Five Thoughts: Apparently home ice is that important

1 Comment

Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals provided fans without a rooting interest in who wins just about everything they could hope for in these finals. A physical game loaded with scoring chances paired up with great goaltending and an exciting finish is about all you can hope for out of a Stanley Cup finals. The histrionics were kept to a minimum and the players just shut up and played. Perfect, right? We can only hope the trend continues.

1. Some readers who commented on our last Five Thoughts column found it silly that something as simple as getting last change could make all the difference in the world in how things broke down in this series. Getting home ice isn’t just about having the fans rallying around you and trying to raise the volume level high enough to make everyone deaf, it’s about giving coaches the chance to get the right matchups they want and it’s proving to make a huge difference here.

You noticed Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin a lot more last night because coach Alain Vigneault was able to get them away from the Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg pairing. Sure they didn’t score any points again but they created chances and got the cycle going against guys like Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk as well as Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. That’s no accident. Claude Julien did his best to get his matchups right but just couldn’t do it consistently.

Then again, Maxim Lapierre was able to score the game’s only goal against Seidenberg and Chara. Hockey’s a funny game that way.

2. We’re sure that Boston fans are going to be good and lathered up still over what Roberto Luongo had to say last night when he told the media that he would’ve made the stop on Lapierre’s goal because he doesn’t wander from the crease the way Thomas does. Bruins fans will yell about how Luongo has no class in victory and they’re more than welcome to that opinion of him. Let’s just hope they remember that the next time we see something like Brad Marchand comically “wiping his hands” after getting involved with half of the Canucks on the ice in Game 4.

Fans in seek of moral high ground on either side of these Stanley Cup finals are going to find themselves coming up very empty. There’s a lot to dislike about both of these teams but coming up with ways to get yourself even more worked up about things is a self-defeating process. Enjoy the wins, get bummed about the losses but getting caught up in how the players are acting out at each other isn’t going to save your sanity. Let them handle it… They are professionals after all.

3. Claude Julien’s insistence on putting Gregory Campbell on the power play over Tyler Seguin is one of the more baffling choices he’s made in these playoffs. Campbell is a penalty killer and a grinder normally and while Julien insisted that Campbell’s job out there on the power play was to help screen Luongo and tip shots in front he did neither of these things. No one on the Bruins had any sort of net presence at all in fact as Luongo’s night was made easier thanks to not having to deal with any traffic.

Seguin is a purely offensive player at this point in his career and not giving him the few extra minutes in an opportunity made for offense is just stunning. Boston, of course, went 0-4 on the power play including going 0-3 in the first period alone. The Bruins power play hasn’t been anything to write home about at all in the playoffs but it’s choices like this that help it fail.

4. One thing we didn’t see out of Vancouver last night was shoddy defensive play and turnovers from their blue line corps. What that means to us is that we’re probably done seeing Keith Ballard as a Vancouver Canuck in this series and perhaps for good. With Vigneault opting for Chris Tanev over Ballard and Tanev playing a solid Game 5 paired up with Andrew Alberts we’d be stunned to see Ballard again in this series , barring injury of course.

Ballard makes $4.2 million against the salary cap through 2014-2015 and if he’s being utilized as Vancouver’s 7th or 8th defenseman now it’s impossible to see him sticking around after this season. He’s a good player but he’s struggled in Vigneault’s system and his shoddy play in Game 4 will keep him in the press box the rest of the way. The Canucks would be better off with Ballard if he was fitting in as he can be a solid guy, but with how his mental shape has to be and how his confidence has to be shot it’s hard to see him sticking around in Vancouver now.

5. The Canucks have now scored just six goals in this series and they’re one win away from the Stanley Cup. That’s a stunning lack of offense but it proves what it takes for them to win: Keep it tight. Two 1-0 wins in Game 1 and Game 5 as well as a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. The fact Boston has outscored them so badly in the finals (14-6) makes things look really lopsided but the Canucks are doing the things they need to win. Piling up goals in lopsided games help make things look far different, but the Canucks are a team that’s adjusted all playoffs long to do just what they have to to get by. Whether or not they make the adjustments needed to win in Boston and take home their first Stanley Cup on the road in Game 6 will prove to be their biggest test to date. If they can keep the Bruins uncomfortable at home, they’ll prove to be a champion.

Laila Anderson meets bone marrow donor

1 Comment

Laila Anderson has made us shed a tear or two (or several) over the last year, and she was involved in another touching moment on Thursday night.

It was special to witness the 11-year-old’s journey. We got to see her ups with the St. Louis Blues and we also got to see the emotion behind her battle with a rare auto-immune disease, HLH. Last night, Anderson got to meet the person who helped her get better, as she got to interact with Kenton Felmlee, who ended up being her bone marrow donor.

“I felt a bond with her before we ever met. I think the second I look at her on the stage and saw her face,” Felmlee, who is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, said, per Fox 2 Now St. Louis. “Every emotion that I was feeling all exploded into so much more.”

As you can tell from the above video, their first interaction was incredibly emotional.

“I don’t care if we go to dinner or if we go to Disney World. I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you,” Laila told her new friend on Thursday night.

And, of course, Anderson and Felmlee will be attending Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Calgary Flames sign deal for new downtown arena

Leave a comment

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a deal for a new downtown arena, a 35-year agreement that keeps the NHL club in the city for that time.

The team, the city and the Calgary Stampede rodeo signed an agreement Thursday to replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 19,000-seat arena is to cost more than $417 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, just north of the Saddledome. The arena will be demolished between 2024 and 2025.

The project is part of a downtown revitalization. The building will become the home of the Flames and part of a planned entertainment district bordering the Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, and the city will split the costs. The Stampede is a not-for-profit community group.

These are Wild times in Minnesota

1 Comment

Expectations surrounding the Minnesota Wild were pretty low heading into this year. They were old, fired general manager Paul Fenton after he was allowed to sign players last summer and they missed the playoffs by seven points in 2018-19. So, forgive the hockey world if they didn’t expect them to play much of a role in this year’s playoff chase.

The season started off the way everyone expected. Minnesota dropped their first four games to Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh. They also lost six of their first seven games. During that opening seven-game segment of the season, they allowed at least four goals in all six of their losses.

They managed to tighten up a little bit after that point, but their season really took off when they returned home from their West Coast road trip on Nov. 14. That day, they beat the Arizona Coyotes, 3-2. They followed that up by losing to Carolina in overtime, beating Buffalo and Colorado and losing to Boston in overtime. They suffered an OT loss to the Rangers in New York, beat the Devils in New Jersey and took down the Senators and Stars in Minnesota. They’ve hit the road for back-to-back games in Florida and managed to beat the Panthers and Lightning on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.

Add it all up and the Wild have won five games in a row and they’ve collected a point in the standings in 11 consecutive contests. Yeah, that’s an impressive accomplishment for any group, especially this one.

A lot has gone right during this 8-0-3 run. Their big free-agent signing, Mats Zuccarello, has started producing with a lot more regularity. The veteran had a three-point effort in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and he’s picked up nine points in his last nine contests.

Who saw Alex Stalock emerging as a quality starting goalie for the Wild? Since starter Devan Dubnyk has been away from the team for personal reasons, Stalock has gone 5-0-2 and he’s held the opposition to two goals or fewer in four of those outings.

And it’s not like the Wild haven’t had to overcome even more adversity throughout this streak. For example, on Tuesday night against Florida, they were down 2-0 in the first period and lost both Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon to injury. Instead of folding, they came back and won the game in regulation.

Last night, they were down 1-0 in the first period and they blew 3-1 and 4-3 leads, but still managed to take down the Bolts in the regulation.

This team clearly believes in itself right now.

“You haven’t seen that with this team for a while, but I think it’s the belief in them right at this point,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the win over Tampa, per NHL.com. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ they’re saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s get these guys right away.’ It doesn’t work all the time. When you’re winning and things are going good, it works. They’ve dug deep and [are] really playing for each other. When you do that, good things happen.”

This lengthy unbeaten streak has allowed the Wild to climb back into a playoff spot, as they’re currently in the second Wild Card position. Sure, Vancouver, San Jose and Calgary are all breathing down their neck, but they shouldn’t care about that. They need to keep this run going for as long as they can.

One thing that jumps out when looking at Minnesota’s home and road splits, is the amount of games they’ve played away from Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have an awesome 7-1-2 record at home. They’ve also won seven games on the road, but their record away from home is 7-10-2. We’re less than three months into the season and they’ve already played nine more road games than home games. The fact that they’re in such a good position is even more remarkable when you consider all that.

After Sunday’s road game in Carolina, the Wild will get to enjoy a week at home, as they’ll take on Anaheim, Edmonton and Philadelphia before embarking on another three-game road trip.

If they can stay within striking distance of a playoff spot, does new GM Bill Guerin pull the trigger on a trade for a rental?

This will be an intriguing situation to follow.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Devils should clean house; Could Hall go back to Oilers?

Leave a comment
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.

• The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now, but their fortunes may change soon enough. (Sportsnet)

• The NHLPA is covering up a theft of over $100,000 union funds. (TSN)

• The Devils should clean house after this season. (All About the Jersey)

Marcus Johansson is frustrated by the struggles he’s been having this season. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Snoop Dogg is making an appearance in the NHL 20 video game. (Operation Sports)

• How has Sheldon Keefe changed the Maple Leafs? (The Score)

• There’s a few reasons why the Flyers had so much success in November. (Yahoo)

• The Edmonton Oilers are interested in Taylor Hall, but they will probably be outbid. (Edmonton Journal)

• The St. Louis Blues are gaining strength through injury adversity. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The Habs have lost nine of their last 10 games. Is it time for them to rebuild? (Spector’s Hockey)

• What is the true value of a fifth-round draft pick? (Japers Rink)

• Gus Katsaros explains how defensemen are evolving with the times. (Rotoworld)

• The Red Wings are looking to have fun during this tough stretch. (MLive)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.