Five Thoughts: Tuning up for a Game 7

13 Comments

It almost had to be this way didn’t it? Game 7 on the way on Wednesday between Boston and Vancouver and these two teams truly do deserve each other. With the physical play, the off-ice comments, the on-ice shenanigans, and the questionable hits it’s as if these two are playing the mirror image of each other. Think of it like that final stage of an 80’s Nintendo game where you think you’ve beaten the game but then have to square off against the evil version of your own character. Of course, who you decide is the evil one in this series is a matter of opinion.

1. We know that both of these teams have played out of their minds on home ice and have protected it the way an attack dog would a rich person’s mansion. There’s a flip side to looking at things here though and it’s that both of these teams have been absolutely miserable road teams. Obviously the Canucks issues in Boston have been obvious and beyond awful. Roberto Luongo can now add Boston to his list of personal hells to go along with Chicago. The fact that the organist at TD Garden serenaded the Canucks with his own version of “Chelsea Dagger” helped add to the pain.

Boston hasn’t been much better in their three road games in Vancouver though. Sure the scores are closer and they had their opportunities to change the game in all three of them, but if they show up the way they did in Game 5, the Canucks are going to skate away with the Stanley Cup. The fact that neither of these teams have yet to play a road game worthy of the road dominance we’ve seen throughout the playoffs is somewhat embarrassing. After all, these are the best two teams left in the league and neither of them can bring their “A” game with them on the road? That’s no good. It’s up to Boston to show that they can do it in Game 7 but if they don’t we’ll be left wondering what happened to the greatness of road teams in the end.

2. Much of the talk today is going to center around Mason Raymond’s injury suffered in the first period of Game 6 thanks to an awkward but late hit from Johnny Boychuk. Now that everyone’s had a chance to sleep on things and get caught up to the news that Raymond was stretchered out of TD Garden and taken to the hospital, the outrage in Vancouver is building. After all the verbal lashing Aaron Rome took for his reckless hit on Nathan Horton, Canucks fans will be acting out in kind towards Boychuk. Justified though? Not at all as the hit just strikes us as awkward yet ugly. Should Raymond end up being hurt seriously, as is the rumor, it’ll add fuel to their fire.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse the chants Bruins fans delivered as Raymond was down on the ice. It was an ugly incident all around made worse by the spectacle this series has become thanks to everything that’s gone on. Some fans should learn to get a grip on things and that goes for everyone.

3. Interesting to see that Henrik Sedin took about five straight rights to the face from Brad Marchand late in the game to which Sedin didn’t so much as do anything in return. After the game, Sedin said that that’s the kind of player he is and it’s to be expected. Don’t think the Canucks won’t have that in the back of their heads throughout Game 7. Taking swipes at the captain is a good way to get noticed in all the wrong ways.

4. Crazy part about Game 6 is that Vancouver actually played well for most of the game. They played solid through the final 40 minutes of play and outside of the four minute span of the first period that saw them give up four goals it was a good game out of the Canucks. Of course, brain farts of any kind have cost both teams opportunities to win this series already. Here’s to hoping Game 7 will see both teams bring their best to the ice and leave all the drama and mistakes at home.

5. Some fun Game 7 factoids for you to help get you revved up for Wednesday. The last time Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals was decided in overtime it was 1954 when Detroit beat Montreal 2-1 in overtime. Your game-winning-goal scorer that year? Tony Leswick.

We’ve actually had plenty of recent Cup finals Game 7’s. Since 2000, five finals have gone seven games. In 2009, Pittsburgh beat Detroit. In 2006, Carolina beat Edmonton. In 2004, Tampa Bay beat Calgary. In 2003, New Jersey beat Anaheim, and in 2001 Colorado beat New Jersey to give Raymond Bourque his one and only Stanley Cup.

Boston will be attempting to be the first team to win three Game 7s in one playoff year. It’s never been done before. Should they pull it off, what a testament it will be to their resilience and stamina as well.

Nearly 30K stuffed animals fly during Calgary Hitmen’s Teddy Bear Toss night

1 Comment

The WHL’s Calgary Hitmen fell short in their quest to reclaim the Teddy Bear Toss world record.

One week after the AHL’s Hershey Bears saw 34,798 teddy bears fly to their ice and break the Hitmen’s 2015 record, the crowd inside the Saddledome made it rain with fur Sunday afternoon after Kaden Elder’s first period goal. The 18,015 fans, many of whom brought large plastic bags filled with stuffed animals, helped break a franchise Teddy Bear Toss record with a total of 29,635, up from the 28,815 collected three years ago.

“It was an awesome experience and something I’ll never forget,” Elder said via the Hitmen website. “The atmosphere in the rink was unbelievable with all the fans and the teddy bears. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and when it went in I was thinking about the celebration and kind of zoned out because I was trying to just take in the moment and enjoy every second of it. It just a surreal moment.”

After a 41-minute cleanup delay, the Hitmen went on to win 6-3 over the Kamloops Blazers.

The Hitmen have now collected a total of 377,583 stuffed animals since their first Teddy Bear Toss promotion in 1995.

The event helps benefit 70 local agencies, including the Salvation Army, Calgary Food Bank, Siksika Nation and Hospice Calgary. The Hitmen will spend Monday delivering some of stuffed animals to Alberta Children’s Hospital.

MORE: Teddy Bear Toss season is the best season

————

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.

Can Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive without Raanta?

Getty
4 Comments

One of the saddest phrases in sports is “[Player X] would really have been something, if only they could stay healthy.”

Some argue that avoiding injuries counts as a “skill,” and it’s plausible that certain players may simply be better at staying healthy than others, but there are still instances when the injury gods feel awfully cruel.

We’re rapidly approaching that point with Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.

Even with a challenging start to 2018-19 (just a .906 save percentage over 12 games), Raanta’s been fantastic for the Coyotes so far … when he’s been able to actually play.

That caveat was frustrating last season, as Raanta missed crucial chunks of time – most painfully being unhealthy as the Coyotes went without a win in October 2017 – yet was essentially elite when he could play, generating a splendid .930 save percentage in 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, it’s looking like 47 Raanta appearances would have been a gift compared to the likely reality. The team announced that the 29-year-old goalie is out “indefinitely,” while The Athletic’s Craig Morgan provided a more detailed (and more troubling) update: Raanta might miss the rest of this season.

Brutal.

It’s fair to wonder if this might become the story of Raanta’s career.

Again, the Finn fought nagging injuries last season, and this year’s been even worse. At 29, he’s not ancient, but Raanta isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either. (If you need a glum example of how quickly a goalie can start looking older-and-more-fragile, look at all of the injury headaches Carey Price has been dealing with at just 31.)

That said, Raanta’s limited starts pre-Arizona came from him being a backup, not necessarily from injuries. There’s the hope that, in hindsight, these past two years will look like speed bumps rather than Raanta’s promising career hitting a brick wall. If nothing else, Raanta is listed at just 6-0, so he’s not one of those prototypical towering goalies whose huge frames only increase odds of additional injuries.

Either way, Raanta’s lengthy absence deals an enormous blow to the Coyotes’ fledgling playoff hopes.

You could argue that they’d be in tough to land a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs even with a keyed-in Raanta. As of this writing, Arizona’s record is 13-13-2 for 28 points in as many games, leaving them in 12th place in the West (five points behind Vegas for the final wild card spot, and seven behind Anaheim for the Pacific’s third seed).

Various projections aren’t totally dismissing the Coyotes’ chances of waging a comeback, but few give them much better than a 20-percent shot to pull that off … and those odds likely only drop once you factor in Raanta’s absence.

The Coyotes haven’t just been without Raanta, who’s been sidelined since Nov. 27. Backup goalie Darcy Kuemper has been hurt, too, making way for Adin Hill and waiver claim Calvin Pickard. To Hill’s credit, he began with a four-game winning streak and currently boasts a .939 save percentage, but his larger history indicates that he probably won’t be able to produce such results over the long haul.

All of this leaves Coyotes GM John Chayka in a tough spot.

If you’re the Coyotes, do you try to trade for a more seasoned goalie, particularly one on an expiring contract?

Or, do you do the uncomfortable and all-too-familiar, and punt on the season?

This Coyotes team is structured largely to compete, with an increasing number of longer-term contracts crowding the team’s salary cap.

Granted, the Coyotes have an interesting player or two. Would someone pay up some futures to land, say, Alex Galchenyuk? The 24-year-old’s endured a quiet first season with Arizona (just 11 points in 21 games), but there’s plenty of talent there. While Galchenyuk isn’t on an easy-to-move expiring contract, his deal doesn’t last much longer, as his affordable $4.9 million cap hit runs out after 2019-20. If you’re a contender, would you hand the Coyotes some futures to add some skill for Galchenyuk, particularly if the Coyotes absorbed a contract you wanted to get rid of (and/or retained some of Galchenyuk’s salary?).

It’s not pleasant to discuss who the Coyotes might sell off in a trade, and it’s even more unpleasant to wonder if Raanta will be injury-prone for the remainder of his career, but Arizona at least needs to ponder these scenarios. They might not have much of a choice, even if Raanta technically finds a way to play a bit toward the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Zach Hyman suspended two games for hit on Charlie McAvoy

via NHL
3 Comments

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was suspended for two games thanks to his late hit on Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins.

Hyman received a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, which was considered interference. He also fought with Matt Grzelcyk following that check on McAvoy. It’s plausible that Hyman lost his cool as the Maple Leafs were on their way to a 6-3 loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

The league notes that the check came well after McAvoy released the puck, describing Hyman’s infraction as a “late, forceful, high hit.” The “predatory nature” of the hit also factored into Hyman being suspended.

Here’s video of the hit, along with the NHL Department of Player Safety’s explanation for the suspension:

This counts as Hyman’s first NHL suspension, something that was mentioned in the league’s video. So far, it seems like McAvoy wasn’t injured by the check, but sometimes players realize they’ve been injured more than a day following a collision. (It would certainly be crucial if McAvoy avoids missing time, as the Bruins are very banged-up right now.)

You can see the fight in this Sportsnet clip:

If McAvoy ends up being OK (or mostly OK), this could go down as a nice weekend for the Bruins, as Boston also beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 in OT on Sunday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Flyers’ Robert Hagg ejected for checking Kyle Connor from behind

NHL
1 Comment

The Philadelphia Flyers did not have a very pleasant start to their Sunday afternoon in Winnipeg.

Already trailing 5-1 late in the second period, defenseman Robert Hagg was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking Jets forward Kyle Connor from behind into the boards.

Here is a look at the play.

Connor went straight to the Jets’ locker room for the remainder of the second period but was back on the bench for the start of the third period.

That play resulted in a little scrum after the fact that also saw Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien get a two-minute minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.

Given that Hagg was ejected from the game you can be sure the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will take an extra look at it. We will likely find out later on Sunday or Monday if it is worthy of any additional discipline.

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.