Williams ready for Canes’ first home playoff game in decade

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The last time Justin Williams played in a postseason game in Raleigh, he skated off with the Stanley Cup.

The stakes aren’t quite that high – yet – for the Carolina Hurricanes, but the third game of their best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals on Monday night does bring his career full circle.

Now, ”Mr. Game 7” is ready for Game 3 – the first playoff game at PNC Arena in 10 years – and hoping to keep the Hurricanes from falling into a three-games-to-none hole.

”The anticipation of it is what’s getting people really excited, because a lot of people don’t really know what it is,” Williams said. ”Everyone’s telling them how great (playoff hockey in Raleigh) is and how fun it is, and it is, but really it’s something you’ve got to experience for yourself. It being a while now, you can kind of sometimes forget and fall into that trap that we’ve talked about of normalcy. But it’s everything it’s cracked up to be.”

Williams had a lot to do with creating the reputation that had gone dormant during that decade-long drought. As a 24-year-old in 2006, he helped the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup, and his empty-net goal in Game 7 stands as one of the enduring images in club history. He had been traded to Los Angeles when Carolina made its only postseason appearance since, in 2009.

In the second year of his return, he wants to make more memories during a series he called the ”perfect storm” because of his strong ties to both franchises.

He spent just two seasons in Washington from 2015-17, and lost in the second round both years, but Capitals players and executives credit him for helping to lay the foundation of the team that last year won the Cup for the first time.

”He spoke when he needed to. But mostly it was his play,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. ”Any time the game, the pressure rose or the game got more intense, Justin – or ‘Stick,’ as we call him – he always seemed to be able to rise to the occasion. And he always seemed to elevate his play to match that pressure. And that’s something we all tried to emulate, you know. Last year some guys did a great job of doing that. But it is something special and something not every guy can do. And he’s one of those guys who can do it.”

Carolina brought him back last season on a two-year deal, and then selected him as captain this season.

”I don’t think leadership skills … can be taught. You just be yourself,” Williams said. ”Fortunately, I’ve been around a lot of great leaders, so I’ve taken little bits and pieces of what I like about them and kind of make it my own. One of the more important things is, you can’t fake being a leader. You can’t manufacture being a leader. You just are. And you’ve got to try and do what you can. You can’t be bashful about it. You believe in yourself, or you don’t.”

His teammates say that role suits him, and he’s instilled a level of accountability that perhaps wasn’t always present during a drought that ranked as one of the longest in NHL history.

He also backed up his occasionally harsh words on the ice, ranking second on the team with 23 goals and third with 53 points while helping Carolina close the regular season by going 31-12-2 in its final 45 regular-season games to climb from last place in the division to a wild-card playoff berth.

Yet he also kept things light, masterminding the ”Storm Surge” postgame celebrations that took the league by storm.

”Just how vocal he is, how he demands a lot out of everybody … he is not afraid to hurt anybody’s feelings,” forward Jordan Martinook said. ”I think he’s figured out a very, very good way, and he’s a very good motivator. Very good guy to follow because he’s done it so many times, and to see his success in the playoffs and even our … stretch to the end of the year. You see the goals he scores, they’re big goals. It’s an easy guy to jump on his back.”

Williams has thrived throughout his career in Game 7s, owning the NHL record with 14 points in those games and scoring seven goals to tie the mark held by 15-year veteran Glenn Anderson. His teams are 7-1 in those games – hence, the ”Mr. Game 7” nickname.

The Hurricanes have a lot to do to force this one-sided series to a seventh game, but if it should get to that point, they’ll be glad they have Williams, just as the Capitals were during their two years with him.

”He has the right blend of leadership, have fun, compete,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”He really senses the tone of an organization, of a team, where they are at in the games and playoffs and he provides – and he did provide us with that leadership, and he is doing the same thing at Carolina now, so he’s just a great guy to have on your team.”

Bruins hope to have a healthy Chara for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — The Bruins were able to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference final without captain Zdeno Chara.

Now they’re hoping 10 days off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final will be enough time for the defenseman to return.

The title round begins May 27 when Boston will face San Jose or St. Louis, with that conference final 2-2. The Bruins completed their sweep Thursday with Chara out with an undisclosed injury.

”We have a lot of time to make the absolute right decision to give him the proper time to get over something that’s been nagging him,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. ”And we’ll cross our fingers that will be the case. But we’re confident it will be.”

Sweeney stopped short of guaranteeing Chara’s return for Game 1.

”I’m not living in how or where Zee feels. I expect he’ll be fine,” Sweeney said. ”But I’m not going to sit here and make a proclamation in terms of promises. I do believe that time will be used effectively and he’ll be fine. But sometimes those are out of your control.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Chris Wagner are doubtful for Game 1 of the Final. Miller hasn’t played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. Wagner injured his right arm blocking a shot in Game 3 against Carolina.

Patrick Roy set to interview for Senators’ coaching vacancy: report

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Interested in seeing more of this?

Or maybe some of this?

Well, you just might be in luck.

Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch reports that Patrick Roy is set be the last interview done by Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion as the search for the next bench boss in Canada’s capital continues.

Roy has most recently been coaching the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He last coached in the NHL in 2016 with the Colorado Avalanche, a job he resigned from following that season. Two years earlier, he won the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach after the Avalanche went from last to first in the Western Conference.

Roy is 130-92-24 during his 246-game coaching career in the NHL.

“Those close to Roy believe he’d like to return to the NHL in the right situation and initially the only pressure in Ottawa will be to develop the young players,” Garrioch wrote. “The Senators have the potential to have 17 picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts and finding the right fit is paramount.”

The Senators, according to Garrioch, have already interviewed several candidates, including fellow former Avalanche coach Mark Crawford, along with former Senators coach Jacques Martin and Dallas Stars assistance Rick Bowness.

Roy’s experience coaching young players, as Garrioch points out, would be appealing for a team as young as the Senators, who also have a litany of draft picks coming their way over the next three years.

Can Roy work under Senators owner Eugene Melnyk? Can he work with Dorion? Roy didn’t exactly have the best professional relationship with Joe Sakic and Roy would likely want some level of control of the direction of the team.

It remains to be seen, but Roy has a decent track record that is appealing, certainly.


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

Has Erik Karlsson’s lingering groin injury resurfaced?

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It plagued him for most of the second half of the season.

A good chunk of January, a good chunk of February, and the entirety of March, to be exact.

And now Erik Karlsson‘s Game 5 status is up in the air after he appeared to aggravate a lingering groin injury, one Karlsson said had only progressed in the right direction throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

“I don’t have anything for you there,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer when quizzed on Karlsson’s health following a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 on Friday.

DeBoer quickly swept that question under the rug.

As did Brent Burns, who just said, “He’s doing good” followed by a “How’re you doing?” when a reporter probed Burns about his teammate.

You may not have noticed it, initially at least.

Normally guys who play 24:33 in a game don’t miss significant stretches. But from the 10:36 mark to 18:05 of the third period, Karlsson didn’t see the ice. With the Sharks trailing 2-1 at the time, you’d expect one of the game’s best offensive defensemen to be on the ice. Instead, Karlsson was grimacing in pain, coming out during commercial breaks to test whatever was ailing him.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Somehow, he played the final 1:55 of the game — nearly two minutes of madness where the Sharks tried, ultimately in vain, to find an equalizer. Karlsson bit down hard on his mouthpiece and bore the pain, but you could see its effects.

PHT’s James O’Brien wrote on Karlsson’s playoffs prior to Friday’s game.

Karlsson limped into the playoffs and said himself that he could barely move in Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, and as James pointed out in his story, it’s been hard to notice with two goals and 14 assists in 18 postseason games. Karlsson has played big minutes and produced at nearly a point-per-game pace in the playoffs, essentially everything the Sharks envisioned he would do when they brought him in last summer.

What they didn’t want was a nagging injury that force Karlsson to missed 29 games during the regular season and now, perhaps, some at a critical juncture for a team that’s hoping they’ve finally put it all together this year.

Maybe it’s nothing. But those painful faces that Karlsson wore in Game 4 weren’t exactly inspiring confidence in the “maybe it’s nothing” part.

If Karlsson can’t play, it’s only going to mean more minutes for guys like Burns, who is already averaging nearly 29 minutes a night. Karlsson has played an instrumental role in these playoffs for the Sharks.

A loss, even for a game, would be a massive blow in what’s now a best-of-three series.

[MORE: Blues handling adversity like champions]


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

Blues handling adversity like champions

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How many times have we thought the St. Louis Blues were dead in the water?

Was it in Round 1 when, after jetting out to a 2-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets, they lost two straight as it appeared the Jets finally got their act together?

Was it after Games 4 and 5 in Round 2 where the Dallas Stars took a 3-2 series lead and we figured that was the end of their miraculous run?

Was it after the San Jose Sharks benefitted from a hand pass by Timo Meier that found the stick of Erik Karlsson to end Game 3 in overtime to give the Sharks a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final?

For a team that sat plumb last in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3, are we really all that surprised that they’re still alive and kicking?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a rookie goaltender is now 11-2 following a loss in the regular and postseason combined, throwing up an incredible .936 save percentage when his team needs a win.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be miffed when a team as resilient as the Blues, given all they’ve been through, have outscored opponents 14-9 after a loss in these playoffs.

Embrace the grind, as they say.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And the Blues have, particularly in Game 4 where they could have imploded after losing in such terrible fashion one-game earlier.

“We just talked about… you’ve got to just move on,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube, saying he went into the room after Game 3 to talk that loss over with the team. “The call, you can’t change it now. It is what it is. I think we talked in terms like that game we had a one-goal lead, we could have closed it out then and we didn’t. We let it go to overtime, and the only difference tonight, we closed it out with a one-goal lead.”

Indeed, the whole overtime crisis of Game 3 could have been averted if the Blues could have held onto a 4-3 third-period lead. They trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in that game but led after a four-goal second period. Only Logan Couture‘s magic 6-on-5 prevented the win in regulation and we all know what happened from there.

Resilience will only take a team so far. It’s an intangible. At the end of the day, that resilience needs to bend but not break and the players have to ultimately get the job done. It broke in Game 3. In Game 4, however, the Blues adjusted.

They didn’t have to play from behind — an Ivan Barbashev goal 35 seconds in solved that issue in short order. Tyler Bozak‘s game-winner was scored later on in the same frame.

The Sharks certainly attacked, finishing the game with 73 shot attempts — more than double that of St. Louis.

But St. Louis held the line.

The final 1:55 of the third period was frantic — madness, as Jordan Binnington put it following the game. A big save from Binnington was followed up by a big block of Alex Steen. Brayden Schenn then did the only thing he could do amidst the onslaught as he iced the puck. With no times outs, the Blues couldn’t get a breather until Joel Edmundson‘s desperate attempt to clear was just short of being an icing call.

The Sharks came back, only to have a shot blocked by Bozak and eventually cleared. Ryan O'Reilly then won a key draw in the neutral zone and Oskar Sundqvist thwarted the final attempt by the Sharks.

“We’ve fought through adversity all year,” Bozak said. “We usually play our best when we have to respond to something.”

Full buy-in from a team that’s done nothing but since Jan. 3. And a 2-2 series stalemate after four games with a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup on the line.

This is simply expected from the Blues at this point.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT Conference Finals predictions


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