Five Thoughts: Apparently home ice is that important

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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.

Hurricanes owner Dundon invests $250M in Alliance of American Football

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By Barry Wilner (AP Pro Football Writer)

Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon is investing $250 million in the Alliance of American Football.

Dundon also will serve as chairman of the fledgling eight-team league that began play on Feb. 9. His involvement came together in a matter of days last week, according to Dundon and Alliance co-founder Charlie Ebersol, though Dundon had been monitoring the AAF’s development and debut.

Ebersol dismissed reports Tuesday that the Alliance was getting a financial bailout from Dundon.

”This has been an extraordinary undertaking for us,” said Ebersol, who less than a year ago partnered with Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to create the Alliance. ”It’s a giant challenge and opportunity, and as a startup you are constantly looking for some peace of mind. When we got out of the first week of games, we saw there was so much interest from investors, and if we had one person who could take care of us for a very long time, that would be great.”

Dundon said the AAF won’t be seeking more investors at this time.

”We won’t bring in anybody for capital. We’re not going to take people’s money,” he said. ”We have to decide who are the partners we want to be in business with. The Alliance already has great relationships with partners such as MGM (Resorts). There won’t be any money-raising. It will be growing the business.

”It’s so early into this. We’re all in the entertainment business, so we’re just making sure to continue to do what they have done, which is put out a quality product people want to watch and consume, and hopefully we have the capital in place to take advantage of new opportunities. Things are a lot easier when you have got the capital and connections to execute.”

Dundon also is the co-founder of Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas, home of the PGA Tour’s AT&T Byron Nelson tournament; the majority owner of Employer Direct Healthcare, a health care services company; and a primary investor in Topgolf, a sports entertainment company.

The Alliance has teams in Atlanta; Phoenix; San Diego; San Antonio; Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Orlando, Florida; and Salt Lake City. It will play a 10-week schedule before its playoffs, finishing on the final weekend of April.

Early response on TV – it has deals with CBS, Turner and NFL Network – and digitally was positive, Ebersol said.

He also said adding Dundon gives the league extra credibility.

”We think there will be other opportunities,” Ebersol said, ”but the fact we took one of the biggest worries of any startup off the table with a partner who has proven he knows how to build businesses – and not build to sell but build to build – is huge.”

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

NHL on NBCSN: 10 impressive stats on the Blues’ 10-game winning streak

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There’s been no hotter team in the NHL since the end of January than the Blues, who ride a 10-game winning streak into Tuesday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs. Sunday’s 4-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild continued St. Louis’ rise up the standings as a season that was looking bleak at one point has quickly turned into one that could very well include playoff hockey for the first time since 2017.

A Blues win at Enterprise Center on Tuesday would set a franchise record with their 11th in a row, passing the 10-game streak set by the 2001-02 Blues team that featured Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Chris Pronger, Pavol Demitra, and Al MacInnis.

How important has this streak been to the Blues’ season? When it began on Jan. 23, they sat 13th in the Western Conference. They’re now sixth and reside in the third spot in the Central Division. According to Money Puck, their playoff odds have risen from 40 percent to nearly 97 percent.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Since the 10-game winning streak began…

Vladimir Tarasenko leads all NHL players with 10 goals and is second behind Nikita Kucherov with 20 points. Ryan O’Reilly is second on the Blues with four goals. Brayden Schenn is second on the team with 13 points. Tarasenko has 15 goals in his last 19 games and is riding a career-best 12-game points streak.

• Only the Chicago Blackhawks (44) have scored more goals (40) than the Blues. No team has allowed fewer goals (14) than St. Louis.

• Of their 40 goals, 23 have come via a wrist shot, tied for most in the NHL.

• The Blues have scored the most even strength goals with 30, per Natural Stat Trick.

• None of the Blues’ wins have needed the shootout. Only two victories have come via overtime.

• The third period against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 5 was the last time the Blues trailed in a game.

Jordan Binnington’s .964 even strength save percentage is the highest among goaltenders with at least five appearances. His goals against average is also a sparkling 1.24 during this streak.

• No other rookie goalie in franchise history has won eight straight games like Binnington has. Brent Johnson previously held the record by winning seven in a row twice during the 2000-01 season.

• Only Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning has as many shutouts (3) as Binnington. The Blues netminder is now the seventh goalie in NHL history to post four shutouts in his first 14 career starts.

• Binnington and Jake Allen have registered three straight shutouts entering Tuesday night. The shutout streak is at 187 minutes and 16 seconds, which is the fourth-longest in franchise history.

MORE: Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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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.

Sabres’ Okposo sent home 3 days after being punched in face

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo has been sent home for further medical evaluation three days after being punched in the face during a fight with the New York Rangers’ Tony DeAngelo.

Coach Phil Housley gave no details on Okposo’s condition in providing the update after the Sabres practiced in Florida on Monday. Though the nature of the injury is unclear, Okposo did not return after being felled by DeAngelo’s punch during the fight 7:51 into the third period of a 6-2 loss to the Rangers on Friday.

Okposo traveled with the team for the start of its three-game road trip at New Jersey, but did not play in the 4-1 loss to the Devils on Sunday.

The 30-year-old has a history of concussion-related troubles during his 12 NHL seasons.

He missed the final two weeks of the 2017-18 season and spent a week in a hospital after sustaining a concussion during what he called a routine hit in practice. He also missed a week last March after sustaining a concussion following a collision with Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan.

Housley also announced defenseman Marco Scandella is listed week to week with an upper body injury.

The Sabres play at Florida on Tuesday night.

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

UPDATE:

PHT Morning Skate: Stone’s decision; Zibanejad’s season

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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.

• “While the indications are centre Matt Duchene is ready to move on to try to win a title, the Senators tabled a new offer to Stone, the club’s top player, last week and general manager Pierre Dorion is waiting for word from his representatives at Newport Sports for an answer.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• If you’re a seller this deadline it might be best to sit those trade chips before next Monday. [TSN]

• “The Sabres headed for the airport to continue their road trip, but it feels like they’re heading to nowhere other than warm weather. The time for General Manager Jason Botterill to do something to stem the tide seems gone, even though the trade deadline is just seven days away.” [Buffalo News]

• Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving on the trade deadline: “I’m a firm believer that you build your team in the summer. Wholesale changes and major operational changes during the season, for a whole bunch of reasons it’s more difficult to do, I feel.” [NHL.com]

• How will New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello approach the deadline? [Islanders Insight]

• Why a Jonathan Huberdeau for Shayne Gostisbehere deal makes sense. [Featurd]

• Good read on the relationship between Carter Hart and Connor Parkkila, a seven-year-old boy who has autism. [NBC Philadelphia]

• The story behind Roberto Luongo’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas mask, which he wore on the one-year anniversary of the school shooting. [Panthers]

• Another day, another Peter Chiarelli move undone. The Edmonton Oilers placed Brandon Manning on waivers Monday with the purpose of assigning him to the AHL Bakersfield Condors. [Oilers]

Mika Zibanejad is having a memorable season for the New York Rangers. [Blueshirt Banter]

• The battle for the Pacific Division crowd is shaping up to come down to the wire. [NBC Bay Area]

• The Arizona State Sun Devils continue their march toward the NCAA tournament. [College Hockey News]

• Gretzky and Lemieux together again! Trevor Gretzky and Alexa Lemieux have roles in a hockey movie called “Odd Man Rush,” which is being co-produced by former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin. [USA Today]

Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins is someone you should add to your fantasy team this week. [Rotoworld]

• Finally, here’s the trailer for the upcoming documentary on the Russian Five:

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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.