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Cup finals questions: Can Chicago break through Boston’s ‘layers’?

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The defensive system the Bruins used to reduce the Pittsburgh Penguins to two goals in four games isn’t complicated, according to Boston head coach Claude Julien.

What it takes to be successful is a complete team effort.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that we have layers,” said Julien. “Our guys are committed to come back and just making sure that there’s layer after layer that make it hard for them to get to our net.”

Of course, it helps that the Bruins have the following key players in their “layers”:

—- Patrice Bergeron, one of the best defensive forwards in the game.

—- Zdeno Chara, one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game.

—- Tuukka Rask, entering the Stanley Cup finals with a .943 save percentage in the playoffs.

And that’s the challenge that awaits the Chicago Blackhawks — a team, it should be noted, that just defeated a pretty good defensive side in the Los Angeles Kings.

“We’ve seen some of [Boston’s] games, especially the last series there,” Chicago d-man Duncan Keith said. “Sweeping Pittsburgh, I think, says it all right there with the amount of firepower Pittsburgh had, what they were able to do to a team like that.”

Prior to the Western Conference finals, ‘Hawks forward Marian Hossa said the key to winning would be to use their plethora of speed and skill.

“They play a physical game,” said Hossa. “We play a quick game, and we know how we can beat them. We just have to use our quickness.”

The same should hold true versus Boston.

Arguably Chicago’s quickest and most creative player, forward Patrick Kane, struggled at times versus Los Angeles, but he broke out in a big way during Saturday’s clinching victory, potting a hat trick that included the overtime winner.

“Yeah, he stepped up,” said ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “He took on the responsibility of leading the team. Proven he’s a top player in the game, he made special plays over the two games. [It’s] nice to see him finish it off in a real positive way for us.”

Quenneville will have his work cut out, too. Can he draw up a better game plan than Dan Bylsma did for the Penguins?

Perhaps Quenneville can glean something from watching tape of Boston’s first-round series versus Toronto in which the Maple Leafs used their speed to score 18 goals in seven games.

Also worth mentioning: five of Toronto’s 18 goals came on the power play, an area of Chicago’s game that will almost certainly need to improve if the Blackhawks are to hoist the Cup.

Against the Kings, the ‘Hawks scored just once on 14 man-advantage tries and still managed to advance; however, that was against a banged-up group that had struggled to score all postseason.

The Bruins, for all everyone is talking about their defense, have averaged an impressive 3.12 goals per game in the playoffs.

 

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) celebrates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Thursday, May 5, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. San Jose Sharks right wing Joonas Donskoi (27), of Finland, skates past. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.