Five things to look for in tonight’s Game 4

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Tonight’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals arrives with intrigue pouring out of every possible angle you could draw up. After a Game 3 that saw vicious hits, tons of Boston goals, and lots of frustrated Canucks before and after the game there’s a lot of things Game 4 is going to tell us about how this series goes from here on out.

There’s a lot of different ways you could see happen tonight and we’ve got a list of five things to keep your eyes out for tonight.

1. Referee impact

We’ve seen so many different things happen in this series that’s required the attention of the officials and tonight’s referees Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland are going to have their hands full with all sorts of things to look for. The series has been overly physical and while everyone’s minds will be stuck on what happened with Nathan Horton and Aaron Rome and the various taunting, the officials have their marching orders to put that to an end should it occur again.

It will also be curious to see if any of the play around the goalies gets monitored right away. Tim Thomas’ physical play has the Canucks all up in arms and they want to see things straightened out there. O’Halloran and Sutherland will have to set the tone early about what sort of game they’re going to call. A loosely officiated one could lead to more dramatics.

2. The Replacements

With Nathan Horton out with a severe concussion and Aaron Rome out for delivering the blow, both teams will have guys to work into the lineup to fill holes in Game 4. Tyler Seguin will be back into the lineup after losing his sport to Shawn Thornton in Game 3. As for who takes Horton’s spot on the top line, you could see either Michael Ryder or Rich Peverley get the call there. Peverley took Horton’s spot there in Game 3 and played well while Ryder had a strong Game 3. Claude Julien may not want to move Ryder away from his Game 3 linemates however.

As for Vancouver, it’ll be Keith Ballard getting the nod to take Rome’s spot on the blue line. Ballard has a wealth of NHL experience but has struggled in dealing with Alain Vigneault’s choices on defense and has been passed over for the likes of Rome and even Chris Tanev at times this year. Vigneault is opting for experience this time around and Ballard will look to make it pay off.

3. Capitalizing on turnovers

Both teams have been excellent at making each other cough up the puck and while the Canucks did well to bury their chances in Games 1 and 2, it was all Boston in Game 3 as they pressured Vancouver’s defense into making bad plays and mishandling the puck, especially on the power play as they helped make the pairing of Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler look poor. While the Canucks had their chances off turnovers in Game 3, Tim Thomas helped stop them. We’ll see more of the high pressure defense from both teams and how they handle it may help determine the outcome of the game.

4. Home ice strikes back… In more ways than one

Remember how we were talking about how great road teams have played in the playoffs? So far in the finals the home teams have taken control winning all three games. Home teams are finally back on the right side of the ledger in the playoffs with a 45-40 record. The actual physical ice in TD Garden will be a topic of discussion as well.

After this morning’s skates there were complaints from some players that the ice was in bad shape. A concert was held last night here at TD Garden and today’s been abnormally warm in Boston which means we could see some strange bounces and slower moving pucks during the game. How it holds up later on in the game will be the real test.

5. How Vancouver bounces back

After such a beat down on the scoreboard and on the ice and all the complaining and politicking we’ve heard out of the Canucks since Game 3 ended, how they come back in Game 4 is going to be fascinating to watch. The last time we saw Vancouver take such a wicked beating in the playoffs, a 7-2 loss to Chicago in Game 4 in this year’s first round, they followed up in the next game by losing 5-0 which led to Cory Schneider starting in Game 6. We saw Vancouver get past all that by the skin of their teeth, but following up this beating in the finals with a similar stink bomb would change the focus of the series entirely.

Vancouver will need a better all-around game from Ryan Kesler and a more focused effort from Alex Burrows if they’re going to win this game and set up the potential of winning the Stanley Cup on home ice. Without that they’re in trouble.

Where Avs are at after re-signing J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports