NHL Playoffs, Flyers vs. Canadiens, Game 4: Philly throttles listless Montreal 3-0

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coburncanadiens.jpgWhen a strong team or a “favorite” tumbles, sports writers scatter the ashes for excuses. Could it be that the team lacked heart or intestinal fortitude or some other metaphorical body part? Did Star Player X fail to “show up”? No, maybe it’s just that Embattled Coach failed to make the proper adjustments.

Yet, in the case of a team such as the “16th ranked” Montreal Canadiens, their losses are often greeted with a shrugged shoulder. They should have lost, most will remark. To some extent, that’s true. Yet if the Habs won their two series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals by “out-hustling” their opponents (instead of, say, depending on luck and the brilliance of Jaroslav Halak), then what do you say now?

How else do you explain a team with its back against the wall unleashing exactly one shot on goal in a second period in which the opposing team (the Philadelphia Flyers) launched 13 pucks at Halak and scored two goals? If you’re going to question the “character” of a team like the Boston Bruins after they squandered a series, then why not wonder the same about Montreal?

Philadelphia Flyers 3, Montreal Canadiens 0

Flyers lead series 3-1

Even now, it’s difficult to count the Habs out completely. After all, they came back from a 3-1 series hole against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals. The team and their sterling Slovakian puck stopper Halak are 5-0 in elimination games. You could compare the Canadiens to a villain in a slasher movie because it’s never safe to assume that they’re dead even if they are lying motionless on the ground.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Flyers took the game to them and the Habs didn’t even put up much of a fight. The first period was fairly even, with a few close calls including a play in which Hal Gill sprawled across his team’s crease to prevent a call. (The Flyers didn’t receive a penalty shot, which I thought was the correct call.)

The middle frame was the real horror show, as I mentioned before. Even the softest critics of the Canadiens would concede that being out-shot 13-1 is pathetic.

The third period was not much better, to be honest. The Flyers shot themselves in the foot twice to give the Habs some crucial powerplay opportunities, with Matt Carle taking a delay of game penalty and Aaron Asham committing a foolish goalie interference infringement. To stay consistent with the night’s theme, the Canadiens did nothing with either man advantage.

Halak kept them in the game, allowing 2 goals on 24 shots but only giving up markers when Ville Leino and Claude Giroux broke through the defense with partial breakaways. Michael Leighton must be able to relate to how J.S. Giguere felt against the Minnesota Wild in the 2002-03 playoffs, as he achieved his third shutout in this series while only having to make 17 saves.

For three out of the four games, Chris Pronger and Leighton were excellent. In those contests, the Canadiens scored exactly zero goals.

If there’s one word I’d used to describe the Habs in Game 4, it would be “tepid.” Actually, that’s being pretty kind. Home ice advantage is pretty useless if you don’t even show up to the game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy robs Evgeny Kuznetsov (Video)

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Surely, the Washington Capitals should be leading Game 6.

They came out on fire, led by Alex Ovechkin, and stayed that way throughout the first period.

Their only problem? Andrei Vasilevskiy and the wall he put up.

Vasilevskiy needed to be solid to stop on the Capitals’ onslaught and he was, write down to the final moments of the period and his best save, a sprawling glove-hand effort to stop Evgeny Kuznetsov in his tracks on the doorstep to keep the game tied 1-1.

Fatigued? Vasilevskiy wasn’t showing any of that in the first period.

After two sub .850 outings in Games 1 and 2, Vasilevskiy has stormed back to spark the Lightning to three straight wins behind his strong play.

• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time
Lightning ready for a ‘desperate’ Capitals team in Game 6
Vasilevskiy turns East final around for Lightning

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Lightning seek Stanley Cup Final berth in Game 6

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Game 6: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time
Lightning ready for a ‘desperate’ Capitals team in Game 6
Vasilevskiy turns East final around for Lightning

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Paul Fenton hired as new Minnesota Wild GM

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Almost exactly one month after firing Chuck Fletcher, the Minnesota Wild have found his replacement as general manager. During a Tuesday press conference, the franchise will introduce Paul Fenton as the man who will take over the job.

Fenton, who was the first person owner Craig Leipold interviewed last month, will also oversee the team’s hockey operations department and act as alternate governor

“It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Paul Fenton as the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild,” said Leipold in a statement. “Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL. His gift of evaluating talent is obvious in Nashville’s roster and recent success. My relationship with Paul goes back to my early days in Nashville and I know that Wild hockey fans are going to love Paul’s infectious passion for the game and unsurpassed work ethic. He’s the right person to deliver a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”

It took a while — 20 years to be exact — but Fenton finally decided to leave the Nashville Predators where he spent the last dozen years as the team’s assistant GM. He played a role in building that franchise into a Stanley Cup contender and turning around their minor league system. Now in Minnesota he’ll have his work cut out for him.

The Wild made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but could not get past the second round. This spring they were knocked out in the first round for the third straight season, costing Fletcher his job after nine years.

Fenton will have to deal with restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba with this summer, as well as face plenty of challenges in carving his roster into something that could look like a perennial contender. The long-term, cap space-eating contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won’t help things. According to Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $7.5 million in cap space for next season, and that’s before new deals for Zucker and Dumba and potentially a $3 million increase in the ceiling.

“We want to win a Stanley Cup,” Leipold said last month via the Pioneer Press after the Wild’s first-round exit. “That doesn’t mean that that’s going to be next year. I want someone to help me with a plan for the next three or four years to win a Stanley Cup. That’s what I’m looking for.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Islanders to hire Lou Lamoriello to run hockey operations: report

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It’s expected this week that the New York Islanders will officially announce the hiring of Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operation department, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.

Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not return as their GM after three seasons at the helm.

Staple also confirmed a Hockey30 report that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain John Tavares last week ahead of this move. Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent only July 1.

There are many questions to be answered as we wait for the Islanders to announce this move. First, what does this mean for the beards of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd, as well as the mustache of Cal Clutterbuck?

Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”

The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.