Author: NBC Sports

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: All tied up at 1st intermission

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Niemi8.jpgPhiladelphia Flyers 1, Chicago Blackhawks 1

Blackhawks
lead series 3-2

Well, the trend of the Flyers starting games
poorly continues.

The Flyers were outshot 17-7 and their supposed
MVP-favorite took two bad penalties in the first period, as Chris
Pronger watched the Hawks take a 1-0 lead while he was sitting in the
box. To add insult Dustin Byfuglien, the man Pronger has done so well
against overall, scored the goal.

Yet, as they always do, the
Flyers found a way to bounce back.

Scott Hartnell tied the game up
with a power play goal of his own, after he fought off a brutal Duncan
Keith slash to slam a rebound under Antti Niemi.

The Flyers need
to go back to the locker room, take a deep breath and forget about what
just happened. It’s a new game now, a fresh start.

For the Hawks,
they have to forget their frustration as once again the Flyers have
fought back to tie the game at home.

It’s a hard hitting, fast
game so far. The final 40 minutes should be incredible.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Can the Hawks afford to lose tonight?

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Wachovia2.jpgThis is one that the Philadelphia Flyers have to win. Obviously.

But
is this a game that the Chicago Blackhawks can afford to lose?

The
first thought is that these teams have been so good at home in this
series that it’s very likely the Flyers win tonight. Going to Game 7,
however, won’t be all that horrible for the Hawks considering just how
well they’ve played at the United Center. A loss tonight won’t be the
end of the world, especially considering the struggles of the Flyers in
Chicago.

Of course, logic and wisdom say otherwise.

While it
would be great to see the Hawks hoist the Cup in front of the home
crowd, you know that’s not exactly what they would prefer to do. When
you are facing the Philadelphia Flyers, conventional wisdom says to
never, ever give them another chance.

Losing tonight at the
Wachovia Center would do just that. Forget that the Hawks have yet to
lose in this series at home; we’re talking about one of the most
resilient teams in the NHL, perhaps one of the most resilient we’ve seen
in a very long time. Giving the Flyers a shot to win the series is
asking for a world of hurt.

The Flyers are always at their best
when their backs are against the wall. The team finds a way to buckle
down, to get charged up in front of their own fans and find a way to win
against a superior and more talented opponent. Is that the sort of team
you allow to head back to Chicago with a chance to actually win the
Stanley Cup?

The Flyers have already won a Game 7, doing so in
historic fashion. I’d be wary, if I were the Hawks. Win this now, on the
road, and never allow this team another chance to beat you.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Who is the new Conn Smythe favorite?

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Duncan Keith.jpgBefore this series started, I felt that the obvious early choices for
the Conn Smythe resided with the Blackhawks in Jonathan Toews and Antti
Niemi. After five games, it’s tough to include those two in the
conversation.

Niemi hasn’t played poorly, but after two strong
games to start the finals hasn’t exactly been as good as in previous
rounds. Jonathan Toews, after having a point in nearly every postseason
game for the Blackhawks headed into the finals, has struggled mightily
against the Flyers.

So if it’s not Toews and it’s Niemi, who
then? James and I set out to discuss our favorites for the award and
what was really odd, in a series that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s
great defense, two defensemen have risen to the top of the
conversation.

James: Chris Pronger

Whether
the Flyers win the Cup or not, Chris Pronger is the most valuable
player of this year’s playoffs.

Rather than just picking the most
productive player on the Cup-winning team, I think it’s wiser for a
voter to simply close his or her eyes and ask this question: “If you
could pick any player from the finalists to lead your team to victory,
who would it be?” Unless you’re so hateful toward the often-dirty (or if
we want to be politically correct, “rule-bending”) defenseman, is there
really any way you could say that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in
the Cup finals without Pronger?

He leads the playoffs in time on
ice per game by almost a full minute with a stunning 29:01 per game,
which accounts for almost half a contest. His 17 points would be a solid
output for a forward and it leads all blueliners in the postseason. He
kills nearly two penalties worth of time per night (3:57) yet is also a
force on the point with an average of 4:27 of powerplay time per game.

Yet
it’s not the numbers that make him the greatest candidate, but rather
the psychological effects of his presence. From his smack-talking, to
his gigantic hits and even the juvenile puck stealing antics, his shadow
looms over every game both literally and figuratively. Want the best
reason why the team stayed alive while their goalies went down like
flies? It’s easy: because they have Chris Pronger, the guy who almost
helped Jussi freaking Markkanen win a Stanley Cup.

Finally, as
much as he’s worthy of karmic comeuppance, Pronger is also flat-out
overdue for a Conn Smythe Trophy. In my mind, he should already be a
two-time winner. He did everything for that Edmonton Oilers team … he
even scored a penalty shot goal. While the Anaheim Ducks got by without
him when he was suspended, Pronger set the tone for that brutal bunch
and promoted them from a solid playoff team to a dominant, terrifying
force.

So, instead of throwing a dart at the Chicago Blackhawks
roster or a list of high-scoring Philadelphia Flyers forwards, just make
the obvious – if unpopular – choice. Pronger is the most valuable
player of these playoffs, even if he may also be the most volatile and
villainous.

Brandon: Duncan Keith

The numbers
are certainly there. 16 points in 21 games, over 27 minutes of ice time a
night, plus-3 for the postseason. But picking Keith isn’t about stats
or numbers, it’s about what you see on the ice while watching him play.

I
had the chance to see both games in Philadelphia in person and while
neither went well for the Hawks I walked away with a completely
different view on Duncan Keith as a hockey player. I always knew he was
great, I always knew he was one of the best but I still don’t think I
realized just how magical he really is.

Watching in person I was
able to focus on Keith and not have to follow the puck and it was tough
to find a flaw in his game. He’s in nearly the perfect position every
single time he’s on the ice and there is rarely a wasted movement when
he’s playing. Seeing the way he was able to close in on a loose puck,
beating a Flyers player to a spot and making the perfect play on the
puck to stop a scoring chance was just jaw-dropping to witness.

What
does this have to do with the Conn Smythe? For one, he’s the anchor on
an extremely talented blue line and while the rest of his team has
faltered at times against Philly he’s always been a rock. His play never
dropped off and when the Hawks were desperately trying to win two close
games he was the one that was pushing his team forward. He may not have
been successful, but when the rest of his team was struggling he was
the one that found a way to take his game to the next level.

He
may not be as outspoken as Chris Pronger nor as charismatic off the ice,
but he knows how to take care of business when needed. He’s the most
important player on a team poised to win the Stanley Cup, which is
generally the definition of an MVP. He has not taken a penalty in six
games, despite playing against a very physical and speedy opponent. He
finds a way to make the perfect play nearly every chance he gets, and he
is the steadying force that has led the Hawks to this moment tonight.

Consensus:

Since
I’m running this show, and since I believe the Hawks will find a way to
win tonight, then we’re going with Duncan Keith for the Conn Smythe.

Sabres halt contract talks with Zack Kassian

Kassian.jpgAccording to The Buffalo News, the Buffalo Sabres have decided to
stop talks with 2009 first round draft pick Zack Kassian, after last
week’s news broke that Kassian had been arrested for assault outside a
bar. Says
GM Darcy Regier, courtesy of John Vogl:

“It’s obviously not something we condone,” Regier said. “It’s
unfortunate. I happen to
believe Zack’s a good kid. He just put himself in a position that going
forward you can’t put
yourself in those types of positions. It’s a learning process.

“It obviously, by his own admission, wasn’t a smart thing for him to do.
It caught a wave.
They won the Memorial Cup. He was out with some of his [Windsor]
teammates, and he’s the big
guy there, getting challenged and egged on, and those are things you
have to learn to walk
away from. You’re not on the ice. You can’t take that position.

“We’re going to continue to work with him. I told him that on one hand
there’s no way we’re
going to abandon him, we’re going to help him, but he’s got some work to
do on the other
hand.”

Kassian was a highly regard prospect last summer, after putting up 24
goals and 63 points for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. His
combination of size (6-3, 215) and scoring and playmaking ability,
especially as a right hander, had him very high on many scouts’ draft
charts. He eventually went 13th overall to the Sabres.

He’s been in trouble a few times this season, however, and scored
just 12 goals and 31 points this past season between Peterborough and
the Windsor Spitfires. He was in trouble with his team after missing
curfew and was suspended 20 games by the OHL for a dangerous hit.

With this latest transgression, combined with his drop off in
production, it’s perfectly understandable that the Sabres would hold off
on giving Kassian an entry-level contract. He still has one year of
eligibility left with the OHL, and there is no rush to get him signed
right away.

Of course, he could get things figured out this summer and lead the
OHL is scoring next season. Then the Sabres might not get the deal they
would be certain to get now.