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News & Notes: Blackhawks’ power-play issues and Rask vs. Thomas

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News and notes entering Monday’s Stanley Cup Final. More overtime on the way?

Game 3: Chicago Blackhawks at Boston Bruins, 8 p.m. ET (watch on NBCSN and live online) – Series tied, 1-1

The Bruins and Blackhawks stopped an eight-year streak of one team taking the first two games by splitting Games 1 & 2 of the Stanley Cup Final in Chicago. Tonight, the scene changes to the TD Garden in Boston, where the Bruins have won six straight since Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series vs. Toronto.

In the 26th overtime game of this postseason (two shy of the NHL single-season record), Daniel Paille’s goal 13:48 into overtime helped the Bruins become the first road team in ten games (since the first round) to win in OT. It gave Paille his second game-winning goal of the playoffs, matching his total from his last 246 regular-season games, and punctuated an impressive performance by the Bruins’ reconstructed line of Paille – Chris Kelly – Tyler Seguin. United after a first period in which the Blackhawks outshot the Bruins, 19-4, the trio played a part in both Bruins goals, while combining for seven shots on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford and using their speed to force two registered takeaways and several other Chicago mistakes.

The third line’s rise came at the right time, as Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton was held without a point for the first time this postseason, and only two shots on goal. Lucic did contribute a game-high ten of the Bruins’ 50 hits in Game 2.

In a series in which neither winning team has led in regulation, the Blackhawks have not lacked scoring chances. Through 185:56 of playing time in two games, they have attempted a staggering 196 shots (compared to 133 for Boston), 97 of which have reached the Bruins goal. In Game 2, the Hawks’ depth showed, as all four forward lines got at least four shots through to Tuukka Rask. However, the team mustered only 15 shots after the first period, none by captain Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, one by Patrick Sharp, and two by Marian Hossa. Toews, the Selke Trophy winner, remains stuck on one goal in 19 games this postseason. While changes to the top lines are possible, head coach Joel Quenneville only hinted that he might insert the more offensive-minded Viktor Stalberg into the lineup in place of Brandon Bollig, whose mishandling of the puck led to Paille’s OT-winner in Game 2. Roster moves should be learned at the morning skate.

Another major area of concern for Chicago is its power-play futility. The Blackhawks have failed to score on 15 straight opportunities with the man advantage, dating back to Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, when Bryan Bickell lit the lamp. Against the Bruins through two games, the Hawks are 0-for-6, with only four shots on goal. Astonishingly, Bickell was on the ice for only 0:13 of 10:43 during those six opportunities.

TIM VS. TUUKKA – BRUINS GOALTENDER COMPARISON

When asked on Sunday to compare his current goaltender, Tuukka Rask, with the goalie that helped lead his club to the Stanley Cup title two seasons ago, Tim Thomas, Bruins head coach Claude Julien told reporters that “[Tuukka] has been as much a contributor to our team as Tim was two years ago.”

The data would seem to confirm that opinion, with Rask matching Thomas both at home and overall:

Tim Thomas (2011):

  • 16-9, 1.98 GAA, .940 save %, 4 shutouts (named Conn Smythe Trophy winner)
  • at TD Garden: 10-3, 1.78 GAA, .945 save %, 2 shutouts

Tuukka Rask (2013):

  • 13-5, 1.73 GAA, .944 save %, 2 shutouts
  • at TD Garden: 7-2, 1.91 GAA, .942 save %, shutout

DID YOU KNOW?

Recent history shows that the road team has fared better in Game 3s when the Final series is deadlocked at one game apiece, winning six of nine since 1989. However, it is interesting to note that when the road team wins Game 3, it later captures the Cup. When the home team wins the third game, it does not finish the deal.

Year Winner of Game 3 Score Opponent Outcome
1989 Montreal 4-3, 2OT (home) Calgary Lost in 6
1991 Minnesota 3-1 (home) Pittsburgh Lost in 6
1993 Montreal 4-3, OT (away) Los Angeles Won in 5
1994 N.Y. Rangers 5-1 (away) Vancouver Won in 7
1999 Dallas 2-1 (away) Buffalo Won in 6
2000 New Jersey 2-1 (away) Dallas Won in 6
2001 Colorado 3-1 (away) New Jersey Won in 7
2002 Detroit 3-2, 3OT (away) Carolina Won in 5
2004 Calgary 3-0 (home) Tampa Bay Lost in 7

This postseason, the Blackhawks are 0-3 in Game 3s, losing at Minnesota, Detroit and Los Angeles. The Bruins are 3-0, winning at Toronto and the N.Y. Rangers and at home vs. Pittsburgh.

DID YOU KNOW?

Of the NHL-leading nine goals that David Krejci (BOS) and Patrick Sharp (CHI) have each scored this postseason, only two of Krejci’s have come at TD Garden, and only two of Sharp’s have come away from the United Center.

LINKS

  • Blackhawks, Bruins showcase the best part of hockey in playoff overtime [National Post]
  • Hockey can be stupid, as Bruins, Blackhawks prove [Sporting News]
  • Mike Milbury on Jaromir Jagr’s game: ‘He’ll pick up the garbage’ [Boston Globe]
  • Tuukka Rask just an ordinary superstar [Globe and Mail]
  • Bruins get physical, cash in checks for win in Game 2 [Chicago Sun-Times]
  • Blackhawks entering the belly of the beast [SportsNet]
  • Blackhawks need more than leadership from Jonathan Toews [Globe and Mail]

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
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Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.