Tag: Predators-Canucks

Mason Raymond Pekka Rinne

Predators hope to push Canucks to a Game 7 by winning tonight

While the two remaining Eastern Conference teams are receiving a borderline excessive amount of rest, the Western Conference semifinals continue. The Detroit Red Wings fought off elimination once again last night and the Nashville Predators hope to do the same in Game 6.

Vancouver @ Nashville (Versus) – 8 p.m. ET; Canucks lead series 3-2

The No. 1 story going into this game is the continued struggles of the Sedin twins, even if Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault deflected blame from their Game 5 performances. Yet amid all that negative attention, the Predators could use more contributions from some of their own highest scorers. Patric Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsyn were among the most dangerous forwards for Nashville during the regular season, but neither player registered a point in this series so far.

After four defense-first games, Saturday’s contest was surprisingly energetic, messy and fun. Even though Nashville won, you have to wonder if they can pull off another win at that pace. They might want to do just that in front of their own fans, but their best chance of earning their first second round home victory probably revolves around mucking it up.

The Canucks cannot ask for much more from Ryan Kesler, who’s been an absolute force in this series. Roberto Luongo and Pekka Rinne have been brilliant for most of the five games, but one bad night could put Luongo’s team in another must-win situation while an off-game for Rinne could bring elimination.

Joel Ward was outstanding in Game 5, but is he for real? We’ll find out a lot more about Ward, his team and his opponents in tonight’s game. Stay tuned.

Joel Ward and Ryan Kesler put on a show, Predators edge Canucks 4-3

David Legwand, Joel Ward

Going into Game 5, Ryan Kesler was the star and villain of this series. The Vancouver Canucks’ two-way center was outstanding again tonight, but he was forced to make room for a rival star. Nashville Predators forward Joel Ward stole the spotlight to help his team earn its first ever win while facing elimination.

Ward combined with David Legwand and Mike Fisher to absolutely dominate the should-be dominant Sedin line, helping Nashville stay alive with a 4-3 win.

Nashville 4, Vancouver 3; Canucks lead series 3-2

It makes sense that this game followed this series’ pattern of close games. It doesn’t make as much sense that possibly the best line from the regular season is getting torn apart by a group of little-known grinders, though.

The Predators are now 1-5 in franchise history when facing elimination, while the Canucks are 1-4 in elimination games in 2011.

An unexpectedly exciting first period

In a series full of drab opening frames, this game started off with a bang and rarely slowed down.

Things looked grim for Nashville when they took an early penalty, but Mikael Samuelsson* ended up making a boneheaded mistake. He turned the puck over to Ward, who sent a gorgeous pass to Legwand for a gorgeous shorthanded 1-0 tally. That man advantage wasn’t a total disaster for Vancouver, though, as Raffi Torres took advantage of a great takeaway and pass by Jannik Hansen to tie it up moments after the PP expired.

Kesler’s rise to stardom continued late in the first as he made a great play to beat Shea Weber and finish Mason Raymond’s one-timer setup.

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A strange goal leads in to the Ward-Kesler duel

The Predators have scored quite a few weird goals from behind Roberto Luongo’s net, but Legwand’s tying goal might just be the strangest. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great night for Alex Edler. (Note: Highlights of Nashville goals can be found at the bottom of this post.)

The game remained 2-2 going into the third period, which put a huge exclamation point on Ward’s amazing playoff run. The pending free agent finished a beautiful one-timer pass from Fisher to make it 3-2. Ward then he pounced on a turnover to slam home the eventual game-winning goal.

Ward almost made it a three-goal lead when he out-skated Edler for a shorthanded goal attempt, but Luongo made the save to deny his natural hat trick attempt.  Ward’s three-point night ties him for second place in the 2011 playoffs with 12 points. His seven goals is unexpected after he only scored 10 during the regular season.

Kesler continues to dominate, but couldn’t do it by himself tonight.

While Ward was the star of the night, Kesler is earning Mark Messier comparisons with his combination of grit and goal scoring prowess. He scored yet another goal with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.

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Kesler ended the game with two goals, a ridiculous 21-5 record on faceoffs, six hits and plenty of hatred from Nashville. Ward had two goals, one assist, four hits and a +3 rating in Game 5.

A quick outlook for both teams

Nashville gets an opportunity to earn a second round win at home after dropping Games 3 and 4 in their own barn. They just need to stick with it and take advantage of the nothing-to-lose energy they’ll likely take into Game 6. Their support players are coming through while Pekka Rinne remains a difference maker.

Luongo still doesn’t deserve the blame (most of those goals were unstoppable), but the Sedin twins deserve plenty of criticism for their flop tonight. Ward’s line absolutely devoured them in Game 5, leaving Daniel (-4 rating) and Henrik (-3) looking like the nobodies in this contest. The Canucks might not need them to be outright stars, but now they’re getting flat-out embarrassed.

The Canucks now must take another 12 hour flight to Nashville and play at least 60 more grinding minutes against the Predators. Even if they win in Game 6, this was a loss that could haunt them in the near future.

* – Versus reports that Samuelsson won’t travel with the Canucks to Nashville because of a lower-body injury.

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Canucks cash in on shaky penalty call, beat Predators in OT for 2-1 series lead

Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators - Game Three

Not long ago, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis aired his grievances regarding officiating before the team’s Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Now one must wonder if he’ll send the league’s officials a Christmas card.

If you want my honest opinion, Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber should not have been whistled for that overtime hooking penalty on Ryan Kesler. Yet the officials might have felt obliged to give the Canucks a “makeup call” after Jerred Smithson got away with a questionable hit shortly before that penalty. It didn’t take long for the Canucks to score on that man advantage as Kesler appeared to deflect the winning goal through Pekka Rinne.

Vancouver 3, Nashville 2 (OT); Canucks lead series 2-1

It’s fair to say that Vancouver was the better team in this game, even if they won the game in a very controversial way. Kesler was clever to lock Weber’s stick into his body for a few precious extra seconds, sending the team’s best defenseman into the box in overtime. Again, the Canucks didn’t take long to shine the spotlight on that goal by winning the game.

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As usual, the game was close on the scoreboard, although the Canucks were the aggressors for most of this contest after sitting back for much of Game 2. They out-shot the Predators 15-8 in the first period but Dave Legwand scored a shorthanded goal to give Nashville a 1-0 first period lead.

Kesler finally broke through to score his first goal of the playoffs in the middle frame by tapping in a one-timer in front of a mostly-open Predators net.

Chris Higgins made it 2-1 early in the third period, but the Predators wouldn’t go away, as Joel Ward scored thanks to the type of move from behind the net that made me think of my own cheesy offense in the video game NHL ’11.

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That Ward goal notched things up at 2-2, which forced yet another overtime game. (As James Gralian pointed out, the 2011 playoffs already feature more overtime games than all of last year’s games. Yes, that is indeed pretty amazing.)

It was a tight checking overtime period until those controversial moments ended the game. Here’s what David Legwand said about the call, via Mark Spector.

“I don’t know if Timmy Peel had a date or something, but he wanted to get outta here pretty quick.”

As great as the playoffs have been, inconsistent penalty calls have been one of this year’s biggest issues. Jeremy Roenick explained the problem quite well in the video found in this post.

The outlook for both teams

Once the “we stole that one” vibe dies down for the Canucks, they’ll probably feel relief more than anything else. The team needed to earn at least one win in Nashville to feel comfortable in this series, so now they can play with house money in Game 4. Vancouver is also one of the few teams who can be pleased with their power play, which converted on 2 of 4 opportunities.

They still must improve in some areas, though. While Daniel Sedin earned an assist, each Sedin twin had a -2 rating in the contest. Kesler had a breakthrough game, so the team would love it if the twins tried to top him.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Predators react to such a dispiriting loss. My guess is that they’ll continue to bring their grinding, defensive-minded game to the ice to make things as difficult as possible for their Canucks. Nashville has a lot of good things to take from these games, even if they’re down 2-1.

You don’t have to be keenly observant to notice how great the Nashville atmosphere has been in these playoffs. Let’s just hope they opt against another “Gold Out” in Game 4, though, or all of our eyes will suffer. (This post’s main image gives you a small glimpse of that eye-straining unified color experiment, which I called the NHL’s answer to Boise State’s horrid blue field.)

Canucks need more from the Sedin twins in tight playoff games

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin
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There was an interesting moment in the Vancouver Canucks’ Game 7 match against the Chicago Blackhawks. Henrik Sedin had a ridiculous amount of open space late in that contest, but he elected to make a nice pass instead. Many people critiqued the decision on Twitter, but people ignored one basic fact: that’s just the kind of the player that Henrik Sedin is.

For mostly better but occasionally worse, the Sedin twins are who they are. A lot of sportswriters want to question their “heart” or toughness during their recent struggles, but the twins are dominant because of their synchronicity and intellect, so blaming a lack of brawn seems to miss the point. It’s also important to note that they haven’t been totally useless in the playoffs; Daniel has five goals and two assists for seven points while Henrik has five assists in Vancouver’s nine postseason games.

That being said, the team needs more from Daniel Sedin and his doppelganger than what they’ve been getting lately.

Dave Bolland began their slump

It all seemed to fall apart once Dave Bolland returned for the Blackhawks in Game 4. Since then, Henrik only has one point* and a -7 rating while Daniel has two goals and a -6 rating in their last six games. The smothering defense of the Canucks’ last three games have resulted in goose eggs for those transfixing, robotic ginger twins (neither player managed to score a single point in the last three games).

On one hand, it’s fair to blame tough matchups for their struggles. It’s not crazy to follow the pattern of more Bolland = more frustration for the Sedin twins. The Nashville Predators provide an even tougher collective task for the Sedin twins considering their elite defensive duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, Vezina Trophy nominee Pekka Rinne and fleet of checking forwards.

Still, it’s not a great sign when an opposing coach moves his top guns to another line.

In Saturday night’s game, the twins received the ultimate diss when Predators coach Barry Trotz moved his shut-down tandem of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter off them and on to Ryan Kesler’s line.

If you’re expecting the Sedins to panic, then you haven’t been following these even-keeled Swedes for very long.

Ultimately, the Sedin twins must overcome challenges

While the buck stops at them, the other thing that is plaguing those cycling clones might be a lack of a great complimentary linemate.

Alex Burrows’ mixture of goal scoring ability and space-opening grit was a great match for the Sedin twins during much of the 2010-11 season, but he has been playing on Ryan Kesler’s line for much of the playoffs. As a result, the Sedins have skated with Mikael Samuelsson and other wingers without finding an ideal fit.

It won’t be easy – and it might be a bit much to expect an explosion of points, even if they do break through – but if the Sedins want to truly be considered elite, they need to perform in the playoffs. Tonight’s Game 3 match will be another great test, especially since Predators coach Barry Trotz will decide how which players will attempt to limit the cerebral siblings.

* It’s silly to linger on the fact that Henrik doesn’t have a goal, though. He’s always been the “Passing Sedin.” In his Hart Trophy 2009-10 season, 83 of his 112 points came from assists. That trend continued this season, as 75 of his 94 points were helpers

2011 playoffs: Second round matchups

Tuukka Rask, Simon Gagne

Now that the Eastern Conference finally caught up with the West tonight, we finally know which teams will face each other in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. In case you weren’t already aware, the NHL is wise to reward its higher seeds (well, technically it’s a reward) by re-seeding after each round. Let’s get to the matches, with some quick thoughts for your enjoyment.

(Want to know the schedule for the second round games? We’ve got you covered right here.)

Eastern Conference semifinals matchups

1. Washington Capitals vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Quick thoughts: Much like the Montreal-Boston series, this is a clash between two teams who fought for a division title this season. The Capitals ended up winning the Southeast Division and also the series. (Washington won three times in regulation and once in a shootout, Tampa Bay won once in regulation and once in overtime). Bruce Boudreau’s bunch is well-rested and has home ice advantage, but the Lightning have far less pressure to succeed.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3. Boston Bruins

Quick thoughts: If you think the Bruins got that elimination game monkey off their backs with that OT win against the Montreal Canadiens, you’re dead wrong. Boston will face question after question (and their fans will see replay after replay) of that collapse from a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in 2010. Then again, maybe the best way to address your demons is by facing them eye-to-eye. They’ll get that opportunity in what should be an intriguing second round series.

Western Conference semifinals matchups

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

Quick thoughts: The Canucks once again find themselves with all the pressure to succeed against the underdog Predators. That doesn’t mean that Nashville is likely to play the “happy to be there” role, even if this is their first exposure to the second round of the playoffs. Expect a physical series, especially since the Preds wouldn’t be wise to attempt matching Vancouver’s dangerous offense.

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 3. Detroit Red Wings

Quick thoughts: This is a rematch of their 2010 second round playoff series – a series the Sharks won in five exciting games – but there are a few key differences this year. This time around, San Jose is coming off a challenging six games against the Los Angeles Kings while Detroit quickly swept the Phoenix Coyotes out of the playoffs. The Sharks face some questions in net, which isn’t a great situation to be in considering the Red Wings’ high-powered offense. In other words, it should be an awfully interesting series, especially since the Sharks seem like a more resilient (and deeper) team than they were last year.