“It’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace,” Sweeney said today on a conference call. “But we’re going to be aggressive.”
The Bruins already have four defenseman under contract for next season: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, the latter of whom just signed a four-year, $10 million extension.
In addition to those four, Sweeney said he expects to get restricted free agent Torey Krug signed. Like Krug, Colin Miller and Joe Morrow are also RFAs.
That makes seven defensemen under club control. Given his desire to add at least one more, Sweeney was asked about trading either Seidenberg or McQuaid, to which he responded, “I’ll explore whatever I have to, in every way, shape and form to improve our club and find the balance we need.”
So expect another busy offseason in Boston. The Bruins have made no secret their intention to upgrade the blue line. As we wrote a month ago, expect the likes of Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, Sami Vatanen, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Tyson Barrie to be targeted, should any of those players become available via trade.
If it’s unrestricted free agency that Sweeney opts for, the list of potential targets includes Keith Yandle, Brian Campbell, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell.
Related: Seidenberg doesn’t want to think about waiving no-trade
Add another list to Flames GM Brad Treliving’s coaching search list:
Gulutzan, the former Dallas bench boss that’s been an assistant in Vancouver for the last three seasons, was permitted to speak with Treliving about the club’s vacant head coaching gig, per The Province.
“They asked for permission and have talked to [Gulutzan],” Canucks GM Jim Benning confirmed. “If he doesn’t get the job, we like Glen and he’s going to be back with our group.”
Gulutzan and Treliving do have a connection. Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out that both played their junior hockey in WHL Brandon, and was “told not to be surprised” if Gulutzan received an interview.
Treliving is searching hard for a replacement for Bob Hartley. Yesterday, the Calgary Sun wrote he kept busy with the coaching search while leading Canada to gold at the recently completed World Hockey Championship.
Earlier reports claimed Treliving spoke to ex-Wild bench boss Mike Yeo about the gig.
From a Vancouver perspective, the Gulutzan interview could have a domino effect. The Province also points out that Calgary didn’t ask permission to speak with Travis Green, the Canucks’ well-respect bench boss in AHL Utica.
Green has said he thinks he’s ready to take an NHL job, and earlier reports claimed he was in the running for Anaheim’s vacant head coaching gig.
Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?
No, of course it’s not.
It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.
Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.
“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.
“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”
Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”
As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.
It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.
Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.
At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Not that it slowed him down any.
Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.
“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.
“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”