Shero aims to bolster Devils offensively

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Lou Lamoriello announced today that he’ll be handing over the general manager’s job to Ray Shero while retaining his position as team president. Shero appreciates all that Lamoriello has done since taking over in 1987, but in light of New Jersey’s recent struggles, he also wants to do things a bit differently.

“Lou and I have discussed a lot of things as far as philosophy. I’m not Lou and I’m not like Lou. And he’s not like me. We’re different,” Shero told NJ Advance Media. “There are a lot of different philosophies that we do share, but when you look Pittsburgh and New Jersey they are certainly different teams.

“You look at the Devils and it’s about his defensive philosophy. That’s been very successful for them. But in terms of where the are now and moving forward to be successful, let’s be honest. There has to be a complement of that with a philosophy of offensive hockey and scoring more goals. If not, there is not much room for error. Without that, goaltending and team defense can only take you so far.”

Shero has a lot of experience with offensively gifted teams from his days with Pittsburgh, but then, he had plenty to work with in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Devils ranked 28th in goals per game last season, but it’s not as if their defense-first approach has always gone hand-in-hand with offensive anemia. New Jersey was a middle-of-the-road team offensively in 2011-12 when it last made the playoffs and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Back then the Devils had Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise leading the charge though. Parise and Kovalchuk have since left the team while Elias turned 39 in April.

Filling the void left by the departure of superstars is an extremely difficult task, but it’s the one Shero inherited. He’s already got a strong goaltending tandem in Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid and a promising blueline. Whether or not he is able to elevate the Devils’ offense to at least respectable levels could determine how his tenure with New Jersey will ultimately be viewed.

Video: Blackhawks hold off Wild to take series lead

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Jason Pominville might lose sleep over this one.

Late in the third period, with the Minnesota Wild pressing for the tying goal to send Game 1 into overtime, the puck took a fortuitous bounce off the end glass and eventually found its way to Pominville in a prime shooting location. But the puck was rolling, and Pominville sent his shot well wide of the net, with goalie Corey Crawford beat.

The host Chicago Blackhawks held on from there for the 4-3 victory and a 1-0 series lead over the Wild.

Earlier on, it looked like this game might turn into a blowout. The Blackhawks, in front of their home crowd, erupted to beat Devan Dubnyk three times on eight shots, taking a 3-0 lead into the intermission.

But the Wild battled back. Jason Zucker, Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund scored within a span of 9:30 into the middle period, getting Minnesota back into a tie game. Dubnyk did his part, making a spectacular save on Patrick Sharp to ensure the Wild didn’t fall further behind when still trailing by two.

However, Teuvo Teravainen’s first career playoff goal — a wrist shot from the side boards that got by Dubnyk — with under a minute remaining in that frantic second period stood as the winner.

Video: Dubnyk robs Sharp with pad save

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If the Minnesota Wild can come back to take Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, people will almost certainly look back to a key save from Devan Dubnyk on Patrick Sharp in the second period.

With the Blackhawks up 3-1, having scored three times in the opening period, Dubnyk got across with the right pad to stop Sharp on a one-timer, preventing Chicago from going up by a trio of goals. A few minutes later, Zach Parise and then Mikael Granlund scored for Minnesota to make it a 3-3 game.

(Teuvo Teravainen gave the lead back to Chicago, scoring with under a minute remaining in the middle period.)

 

Is this the year it all comes together for Minnesota?

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When the Wild signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts, it was a statement that Minnesota expected to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup in the near future.

In their first year together they ended Minnesota’s four-season long playoff drought. In the Wild’s second campaign of the Praise/Suter era, they won their first playoff series since 2003. In both postseason runs though, they were eliminated by Chicago and if the Wild are to take another step forward this year, they will have to finally get the better of the Blackhawks in their upcoming series.

The biggest change this time around is goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Before acquiring him from Arizona, the Wild seemed to be on their way to having a disappointing campaign. Minnesota had lost six straight games and had given up seven goals twice in that span. From Jan. 15 onward, Minnesota posted a 28-9-3 record with Dubnyk starting in almost every contest.

Dubnyk earned a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage in 39 regular season games with Minnesota, which led to him getting a Vezina Trophy nomination. Although the Blues had some success against him in the first round, they couldn’t beat him consistently and that was a big part of their downfall. Contrast that stability in net with what Minnesota experienced in the 2014 playoffs when goaltending injuries were a big part of the story.

Of course, it’s not just about him. Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Jason Pominville all had a strong series against St. Louis. The Wild will certainly need that kind of offensive depth going forward because there’s one thing they should be painfully aware of at this point: the Blackhawks are an immensely talented team and it takes everyone chipping in to beat them.

Another Blues campaign ends in disappointment as Wild advance

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The story of Devan Dubnyk’s rise from the ashes was not just a regular season tale. While St. Louis was able to chase him from Game 4 by scoring six goals on 17 shots, Dubnyk has simply bounced right back with two solid performances that have ended the Central Division-winning Blues’ playoff run after only six contests.

Dubnyk turned aside 30 of 31 shots to earn a 4-1 victory this afternoon. By contrast Blues netminder Jake Allen was yanked after allowing two soft goals.

One of those markers was scored by Zach Parise and the Wild’s star forward was also able to net his third of the series early in the final period to give Minnesota a much-needed two-goal cushion:

With that, St. Louis has now endured three straight first-round exits. To the Blues’ credit, they have been dealt tough opponents off the bat. In the previous two years they were eliminated by Los Angeles and Chicago. Minnesota was arguably another unlucky draw for them as the Wild have been one of the best teams in the league since acquiring Dubnyk on January 14.

At the same time, that’s not much of an excuse for St. Louis. For years the Blues have had depth and an outstanding defensive core and with the rise of Vladimir Tarasenko, they have some star power up front too. It’s been enough for them to excel in the regular season, but it hasn’t mattered once the playoffs start.

It might be enough to bring the end of the Ken Hitchcock era. Whether or not that happens, the Blues will certainly need to do some serious self-evaluation.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild will challenge Chicago for the third straight season. The Wild lost the last two series, but this might be a case where the third time’s the charm.