Can Claude Julien maintain his ‘Midas Touch’ in Game 5?

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Whenever one team comes out on top – especially when the results were as uneven as Boston’s two wins over Vancouver were – it makes a coach look brilliant. Moves that would have been subtle and simple seem like strokes of genius if they propel a team to one-sided victories.

While Roberto Luongo’s struggles and the Canucks’ difficulties in finding a proper defensive lineup amid suspensions and injuries cast Alain Vigneault in a poor light, Claude Julien seems to come out smelling like roses.

Even decisions that were once criticized – such as Julien’s reluctance to play Tyler Seguin, which seemed like utter stupidity after two hot games – have been shown to be more logical than expected. Seguin cooled off considerably after that ridiculous six point run in two games, showing that Julien wasn’t totally crazy for scratching him. (Then again, some might argue that Julien simply isn’t giving Seguin the ice time and opportunities he needs to succeed, but that’s a debate for another day.)

While Julien and Vigneault share roots in the Montreal Canadiens organization and are known to be good friends, it seems like Julien is making better moves while Vigneault botched the occasional crucial decision. (One example: Vigneault allowed Luongo to stay in Game 3 when it was 5-1, only to see him allow three more painful goals, taking even more away from his possibly shaken confidence.)

Joe Haggerty goes as far as to say that Julien has had a “Midas touch” in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

1) He went with his head and his heart in playing Shawn Thornton during Game 3 to give his team an emotional lift and a dose of much-needed attitude.

2) He rolled the dice a little by taking a chance on Rich Peverley on Boston’s top line in Game 4, and Peverley rewarded the decision with a pair of goals.

It would seem Julien is enjoying the Midas touch over the last few games, and he’ll need to continue if the Bruins are going to bag themselves a road win. While making sure to give a great deal of the credit to the players for the position that the Bruins find themselves in, B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli also points to Julien.

“Everything is magnified in the Finals,” said Chiarelli. “The last change — the significance of the last change is huge, so it’s something we have to battle. But I have confidence in our coach and I have confidence in my players. Those guys have been battling and that’s a testament to the team.”

“[Julien] is doing a good job, and the players are playing too. This is a collective thing. I’ll give credit to Claude for mixing and matching, but the players are also doing terrific in accepting the roles that they’re being placed in.”

Of course, Julien knows better than most how fickle praise can be for NHL head coaches. He was fired from his job with the Canadiens one season after helping the team overachieve their way to playoff berth with a 93-point season, but his most ridiculous firing came with the New Jersey Devils. GM Lou Lamoriello canned him late in his mostly successful first season, which briefly became an odd tradition for the unique executive. Even taking the instability of the job under consideration, few coaches have seen the stark contrast in ups (Jack Adams Trophy during the 08-09 season with Boston) and downs (blowing that 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in last year’s semifinals) quite like Julien.

Ultimately, he’s a steady coach who might help the Bruins upset the mighty Canucks for their first Stanley Cup win since 1972. Let’s face it, too; few things make a coach seem wiser than a gaudy Stanley Cup ring on his finger.

The Buzzer: Barkov gets first-career hat trick; MacKinnon and Co. dominate

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Three stars

1. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

It takes something special these days to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. They simply can score at will when they want to.

Barkov’s hat trick, then, was that special moment. He helped the Panthers get out to a 1-0 lead, put them ahead 3-2 in the third and then when Toronto forced overtime, it was Barkov once again to save the day, scoring on an incredible backhand deke for the win.

Not bad for a first-career hatty.

2. Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks

Sprong scored to tie the game 1-1 in the first and then scored 1:19 into overtime to help the Ducks down the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1.

Sprong now has three goals in five games with the Ducks since joining Anaheim in a trade from the Penguins earlier this month. The Ducks have won three straight.

3. Nathan MacKinnon (and Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog), Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon had a four-point night (one goal, three assists). Rantanen had two goals and a helper and Landeskog had two tallies of his own. That’s nine points for that line.

MacKinnon and Rantanen now have 50-plus points apiece and they led the Avs to a 6-4 win against the stubborn Dallas Stars.

The best line in hockey does it again.

Other notable performances: 

  • Alex Ovechkin scored again (and notched the shootout winner). He’s now got a 14-game point streak (extending a career high) and a six-game goal-scoring streak (one shy of a career high set in 2005-06). He’s got 29 goals in 32 games.
  • Claude Julien earned his 600th career win as a bench boss in the NHL as the Canadiens won 5-2 against the Ottawa Senators.
  • Tyler Seguin did his best to try and help the Stars, scoring twice an adding an assist against the Avs.
  • John Gibson kept his Vezina-caliber season going with 36 saves for the Ducks. He’s won three straight and has a .927 save percentage this season.
  • Keith Kinkaid (27 saves) and Juuse Saros (33 saves) had a nice little goaltending duel going. Saros ended up winning in the sixth round of the shootout.
  • 13 Vancouver Canucks had a point in their romp of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Highlights of the night

Barkov’s OT winner and hat-trick goal:

Obliteration:

Barzal breaking ankles:

Nice release:

Factoids

Scores

Flames 2, Wild 1

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Panthers 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)

Islanders 4, Red Wings 3 (SO)

Penguins 4, Kings 3 (OT)

Capitals 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

Ducks 2, Blue Jackets (OT)

Predators 2, Devils 1 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Stars 4

Canucks 5, Flyers 1


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

Panthers’ Weegar gets misconduct penalty after abuse of officials

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Here’s in a lesson in not swinging your stick around when there’s a linesman escorting you to the penalty box.

Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was on the receiving end of a 10-minute misconduct for abuse of an official after his frustrations boiled over against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Weegar was incensed that a penalty wasn’t called after he was boarded by Maple Leafs forward Tyler Ennis. Weegar was slow to get up and when he did, he began spamming cross-checks to anyone within striking distance, including several to Ennis, one of which appeared to catch Ennis in the neck.

As he was getting taken to the box on a four-minute double minor for the cross-checking, Weegar slammed his stick against the glass near the penalty box. The stick appeared to catch the linesman Jonny Murray in the helmet.

The whole ordeal can be seen here:

Weegar got a stern talking to by referee Chris Rooney before he was sent to the locker room to serve out his misconduct.

Toronto, who were down 2-0 at that point, was unable to score on the extended power play.


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

Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk involved in fan altercation

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It appears as if one Chicago Blackhawks fan took a double loss on Friday night.

A video that has popped up on social media shows Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk taking down a fan at United Center.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police said the man in the video allegedly punched and put the mascot in a headlock. What happens in the video, then, appears to be the aftermath of that.

In the 24-second video, Tommy Hawk pulls off the body-to-body suplex to get his alleged attacker to the ground before landing some ground-and-pound. He’s then able to get some sort of body lock on him and push him away.

Here’s the video:

Tommy Hawk certainly held his own here.

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets. According to the Sun-Times story, police were notified about the disturbance around 11:15 p.m. The game, which started at 7:30 was over at that point.

The Sun-Times reported that no one was in custody as of Saturday evening. The Blackhawks said they were looking into the incident.


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

Flames, Wild continue bad blood with three early fights

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When the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames met this past week all hell broke loose, resulting in a pair of suspensions to Flames teammates Mark Giordano and Ryan Lomberg.

Giordano was hit with a two-game suspension for kneeing Mikko Koivu, while Lomberg was suspended two games of his own for leaving the bench during a line change to start a fight with Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba. That fight was in response to a big hit by Dumba that injured Mikael Backlund.

A lot of that bad blood spilled over into Saturday’s 2-1 Flames win that featured three fights early in the first period.

Those fights started just 40 seconds into the game when Dumba found himself in a fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.

Dumba ended up exiting the game after the first period and did not return. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had no update on his status after the game except to say they would know more on Monday.

The fisticuffs did not stop there. Later in the period Giordano fought Minnesota’s Matt Hendricks.

But there was more! The most unexpected fight of the three featured Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, who has not been involved in a fight since the 2009 season, dropping the gloves with Sam Bennett

All of that happened in the first 18 minutes of the game.

But Giordano and Tkachuk did not just impact the game with their fists — they also scored goals.

Giordano continued what has been a  career year (and maybe even a Norris Trophy worthy season) by scoring a shorthanded goal mid-way through the first period to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead, while Tkachuk scored his 14th goal of the season in the third period to help give the Flames the win.

David Rittich also continued his surprising play in the Flames’ net by stopping 34 of the 35 shots he faced.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.