Blackhawks aim to avoid first sweep since ’93


It looked yesterday like Johnny Oduya would be a healthy scratch tonight in Nashville.

He still may be.

But there’s another option on the table, apparently. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville could go with seven defenseman, keeping Oduya in the lineup while also introducing Michal Kempny to the series.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Considering how little Jordin Tootoo has played (5:29 in Game 1 and 6:57 in Game 3), and considering how much Quenneville is likely to double-shift Patrick Kane as the Hawks desperately seek some goals, it’s not too drastic a measure. But it’s a sign of just how much Oduya has struggled in the series.

“Not very good,” Oduya said of his play so far. “Obviously, there has to be more levels than what it is right now.”

The Blackhawks trail the Predators, 3-0. Chicago’s only scored two goals in the entire series, both of them Monday in a 3-2 overtime loss.

One of the Stanley Cup favorites heading into the postseason, the ‘Hawks are suddenly on the verge of being swept for the first time since 1993, when it was the Blues who pulled off the first-round upset (and Ed Belfour who went bananas).

“Individually or collectively, from every single guy there’s more. That’s what we’re going to need,” said Quenneville, per CSN Chicago. “To be our best we need everyone contributing in their own ways and being their best, and I think everyone has room for improvement.”

Sabres owner to address media tomorrow


Sabres owner Terry Pegula will address the media tomorrow morning — and, boy, will Buffalo reporters have some questions for him.

Pegula cleaned house today, firing general manager Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma.

The moves came after Pegula met with Murray, who’d just held his own press conference last week.

Murray had hinted that ownership may demand changes.

“There’s going to be a review, top to bottom,” he said. “I have to meet with ownership next week in Florida. I’m sure I’m going to be reviewed. I’m sure I’m being reviewed right now, as I should be.”

Still, today’s announcement came as a surprise. Most observers felt that perhaps Bylsma would be relieved of his duties. But Murray as well?

To be sure, Murray has made his share of mistakes. He was the one who hired Bylsma, and clearly there was a disconnect between the coaching staff and players.

“I think the players have legitimate gripes about the coach,” Murray conceded. “I think players have legitimate gripes about the way our team is built, and I think the players have gripes that aren’t legitimate and are excuses.”

Speaking of the way the Sabres are built, Murray’s biggest roster failure was the defense, and that’s no easy thing to fix overnight. Whoever succeeds him, the blue line will be arguably the biggest challenge.

But the new GM will also have to return a sense of calm and cohesion to the organization. The way Murray described things last week, the GM was not on the same page with the coach, the coach was not on the same page with the players, and the players were one frustrated bunch, including young star Jack Eichel.

Expect Pegula to get asked about Eichel — especially in the wake of yesterday’s report that the 20-year-old wanted Bylsma gone.

Because, today, Bylsma is gone.

So, how much did Eichel have to do with with that?

If Pegula’s smart, he’ll shield his young star and say it was 100 percent ownership’s decision, that there were other reasons for the firings, nothing to do with Eichel. No need for the face of the franchise to be painted as a guy who gets people fired.

Anyway, it should be an interesting morning in Buffalo.

Pegula must be getting pretty used to these things by now.

Related: Eichel denies report, says he wants to be a Sabre ‘for a long time’

No help coming for Bruins’ battered blue line


No reinforcements are coming for the Bruins’ battered defense.

Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy said this morning that he doesn’t expect injured d-men Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, or Brandon Carlo to return for Game 5.

If the Bruins lose tomorrow in Ottawa, their season is over.

In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine a team racking up more injuries on the back end in such a short time. Krug was injured in the Bruins’ second-to-last game of the regular season, and Carlo was forced to leave their final game. Then the playoffs started. Colin Miller went down in Game 1, and McQuaid was lost early in Game 2.

Though Miller returned last night, he’s had to battle all season to just stay in the lineup. Ditto for Joe Morrow, who’s been unexpectedly forced into action. The B’s even had to insert Tommy Cross into Game 3, and he hadn’t played an NHL game in over a year.

Granted, young Charlie McAvoy has shown well. But he’s also a minus-2 in four games, still with a lot to learn.

Credit to the Senators, of course. Especially Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, and head coach Guy Boucher’s suffocating system.

But throw David Krejci‘s injury into the equation and the Bruins will likely look back on this series and wonder what could’ve been if they were healthy.

It’s not over yet, though.

“We look at it like we have to win one game in a row three times,” Cassidy told reporters. “We’ll take it one game at a time. That’s how we’ve done it here.”

Bruins pairings in Game 4

Zdeno Chara — Charlie McAvoy
Joe Morrow — Kevan Miller
John-Michael Liles — Colin Miller

Oduya could be healthy scratch in Game 4


The Chicago Blackhawks got Johnny Oduya back at the trade deadline, with the hope he could rekindle his successful partnership with Niklas Hjalmarsson.

But it hasn’t worked out that way, and tomorrow in Nashville, Oduya could be a healthy scratch as the ‘Hawks try to avoid getting swept by the Predators.

Today at practice, Hjalmarsson was paired with Duncan Keith, Michal Kempny was with Brent Seabrook, and Brian Campbell was with Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Blackhawks vs. Predators: Watch Game 4 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Kempy was a healthy scratch for the first three games of the playoffs. He hasn’t played since Apr. 6 in a 4-0 loss at Anaheim.

Oduya, meanwhile, is a minus-3 in the playoffs. Since the trade from Dallas, he’s actually spent most of his time paired with Seabrook, not Hjalmarsson.

Suffice to say, you can expect the Blackhawks’ blue line to go under the microscope this offseason. Oduya, 35, and Campbell, 37, are pending unrestricted free agents, and there’s a real need for an injection of youth.

The question is, who’s ready to make the leap? Prospects like Ville Pokka, Viktor Svedberg, and Erik Gustafsson have been in the system for a while now, and so far they’ve been unable to crack the NHL roster on a full-time basis. Gustav Forsling has potential, but he’s only 20 and may need more time in the AHL.

So much at stake for the Caps, who need to ‘change the narrative,’ and fast


Three games into the postseason and the Washington Capitals are already fighting for their playoff lives.

And who among us expected that?

Not many, but that’s the deal for the Presidents’ Trophy-winners, against the team that finished dead last only a year ago.

Lose tonight at Air Canada Centre and the Caps will trail the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1.

Lose tonight and the Caps will be one loss away from one of the most stunning letdowns in NHL playoff history.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

And the way things have gone so far, nobody should be surprised if they do lose. Because this is not another Jaroslav Halak situation. The young, dynamic Leafs have gone blow-for-blow with the mighty Caps. They’ve used their speed and their skill. They’ve proven they belong.

“It’s a lot closer match than people let on,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “It’s not David versus Goliath. They’re a good team. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.”

Trotz himself is under considerable pressure after failing to get Alex Ovechkin enough ice time in Game 3. The reigning Jack Adams Award winner is 2-2 in playoff series with the Caps. And in spite of all the success he’s enjoyed in the regular season, if he goes 2-3, it would be fair to debate his future behind the bench.

The Leafs, meanwhile, can’t get too comfortable. They saw what happened to the Edmonton Oilers last night in San Jose. It was a good warning.

“There’s two parts to that equation,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “One team relaxes and feels pretty good about themselves, talks to everybody and they all tell you how great they’re doing and the other team gets prepared. We talked about that after Game 1, after Game 2 and we’ll continue to talk about it. It’s so important that you get off to a good start here tonight and prepare to compete. They’re going to compete. We have to compete.”

The real pressure, though, is on the Capitals. In the second year of what their general manager has called a “two-year window,” 2017 was shaping up to be their time. A first-round matchup with the inexperienced Leafs. No Kris Letang for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A beatable opponent whoever comes out of the Atlantic bracket. Ditto for whoever comes out of the West.

The Caps, of course, already have a reputation for flopping in the playoffs. But losing to the Leafs would take it to a whole new level.

Are they really going to flop again?

“Until we change the narrative, that’s going to be the question,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It’s up to us to change it. You can’t talk about it. You just have to go and do it.”