Author: Jason Brough


In closest Cup final ever, mistakes loom especially large


TAMPA — The Chicago Blackhawks scored two goals Saturday. One came on a major blunder by Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. The other came moments after a more minor error by Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr.

You know what they say about hockey. And like clockwork, Andrew Shaw went ahead and said it after the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory.

“Hockey is a game of mistakes,” he said. “Whoever makes the least usually has the better chance of winning.”

They’re calling this the closest Stanley Cup Final in NHL history. All five games have been decided by one goal. There has yet to be a two-goal lead at any time. Heck, the most one team has outshot the other is by six.

Frankly, it’s amazing there hasn’t been overtime.

“This is five one‑goal games,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The margin of error for both teams is minimal.”

Even Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a participant in so many big games both professionally and on the international stage, has yet to develop an immunity to the anxiety.

“It’s always nerve-wracking,” he said. “I think that just shows you really want to win.”

And in a series where even the most benign-looking play can prove fatal — as it did for Tampa Bay early in the third when Sustr misplayed the puck along the boards in the Chicago end, ultimately leading to Antoine Vermette’s winner — it can be especially hard to keep from playing scared.

What’s the Blackhawks’ solution to that?

“I think everyone’s reassuring each other to go out and make plays,” said Toews. “Just go out there and make things happen. You’ve got five other guys out there with you. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.

“We’re gonna bail each other out when we get in tight spots. So whether you have a lot of experience or you’re a young guy with not so much experience, we’re all trying to make each other a little more comfortable out there.”

As for that first Chicago goal, Bishop chalked it up to a miscommunication with defenseman Victor Hedman.

“I saw them going for a change and I thought I would be able to catch them,” he said. “You know, Heddy was coming for it, but you can’t really hear anything in the building when it’s that loud. And you saw the result.”

Indeed we did. Bishop collided with Hedman, Patrick Sharp picked up the puck, open net, 1-0 Blackhawks.

“It’s unfortunate, obviously,” said Bishop. “It’s the first time it’s happened, and it’s a bad time to happen.”

Said Hedman: “I was looking up ice, didn’t see him and didn’t hear him. Stuff like that happens.”

And so this series heads back to Chicago, where the Cup may or may not be hoisted Monday after Game 6.

There will be mistakes.

There will be nerves.

“That’s what we live for,” said Shaw. “This is playoff hockey and we expect nothing different.”

Columnist: ‘NHL to Portland is a no-brainer’

New Orleans Hornets v Portland Trail Blazers

The Arizona Coyotes’ latest spat with the City of Glendale was the catalyst for one newspaper columnist from Portland, Oregon, to make the case for an NHL team in the Rose City.

From John Canzano of the Oregonian:

We’re too big a market to have only an NBA and MLS team. We’re too hockey-ready to not seize the opportunity.

NHL to Portland is a no-brainer. It would work here. In fact, we’d be a better hockey town than basketball town. Long ago the prevailing fear from inside the Blazers organization was that an NHL team might cannibalize the NBA franchise’s fan base. Also, that Allen just wasn’t a hockey fan. So if we’re asking ourselves today, “What’s changed?” take a look at the guy sitting in the president’s office at One Center Court.

The Allen to which Canzano is referring is, of course, billionaire Paul Allen, who also owns the NBA’s Trail Blazers.

In October, Allen told the Oregonian that bringing the NHL to Portland is something that he looks at “from time to time.”

Allen may, in fact, have looked pretty seriously at bringing the Coyotes to Portland in 2013.

The NHL hasn’t been shy to say that the Pacific Northwest — an area that includes both Portland and Seattle — would get “serious consideration” if “expansion comes into the picture or relocation is needed.”

So far much of the speculation has focused on Seattle. But what Portland already has that Seattle still doesn’t is an NHL-ready arena. The Moda Center, which first opened in 1995, is owned by Allen, who may or may not have any interest in actually owning a hockey team, but perhaps wouldn’t mind another tenant for his building.

Canzano concludes, rather optimistically:

The gag order is currently in full effect in the Blazers organization. Nobody is talking hockey because when you’re interested in making that buy you don’t hold those conversations publicly.

That silence sounds sweet.

Related: Add another city to the Coyotes relocation rumormill — Portland, Oregon

As promised, Coyotes seek restraining order to stop Glendale from voiding lease


The Arizona Coyotes have unleashed the lawyers.

Following is a statement from the club in the wake of Wednesday’s vote by the City of Glendale:

“The Arizona Coyotes have acted to defend their rights and reaffirm their continuing commitment to their great fans by seeking a restraining order to stop the City of Glendale’s baseless attack on, and improper attempt to void, the Coyotes’ lawful and proper lease to play at Gila River Arena. The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court against the City of Glendale, the Glendale City Council and other City officials.”

In addition to the restraining order, the Coyotes have said they could seek injunctive relief and file for damages.

Good times.

Related: Back downtown? Phoenix mayor reaches out to Coyotes

With 11th overall pick, Panthers looking to add ‘one more final piece’ to the core

Florida Panthers v Buffalo Sabres

On paper, the Florida Panthers have all the makings of a future Stanley Cup contender.

Talented, young forwards already in the organization include Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri, and Rocco Grimaldi. Meanwhile, on the back end, they’ve got a potential Norris Trophy winner in Aaron Ekblad.

For three of those players, they can thank all the losing they’ve done. The Panthers were able to draft Huberdeau with the third overall pick in 2011, Barkov second overall in 2013, and Ekblad first overall in 2014.

The Panthers also have the third overall pick from the 2010 draft in defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Even if the big, tough 23-year-old has yet to become a star, the club still considers him “one of the building blocks for our team.”

On top of all that, the Panthers have the 11th overall pick in the upcoming draft, of which they’ll be the hosts.

“We view this as one of the last pieces that we’re going to acquire at the draft that could really help us get to the next level sooner rather than later,” Panthers director of scouting Scott Luce told the Sun-Sentinel earlier this week.

“We’ve got a good young corps, so we feel that with this draft we can take that final step and add one more final piece to the core that will be our core for hopefully close to the next 10 years.”

In a lot of ways, the Panthers look like their state rivals from Tampa Bay did a few years ago. Remember that the Lightning were able to translate losing seasons into drafting Steven Stamkos with the first overall pick in 2008 and Victor Hedman second overall in 2009.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee the Panthers will have the same success as the Lightning, who’ve done a lot more to build a contender than just draft Stamkos and Hedman.

But Panthers fans have every right to believe a winning team is around the corner, even if most of the national focus on the franchise has been negative.

Bishop didn’t practice today, but ‘don’t be alarmed,’ it was all part of the ‘plan’

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three

TAMPA — Just because Ben Bishop didn’t practice today doesn’t mean he’s going to miss another game of the Stanley Cup Final.

“Don’t be alarmed that he’s not out there,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday. “I’m not going to sit here and commit as to whether he’s going to play [tomorrow in Game 5]. He’s feeling better with each day.

“When we made the decision not to play him the other night, the decision just wasn’t made, ‘Oh, we’re not going to play him.’ It was, ‘We’re not playing you and you’re taking the next three days off.’

“This was all in the plan.”

While Cooper added that tomorrow’s morning skate will provide a “better indication” of the situation, Game 4’s surprise starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy, expressed confidence that, if called upon, he’ll be even better than he was Wednesday in Chicago, where he stopped 17 of 19 Blackhawks shots in a 2-1 Tampa Bay defeat.

“I think I’ll have more confidence,” Vasilevskiy said. “I got some experience right now in Stanley Cup Final. That’s it. In my head right now, mentally, I got more power right now. When you play, you get good feeling, more fun. I think next game if I will play, I will feel much better.”