Matt Bartkowski, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron

PHT Morning Skate: Bruins, Sharks seek series wins

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If your idea of a perfect Saturday is to spend all day watching playoff hockey, you’re in luck. Four games, including two possible elimination games, get started at 3:00 p.m. ET and carry you deep into the night.

Today’s action is bookended by possible elimination games when the Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 in Boston and the San Jose Sharks hosting the Los Angeles Kings. The home teams there have 3-1 series leads and would love to get done now to rest up. In the Bruins’ case, they’d like to not give the Montreal Canadiens more time to rest up.

Game 5: Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings [Boston leads series 3-1] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

The Bruins would love to not copy what they did last season when they were up 3-1 in a series in the first round. In other words, they want to close the door on the Red Wings and not allow a team with their experience any room for hope.

Henrik Zetterberg’s return in Game 4 provided a lift for Detroit and it nearly carried them to victory. But close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades and the Bruins took the game in overtime. The Bruins get another crack at Jonas Gustavsson who gets the start once again for Detroit as Jimmy Howard is out with the flu. Either he’s got a really nasty bug or he’s dealing with something a bit more serious than the flu to be ruled out a day in advance.

The Bruins’ top line of David Krejci-Milan Lucic-Jarome Iginla was a force in Game 4. Look for more of the same with the Bruins getting last change at home.

Game 5: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets [Series tied 2-2] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

What to say about the Penguins? They played a brilliant Game 4 in Columbus and looked poised to head home up 3-1… And then the final minutes of the game happened and it all went to heck for the Pens and Marc-Andre Fleury. His misplay that led to the game-tying goal and Nick Foligno’s knuckling shot from 50-feet out helped all the ill feelings about the Pens netminder come roaring back.

Now with the game back in Pittsburgh, the Pens and Fleury could stand to have a lights-out game if for no other reason than to keep the fans from revolting.

One upside for the Blue Jackets is they may get defenseman Fedor Tyutin back in the lineup and that will go a ways to helping out Sergei Bobrovsky in goal. Bob could stand to have some more help defensively and he’s yet to really steal a game in this series. Having that as well as Sidney Crosby’s goal drought hanging over things helps make this Game 5 fascinating.

Game 5: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Series tied 2-2] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

Is it possible the Avs losing Tyson Barrie was the injury that broke the Avs’ back? Colorado hasn’t been the same team since he’s gone out and Game 4 summed things up pretty clearly that they need help getting outshot 32-12.

Even in spite of that, the Avs aren’t getting blown out by the Wild, but that’s mostly thanks to Vezina Trophy finalist Semyon Varlamov. If there was any doubt that Varlamov was the team MVP during the regular season, he’s answered that in the playoffs as he’s needed to be brilliant to keep the Wild at bay.

Minnesota is hoping the success they have had to this point will help them steal a game in Denver. The home team has won each game in the series. Zach Parise leads the Wild in points with five but has yet to score a goal. Get the feeling he’s due?

Game 5: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings [San Jose leads series 3-1] (10:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The fact the Sharks earned a split in Los Angeles is big news and now that they’re back home with a chance to wrap up the series, you have to like their chances.

San Jose looked like world beaters in taking out Jonathan Quick and the Kings in Games 1 and 2. With the way Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski have piled up points with ease, you’d never know the Kings were also one of the better teams in the league this season. The fact the Sharks are also doing it with their depth players is also impressive. Matt Nieto is third in points and Tomas Hertl’s return to action has spurred them on.

That said, the Kings’ effort in Game 4 was impressive enough to make more than a few pundits wonder if maybe this series has more juice in it. Justin Williams’ strong play was reminiscent of his effort during the Kings’ Stanley Cup run and you know Quick is capable of stealing games. The Sharks would very much enjoy putting that talk to bed tonight.

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.