betterhandzusgetty

The Morning Skate: What’s next in wild series?

News and notes entering tonight’s Stanley Cup Final showdown in Chicago.

Game 5: Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET (watch on NBC or live online) – Series tied, 2-2

For the fourth time in the last five years – and 23rd time since the best-of-seven playoff format was introduced in 1939 – the Stanley Cup Final is knotted at two games apiece after four games. (It is also the 10th time that each team has won at home and away in the first four games of a Cup Final series.) The team winning Game 5 has gone on to win the Cup 15 of the 22 previous times, adding weight to tonight’s Game 5 at the United Center.

There were as many goals scored in regulation (10) of Game 4 as the first three games of the series combined, before Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook ended it 9:51 into overtime, his second OT-winner of the postseason. Tuukka Rask’s home shutout streak reached a franchise-record 193:16, but then the Bruins goaltender proceeded to allow six goals for only the second time in his career. His league-leading goals-against average rose from 1.64 to 1.83 in the game. After giving up five goals, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford’s GAA climbed from 1.74 to 1.86.

After combining for one assist in the first three games playing on separate lines, the Blackhawks’ reconstructed top line of Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane broke out in Game 4, combining for two goals and three assists. The Hawks improved to 3-0 all-time in the playoffs when Toews and Kane each scored a goal. On the flip side, the Bruins’ third line of Daniel Paille – Chris Kelly – Tyler Seguin, which lay behind three of four Boston goals in Games 2 and 3, were held off the scoresheet. Patrice Bergeron had two goals, his third and fourth of the series, which leads all skaters.

No major lineup changes are expected on either side for Game 5. Marian Hossa, who played 19:07 in Game 4 after being scratched the game before with an undisclosed injury, missed Friday’s practice, but will play. Nick Leddy, who had career-lows of four shifts and 2:37 ice time in Game 4, should also see an increase in ice time. Judging by Friday’s practice at TD Garden, the Bruins are expected to insert Carl Soderberg on the fourth line with Rich Peverley and Shawn Thornton, in place of Kaspars Daugavins. The Swedish first-year winger, who had two assists in six regular-season games, would be making his NHL postseason debut. You might recall that earlier this postseason, B’s defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug scored their first-career NHL playoff goals without having tallied a regular-season goal. Krug did so in his playoff debut.

DID YOU KNOW?

The cumulative overtime played in three games this series is 75:47. That is already the second-most overtime played in a Stanley Cup Final series, after the 1931 Final (Chicago vs. Montreal, 78:40), and the most played in any postseason series since 2008 (Dallas vs. San Jose, Western Conference Quarterfinals, 78:19).

DID YOU KNOW?

Jaromir Jagr, who became the 21st player (and 19th skater) to appear in 200 playoff games, assisted on both on Patrice Bergeron’s goals in Game 4 and now has 199 career postseason points. Jagr has waited 21 years and 21 days since his last goal in the Stanley Cup Final, but with ten assists, he reached double digits in points for the tenth time in postseason play. That is tied for the fourth-most in NHL history.

Player

# of seasons w/ 10+ points

Seasons

Career single-season high

Wayne Gretzky

14

1980-1997

47 (1985)

Mark Messier

14

1980-1997

34 (1988)

Jean Beliveau

11

1954-1971

22 (1971)

Jaromir Jagr

10

1991-2013

24 (1992)

Glenn Anderson

10

1981-1996

27 (1987)

Paul Coffey

10

1981-1999

37 (1985)

LINKS

·         Corey Crawford not worried about his ‘weak’ glove side [Yahoo]

·         Tuukka Rask the ultimate straight shooter [Boston Herald]

·         Jaromir Jagr’s career coming full circle in Boston [ESPN]

·         No letter on sweater, Brent Seabrook emerging as Blackhawks’ natural leader [CBC]

·         Patrick Sharp flying under the radar as goals leader [Chicago Sun-Times]

·         Blackhawks trying to treat Zdeno Chara as invisible man [SportsNet]

·         VIDEO: Bruins fans gather to wish team luck in sendoff [NESN]

·         Jaromir Jagr’s Cup pursuit keeps fans in Prague awake [New York Times]

 

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

Leave a comment

Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

 

Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

2 Comments

‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

12 Comments

For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.

Penguins, Lightning prepare for the ‘roller coaster’ of Game 7

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
3 Comments

PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby is in no mood to get caught up in his own personal narrative, the one eager to attach whatever happens to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday against Tampa Bay to the superstar’s legacy.

Forget that Crosby has the game-winning goal in each of Pittsburgh’s victories in its entertaining back-and-forth with the resilient Lightning. Forget that he hasn’t been on the winning side of a post-series handshake line this deep into the playoffs since his glorious night in Detroit seven years ago, which ended with him hoisting the Penguins’ third Stanley Cup.

Yes, he’s playing well. Yes, his dazzling, imminently GIF-able sprint through the Tampa Bay zone late in the second period of Game 6 added another signature moment to a career full of them. Yet lifting Pittsburgh back to the Cup final for the first time since 2009 does not rely solely on him so much as the collective effort of all 20 guys in his team’s retro black and Vegas gold uniforms.

Related: Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

Depth has carried the Penguins this far. Crosby insists Game 7 will be about the team, not him.

“You give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping it simple and not putting too much emphasis on kind of the story line around it,” Crosby said.

Even if it’s easy to get lost in those story lines. The Lightning are on the verge of a second straight berth in the final despite playing the entire postseason without captain Steven Stamkos and losing Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop in the first period of the conference finals when he twisted his left leg awkwardly while scrambling to get into position.

Yet Tampa Bay has stuck around, ceding the ice to the Penguins for significant stretches but using their speed to counterattack brilliantly while relying on 21-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevski. The Lightning are hardly intimidated by having to go on the road in a series decider. They did it a year ago in the Eastern final against New York, beating the Rangers 2-0 in Madison Square Garden.

“You’ve got to go back to a tough environment, just like the Garden was last year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “And you’ve got to have your A-game.”

The Lightning hoped to avoid revisiting this spot. They could have closed out Pittsburgh at home but fell behind by three goals and didn’t recover, fitting for a series that appears to be a coin flip as a whole but not so much night to night. The team that’s scored first is 5-1 and there’s only been a single lead change in 18-plus periods spread out over nearly two weeks: Tyler Johnson‘s deflection in overtime that gave Tampa Bay Game 5.

“You always want to play with the lead, and always the first goal is big,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-0 in Game 7s. “But, again, we were down 2-0 in Game 5 and came back from that. So it’s not cut in stone, the outcome of the game, no matter if you’re down a goal or two.”

Maybe, but it’d be cutting it pretty close. Tampa Bay’s rally in Game 5 was Pittsburgh’s first loss when leading after two periods all year. The Penguins responded by going back to rookie goaltender Matt Murray – who turned 22 on Wednesday – and putting together perhaps their finest hockey of the postseason. Their stars played like stars while Murray performed like a guy a decade older with his name already etched on the Cup a few times.

The Penguins will need to rely on Murray’s precocious maturity if it wants to buck a curious trend that started well before Murray was born. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Game 7 on home ice since Mario Lemieux and company beat New Jersey in the opening round of the 1991 playoffs to escape from a 3-2 series deficit and propel the Penguins to their first championship. The Penguins have dropped five straight winner-take-all matchups since then, including a loss to Tampa Bay in the first round in 2011, a series Pittsburgh played without either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, who sat out with injuries.

They’re healthy now and showing extended flashes of the form that seemed to have the Penguins on the brink of a dynasty when they toppled Detroit. And the Lightning, who are 5-1 in Game 7s, are hardly comfortable but hardly intimidated as they play on the road.

“I think it’s a roller coaster,” Cooper said. “But Game 7 is Game 7. There’s no two better words than that.”