Tag: game previews


Beware the hip check: Keith Ballard looks to make Stanley Cup finals debut tonight


It’s not every day that an NHL team can call upon a guy who makes $4.25 million as a seventh defenseman. That’s the life of Keith Ballard as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, though. In an injury and turnover-plagued 2010-11 season, he just cannot seem to earn head coach Alain Vigneault’s trust.

That being said, the Canucks keep suffering from losses on their blueline. Dan Hamhuis went down with what an unknown injury early in the series while Aaron Rome won’t play another game in the Stanley Cup finals thanks to his late hit on Nathan Horton.

Those two conundrums finally open the door for Ballard to make his way back into the lineup again, an opportunity he hopes to capitalize upon in Game 4 tonight. Ballard seems like he’s getting used to the roller coaster ride of getting minutes in big playoff games one night and sitting in the press box on other ones. He discussed the experience while fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa spoke about what Ballard brings to the table.

“I think it’s a situation quite a few of us have been in, especially during this playoff run,” Ballard said of playing nearly as much as he’s been watching. “One of the things you can control is the attitude around the guys, how hard you work. You have to be able to be there to support your teammates.”

While Ballard never said he was definitely playing, Kevin Bieksa discussed what to expect with Ballard as his defensive partner Wednesday night.

“He’s a very good player. He’s helped us all year,” Bieksa said. “He’s a great skater and moves the puck well. He’s one of the best shot blockers in the League. He’s been known to throw a hip into a few guys. We just need him to play his game and not do anything special.”

Bieksa’s second-to-last sentence is one many of us will focus on: “He’s been known to throw a hip into a few guys.” His most recent epic hip check happened during the San Jose Sharks series when Ballard nailed Tyler McGinn with a brutal one that might just be the best hit of this year’s playoffs.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Will we see another big hip check from Ballard tonight or will he be the kind of error-prone player who regularly finds himself in Vigneault’s doghouse? Perhaps he’ll be both? We’ll find out tonight (on Versus at 8 p.m. ET).

Tyler Seguin will play in Game 4; How will Bruins replace Nathan Horton?

Sergei Bobrovsky, Tyler Seguin, Michael Ryder

Whichever way you look at Aaron Rome’s late hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3, the bottom line is that Horton won’t play another game in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

That means that the Boston Bruins will need to find a way to win three out of four games against the Vancouver Canucks without their first-line forward with a rifle of a right-handed shot. He might not be the most consistent performer, but when his line combo with David Krejci and Milan Lucic gets hot, they’ve been among the NHL’s most dangerous trios in the 2011 playoffs.

So how are they going to do it? It looks like they’re going to shuffle their lines a bit while Tyler Seguin will return to the Bruins’ lineup after watching another game in street clothes on Monday. Here are the expected forward lines with Horton out and Seguin in, according to Joe Haggerty.

Lucic – Krejci – Ryder

Marchand – Bergeron – Recchi

Peverley – Kelly – Seguin

Paille – Campbell – Thornton

While it looks like mercurial sniper Michael Ryder will get the nod on the first line, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Bruins experiment with versatile new addition Rich Peverley in that spot as well. Ryder has the deadly shot, but Peverley might be a more reliable player in many ways. If Ryder gets hot, he could be a nice weapon for that first line, though.

It’s probably not fair to ask Ryder or Peverley to shoulder the burden of replacing Horton’s production on their own, though. One player who could generate more offense is Lucic, who discussed the situation with Haggerty.

“It’s an opportunity for someone to step up and we need someone to step up. Nathan has been one of our best players and we still have to go out there and focus on what we need to do to have some success,” said Lucic. “It’s tough. It’s a big loss. He’s been a huge contributor to us getting to this point. He was a big reason I was able to take my game to another level and now I’m going to have to step up without him.

“[Ryder and Peverley] are both great players. Peverley last year had 55 points, so he’s shown that he can produce in this league. Ryder has scored 30 goals a couple of times and he’s scored almost 150 goals in this league, so he’s proven that he can score. They both have good shots and know how to compete and play. We have to count on them to step it up and fill in for what we’re missing with Nathan.”

The Bruins have overcome plenty of setbacks in the past – especially when it comes to key offensive players suffering from concussions – so they should be familiar with dealing with challenges like these. They seem to be at their best when their backs are up against the wall, so we might see another rousing fight from a team that perseveres over and over again.

Much like Tim Thomas before him, Roberto Luongo will stay the course despite defeat

Roberto Luongo
1 Comment

If there’s one trend I’ve noticed when people critique athletes, it’s that writers, fans and “experts” often seem to think that players can drastically change their styles at the professional level.

Sometimes it’s true that players can make small changes that yield significant results, but these are usually incremental improvements. Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler and goalie Roberto Luongo are solid examples of players who successfully tweaked their games a bit to improve their value in the NHL.

That being said, it’s tough to ask a player who ascended to the professional level that he’s been doing it all wrong. After all, whatever he does helped him to get this far, so you almost run into a “square peg in round hole” situation.

After allowing a regrettable Game 2 overtime goal in part because of his trademark aggressiveness, many people wanted Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas to change his ways. This sort of armchair criticism ignores the fact that more than nine times out of 10, Thomas makes the save. He doesn’t do that because of inherent size (he’s listed at 5-foot-10) or the soundest goaltending style. What makes Thomas so great is the interpretative dancing style of netminding that combines his flailing limbs, outstanding sense of anticipation and – yes – aggressiveness to form a sum that’s greater than his parts.

Luongo plays a very different (and up to Game 3, more efficient) style than Thomas, but they’re both right in ignoring knee-jerk reactions from game to game. Luongo already adjusted his technique by playing deeper in his goalie crease than he had in previous seasons, but that’s likely an alteration made in part because of suggestions from a goalie coach. This just in: most media members and fans would not fit the bill as goalie coaches.

“I’ve been playing well all year. I think it’s worked out pretty well for me,” Luongo said Tuesday, the day after the 8-1 loss. “I made some adjustments before the year started, so I’m not going to readjust again.”

The Bruins lost the first two games 1-0 and 3-2, although Thomas played well. But when Alex Burrows charged ahead in Game 2, Thomas went out to cut down the angle. Burrows skated around him and continued behind the net, then tucked the puck in the far side 11 seconds into overtime.

“I have a pretty good idea of how to play goalie,” Thomas said with a smile after the loss. “I’m not going to be taking suggestions or advice at this time. I’m just going to keep playing the way I have.”

Unwavering confidence – and a lack of “conscience” about goals allowed – is part of what got both goalies here. Sometimes that could backfire a bit, like some might describe Luongo’s insistence on remaining in net for all of Boston’s 8-1 blowout in Game 3. After going behind 5-1, Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault asked Luongo if he wanted to spend the rest of the game on the bench. It probably shouldn’t be that surprising that he said “No.”

“Alain asked me when there was about eight minutes left. I said I wanted to stay in,” Luongo said Tuesday. “If I would have known they would have scored three more times, I might have thought about it.”

The eight-goal barrage on 30 shots increased Luongo’s postseason goals-against average from 2.16 to 2.44 and reduced his save percentage from .928 to .919.

“Even though we were losing, 5-1, it was a pretty intense game and I still wanted to be in there,” he said. “They kept putting the pressure on. We started maybe taking our attention away from our game plan, started worrying about physical aspects of the game, which we shouldn’t be doing at this point.”

Again, this is a match between two elite (and super-confident) goalies. It’s likely that their teams’ performances will make an impact on their own play, but to many, it comes down to Luongo vs. Thomas. Neither party looks to wilt under that spotlight and each will win or lose by the methods that got them here in the first place.

Your Boston Bruins-Vancouver Canucks 2011 Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 primer

Manny Maholtra

Many Boston Bruins fans are probably still stewing about Alex Burrows’ great Game 2 performance. They should relax, though, since their own team benefited from a game-winning goal by a could-have-been-suspended player when Nathan Horton scored Game 7’s only goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Fairly gained or not, the Vancouver Canucks take a 2-0 series lead into Boston for Game 3. Both of the first two games came down to last-minute goals, leaving the Bruins wondering what could have been. How will they feel about things after tonight? We’ll have to wait and see.

Vancouver @ Boston (Versus) – 8 p.m. ET; Canucks lead series 2-0

The lineups shouldn’t be drastically different tonight, although there are some rumblings that Shawn Thornton might play for Boston tonight (possibly for not-so-hot-anymore rookie Tyler Seguin). Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis almost certainly won’t return to the Vancouver lineup in Game 3 (and beyond, perhaps).

The Bruins have a chance to make the series score match what has been some tightly fought games so far. PHT produced a ton of content for Game 3, so check out some of the highlights below.

Your Boston Bruins-Vancouver Canucks 2011 Stanley Cup Finals Game 2 primer

Tim Thomas

After a night in which both teams slept in area hotels, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will finally play in Game 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals tonight. It’s unclear if the Canucks will have defenseman Dan Hamhuis or defensive forward Manny Malhotra in the lineup tonight, but they’re used to rolling with the punches anyway. The Bruins have been at their best in perilous situations this postseason, so hockey fans should expect an over-the-top effort from them tonight if they hold true to that pattern.

Boston @ Vancouver (NBC) – 8 p.m. ET; Canucks lead series 1-0

It’s likely that the Bruins will need another great game (with what they hope will include better results) from Tim Thomas tonight, but with the Canucks defense likely weakened without Hamhuis, Roberto Luongo might need to be in top form too.

On one hand, the two teams’ defensive styles hint at another tight game. That being said, Game 1 had its wild and frenzied moments so it wouldn’t be outrageous if this ended up being a higher scoring game, either. The Canucks have a chance to take a 2-0 series lead and justify expectations for a shorter series while the Bruins could make things very interesting by tying things up 1-1. Let’s take a look at some of the best PHT content for Game 2 of the Cup finals.