Roberto Luongo

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A look back at the last time Stanley Cup Final needed a Game 7

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The Boston Bruins won’t have to look far down the bench for a couple of their Game 7 heroes from their 2011 Stanley Cup winning team.

In fact, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand line up on the same line for the B’s, who will contest the 17th Game 7 in Cup Final history at TD Garden on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

They’re two of five Bruins players (Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask) who remain on the team that played in the last Cup Final that needed to be decided by a Game 7, and between them, scored all four goals Boston needed to end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought with their sixth championship.

Looking back, there are some similarities stemming from that series eight years ago. First and foremost, the Bruins needed to rebound from a 3-2 series deficit to even get to that stage.

Trailing a strong Vancouver Canucks team, the Bruins put forth a five-goal effort in a 5-2 win at home in Game 6. That game was highlighted by a four-goal first period, one that came in a span of 4:14. The Bruins chased then-Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo for the second time in the series.

A mouth-watering Game 7 matchup back in Vancouver was further intensified after a total of 54 penalty minutes were dished out in the third period alone, including four 10-minute misconducts.

Let’s take a look back.

First period

The Canucks took it to the Bruins early, with Tim Thomas — the eventual Conn Smythe winner — making a couple of saves that otherwise could have changed the whole complexion of the game.

Then a rookie, Marchand was able to get to a puck off a Canucks faceoff win in their own zone. A couple of turns and some suspect defending by Sami Salo created some space between for Marchand, who slid the puck into the slot. The pass was met by the stick of Bergeron, who swatted his stick at it. The puck rolled back Luongo’s right leg, unbeknownst to the Canucks netminder, to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at the 14:37 mark.

Second Period

The Bruins would effectively end the game in the middle frame, scoring twice in just over five minutes.

Before that, though, Chara made a crucial block on Alex Burrows shot that got past a sprawling Thomas but not the big man standing behind him.

Marchand nearly doubled the lead earlier just over a minute in when he raised a puck up and over Luongo but couldn’t beat the post.

Marchand wouldn’t be denied, however, and was rewarded with his first goal of the night on a nifty wraparound and a fair bit of self-inflicted goaltender interference by Daniel Sedin at 12:13.

Oh, and Luongo doing himself dirty by knocking the puck into his own net.

Bergeron’s second would come shorthanded, a dagger of sorts for the Canucks.

Gregory Campbell won the draw in the defensive zone for the Bruins and Dennis Seidenberg slammed the puck down the boards. The puck took a funny hop off the glass, falling into the path of Patrice Bergeron who was gifted a partial breakaway.

With Christian Ehrhoff draped all over him, and a penalty pending against the Canucks, Bergeron somehow guided the puck past Luongo. The goal was reviewed, with the Canucks arguing that Bergeron had put the puck in with his glove.

In the words of the great Maury, “That was a lie.”

Third period

The Canucks threw 16 shots at Thomas in the final period, looking desperately for any morsel of momentum in front of a packed Rogers Arena.

Thomas wouldn’t be felled, however, posting a 37-save shutout. Thomas made an excelled save off a streaking Sedin at the midway point of the period to preserve the goose egg. He’d stop Jannik Hansen point-blank with fewer than five minutes left in the game.

Desperate, and with just over three minutes left, the Alain Vigneault would pull Luongo for the extra skater.

The 4-0 goal would come on a clear from the Canucks that landed at the feet of Burrows. Burrows, who bit Bergeron in Game 1 of the series and fought Thomas in Game 4, couldn’t handle the quasi-pass and Marchand was more than happy to cap off his three-point night with his second goal, this time into the empty net.

Chara lifts the Cup

The drought was over.

The Bruins were Stanley Cup champs for the sixth time in franchise history.

Chara’s first pass of the Cup? That went to a Mark Recchi, who won his third Cup in his final NHL season.

Aftermath

The ugliness of 1994’s riots in the streets of Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Cup to the New York Rangers returned 17 years later.

Rioters poured into the streets of downtown Vancouver following the game and all hell broke loose.

The Bruins would make it home safely, with the parade held a couple days later.

Perhaps the best part of that victory march down the streets of Boston was Marchand showing the world he couldn’t rap.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
• Bruins push Stanley Cup Final to Game 7 by beating Blues
Blues, Cardinals team up to offer Busch Stadium Game 7 viewing party
Win or lose the Conn Smythe should belong to Rask 
• St. Louis newspaper gets roasted for ‘jinxing’ Blues before Game 6
Bounce back Blues need one more rally


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

Flyers turn to winner Vigneault to snap championship drought

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning team that just flamed out in the first round of the playoffs is dotted with former New York Rangers who played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final:

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller all helped the Rangers to get within three wins of their first championship since 1994. Five years later, a new team and a stunning elimination. They were used to deeper runs in New York with Alain Vigneault running the show. He led the Rangers to the Cup Final in his first season and bumped the win total by eight in his second.

After a year out of coaching, Vigneault takes over a fallen Philadelphia Flyers franchise. He seems to expect a similar quick fix.

”I was looking for was an opportunity to win; an opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup,” Vigneault said Thursday.

Vigneault also led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, is a former NHL coach of the year and will spend the summer as the head coach for Team Canada at the world championships.

”It’s unusual and difficult to find coaches like Alain,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Indeed, Vigneault has done it all on the bench except win the Stanley Cup and he joins a franchise mired in one of the longest championship droughts in the league. The Flyers haven’t won it all since 1975 or even played for the Stanley Cup since 2010. Even worse, they missed the playoffs this season and haven’t made it past the second round since 2012.

And he thinks the Flyers can win in the short term?

Maybe, because the talent is there: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier all have some heavy miles on their skates but are still productive veterans. There’s still untapped potential in a group of promising 20-somethings that include Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. All have shown flashes of stardom along with infuriating inconsistency.

”I can get them to be more consistent. The way that I prepare a team for games I believe permits a player to understand what he needs to do against that team to be successful,” Vigneault said.

Couturier will get an early peek at Vigneault’s system at next month’s world championships in Slovakia. So will Carter Hart, the 20-year-old rookie goalie who nearly carried the Flyers into the playoffs after his December call up. He won eight straight games and pushed the Flyers (37-37-8 for 82 points) to the verge of a wild card spot until they collapsed over the final two weeks.

The Flyers used a record eight goalies this season. Vigneault knows a true No. 1 should be enough to carry the load in a championship chase. Vigneault rode Henrik Lundqvist in New York to within three wins of a championship and Roberto Luongo had four playoff shutouts when the Canucks reached the Final in 2011.

”I was very fortunate to have maybe two Hall of Fame goaltenders,” Vigneault said. ”Maybe we have a young goaltender that’s got a tremendous amount of potential and might become one of the top goalies in the league.”

One thing Vigneault won’t do is ask former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol (fired in December) and former GM Ron Hextall (fired in November) for a scouting report on the team. Both men are part of his staff at worlds. Giroux, the Flyers captain, is the only player Vigneault has called.

Vigneault, who turns 58 in May, has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers. His teams made the playoffs 11 times and he was named NHL coach of the year in 2006-2007 with Vancouver.

”Players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. ”You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you.”

History suggests players will follow Vigneault. He took two teams in major hockey markets to the Final and did it in large part because of a hot goalie and an overachieving roster. The Rangers wore down because almost every series went the distance (four Game 7s) and Vigneault took them way behind their talent level.

Vigneault has an offensive superstar in Giroux (82 points) but Patrick (a former No. 2 pick) and van Riemsdyk have more name value than skill. No matter, the coach always pays the price in Philly: Vigneault is the fifth coach since the start of the 2013 season, and he’d like this commitment to last.

”You know what we have to do? We have to win,” he said.

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

Panthers land Joel Quenneville as next head coach

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The Florida Panthers are going big for their next head coach after they announced on Monday that Joel Quenneville will replace Bob Boughner behind their bench.

“Joel is a three-time Stanley Cup champion head coach who will be a transformative leader for the Florida Panthers franchise,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. “We’ve seized the opportunity to add one of the most successful head coaches in hockey history and we’re thrilled that Joel has agreed to take on the challenge of leading our promising young team. I’ve worked with Joel previously and have seen firsthand how his passion for the game, head coaching experience and leadership can impact an organization. Joel will accelerate our growth into a club that qualifies for the playoffs consistently and competes every year toward our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.”

In a statement after relieving Boughner of his duties on Sunday, Tallon noted he was seeking a “transformative, experienced head coach with Stanley Cup pedigree to lead our team going forward.” That certainly fit Quenneville’s profile, and considering their relationship — Tallon was the Chicago Blackhawks’ GM when he hired Quenneville to replace Denis Savard — you knew the Panthers would be pretty aggressive in trying to persuade the three-time Cup champion to head to Sunrise.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Quenneville also won’t come cheap, which shows you how much Panthers owner Vinnie Viola views this off-season in terms of turning the franchise around. According to Pierre LeBrun, the deal is worth over $30M for five years depending on bonuses. That also means the Blackhawks are happy to see their former head coach, who had a contract through the end of next season, off of their books and into the Eastern Conference.

The addition of a successful, big-name head coach is to be the start of a busy summer for Tallon and the Panthers. They’ve made the playoffs once in the last seven seasons and they aren’t splashing the cash for Quenneville to not be a playoff team a year from now. The biggest question is what happens in net with Roberto Luongo‘s future. The 40-year-old has three years left on his deal and just finished a season where he was hampered with injury. James Reimer still has two years remaining on his contract. Then you have the rumors of a potential tandem free agent signing this summer of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, which could be a game-changer for the franchise considering the talent that’s already there.

However busy the Panthers’ off-season turns out to be, Monday was a great start in hopes to moving in a better direction.

MORE: Quenneville sees Panthers’ roster with right ‘ingredients to win’

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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.

What to watch for in final days of 2018-19 NHL season

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There is only playoff spot still up for grabs in the NHL’s playoff race, and it could be decided as early as Friday night if the Columbus Blue Jackets can beat the New York Rangers. While that would be somewhat disappointing as it relates to drama and excitement for the final day of the regular season, there will still be plenty of big storylines to watch.

What should you be paying attention to? Let’s take a look.

1. Columbus just needs one win. Everything is sitting right there for the Blue Jackets. All they have to do is win one game against either the sixth-worst team in the league (the Rangers on Friday) or the worst team in the league (the Ottawa Senators on Saturday). That is it. That is all they need to do. If they manage to miss the playoffs (which they would do with if they fail to collect two points over those two games and if Montreal beats Toronto) it would probably be one of the most stunning end-of-season collapses in league history. No pressure!

2. Tampa Bay looks to tie the NHL’s single season win record. They can’t break the record, but if the Lightning beat the Boston Bruins they would win their 62nd game of the season, tying them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a single season. They are currently one of just three teams to have ever won at least 60 in a single season.

3. More Nikita Kucherov milestones. Assuming they do not rest him, Nikita Kucherov would need four points to become the first player since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr during the 1995-96 season to record at least 130 points in a season. He is also four assists away from 90 for the season. While that seems like a tall order, keep in mind he already has eight four-point games this season, including one four-assist game.

4. Blues try to go from worst to first. In the first week of January the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the Western Conference. With a win on Saturday, combined with losses by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, they would finish the season in first place in the Central Division. That is a remarkable turnaround in a very short period of time.

5. Leon Draisaitl and John Tavares shoot for 50. You have to go all the way back to the 2011-12 season to find the last time the NHL had multiple 50-goal scorers in the same season (Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin did it) but we have a chance to see it happen again this season. Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl needs just one to become the first Oilers player since Wayne Gretzky scored 62 during the 1986-87 season (that is, if you exclude Craig Simpson’s 1987-88 season, where he only scored 43 of his goals as a member of the Oilers). His season has been kind of lost in the shadows of another monster year from Connor McDavid and overlooked because of the rest of the team’s struggles, but he has been sensational. Tavares, if he plays in what is a meaningless game for Toronto, would need to score three goals against the Montreal Canadiens to record his first 50-goal season. There have only been seven 50-goal performances since the start of the 2010-11 season, and four of them belong to Alex Ovechkin.

6. Four players are within reach of 100 points. Kucherov, McDavid, Draisaitl, Patrick Kane and Brad Marchand are already at the century mark, and with big games in their regular season finales Sidney Crosby (98 points), Johnny Gaudreau (98 points), Nathan MacKinnon (98 points), and Stamkos (97 points) could also get there. That is, of course, assuming they play. Pittsburgh (Crosby) and Colorado (MacKinnon) are the only players on teams that can improve their place in the standings, so it is possible Gaudreau or Stamkos could be held out. Florida’s Aleksander Barkov is the next closest player with 94 points, but would need an incredible effort to get to 100 on the season.

7. The potential for some finales. While there is no indication that he is going to retire, the reality is that Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is 40 years old and his future with the team (or in the NHL) could very much be in doubt. With the Wild missing the playoffs and a new general manager in charge, it is possible Bruce Boudreau could be coaching his final game in Minnesota. Jason Pominville, a long-time fan favorite in Buffalo, could be appearing in his final game as a member of the Sabres.

8. The draft lottery watch. The Ottawa Senators are locked in to the NHL’s worst record meaning their first-round pick (which now belongs to the Colorado Avalanche) will have the best odds to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But several other teams could see their odds change depending on the outcome of their remaining games. The big ones to watch are the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. Entering play on Friday the Kings have the second worst record in the league, sitting just one point behind the Devils. A Devils regulation loss, combined with one Kings win, would see New Jersey’s lottery odds jump up from 11.5 percent to 13.5 percent.

9. The Nichushkin and Rieder watch. Tobias Rieder has played 66 games for the Edmonton Oilers this season and not scored a goal. Valeri Nichushkin has played 57 games for the Dallas Stars and not scored a goal OR taken a penalty. Will one of them get a goal? At least let Rieder get one after he had to take all of the blame for the Oilers’ struggles this season.

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.

Panthers goalie Luongo to turn 40, figure out what’s next

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Roberto Luongo won 227 games during his 20s. He won 262 more games during his 30s.

And now, his 40s await.

Florida’s veteran goalie – the oldest netminder and third-oldest player to appear in the NHL this season – will celebrate his milestone 40th birthday on Thursday. He’s tentatively scheduled to start the Panthers’ season-finale on Saturday night. Then it’ll be time for Luongo to begin his rite of spring: figuring out whether to keep playing.

”I don’t really want to make any decisions over the course of a season,” said Luongo, who would be the 20th goalie to play an NHL game as a 40something. ”Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions involved with that and you want to make sure that you make the right decision for all parties involved. I still love to play the game, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Luongo still has three years left on his contract and hasn’t given any indication that he’s looking at Saturday night as a farewell. He led the Panthers’ goaltender corps in starts and minutes this season – even after injuring a knee on opening night and missing a month, then being sidelined again a few weeks later with an aggravation of the same problem.

The Panthers missed the playoffs again. The franchise hasn’t won a postseason series since 1996. But in the room, Luongo’s voice still carries more weight than any other.

”He’s a future Hall of Famer,” said 22-year-old Sam Montembeault – a rookie and possibly Florida’s goalie heir apparent, who grew up idolizing Luongo and now sits next to him in the locker room. ”Every time I come to the rink, I’m learning from him. Before every game, he gives me advice, talks to me about the tendencies of certain players. I hope at 39 years old I can be as good as he is. I’ll take that any day.”

Luongo’s numbers this season weren’t great: His goals-against average is 3.10, the highest of any full season in his career, and his save percentage is a career-low .900. But the Panthers were plagued by defensive issues all season, which needs consideration when looking at Luongo’s numbers. And he’s finishing the year strong, with a 4-1-0 record in his last five starts.

”I know he wants to finish this season off the right way,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. ”And I think, after the season, he’s going to relax and he’s going to take some time. He’s going to spend some time with his family and think about what he wants to do next year.”

The Panthers plan to be active in free agency this summer. They’ll likely target a top goalie on July 1 and have been high on Montembeault’s potential.

Still, it would still be shocking if Florida didn’t try to convince Luongo to come back.

He remains a fan favorite, the veritable face of the franchise. He’s third in NHL history in wins, second all-time in saves, and has won more games with the Panthers than any two other goalies to ever don the team colors have combined. And if anyone thinks his mind is made up, Luongo turned to Twitter this week in an effort to debunk a report that health issues are soon going to usher in the end of his career.

”The only thing that I don’t really enjoy is when you see something that’s completely fabricated,” Luongo said. ”That’s the part that sometimes you’re not too happy about. But that being said, I’ve been through it many times. I handled it the best way that I could by making a joke out of it, and I’m moving on from there.”

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