It was an interesting turn of events in Chicago - to say the least - prior to Game 6 of Vancouver's match up with the Blackhawks. With all eyes directed towards the goaltending situation, the answer to the question as to whether or not Roberto Luongo would start was revealed when backup goalie Cory Schneider was the first Canuck to take to the ice. After taking the majority of shots in the warmup while Luongo casually leaned against the boards, it became clear that Alain Vigneault and staff were taking a big risk in not standing by their million dollar man.
The experiment didn't last long. Luongo came in after Schneider appeared to have injured his right leg from overextension on an attempt to stop Blackhawk forward Michael Frolik's tying penalty shot goal in the third period of last night's game. A backhand shot in tight over the right pad of curiously positioned Luongo by Chicago rookie Ben Smith then lifted the Hawks to a thrilling 4-3 OT win. The Hawks became only the third team to force a game 7 after being down 3-to-0 in a series.
The most frustrating part of last night's loss for the Canucks is that they played remarkably better than the previous two games in which they were outscored by a 12-2 mark. If the Blackhawks manage to pull this off, the status of the future of President's Trophy winners, most notably in net and that of Roberto Luongo, will be in serious doubt. It's tough to call into question the core of a team that's such a regular season juggernaut, but if the Canucks can't get it done when it matters with this group this year (with a 3-0 lead in this series to boot), when can they? [more…]
Nathan Horton's goal at 9:03 of the second overtime period capped off what was arguably the most exciting contest of the playoffs through the opening week-and-a-half. Both teams traded quality scoring chances throughout the game, but the goaltending battle between Tim Thomas and Carey Price highlighted an intense, as-tight-as-it-gets battle. In particular, the Canadiens' darkhorse up front is David Deharnais, a 5-foot-8 speedster who created several excellent scores chances for his team and showed strong outside speed. After winning the first two games of the series, Montreal now heads back home down 3-2 with all the momentum shifted Boston's way. Only time will tell if the Canadiens can thrive with the pressure on and force a game seven back in Beantown.
In afternoon action, the Capitals, as expected, pulled out a 3-1 win over the Rangers and became the second team (following the Red Wings) to secure a birth in the second round. Washington was firing on all cylinders, with a balanced attack and stable presence in net fromÂ ripe 20-year-old Michal Neuvirth. While it's important to note that this was the Caps' first post-lockout playoff series win in less than seven games, one series is three less than the goal for a Capitals team who won't settle for anything short of the Cup and must do some serious damage to buck their post-season underachievers label. Post-lockout, the Capitals have not beat a team other than the Rangers in the playoffs.
Links after the jump.
It was another exciting night on the ice yesterday, with both games being decided in extra minutes. The Sabres lit up the Flyers' Brian Boucher in the first period with three unanswered goals scored by Tyler Ennis, Thomas Vanek and Marc Andre Gragnani, forcing the Flyers to switch to their third goalie of the series in Michael Leighton. The Flyers mounted an impressive comeback to even the score at three late in the third, but the speedy Ennis wrapped up the game for Buffalo with his second of the contest and third point of the playoffs. It's safe to say that most people wouldn't have projected Buffalo to have a 3-2 series lead, with an opportunity to close out the series at home for game six. It's not over but the Flyers continue to receive the painful reminder that playoff success hinges on strong, timely goaltending.
Despite the loss, the Ducks grabbed all the attention from last night's game after Bobby Ryan scored an outstanding goal by undressingÂ a stickless David Legwand (x2) and beating Pekka Rinne up high on the back hand. Ryan's goal is, without question, a strong goal of the year candidate. He could not be able to pull that off nine times out of 10. Jerred Smithson scored the overtime winner for Nashville to lift them to a 3-2 series lead. It was the Predators first victory in a game five in franchise history and the first time that the team has won a playoff game in overtime.
Links after the jump.
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After scoring a combined 12 goals in the first three games of the series, the Bruins and Canadiens exploded with a nine-goal output in Boston's 5-4 win last night. A two-goal performance by Michael Ryder, including the overtime winner, along with a balanced Boston attack helped theÂ black and yellow crawl back from a second period deficit to defeat les Habitants and even the series with back-to-back wins in the Bell Centre.
On the west coast, the Canucks had a defensive meltdown, allowing three goals in the opening frame and four through the first half of the game. Roberto Luongo surrendered four goals on 12 shots before getting the yank, in favour of backup Cory Schnieder, who started the second period. Marian Hossa sniped a pair of goals on Luongo, including a breakway marker late in the first. Duncan Keith silenced the Canucks Army in attendance at the Rogers Arena withÂ a four-point performance from the backend.
Two series that looked all but in the bag are now game on as Canada's remaining teams are anything but safe.
Links after the jump.
Going down by three goals heading into the third period of a hockey goal is usually the surefire recipe for failure. Not on this night. Similar to the San Jose/Los Angeles bout on Tuesday, a big lead seemingly blew away in the wind as the Capitals fought back to tie the game 3-3 with the Rangers to force overtime.
The Capitals had to be more than a little anxious given their recently rocky playoff history but this comeback and the character it exemplified could be a crowning moment for the Capitals in their quest to get over the post-season hump.
The first week of the NHL playoffs has been filled with several exciting showcases, but there is nothing better than witnessing the heart and soul exuded by players every shift in a game that goes to multiple overtime periods. Last night we were lucky enough to witness two double OT affairs unfolding simultaneously on different networks; the first time two games have lasted that long on the same night since 2003.
Links after the jump
Just when they thought they had overcome their woes against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks received a 7-2 butt kicking and suddenly don't feel so comfortable with a 3-1 lead in the series. History indicates that teams rarely come back to win a series after being down by two games, but weirder things have happened (think Philly vs. Boston last spring).
David Bolland reinforced his former status as a playoff warrior, with a goal and three assists on the night, along with timely face-off wins and strong defensive play. If the Hawks are able to continue to expose Roberto Luongo's weaknesses and take some confidence from last night into game 5 on Thursday, they could make a series of this yet. Especially if they can get the Canucks rattled, off their game and continuing to want to punch Stalberg in his perfect complexion.
Links after the jump.
It appears that the Vancouver Canucks have solved the Chicago Blackhawks - who are sorely missing the offensive depth and Byfuglien factor of last season's Championship roster - and put an end to the 'Blackhawk curse' experienced by the organization for the better part of the last three seasons.
A late goal by Mikael Samuelsson sealed the deal and now puts the Canucks up 3-0 in the series with a chance to finish off the Blackhawks on Tuesday in Chicago. Heading into the post season people around the hockey world felt that Vancouver would have the ability to make it all the way to the finals if they can overcome the Hawks.
There are still 13 more wins needed to hoist the silver, but the President's Trophy winners definitely still hold front runner status after a dominant first round performance.
Links after the jump. [more…]
It's the most wonderful time of the year. No, the LeafsÂ aren't participating in the post season for the sixth consecutive season, but the playoffs began with Vancouver, Washington and Detroit getting the starts they were expecting while Nashville and Pittsburgh took the game one edge in the 4 v. 5 matchups.
Let's hope tonight's action onlyÂ buildsÂ on yesterday's excitement. There are three games on the docket, with Montreal/Boston, Buffalo/Philadelphia and Los Angeles/San Jose getting underway tonight. What game are you most looking forward to watching?
As far as the Leafs' post-season goes, thirteen Leafs will represent their respective nations at the World Hockey Championships in Slovakia later this month. Carl Gunnarsson will wear the Three Crowns for Sweden while the Marlies' Marcel Mueller and Korbinian Holzer will feature for Team Germany. After news Mike Brown will represent Team USA, another pleasantly surprising addition has been in announced in the Marlies' 20-year-old defenceman Jake Gardiner, who in his ten games with the team to close out the season impressed observers with his speed and puck skills.
With Phaneuf, Schenn, MacArthur and Reimer (Canada), Mikhail Grabovski (Belarus), Nikolai Kulemin (Russia), and Juraj Mikus (Slovakia) also committed, that takes the Leaf count to 13. It's not the type of tournament they would ideally be playing in at this time of year but with quite a strong Leaf contingent, there's worse consolation prizes. [more…]
In his annual end-of-season media address, Brian Burke touched on a number of topics from this past season and discussed the game plan going forward asÂ Leafs managementÂ prepares for what should be a busy summer on the transaction front.
Burke opened yesterday's press conference by highlighting the team's bright spots, most notably the bounceback performance of Dion Phaneuf after suffering a career threatening leg injury in mid-November. Burke also praised Phil Kessel for his commitment to becoming a '200-foot player' and involving himself in all situations, both offensive and defensive. While it's clear that he still has room for improvement in his consistency, Kessel made major strides in his second go-around as a Leaf, scoring 32 goals and 32 assists for 64 points, while playing in all 82 games. [more…]
The Leafs second half surge was in large partÂ the result of unexpected play from several Toronto Marlie callups in James Reimer, Keith Aulie, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb. Looking to take his first step towards graduation, Joe Colborne has been recalled from the farm while he was in the midst of an impressive 18-game stint with the Marlies, scoring eight goals and adding seven assists. If Colborne manages to perform half as good as he did in his debut with the Marlies - a two-goal performance - the Leafs would be ecstatic. Expectations in check, it's a one-game wetting of the feet that we shouldn't read too far into either way.
Same goes for 23-year old college senior Matt Frattin, who signed a two-year entry level contract with the Leafs on Friday and will join Colborne in making his Leafs and NHL debut. The product of North Dakota won't play a top six role, but will form an intriguing third line alongside Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri.
It was a relatively uneventful off day for the Leafs, with the only noteworthy news being the report from AM640 that J.S. Giguere will undergo a sports hernia surgery this summer. The teamÂ is back onÂ the ice todayÂ to prepare for tomorrow's game when theyÂ play host to the Montreal Canadiens.Â Just like the Leafs final gameÂ one year ago, they will be playing for pride and would like nothing more than to finish off their season series with Montreal by defeating their original six rivals in front of theÂ hometown fans at the Air Canada Centre.
There are only tenÂ returningÂ Leaf players from the team that defeated MontrealÂ 4-3 in overtime onÂ April 10th ofÂ last year. Among those players includes a strongÂ trioÂ of defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Up front,Â Tyler Bozak,Â Tim Brent, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Fredrik Sjostrom were all members of last year's team. One key player in last season's finale against the Canadiens was Christian Hanson, who scored two goals and added an assist in the win. Fellow Marlies teammate and recently acquired centre Joe Colborne is expected to be recalled by the Leafs prior to the game, so he can get a taste of NHL action before heading into the off season.
Colborne has had an impressive stint since joining the Marlies, exhibiting a real scoring touch with eight goals, seven assists and 15 points in 19 games. If Leafs brass decides to bring him up, he could be sampled in various spots in the lineup, perhaps spending some time centering Kessel or Marlie teammate Nazem Kadri. It should be a nice taste of NHL action at the very least and at most his first step in making the case for full-time NHL duty as early as this fall.
Despite a late third period rally with quick goals by Phil Kessel and linemate Tyler Bozak, the Leafs weren't able to mount a comeback over the Devils in their final road game of the season. The Leafs looked a team understandably disheartened by the realization they were no longer playing meaningful hockey. Hopefully the final game against an arch rival on Saturday provides a better send off in front of the home crowd.
James Reimer had a strong start to the night, with several impressive stops through the opening frame, but appeared to show signs of fatigue after surrendering three straight goals, including aÂ snipe byÂ Ilya Kovalchuk on the powerplay. Reimer was replaced by Giguere to open the third period, who fared much better in his first appearance in several weeks.
As the Leafs prepare for their final game of the regular season on Saturday against Montreal, Ron Wilson and the rest of the coaching staff will evaluate the roster and likely recall a forward from the Toronto Marlies. All signs point to Joe Colborne, who wasÂ expected toÂ replace Armstrong in the lineup after he went down toÂ injury, but was sidelined with a head injury of his own. It will be an excellent stage to audition for a full time spot on the Leafs next season.
The Marlies will get a new arrival of their own in near-50-goal-man Greg McKegg after the elimination of his Erie Otters from the OHL playoffs was followed quickly by a three year entry level contract with the Maple Leafs. McKegg is eligible to play out the season in the AHL given his junior season is finished but as an 18-year-old he cannot play there until the same juncture next season.