Saku Koivu

PHT Morning Skate: Jackets, Stars, ‘Hawks seek to tie things up

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It’s just the kind of thing you want on a night filled with playoff games: Three teams with the opportunity to tie things up and force a best-of-three finish. If you’re a fan of the other teams, then you’re hoping they can take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back home.

Such is the case tonight. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks are each hoping to make their series 2-2 and the fun part is, after how they’ve all played in the postseason it could happen.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,500 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $350. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

Game 4: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins [Pittsburgh leads series 2-1] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Blue Jackets have to be kicking themselves for being down in this series. In the two games they’ve lost, they held 3-1 leads only to see them evaporate into 4-3 losses. Of course, the Jackets’ Game 2 win was also a 4-3 decision so there’s that, but the fact they held two-goal leads in Games 1 and 3 and came away with losses has to sting.

Does the blame fall on Sergei Bobrovsky or the Jackets for pulling back the reins and trying to protect the lead? One thing’s for sure this postseason — trying to sit on a lead hasn’t exactly worked for anyone. After a second tough loss, expect to see the Penguins be out for blood.

One thing that has to make people nervous? Sidney Crosby has yet to be a dominant player. He has four assists in three games, which is fine, but can you say he’s taken a game over yet? Not really and that’s something that won’t last for long.

Game 4: Dallas Stars vs. Anaheim Ducks [Anaheim leads series 2-1] (8:00 p.m. ET — CNBC)

The Stars showed in Game 3 that they can be every bit as tough as the Ducks can be. Jamie Benn exerted his star player status and Antoine Roussel proved to be the perfect playoff irritant as they were able to get Anaheim chasing them on the scoreboard and around the ice looking for payback.

The Stars will need more of that and perhaps a little more Tyler Seguin if they want to send this series back to Anaheim tied 2-2. The Ducks are hoping to see Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry steer away from the extracurricular stuff and get back to scoring goals by the bunches.

If there’s an area the Ducks could use a hand in it’s secondary scoring. Anaheim’s top line has four of their seven goals in the postseason and on the road, it’s a little easier to see them get loaded up against. It’s time for the old guys (Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu) and the young guys (Jakob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly) alike to step up.

Game 4: Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues [St. Louis leads series 2-1] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The Blackhawks found a way to scrape back in Game 3 with a 2-0 win, but it was anything but convincing. Chicago lived on the edge holding onto a 1-0 lead through most of the game while the Blues continued to plug away looking to steal yet another game away late.

Lesson learned by the Blackhawks? They found a way to win it regardless. They may have a boatload of Stanley Cup-winning experience, but losing the first two games the way they did can make the mental game tougher. Now it’s up to Jonathan Toews and company to find another way to break through the Blues’ defense. Another top-notch start from Corey Crawford wouldn’t hurt either.

The Blues don’t exactly have a lot to figure out after Game 3. If anything, it was their best game of the playoffs to this point. Ryan Miller played a strong game and the top scorers (Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko) looked as dangerous as ever. If there’s anything Ken Hitchcock might stress for Game 4 it’s to keep doing what they have been and the breaks will come.

Ducks still wondering what life would’ve been like with Kesler

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Earlier this month, Anaheim appeared to be in thick of the Ryan Kesler sweepstakes, trading away Dustin Penner and Viktor Fasth at the deadline in what appeared to be cap-clearing moves.

The Kesler deal never came to fruition, though — he remained in Vancouver — and now, nearly a month later, Ducks players are still wondering what could’ve been.

“You think about it for sure because you hear the rumors and you hear people talking about it,” Andrew Cogliano said, per the O.C. Register (paywall). “I think you envision a little bit of a scenario if he did come.

“But he didn’t.”

Following the deadline, Ducks GM Bob Murray all but confirmed the club’s interest in Kesler, saying he put both of his first-round picks at the ’14 Draft in play and was “confused” as to why he came away empty-handed.

Anaheim was keen to add depth down the middle behind Ryan Getzlaf. Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault, Saku Koivu and Rickard Rakell have all played center and done so effectively, but none possess the skill, speed and two-way abilities of Kesler, a former 40-goal scorer and Selke Trophy winner.

The Ducks were in Vancouver on Saturday and trounced Kesler and the Canucks 5-1, which led to the discussions of what could’ve been. While Anaheim is looking forward — unlike Vancouver, who is all but done for playoff contention — the eldest Duck still acknowledged the opportunity missed was a big one.

“When you get those kinds of rumors and the opportunities that a guy like Kesler is available, you get pretty excited,” Teemu Selanne said. “Obviously this is the year.

“You can’t think tomorrow or next year. You’ve got to live by this time right now and this momentum. Win right now.”

Citing ‘lack of energy and emotion,’ Ducks call up Etem for Chicago tilt

Almost unbeatable at home for most of this season, the Ducks have lost three of their last four at the Honda Center — and that’s prompted Bruce Boudreau to make a change, recalling Emerson Etem from AHL Norfolk.

“Quite frankly the one thing the last game [was that] it looked like there was a lack of energy and emotion, whether it be in the building or on the bench,” Boudreau said, per NHL.com. “Emerson’s a guy that can bring both of those things to the front.”

Etem, a 21-year-old speedster, was taken in the first round (29th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and had six goals and 10 points in 26 games prior to being demoted in December. He was averaging over 13 minutes per contest, figured prominently on the penalty kill and will likely skate on a line with Saku Koivu and fellow speedster Andrew Cogliano tonight against Chicago.

He’s also hoping to help the Ducks turn things around at Honda. Anaheim started the year 20-0-2 at home before finally losing in regulation to the Jets on Jan. 21. Since then the club has struggled, going just 2-3-0 over its last five home games, including back-to-back losses to Columbus and Dallas.

“For me, being a young guy I just try to keep my mouth shut, bury my head and work hard,” Etem said. “Whatever they tell me to do I’m willing to do. I take pride in being a hometown guy and putting on the Ducks sweater every time I get the opportunity.

“It’s a huge opportunity for me.”

NHL on NBCSN: Kings and Ducks shine under the lights at Dodger Stadium

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Los Angeles Kings face the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium at 9:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Kings and Ducks are no strangers to each other. With one team in Los Angeles and the other in Orange County, it makes the setting at Dodger Stadium perfect to have a crosstown showdown of sorts.

The first of the NHL Stadium Series games gets underway tonight and for these two teams, familiarity does breed contempt. The Kings and Ducks have split their first two meetings this season with L.A. winning 3-2 in a shootout in December, but the Ducks taking a 2-1 victory at The Pond on Thursday.

The Ducks are on fire of late winning 20 of their past 23 games (20-3-0). Saying they’re “on fire” may not be putting it strong enough, but with a couple losses in their past four games, Bruce Boudreau’s squad won’t be taking it easy. Ryan Getzlaf (27) and Corey Perry (25) are tied as the highest-scoring tandem in the league with 52 goals with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Toss in secondary scorers like Dustin Penner, Teemu Selanne, and Saku Koivu (who’s done the outdoor game thing before) and you’ve got a loaded team.

The Kings will try to stifle the Ducks with their defensive style and having potential Team USA Olympic starter Jonathan Quick in goal makes it a little easier to do. Since returning from a groin injury on January 4, Quick is 4-3-2 with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage with one shutout. Those are the kinds of numbers you need if you want to start in Sochi, but the losses have piled up lately (losing four in a row) and the lack of offense can be blamed for that.

One player who hasn’t suffered from a lack of production is Jeff Carter. He has four goals in his past five games and nine points in the past 11 games. The Ducks kept him off the board on Thursday and he’ll be hoping to put a dent in Jonas Hiller and give the Kings a win on what’s almost home ice for them at Chavez Ravine.

More than anything Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and the rest of the Kings need wins. They’re 4-9-2 in their past 15 games and sit 17 points behind the Ducks in the Pacific Division.

Ducks’ Koivu recalls playing outdoors in 2003

Anaheim Ducks forward Saku Koivu is no stranger to playing outdoors.

He’ll be on the ice on Saturday night for the Stadium Series at Dodger Stadium against the Los Angeles Kings, but he was in the NHL’s first outdoor game in Edmonton in 2003 as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.

As Koivu told the Los Angeles Times, the conditions in L.A. are going to be a bit nicer than they were outside in Edmonton at Commonwealth Stadium.

“You’d grab the puck and by the blue line, you’d have to pass because your eyes were watering so bad, you couldn’t see anymore,” Koivu said. “The heaters on the bench were so hot you wanted to get back out there, but it was so cold.”

Heaters on the bench likely won’t be necessary tonight as temperatures are expected to be in the 50s and 60s. Koivu and the Ducks face the Kings at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight.