Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild - Game Four

PHT Morning Skate: Rangers seek Game 7, Wild-‘Hawks in crucial Game 5


With a pair of games on Sunday night, there’s a chance we see someone sent home for the summer.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are in New York City to face the Rangers in Game 6 and they’re hoping to do what they couldn’t in Game 5: Close out the series. To do that they’ll need a much better effort, but the Rangers are feeling good after getting the power play monkey off their back on Friday.

In Chicago, the Blackhawks are hoping to again defend home ice. After dropping both games at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, they’re hoping a return to United Center sees a return to better play. The Wild are hoping they found the key to beating the ‘Hawks in Games 3 and 4.

Game 6: New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [Pittsburgh leads series 3-2] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Rangers are feeling good after exploding for five goals in Game 5, two on the power play. Their play all playoffs long has been so bad with the man-advantage that beating Marc-Andre Fleury twice could be the kind of thing that snaps the Rangers out of the fog they’ve been in during the playoffs.

Oddly enough, the Penguins don’t need answers for Rick Nash or Martin St. Louis, but they have to find a way to keep Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot in check.

The Rangers’ third line was a menace for Pittsburgh again in Game 5 and they’ve had great opportunities all series. That puts the pressure on the Pens’ depth defenders as well as the third and fourth line. Guys like Rob Scuderi and Robert Bortuzzo could have their hands full with other assignments.

Pittsburgh will need more than Evgeni Malkin to show up in Game 6. Malkin’s great play in the Game 5 loss got lost in the shuffle. He’s been excellent in this round.

Expect Game 6 to be an emotional one for St. Louis once again as his family will be in attendance on this Mother’s Day. Keep a tissue handy.

Game 5: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild [Series tied 2-2] (9:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The Blackhawks may not have expected to be in a tied series in Game 5, but now they know they’re in a battle. The Wild’s strong play in Games 3 and 4 showed that they weren’t going to roll over for the defending champions.

One thing that has to get better for both teams is the goaltending. It hasn’t been a dire issue for Chicago or Minnesota, but after the defensive battle the two sides put into Game 3, seeing things go sideways in Game 4 for both Ilya Bryzgalov and Corey Crawford was a jarring site.

Expect to see Chicago’s star players have better games on home ice. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane were all big in wins in Games 1 and 2. For the Wild, they’re hoping they’ve got things headed in the right direction for Zach Parise and Jason Pominville who were big factors in the past two games.

The double-secret difference maker in Game 5 for Minnesota may have been Matt Cooke. His return to action following his seven-game suspension saw him create defensive issues for the ‘Hawks best players. The Wild won’t always get to have the same match-ups on the road, but it’s clear his return was a positive for the Wild.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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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.”