Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Five

PHT Morning Skate: Habs face elimination, Ducks-Kings roll into Game 5

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We’re at that point of the second round when a team could book their passage to the Conference Finals on any night. Such is the case for the Boston Bruins on the road in Montreal after they came away with a strong victory in Game 5.

Winning at Bell Centre isn’t an easy thing to do and there’s nothing more the Canadiens would like to do than to have one more crack at the Bruins in a Game 7. To do that Montreal has to find a way to slow the Bruins down on all lines.

Out West, the Ducks and Kings meet in a Game 5 that sees Anaheim returning home after taking both games in Los Angeles. If the Ducks can find a way to defend home ice, they might be in business. Now that they’ve evened-up the series and found a way to slow down the Kings, perhaps the confidence returns at Honda Center.

Game 6: Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins (Boston leads series 3-2) [7:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN]

There was a lot to take out of Game 5 that had absolutely nothing to do with Shawn Thornton hosing down P.K. Subban with a water bottle and most of it wasn’t good for the Habs.

Without Daniel Briere in the lineup, the Canadiens’ power play struggled and with Douglas Murray playing alongside Mike Weaver on the third pairing, the Bruins had a defensive pair to get the match-ups they wanted to get things going against. The Habs may have had a physically tougher lineup to deal with Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, but life was a little too easy for Bruins.

How Montreal makes adjustments tonight will be the absolute factor in whether they head back to Boston for Game 7 or not. For Boston, they need to find a way to get David Krejci involved as he’s been more than quiet in this series.

Game 5: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings (Series tied 2-2) [10:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN]

It’s a bit unnerving to see the road teams win all the games in this series. It’s not that Anaheim or L.A. have overly distinct home-ice advantages, but more that the coaches couldn’t find ways to make their match-ups work for them.

After Games 1 and 2, the prevailing thought was how Bruce Boudreau was going to get his top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry away from Anze Kopitar after he held them in check so well. After Games 3 and 4, the thought is how the Kings can slow down the rest of the Ducks forwards who have stepped up.

After being a major factor early on, the Kings would love to see the opportunistic Marian Gaborik return. The Ducks had their own version of a clutch scorer going in Devante Smith-Pelly.

The main man L.A. has to find a way to crack, however, is goalie John Gibson. After sporting a shutout in Game 4, he’s riding high and the team is doing so with him. Shaking the rookie’s confidence would get the Kings back on track at least a little bit.

Tuukka Rask leaves game for Bruins

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 7: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks up at the video on the scoreboard after making a save against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on January 7, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 4-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Times are a little tough for the Boston Bruins right now with losses in three consecutive games and speculation regarding the future of their coach.

What they do not need at this point is any kind of a significant injury to a key player, so it has to be a concern that starting goaltender Tuukka Rask had to leave Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the second period.

He was replaced in net by backup Zane McIntyre.

The Bruins have yet to offer an update as to why Rask left the game or what his status is. He allowed two goals on 22 shots before exiting.

Even though he has been slumping in recent weeks Rask’s play for most of the season (he entered play on Sunday with a .920 save percentage on the season) has been a big reason the Bruins have climbed back up the goals against rankings after doing little to improve their defense over the summer.

Henrik Lundqvist, J.T. Miller lift Rangers over Red Wings

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This was not the type of game we have been seeing from the New York Rangers in recent weeks.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, the Rangers had been on a 12-game run where they scored 50 goals (4.1 per game) and also allowed 50 goals. Their balanced scoring depth, combined with a shaky defense and slumping Henrik Lundqvist had produced some high-scoring, 1980s style hockey where any team seemed capable of scoring six or seven goals on any given night.

On Sunday, they played a complete shutdown game in a 1-0 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings that featured only 40 shots on goal between the two teams, few scoring chances, and only a single goal. That goal did not get scored until 1:56 into the 3-on-3 overtime period when the Rangers capitalized on a two-on-none rush between Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller.

As Zuccarello carried the puck into the zone alone, he froze Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau and set up Miller with a perfect pass that allowed him to easily deposit the puck in the net for his 16th goal of the season.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault blamed the quality of the game on “horrendous” ice at Joe Louis Arena. Whatever the reason, it was a big performance for Henrik Lundqvist in net as he stopped all 21 shots he faced to record his second shutout of the season and his first since November 1.

For the Rangers, the two points brings them up to 61 points on the season and gives them an 11-point cushion in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The good news for the Red Wings is they at least gained a point in the standings for the fifth consecutive game, a stretch that has seen them early eight out of a possible 10 points. The bad news is they left a second one on the table in a game that was there for the taking, in a game where they also lost their leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, to another injury.

Vanek exited the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return after playing just six minutes.

Goalie nods: Corey Crawford gets a chance to snap out of slump for Blackhawks

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: Goalie Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Washington Capitals during the second period at Verizon Center on January 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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With starting goaltender Corey Crawford stuck in his worst slump of the season, and Scott Darling coming off of a 30-save shutout on Friday night, it seemed possible that the Chicago Blackhawks would stick with the same goalie arrangement on Sunday evening against the Vancouver Canucks.

If nothing else Darling has at least made an argument that he probably deserves a little more playing time than he is getting, and that is still true today.

He just will not get that opportunity against the Canucks.

Coach Joel Quenneville is going back to his starter, Crawford, for Sunday’s game.

After a great start to the season, Crawford has struggled mightily since returning to the lineup following an appendectomy in December and enters Sunday’s game with only a .902 save percentage in his past 10 appearances. He has allowed at least three goals in seven of those games. Before this most recent he was sitting at .927 on the season and looked like one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy.

The Blackhawks are not used to seeing Crawford struggle like this, especially in recent years as he has become one of the league’s top goaltenders, finishing with a save percentage of .924 or better in three of the past four full seasons. He is too good to continue playing the way he has recently. Perhaps Sunday is the day he starts to get back on track against a team that he has a pretty strong track record against.

The Canucks, entering the game one game out of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, have yet to announce their starter.

Elsewhere…

— Jared Coureau and Henrik Lundqvist went for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers in their afternoon tilt on NBC, while Matt Murray and Tuukka Rask faced off in Pittsburgh for the Penguins and Boston Bruins.

— After starting 12 consecutive games Mike Condon goes again for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets are expected to go with Joonas Korpisalo.

Thomas Greiss returns to the net for the New York Islanders on Sunday after getting Saturday night off and looks for his third consecutive shutout. He has stopped all 55 shots he has faced in his past two games against the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The Philadelphia Flyers will go with Steve Mason after Michal Neuvirth took the loss against New Jersey on Saturday.

Darcy Kuemper is expected to get the start for the Minnesota Wild when they take on the Nashville Predators. Pekka Rinne goes for the Predators.

Red Wings lose Thomas Vanek against Rangers

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is not the news the Detroit Red Wings needed on Sunday afternoon.

Forward Thomas Vanek left their game against the New York Rangers following the first period for undisclosed reasons. The team announced that he will not return to the game.

Vanek has been a steal for the Red Wings this season after signing him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract in free agency. When healthy he has been arguably their best, most impactful forward this season and entered play on Sunday tied for the team lead in goals (12) and total points (31) even though he had already missed nine games this season.

He played 6:58 in the first period before exiting the game after being shaken up near the Rangers’ net.

He already missed time this season due to a hip injury.

Given his success this season with the team, as well as the Red Wings’ current spot in the Eastern Conference standings that has them several points out of a playoff spot, he has been a popular name mentioned in trade speculation in advance of the trade deadline, something that he seems well aware of.