Marc-Andre Fleury, Robert Bortuzzo, Derick Brassard

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins look to even series vs. Rangers


Saturday’s action continued two trends that have shaped the 2014 playoffs: Overtime action and blown two-goal leads.

Montreal came very close to winning back-to-back games at Boston’s TD Garden and improving to 6-0 in the playoffs, but they coughed up a 3-1 lead with less than 10 minutes left in regulation en route to a 5-3 loss.

In the opener of the Ducks-Kings series, Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne scored his first goal of the postseason at 8:08 of the third period. That marker stood as the potential winner until Marian Gaborik tied the game in the dying seconds of regulation time and then cemented his place as the contest’s hero by netting his second goal of the night 12:07 minutes into overtime.

While those teams rest up, the other remaining four squads will play today.

Game 2: Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Chicago leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

With goaltenders Darcy Kuemper, Niklas Backstrom, and Josh Harding unavailable, the Wild will once again put their faith in Ilya Bryzgalov. Wild coach Mike Yeo has publicly backed Bryzgalov, but as long as he’s between the pipes, he’s definitely Minnesota’s primary X-Factor.

Which isn’t to suggest that Bryzgalov deserves the blame for Chicago’s 5-2 victory in Game 1. The Blackhawks did a great job of outmaneuvering the Wild’s defense to set up some prime scoring opportunities. Patrick Kane’s game-winning goal in particular was a thing of beauty.

Minnesota got this far by squeaking by a young, enthusiastic, but still raw and largely inexperienced Colorado Avalanche team. There’s no question the Avalanche were also very talented, but Chicago is a whole different story. They’re a deep team that knows how to win together when the stakes are raised.

The Wild have their work cut out for them if they want to claw their way to the Western Conference Final, but a win today would rob the Blackhawks of home-ice advantage before Minnesota returns to the Xcel Energy Center, where they were 26-10-5 in the regular season and 3-0 in the first round.

Game 2: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [New York leads 1-0] (7:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Penguins overcame a 2-0 deficit in Game 1 to force the contest to overtime, but still ended up losing courtesy of a strange sequence that technically involved two Rangers goals.

Although Pittsburgh had the better record in the regular season and has no shortage of talent, it’s debatable whether or not they were actually the favorites going into this series. They certainly have an uphill battle ahead of them now that they’ve lost home-ice advantage.

Whatever you want to label them as though, the Penguins are up to the task of winning this series. If Sidney Crosby enjoys a breakout game like Evgeni Malkin did in Game 6 of the first round, then that alone could tip the scales in favor of Pittsburgh. Even without that though, the Penguins have so many offensive options that even a goaltender as skilled as Henrik Lundqvist should be consistently challenged.

Tonight’s match is a continuation of a rough start to the series for these teams. They played in Game 1 on Friday and Game 3 will be in New York tomorrow.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
Leave a comment

The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”