Bruce Boudreau

Boudreau doesn’t know how Ducks goalie situation will ‘shake out’

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For better or worse, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau seems to be the type who “rides the hot hand” with goalies rather than sticking with a No. 1 guy no matter what. It’s easy to foresee such a situation repeating itself next season, too.

While Jason LaBarbera represents an emergency backup plan for a variety of situations, the battle comes down to two promising-yet-largely-untested options in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Boudreau’s assessment of the situation to NHL.com is honest, if nothing else:

“We think we’ve got two really good goalies and an experienced, veteran goalie,” Boudreau said. “I think we’re OK there, I just don’t know how it will shake out.”

Quite a bargain

The Ducks are taking an interesting and calculated gamble with their goalies.

Whether it’s Andersen – Gibson, Gibson – LaBarbera or Andersen – LaBarbera, the combined cap hit never rises above $2 million. In a league brimming with contenders who have made beefy, long-term commitments to a position that’s often erratic, Anaheim enjoys rare flexibility.

Of course, the flip side is that they face even more uncertainty than usual; while LaBarbera is an experienced (if unremarkable) journeyman at 34, Gibson, 21, and Andersen, 24, combine for 42 NHL appearances counting the regular season and playoffs.

Hindsight will dictate if the Ducks’ strategy will be considered brilliant or foolish, yet it falls into the larger narrative quite well.

Boudreau and goalies

It’s easy to beat up on the Boudreau for a tendency to rotate netminders, but it’s also fair to note that he’s rarely been handed a reliable top goalie. As great as Semyon Varlamov was last season in Colorado, he never managed to play more than 27 regular season games for the Washington Capitals in large part because of injury issues. Departed Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller suffered from his own bad luck and his numbers dipped when he was able to play. It’s difficult to argue that Boudreau has enjoyed any better long-term options through the years, so it’s not as if he’s flippantly benching people like a more robust Mike Keenan.

Long story short, it’s easier to criticize Boudreau’s practices than it is to point out what precisely he should have done differently, yet the Ducks face arguably more uncertainty than ever in net going into the 2014-15 season.

It’s interesting to note that Anaheim has been unusually willing to let goalies walk, too. Many franchises would cling to a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe-winner like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, yet they transitioned to Hiller quite seamlessly and also parted ways with a then-promising backup in Ilya Bryzgalov. One could argue that the GM and coach see eye-to-eye on this matter as much as any in Anaheim, really.

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The Ducks have been a fixture in the playoff picture through many of these seasons, but Boudreau has never coached a conference final series in the NHL. Being less chained to goalies might actually be the best strategy, yet it could be one of the talking points if this coach continues to fall short of expectations in the postseason.

Of course, the advantage is simple enough: the Ducks can easily hit the “Reset” button once again if this doesn’t work out.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…