2010 Stanley Cup finals: Blackhawks play 'their' game to dominate Flyers 7-4

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happybuffy.jpgFor most of the first four games – two of which, by the way, Chicago actually won – hockey fans kept asking: “What happened to the Blackhawks?” After all, this is the club who scratched and clawed through the trapping Predators, trampled the seemingly imposing Vancouver Canucks and then eked out win after win against the deep, talented San Jose Sharks.

Yet once the Cup finals began, it seemed like that combination of rugged play and skill vanished. Well, at least until Game 5, when the team stormed out of the gate and dominated the Philadelphia Flyers. Michael Leighton didn’t even make it past the first period.

Before this series, nine of the team’s 12 playoff wins were by two goals or more. The Blackhawks proved they could win tight, close games against the Sharks, but there’s no doubt that this offensively deep squad prefers a wide-open game. In some ways, they remind me of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns; even if you’re (sort of) sticking with them in a shootout, you’re still playing into their skilled hands. This is not a group you want to “trade blows” with.

Of course, one big difference is that the Blackhawks can play tough. One of the team’s truest catalysts is Dustin Byfuglien, a hit-or-miss power forward who hit everything – from humans to the twine – in a big way tonight. Just compare Buffy’s stats with his consistent tormentor, Chris Pronger. While the Flyers defenseman had a career worst -5 rating in this game, Byfuglien scored two goals, two assists and registered a staggering nine hits. It’s no wonder that Byfuglien was named the game’s first star.

That’s not the only area where the Blackhawks played “their” game, though. Considering the troubles they’ve been having, it was great for them to see Patrick Kane score a goal and add an assist while Jonathan Toews had a helper too. But what really screams “Blackhawks hockey” is just how many players were involved in the scoring. By my count, 11 out of 18 skaters registered at least one point and six different players generated the team’s seven goals. That’s the kind of depth and variety you expect from this loaded group.

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Does this mean that Chicago should be completely pleased? No, there were some botched defensive assignments and the Blackhawks must be wary of allowing the Flyers back into games. After building a three goal lead, James van Riemsdyk pulled the Flyers within two during the third period and Chicago fans had to be at least a little bit nervous. It didn’t get much closer than that, but one missing element to their normally dominant game was tight defense (after all, they do employ Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith).

The Blackhawks seduced the Flyers into playing their brand of hockey tonight. Chicago dominated the flow, played physical hockey and flat-out bombarded their opponents for the first time in this series. While naysayers will point out that the team put together a flawed effort, mistakes happen at a break-neck speed. That’s a small price to pay in order to play the wide-open style that no other team in hockey – aside from maybe the Washington Capitals – masters quite like Chicago.

Let’s not assume that this one is over, though. Keep in mind that the last time Chris Pronger and Michael Leighton had awful games, the Flyers followed that up by taking two in a row to rout the Montreal Canadiens.

Once the Cup is raised and the champagne is flowing, it might just come down to which team plays “their” game in the final two contests.

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.