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]

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”