Michel Therrien

Habs voice support for struggling Vanek

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Thomas Vanek seemed to be the major topic of conversation for the Montreal Canadiens today, as evidenced by the transcripts we received from the NHL.

Question for Brian Gionta: When you’re a captain, and a veteran guy like Vanek is struggling, do you need to go talk to the veteran guys like that as much as young guys?

BG: The thing with this room is everybody cares, so he wants to be a big part of this team, and he is a big part of this team. So, obviously, the first two games when you lose, things are more amplified than when you are winning. So we have confidence in everybody in this room and the way guys will respond.

Question for Max Pacioretty: It seems to be tough for Vanek right now, did you have a conversation with him…to help and find his game again?

MP: He’s a veteran. He doesn’t need that. He’s contributed to this team’s success in the playoffs. He knows it. We all talk. Behind closed doors we’re all having a good team and we all want to help this team win, and we all like where we stand right now with the team. He’s fine. He’s going to be fine. It seems there’s always got to be a story when you lose, and obviously, with the questions I’m being asked, that is the story right now. But he’s a tremendous player and he’s helped us a lot in these playoffs and he’ll continue to do that.

Question for coach Michel Therrien: On Thomas Vanek practicing with the fourth line, is that a demotion or is that an attempt to balance the lines now?

MT: Don’t read too much, okay. All right. Today, don’t read too much.

Too late, coach. We’re reading into it.

We wrote yesterday on Vanek, about how his performance in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final led to a real skewering by the critics. The 30-year-old winger, a pending unrestricted free agent, does have five goals in the playoffs, but he’s been ineffective, to say the least, against the Rangers.

Yesterday, Therrien said that Vanek is “healthy,” but otherwise didn’t want to say too much.

“I’m not going to start talking about individual players because one of the reasons we’re in the conference final is that everyone’s contributed in their own way in the playoffs,” the coach said. “Thomas is a member of our team and he’s also made a contribution for us to reach the conference final.”

Related: Habs to start Tokarski again in Game 3

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal