Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks take 2-0 series lead against Wild after pulling away in third period

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Much like Game 1, the contest was quite a bit closer than the final score might indicate,* but the bottom line is that the Chicago Blackhawks now have a 2-0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild after winning Game 2 by a 4-1 mark on Sunday.

Closer than it appears?

It’s easy to see that the Blackhawks are hot right now. Stretching back to their first-round battle against the St. Louis Blues, they’ve now won six consecutive playoff games.

It’s also a special win for head coach Joel Quenneville, for those counting:

The good news for the Wild is that they’ve been here before. The Colorado Avalanche took a 2-0 series lead against them in round one only to see Minnesota advance after seven games (which included an overtime battle in that decisive game). While the first two games against Colorado were often out of control for Minnesota, these first two losses were tighter until the Blackhawks pulled away in the third period of each game.

The shot totals probably tell the story best: Minnesota limited Chicago to 22 shots on goal in both games.

Not easy for Breezy

For all the good that comes out of those observations, the bottom line is that the Wild have been outscored by a combined score of 9-3 through these first two games.

Fair or not, one must wonder if Minnesota can put much trust in Ilya Bryzgalov. The Russian-born goalie has lost four of five games in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and his lone win came in just 13:15 of game time (from Game 7 after Darcy Kuemper left with an injury). His individual numbers haven’t been very strong, either, so it’s not just a matter of the team in front of him.

It’s probably true that Bryzgalov isn’t the only problem for Minnesota, yet they might just need him to carry them at times. (The goals often haven’t been Breezy’s fault, but his prospects as an unrestricted free agent seem to dip with each start.)

Bickell heats up

While Patrick Kane understandably grabbed the spotlight in Chicago’s Game 1 win, it’s worth noting that the Bryan Bickell – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa line is on fire for the ‘Hawks.

Toews scored the first goal for Chicago, Bickell collected two assists and added a goal in the third period (after clanging the iron on his previous shift) and Hossa had three helpers in Game 2. It’s little surprise that Toews and Hossa are looking strong, but Bickell seems to be on track for a playoff breakthrough for the second straight year. After only managing 15 points in 59 games in the regular season, Bickell has eight playoff points (all in a four-game streak).

If this trio can keep it going, it will be highly difficult for any team to slow Chicago down.

* – In the case of Game 1, it was 5-2.

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.