Saturday, April 26, 2014

Five reasons the Boston Bruins advanced


The Boston Bruins are the top-seeded team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were expected to beat the Detroit Red Wings, a team that found its way into the postseason during the last week of the regular season.


But as history has proven repeatedly, the expected is not always what happens in the NHL's second season.


Yet the Bruins were able to accomplish exactly what most anticipated would happen in the Eastern Conference First Round, winning the best-of-7 series in five games. After losing 1-0 in Game 1 on a late goal by Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, the Bruins showed their skill and depth while rolling off four straight victories.


The Bruins advance to face the Montreal Canadiens, their most bitter rival, in the second round of the playoffs. But before we look ahead to what will be an emotional and intriguing Eastern Conference Second Round series, let's look back at how the Bruins were able to so effectively tame the Red Wings.


Doing the Dougie: A Boston team that prides itself on its defensive depth may have added another game-breaker on the blue line in second-year man Dougie Hamilton, who had a coming-out party of sorts in this series.


On several occasions, Hamilton took over the game with his skating skills and ability to read the play in the offensive zone. In Game 5, his three-zone rush confounded the Red Wings, including the usually unflappable Datsyuk, and laid the foundation for the game-opening goal by Loui Eriksson. Detroit never recovered, dropping a 4-2 decision that ended their season.


Hamilton finished the first round with a goal and three assists for four points, one behind Torey Krug for the team lead among defenseman. He did that while playing 17:12 per game, the lowest average time on ice among Boston's regular defensemen.


Power surge: The Red Wings scored six goals in this five-game series. The Bruins scored six power-play goals. That, as much as anything else, separated these teams.


Zdeno Chara led the way with two power-play goals and proved elusive by playing both high and low in the Bruins' man-advantage schemes. Defensemen Hamilton and Krug also had power-play goals, as did forwards Reilly Smith and Eriksson.


It wasn't as if Detroit gave the Bruins a ton of chances; Boston had 16 power plays in the five games (3.2 per game). The Bruins were just insanely effective, clicking on 37.5 percent of their chances. None of the other 15 teams in the playoff field has topped 30 percent, and only four others are above 25 percent.


Four-ward thinking: The Bruins dressed the same 12 forwards for each of the five games. Yes, they would have liked to have had Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly at their disposal, but both veterans remain unavailable due to injuries. Instead, little-used Jordan Caron and rookie Justin Florek were inserted in the lineup and played well enough in third- and fourth-line roles to allow the Bruins some continuity through the forward lines. Their effectiveness also allowed coach Claude Julien to roll four lines throughout the series, which kept everyone fresh late in games. That practice paid huge dividends in the overtime of Game 4 when the Bruins looked the fresher team for much of the extra time.



Tuukka Rask



Goalie - BOS


RECORD: 4-1

GAA: 1.16 | SVP: 0.961



Tuukka Time: Tuukka Rask, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL's regular season, lost none of his momentum upon in the playoffs. The Red Wings managed a respectable 152 shots against the Finnish goalie; he turned aside 146 of them, displaying a confidence that seemed, at times, to unnerve the Detroit shooters. Rask's 1.16 goals-against average and .961 save percentage are tops among playoff goalies with at least four starts in the 2014 tournament.

History lesson: Boston knew what it was supposed to do and did it. After rallying from a one-game deficit in the series, Boston took a stranglehold of things by winning both games in Detroit for a 3-1 series lead. The Bruins followed that by making sure things were finished in Game 5.


There was no interest in giving the Wings life as the Bruins have flirted with comebacks by the oppositions and Game 7s in the first round far too often in the recent past. In 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers came all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit in the second round to become a part of hockey history. Last spring, the Toronto Maple Leafs erased a 3-1 series deficit in the first round and pushed higher-seeded Boston to overtime of Game 7 before losing.


That didn't happen this time; Boston got the lead in the series and never relinquished its grip in pulling away from the Red Wings to earn a significant layoff before the next round.



Sharks’ Niemi pulled in second straight game


San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan has pulled goalie Antti Niemi for a second consecutive game.


The L.A. Kings, facing elimination again in Game 5 of this first-round series, built up a 3-0 lead over the Sharks in the second period of Saturday’s game, with Jeff Carter‘s goal 22 seconds into the middle frame ending Niemi’s night. He allowed three goals on 19 shots faced.


Making matters worse for the Sharks is the absence of defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who appeared to be injured when he took a jab to the back of the head from Kings’ forward Jarret Stoll in the first period.


Vlasic has yet to return to the game.



Bobrovsky ‘stands tall,’ but Blue Jackets can’t take advantage


There wasn’t much else Sergei Bobrovsky could’ve done for the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.


The Blue Jackets’ goalie was as busy as he was spectacular, only Columbus was unable to take advantage in a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blue Jackets now trail in the first-round series 3-2 and are facing elimination. Bobrovsky made 48 saves on the 50 shots he faced.


So, it was certainly difficult, if not impossible, to find fault in his performance. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets managed only 24 shots on Marc-Andre Fleury, as he came up with with the win and a much better game on an individual basis after the firestorm around the goals he gave up in Game 4.


“[We] just have to find ways to get pucks to Fleury. Obviously, there was a lot of talk going around that he’s struggling, so we didn’t test him nearly as much as we should,” said Columbus forward Ryan Johansen, as per NHL.com.


“Bob was great for us. He stood tall the whole game…it’s too bad we couldn’t get a couple more for him,” Johansen added, as per the Blue Jackets Twitter account.



Video: Kings’ Quick makes spectacular pad save


Andrew Desjardins had a chance to get the San Jose Sharks even on the score board in the first period of Saturday’s Game 5 against the L.A. Kings. But Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick had other plans.


Moving to his right, Quick made a pad save on Desjardins after some pretty passing from the Sharks set up a quality scoring opportunity with L.A., needing another win to stave off elimination, leading 1-0 in the opening period.


Just a few minutes later, Anze Kopitar gave the Kings a 2-0 lead with his first goal of the post-season.



Fleury: Pens fans gave him a boost (and goosebumps)


Pittsburgh Penguins fans might have booed Sidney Crosby during a portion of Game 5, but it sounds like they were supportive for the most part on Saturday. That seemed especially true for Marc-Andre Fleury, who sounded inspired after tonight’s 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.


Even with that confidence in mind, Fleury still isn’t cocky enough to risk leaving his net after that scarring Game 4 tying goal.


The 29-year-old stopped 23 out of 24 shots to help the Penguins take a 3-2 series lead. While there are plenty of people who probably still doubt the one-time Stanley Cup champion, it sounds like Mario Lemieux won’t need to console him for at least the next while.


Fleury and the Penguins have a chance to close out the Blue Jackets in Game 6 on Monday.



‘Who’s next there,’ says Bruce Boudreau after Capitals fire Oates, let McPhee go


On a day when there four Stanley Cup playoff games dominating the Saturday schedule, there was big news from the Washington Capitals, and naturally it grabbed the attention of those in the hockey world.


The Capitals fired head coach Adam Oates and will not renew the contract of general manager George McPhee.


Bruce Boudreau, the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, spoke on the matter Saturday. He, of course, worked as the bench boss of the Capitals beginning on 2007, with his tenure ending in 2011. In three of those five seasons, the Capitals had 100 points or more in the Eastern Conference standings.


“It’s not a surprise because everybody’s been talking about it,” Boudreau said Saturday, as per the L.A. Times. “I think George is a great GM and he’ll jump right back into it. Just sometimes, people need different spots.


“But he’s I think a truly, really, really good GM so I know he’s going to bounce back. I don’t know Adam at all. But I thought one went with the other. . . . It’s interesting to me now, is who’s next there.”


Already, names have been thrown out there as possible candidates to replace McPhee, who had been in the Capitals organization since 1997.


While speculation of possible replacements is now beginning to fly around, so, too is the blame for what happened in Washington after missing the playoffs this season. Needless to say, Alex Ovechkin, Washington’s star and captain, and the only 50-goal scorer in the NHL this season, is taking a great deal of criticism (see the video below…).



Bruins, Canadiens to meet in 34th playoff series


The NHL's biggest postseason rivalry is ready for its next installment.


The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will meet for the 34th time in Stanley Cup Playoff history when they get together in an Eastern Conference Second Round series. The Canadiens have been off since completing a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday; the Bruins held up their end by completing a five-game blitz of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.


Though the Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team during the regular season, they lost three of their four games against the Canadiens, including two games played in Boston (one in regulation, one in a shootout). The Canadiens have won six of the past seven games and are 351-264-103-7 in the regular season against the Bruins.


Though Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj is not likely to see a lot of playoff action against the Bruins, he played three times against them in the regular season and won twice, allowing six goals and finishing with a 1.95 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Starting goaltender Carey Price won his only start against Boston, allowing one goal.


Forward Max Pacioretty had two goals, each a game winner, against the Bruins. The only other Canadiens player to score more than once was defenseman Alexei Emelin, who scored twice and had one of Montreal's two power-play goals.


Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask played in all four games against Montreal, going 1-2-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. Patrice Bergeron was by far the Bruins' best offensive player against the Canadiens; he led Boston with two goals and three points, and he scored its lone power-play goal and game-winner.


No teams have come close to meeting in the playoffs as many times as the Bruins and Canadiens. The 33 Boston-Montreal series are more than the 23 between the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the 170 games between the Bruins and Canadiens are the most for playoff opponents; the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are next with 117.


The Canadiens have won 24 of the 33 series and 102 of the 170 playoff games, but most of that domination came from 1946-87, when the Canadiens won 18 consecutive series. Beginning with a five-game victory in 1988, the Bruins have won seven of the past 11, including the most recent meetings in 2009 and 2011.


Each team had a series or two it would rather forget.


The 1970-71 Bruins tore up the NHL during the regular season and seemed ready to repeat as Stanley Cup champions when they steamrolled the Canadiens in Game 1 of their first-round series and raced to a 5-1 lead in Game 2. But the Canadiens, with rookie (and one-time Boston draft pick) Ken Dryden in goal, rallied to win and went on to eliminate the Bruins in one of the most shocking first-round upsets in playoff history.


Eight years later, the Bruins appeared ready to end the Canadiens' domination of them when they led 4-3 in Game 7 of the semifinals. But a bench minor for too many men on the ice with 2:34 left gave Montreal a power play, and Guy Lafleur's goal sent the game into overtime. Each team had chances before Yvon Lambert scored the winning goal for Montreal. The Canadiens went on to defeat the New York Rangers for their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup.


The Bruins got a measure of revenge in 2011, though they did it the hard way. The Canadiens opened the series with back-to-back wins in Boston, only to have the Bruins bounce back with two wins in Montreal. The teams exchanged 2-1 victories at home, and Boston got an overtime goal by Nathan Horton in Game 7, marking the first time the Bruins won a playoff series after losing the first two games. Boston advanced despite going 0-for-21 on the power play, the first time in playoff history a team won a seven-game series without scoring a power-play goal.



Ramsay: Blues power play must get puck down low


For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks , NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.


Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay was most recently an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers .


CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues are struggling to score on the power play against the Chicago Blackhawks because they're relying too much on the outside shot instead of funneling pucks low and toward the net, longtime NHL coach Craig Ramsay told NHL.com.


"They're relying on a single-concept power play, which is get it to the point and shoot it, or get it from the point to the half-wall and shoot it," Ramsay said. "So they're looking at 45- and 50-foot shots and hoping for some miracle shot, but I don't see them with that guy, that big-time shooter. Chicago has recognized that and they're just flexing out. They're not ever afraid. They can take a penalty and they don't get scared."


The Blues are 2-for-23 on the power play in the Western Conference First Round series, which Chicago leads 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).


St. Louis' problems were evident early in Game 5 on Friday, when it had two man-advantage opportunities within the first 10 minutes but never threatened from in front of the net. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford had to stop only one of the Blues' eight shot attempts on the power play. Four attempts were blocked and three others missed the net.


"The low guy never looked to the net, never took it to the net, never tried to pass through the crease, never tried any single thing to make Chicago come down," Ramsay said. "There is no threat. If in fact you think your power play scores from out high, then you must show them something down low. You must threaten them with a low play to make them respect you and sag. If you can't get them to sag, then penalty killers just giggle.


"St. Louis just has fallen in love with one concept, so they have to make a little switch."


Ramsay said it is an easy switch to make before Game 6.


"Imagine this: They throw it low to the goal line and [David] Backes walks out, or they throw it low and [Jaden] Schwartz or [Vladimir] Tarasenko walks out with Backes in front," Ramsay said. "You now have a 2-on-1 with a chance to score, and you've created fear in the Chicago Blackhawks.


Ramsay said the Blackhawks will react if the Blues do more with the puck down low.


"You don't have to break people, but you have to show them something else," he said. "They just refuse. They want to use that high-shot, tip-rebound game. They can't keep doing the same thing and expect it to suddenly be better."


---



Five things Blues must do to force Game 7


CHICAGO -- The similarities might haunt a more pessimistic St. Louis Blues fan. They might even force an optimistic fan to rethink his positivity.


Last year, matched up in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis took a 2-0 series lead with Alexander Steen scoring the winner in Game 1 and Barret Jackman playing the hero in Game 2.


The same thing happened this year in Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions.


The Blues went to Los Angeles last year with a chance to close the series with two wins at Staples Center but couldn't score in Game 3 and lost 1-0. They went to Chicago this year with a chance to the series with two wins at United Center, but they couldn't score in Game 3 and lost 2-0.


Game 4 in Los Angeles was tight, but the Blues lost 4-3. Game 4 in Chicago was tight, but the Blues lost 4-3 in overtime.


The Blues went home tied 2-2 with the Kings and lost Game 5 in overtime, 3-2. They went home tied 2-2 with the Blackhawks and lost Game 5 in overtime, 3-2.


The Blues were eliminated in Game 6 against the Kings. The Blues are hoping the similarities end there, with Game 6 against the Blackhawks on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).


"Everybody is probably writing, 'Here they go again. They're challenging the top teams, but can they get through the top teams?'" Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday. "Everybody is going to write that stuff. But we have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it's in our control. ... And I want to see us embrace this.


"Yeah, we're knocking on the door and we're knocking hard, but we've got to push through. Just can't keep pushing up against the wall. We've got a real opportunity to push through the wall here. I want to see our players take advantage of this."


Here are five ways the Blues can take advantage of the situation and force the series back to St. Louis for Game 7 on Tuesday:


1. Start on time


It sounds so obvious. What team doesn't want to get off to a strong start? It doesn't matter if it's the regular season or the playoffs, at home or on the road, a strong start can go a long way toward a positive result.


The problem for the Blues is they have been better in this series when they've been trailing. Four of the five games have gone to overtime, and the Blues have had to overcome regulation deficits in all four.


That's a sign the Blues haven't had good starts, and that's not a recipe for long-term success in a best-of-7 series. Hitchcock knows it. He made it a major talking point Saturday.


"It seems like we play with more composure when we get down a goal," Hitchcock said. "I want to see us play with composure and that compete level earlier in the game, rather than a third of the way through the game. That, for me, is a big challenge for us moving forward, to show that competitive composure earlier in the games so that we can maintain our game and eliminate some of the chances for them."


Hitchcock said the Blues are in trouble if they try to match the Blackhawks scoring chance for scoring chance.


"It's hard to dig yourself out of a hole every game," he said. "And we've been chasing every game for the last three or four games. That wears you down after a while. For us, you like our spirit, you love our heart, you love everything that goes on with it, but I want to see us playing better early, and then that gives us a real fighting chance to win a hockey game."


2. Put some finish on it


The Blues couldn't ask for better chances to win Game 5 before Jonathan Toews scored on his breakaway in overtime.


St. Louis had 2-on-1s, even a 3-on-1, wide-open shots from the circles and the high slot. They had everything but a finishing touch.


Against the Blackhawks, who usually have a man back to avoid giving up odd-man rushes, blowing chances like they did Friday is something the Blues just can't do. And it's a double failure when you know that the Blackhawks are one of the best finishing teams in the NHL.


"If you've got to fall through the net, that's what's got to happen this time of the year," Blues forward T.J. Oshie said.


3. Miller in the getaway car



Ryan Miller



Goalie - STL


RECORD: 2-3

GAA: 2.32 | SVP: 0.911



Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford arguably stole Game 3 with a 34-save shutout, making Toews' goal early in the first period stand up until Marcus Kruger scored into an empty net. Crawford's performance that night turned the series in Chicago's favor and might be the difference in the end.

"Crawford, for me, he hit the home run in the third game," Hitchcock said.


St. Louis goaltender Ryan Miller has to knock one out of the park Sunday. He hasn't stolen a game in this series, and the Blues might not win another one if he doesn't.


Miller has a .911 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-against average. He has allowed three or more goals in four of the five games. He allowed one goal in Game 3, but that was Crawford's night.


"We're probably going to have to steal a game to bring this thing back, so he's going to have to be part of the steal," Hitchcock said. "He's going to have to be one of the robbers. He's going to have to be a big player for us. We know that, he knows that."


4. Do something, anything, on the power play


The Blues had two power-play chances within the first 10 minutes of Game 5. Not only did they fail to score, but they failed to generate any momentum.


It was two of several missed opportunities St. Louis had to win the game.


Not scoring on the power play is one thing, and it happens to even the best teams 75-80 percent of the time. But if a team can't swing the momentum in its favor for the next several shifts to follow the man advantage, then it's a total loss.


That's the only way to view the Blues power plays in Game 5.


The power play has been a problem for each team all series, but the Blues have had more opportunities. St. Louis' power play is 2-for-23 and averaging 1.47 shots per opportunity in the series.


Credit the Blackhawks for getting in the shooting lanes and blocking shots, particularly with one of the two high forwards (usually Michal Handzus), but the Blues need to have more of a plan to get their structure on the power play.


5. Check to make a play


The Blues don't have to be a big hitting team to be a big physical team. They're at their best when they check the puck back. They're vulnerable when they chase a hit.


"Chasing contact against Chicago works for a little while, but you learn to play through it," Hitchcock said. "I thought [Friday] some of their top players played through some of our contact, so we have to make sure we're checking better."


To be better at that Sunday, the Blues have to play with more control and composure than they had in Game 5. Hitchcock said the Blues will reduce the number of scoring chances against if they do that. That also might mean they'll have to reduce their number of hits.


St. Louis was credited with 47 hits in Game 5, but they didn't seem to affect Chicago.


"[Chicago] plays a game that makes you run around because they're going. They don't care. They fly," Hitchcock said. "So you're chasing and trying to get it slowed down. We're better just playing our game. That's the composure part. There's a difference between hitting and checking. I want to see us check more rather than chase contact. Sometimes when you're trying to get the game into your grasp, you chase contact a little bit. So for us, it's probably replacing emotion and probably adding the word intensity to it, which is a little bit of focused emotion."


---



WATCH LIVE: Detroit Red Wings at Boston Bruins (Game 5)


It could be elimination day for the Detroit Red Wings in Boston when they face the Bruins in Game 5.


The Bruins took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series with their overtime win in Game 4. The Red Wings are countering the Bruins with the return of Daniel Alfredsson to the lineup as well as swapping out Jakub Kindl for Xavier Ouellet.


CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE


The Bruins were in this position last year against the Toronto Maple Leafs being up 3-1 and back at home looking to close things out. As Milan Lucic said earlier, they’d like to avoid reliving last season’s fate.


Jonas Gustavsson will have to try and out-duel Tuukka Rask in goal and considering how well Rask has played all season, it would appear the Red Wings are really up against it.


Check out our preview of all of today’s games here.



Murray, Tyutin likely back for Columbus in Game 5


The Columbus Blue Jackets’ defense is going to get a big lift for Game 5.


According to coach Todd Richards, defensemen Ryan Murray and Fedor Tyutin will return to the lineup. Tyutin has missed the past two games and Murray missed Game 4.


Preventing the Penguins from scoring has been a bit of an issue for the Blue Jackets as they’ve allowed 14 goals in four games. The Penguins and Blue Jackets have traded off 4-3 final scores in every game of the series which means both teams feel like they’ve got some work to do on the back end.


Without Tyutin and Murray in Game 4, the Blue Jackets went with Nick Schultz and Dalton Prout. To say they’re getting an upgrade in Game 5 is putting it politely.



Wings changes: Alfredsson, Ouellet in — Bertuzzi, Kindl out


The Detroit Red Wings are facing elimination in today’s Game 5 and they’re changing things up a bit.


Forward Daniel Alfredsson will be back in the Detroit lineup after missing the past two games with a back problem. Alfredsson will take Todd Bertuzzi‘s spot in the lineup.


Forwards aren’t the only change as Jakub Kindl will take a seat in favor of rookie Xavier Ouellet. Kindl has been paired up with Brian Lashoff on Detroit’s third defensive pairing and they struggled mightily in Game 4. With the Wings facing elimination on the road in Boston, coach Mike Babcock has to try something to help out the blue line.


Detroit already has their hands full with Jimmy Howard taking a seat due to the flu and Jonas Gustavsson getting the start. Gustavsson played admirably in Game 4 in place of Howard but still took the loss on Jarome Iginla‘s overtime goal. Howard will back up Gustavsson in Game 5.



POST-PRACTICE AUDIO: Alain Vigneault, Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard







Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.




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Analysis: Fleury's positional play not a worry


For beleaguered Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the word "meltdown" has become virtually synonymous with the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


The phrase was already making the rounds to describe Fleury's postseason play before the top-seeded Penguins blew a 3-0 lead in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday. By the time that game ended, with Fleury mishandling a puck behind his own net to gift Columbus the tying goal in the final minute of the third period and whiffing on Nick Foligno's long, dipping shot 2:49 into overtime, the discussions about Fleury's ghosts of playoffs past only intensified.


Fleury has posted a sub-.900 save percentage in four straight postseasons since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2009 and his last two playoff runs ended with spectacular flameouts, including serving as the backup to Tomas Vokoun last spring after Fleury struggled mightily in the first round against the New York Islanders.


Before lumping all of Fleury's recent playoff collapses into the same messy pile of ill-timed, odd-looking goals, it is worth understanding the style changes he made this season to avoid a repeat of how the last two seasons ended. In doing so, the differences, and some similarities, between Fleury's past "meltdowns" and what has happened so far against Columbus should be made clearer.


OLD FLEURY


If there was a defining characteristic of Fleury's past two playoff collapses, it was aggressive positioning leading to extra movement. The two often go hand in hand because the further away from the net a goalie starts on a play, the more he has to move laterally to stay centered on the goal and the more distance he has to travel to recover to the goal posts as the play unfolds.


For Fleury, this manifested itself in several ways, leading to ugly-looking goals.


On rushes by the opposition, Fleury challenged beyond the top of his crease and his use of short shuffles to track laterally from a narrow stance sometimes caught him moving as a shot was taken. The result all too often saw Fleury stuck up on his skates and appear frozen as the shot passed.


It also left Fleury unable to get back to his post if a shot went wide and bounced off the end boards, or a rebound spilled back to his side. He also had a tendency to make his recovery moves to a spot outside of his posts and the result was a lot of how-did-that-go-in bounces from bad angles. By moving around outside of his crease rather than staying inside and sealing the posts, Fleury left himself prone to unsightly ricochet goals off his body.


Compounding these problems was Fleury's tendency to get more aggressive if things went wrong, chasing the puck rather than concentrating on his next save position, leaving himself even more distance to recover in less time. The result often left him looking frantic.


It's here that Fleury's overaggressive positioning used to show up more in terms of being outside the left and right edges of his crease, not just on top of it.


In addition to the scrambling, bad-angle goals, it left Fleury with too much space to cover on cross-ice passes off the rush and while the Penguins were killing penalties. The only thing more shocking than the number of times the Penguins allowed these lateral passes through, especially against the Philadelphia Flyers power play in the 2012 playoffs, was Fleury's inability to get all the way across despite his explosive pushes.


When he did get across, it was usually on a flat path across his crease instead of with good hip rotation and a push back to the far post, leaving him not square and often fully extended, opening holes for pucks under and through him. Even when he was able to get back and forth tracking passes on his skates, he'd often get caught in motion rather than being set when the shot was released.


NEW FLEURY


Mike Bales arrived last summer as the Penguins goalie coach and he brought a plan to reel in Fleury's initial depth and give him more contained positioning staples which would hopefully become helpful at the first sign of adversity.


Fleury now plays rush chances "heels out," meaning the back of his skates are still touching or are barely outside the top of the crease. His depth on end-zone play is contained within the blue ice, often as much as a couple of feet below the top of the crease, and almost never beyond the outside edges of it.


This serves several benefits, including the ability to move less and still beat lateral passes with shorter, quicker pushes. This allows Fleury to get set for either a shot or another pass. He also has more time to rotate his hips properly before driving back to the inside of his posts, his new default target under Bales. He can now travel laterally while still staying square to the next shot, first establishing his new angle and then coming out and adding required depth if there is still time.


Fleury gets caught outside of his posts far less often now. He also added a new technique to seal the posts off against attacks from along or below the goal line.


Instead of his old preference for VH (the V stands for "vertical" because the short-side pad is upright against the post and the H is for "horizontal" as the back pad is down on the ice parallel to the goal line), Fleury now uses a technique called "Reverse" for most post-integration plays.


With the Reverse, the lead pad is along the ice against the inside of post, with the torso and shoulders leaning into the iron. The back pad is just off the ice along the goal line and the back skate is pushing the body into that post seal. In addition to being a less locked up, "blocking" technique than VH, the Reverse keeps more of Fleury's body between the posts rather than right on, and even outside, the post, providing more coverage even before pushing off on passes into the middle or across.


Add it all up and Fleury evolved into a more controlled game this season.


SAME OLD FLEURY?


The new style doesn't change everything, though.


Fleury can still be aggressive, whether coming out to play a puck his coach said he should leave, like on the tying goal in Game 4, or throwing out a poke check on breakaways. There is also still a tendency to default to blocking saves in situations where his reactive game should allow him to make more controlled stops, sometimes leading to unmanageable rebounds and more desperate recoveries.


As for his new positioning in these playoffs, so far he's stuck with the game plan.


There were a couple of signs of the old Fleury in Game 3, when he got caught shuffling slightly outside the left edge of his crease and on his feet on a Jack Skille rush shot, delaying his drop enough that he was left in more of a blocking mode and coughed up a slot rebound that Boone Jenner put back between his legs. But Fleury's real mistake was arguably getting back up at all after the first save instead of staying down and keeping the hole closed so it could not be exploited by Jenner.


When Jack Johnson beat him on a rebound off a shot from below the goal line less than two minutes later, making it two goals on three shots in just 3:18 to start the game, the national commentary included two pointed references to Fleury being in the midst of a "meltdown" as coach Dan Bylsma called timeout.


On the goal itself, Fleury used his Reverse technique on the short-side post, but reached and poked needlessly at the sharp-angle attempt with his blocker and stick, slightly delaying his upper-body rotation back into the middle for Johnson's wide-open attempt in the right slot. It was a combination of the improved new positioning and technique, which still left him in position to make the save that was undermined somewhat by that old aggressive nature.


Was it a meltdown? Not to the extent of year's past.


Fleury did drift slightly outside the left edge of his crease again on a rush chance which resulted in a back-door deflection goal for Cam Atkinson to make it 3-1 early in the third period, but it's hard to make a case for him stopping that goal in either style. In between those goals, Fleury kept the Penguins alive with several good stops with his more conservative positioning, including a couple of chances on a power play that would have been difficult for him to stop in the past two playoffs.


This all brings us back to Game 4.


Bylsma would have preferred Fleury didn't play the puck behind his net in the last minute of regulation and, dipping or not, he needs to make the overtime save from 50 feet.


Unlike past playoffs, however, he wasn't caught on his feet shuffling well outside the blue ice and unable to react at all as the puck went by him. This time, Fleury was set, with his heels at the edge of the blue ice as he has been all season. But he whiffed on a knuckler and the "meltdown" was back on, with understandable questions about his mindset after a soft goal quickly followed that poor decision.


How he reacts to start Game 5 on Saturday may provide a better indication if it's true. So far, Fleury has stuck with the new system, straying slightly a couple of times but never reverting totally back to the panicked, overaggressive style of playoffs past.


Whether or not it will be enough to overcome some of the other tendencies which remain in Fleury's game is still to be seen.



Maroon finds an NHL home in Anaheim


ANAHEIM – Perhaps the funniest moment from the television program "NHL Revealed," which documented the lead-up to the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium, was Drew Doughty's assessment of Anaheim Ducks forward Patrick Maroon.


During a game between the Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings, Maroon induced a tripping penalty on Doughty, the two-time Olympic gold medalist defenseman, which prompted the noted trash-talker.


"Buddy, you [stink] at hockey!" Doughty yelled at Maroon. "And you've been in the minors for how long? How long? And you're still on the fourth line? You're still on the fourth line."


Maroon grinned. At least Doughty knew his resume: five full seasons in the American Hockey League, including separate stints with organizations that changed cities. He's played in Texarkana, St. Louis, London, Philadelphia, Adirondack, Syracuse and Norfolk. It takes more than chirping to get Maroon rattled.


"It's part of the game," said Maroon, who turned 26 on Wednesday. "You chuckle at it. We were both doing it."


Four months later, it's apparent that Maroon won't see a minor league rink anytime soon as he continues to carve out a role with the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's not filling up the stat sheet but Maroon looks more like one of those unsung heroes every team needs to have a big postseason.


"I'm counting Patty as one of those [players], for sure," forward Teemu Selanne said. "If you look at all the great teams in the past, the first line's always there, the second. The third and fourth line? They're going to make a difference … there's always surprise players. Patty Maroon has been one of those guys for us. He's so strong and sneaky in the offensive zone; long reach, and he really wants to score. And he's hungry. That's the key."


The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Maroon is a power forward who coach Bruce Boudreau put on a line with playmaking center Mathieu Perreault and the 43-year-old Selanne, and the trio has had some memorable games. They combined for two goals and three assists and Maroon had his first multiple-goal game as an NHL player in a 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on April 9. Maroon assisted on Perreault's goal in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Dallas Stars and scored in Game 4. He had another assist Friday night in Anaheim's 6-2 victory in Game 5.


"It's been fun," Maroon said. "Once he put us together, we've never looked back. [Perreault's] a little guy that works his butt off. He gets his nose dirty with guys 6-6, 6-2. He's got really good vision, really good skill. Teemu's got the speed, the hockey sense."


Maroon has it too. He plays on the Ducks' first power-play unit, using the skills that helped him lead the London Knights with 35 goals in 2007-08. He scored 32 goals for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL in 2011-12 and has 58 goals and 66 assists in his past 139 AHL games.


He also spent a fair amount of time in the penalty box, but he's evolved that part of his game.


"I saw him in our little preseason camp," forward Daniel Winnik said. "I thought he was a real good player – big, good hands. I think he's really shown that now. I think he's really gotten into a zone. I think he realizes he doesn't have to fight to be in this League. He doesn't have to fight every night to stay in the lineup. The way he's producing is great. We need that in the playoffs."


Maroon's path to the NHL began with a wake-up call when former NHL player Kelly Chase, owner of the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League, told the teenage Maroon to drop some weight. Maroon, at his heaviest, was 240 pounds.


"I was 16 years old," he said. "I lost weight before my first year of juniors. It's an issue. You're growing up and maturing into your body and you put yourself on the offense."


The advice hit home. Maroon grew up in St. Louis and Chase was part of the Blues teams that he followed during the Brett Hull/Adam Oates era.


"He was really good to me," Maroon said of Chase. "He's one of the reasons I got drafted."


A sixth-round selection in the 2007 NHL Draft, Maroon came to Anaheim in 2010 with David Laliberte in exchange for Danny Syvret and Rob Bordson, a minor trade that garnered little attention.


Maroon will get more notice if he continues to produce in his first playoff appearance. NHL postseasons are dotted with unknown players who come out of nowhere. Think Chris Kontos of the Los Angeles Kings in 1989 or Joel Ward in 2011.


"He's an unknown as far as people in the media in the East," Boudreau said. "But he's played great for us. He's become a true power forward. It's his first playoffs, so we'll see how he can handle that as well."


In a twist to that Jan. 25 encounter with Doughty, Maroon's Ducks are one win away from advancing while Doughty's Kings are on the verge of elimination. Maroon has allowed himself to enjoy this ride.


"I have no words," he said. "I never thought I would be in this situation. I've got some power play time. I think Bruce Boudreau's been really fair to me. He's been really good to me. Hats off to him. I'm just trying to take it all in."



Stanley Cup Playoffs Three Stars: Mason evens Flyers; Getzlaf’s return powers Ducks


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Video: Tempers flare near end of Anaheim-Dallas blowout


Shortly after Corey Perry scored to make it 6-2 on Friday night — which would end up being the final score in Anaheim’s Game 5 win over Dallas — things boiled over between the Stars and Ducks.


The two teams, who have shown a healthy dislike for one another throughout this series, combined to rack up 60 penalty minutes in this wild sequence:


The penalty breakdown, in case you were curious:


source:


The ugliness wasn’t isolated to the third-period dust-up. Midway through the first period, Ryan Garbutt was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for spearing Perry:


Garbutt offered up this explanation following the game…



Ducks break out on power play, cruise to Game 5 win over Stars


The Anaheim Ducks have been up and down on the power play all season long but on Friday night, they were up.


Way up.


The Ducks scored four times on the man advantage in Game 5 — after going 0-for-11 in the previous three games — cruising to a 6-2 victory over Dallas while taking a 3-2 series lead in the process.


Dallas has been teetering on the fine line between intensity and poor discipline throughout the series, and the latter was its undoing tonight. The Stars made several decisions that left them shorthanded, beginning when their resident agitators — Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt — took first-period penalties that led directly to Anaheim goals.


Roussel was called for interfering with Frederik Andersen four minutes in, and Nick Bonino capitalized shortly thereafter for his first goal of the series. Then, at the nine minute mark, Garbutt took a five-minute spearing major on Corey Perry and was tossed from the game — on the ensuing power play, Rickard Rakell scored his first-ever NHL goal on assists from Francois Beauchemin and Luca Sbisa.


In the second period, there was more of the same — Dallas lacking discipline, and the Ducks taking advantage.


Mathieu Perreault scored his second of the playoffs on the PP, awarded to Anaheim after Alex Goligoski was called for (another) goalie interference penalty late in the opening frame. Dallas cut the lead to 3-2 when Shawn Horcoff scored midway through the period, but the Ducks blew the game wide open early in the third when Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Getzlaf scored in the opening five minutes, before Corey Perry scored — what else? — a power-play goal at the 6:49 mark.


All told, Getzlaf and Perry combined for six points on the night while Dallas’ dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin went for just one. While that’s too simple a narrative to describe the entire series, a trend has developed where the team that gets the better performance from its star duo tends to have the greater amount of overall success.


Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how the Stars regroup and prepare for Sunday’s elimination game in Dallas. The team was great in its first two games at American Airlines, but are now coming off their biggest blowout loss of the series and will have questions about Kari Lehtonen, who was hooked tonight for the first time in this series.



Lehtonen hooked, Thomas makes Dallas playoff debut


Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen was chased from Friday’s game in Anaheim after allowing five goals on 21 shots, paving the way for Tim Thomas to make his Stars postseason debut.


Lehtonen, who stopped 58 of 60 shots in back-to-back wins in Dallas — recording his first-ever postseason shutout in the process — couldn’t replicate that success at the Honda Center. He was OK through two periods, making 16 saves on 19 shots, but was hooked less than five minutes into the third after surrendering two goals on his first two shots faced.


Thomas, who hasn’t played in the postseason since backstopping Boston during the opening round of the ’12 playoffs, looked a little shaky upon entering the contest, gambling on a poke check and missing as Corey Perry scored to make it 6-2 Ducks.



Getzlaf's return sparks Ducks to blowout win


ANAHEIM -- It wasn't all that long ago that Ryan Getzlaf admitted he struggled as captain of the Anaheim Ducks. He had difficulty balancing hockey and family life as a new father, and the result was one of the worst seasons of his career.


But those days are in the past.


During this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Getzlaf became a father for the third time and has been bloodied, scarred and stitched. Nothing has slowed him down; in fact, he's actually furthered his legacy as captain and solidified his Hart Trophy credentials after finishing as the NHL's No. 2 regular-season scorer.



Ryan Getzlaf



Center - ANA


GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7

SOG: 8 | +/-: 3



The latest example came Friday night when Getzlaf tied a postseason career-high with a three-point game in a 6-2 win against the Dallas Stars at Honda Center in Game 5 of their Western Conference First Round series. He scored a goal and set up two others after missing Game 4 with an undisclosed upper-body injury, likely the result of taking a slap shot in the face in the final stages of the series opener.

"He's a catalyst for the team - bottom line," center Andrew Cogliano said. "He creates another dimension that you can't insert in the lineup. When he's in, it forces our lines to be in the right position - guys playing in the right spots. When he's not, guys aren't really in the right spots, and I think it speaks to our team.


"I think he should be a strong nomination for the Hart Trophy. He's carried this team for a long time. It seems whenever he has a little injury or is dinged up, he plays his best hockey."


Cogliano joked that, "Hopefully, he keeps getting injured. It's tough for him, but it's better for us."


It was no joke at the start. Getzlaf's night did not begin out ideally. He committed an egregious giveaway that Jamie Benn turned into a shorthanded goal that tied it 1-1.


"Well, judging by my turnover to Benn - he put it in the back of our net -- obviously that's not what I'm looking for," Getzlaf said of getting into rhythm after sitting out Game 4. "But our guys did a good job rebounding on that, and as for my game, I thought it got better as the game went on, and I felt more and more comfortable."


It took Getzlaf less than six minutes to have an impact on the score sheet; he set up Nick Bonino from the right circle in the first period to open the scoring. Getzlaf's second assist was a perfectly threaded cross-ice pass to Mathieu Perreault that was just out of the reach of Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon and resulted in the third of a franchise-postseason record four power-play goals.


Getzlaf finished it off with a goal that was really a product of linemate Corey Perry, who dispossessed Dillon in the corner and fed Getzlaf for a one-timer and a 5-2 lead.


Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau has always had a good read on his players, and he felt comfortable enough to play Getzlaf a game-high 19:51 through two periods before Getzlaf rested the final 10 minutes.


By then, his impact had already been made.


"Every time you get your captain back, it's going to make you feel better," Boudreau said. "It's like your big brother is back. Guys felt a little more secure, and he came out and played a really great game as well as the other guys."


Getzlaf passed Teemu Selanne for No. 1 on the Ducks' all-time Stanley Cup Playoffs points with 66 but he doesn't expect that to last.


"He'll probably catch me tomorrow," Getzlaf joked. "With T, I don't think I'm ever going to have a lead in this organization until he actually steps away."



Friday, April 25, 2014

Toews finding his scoring touch at right time


ST. LOUIS -- Jonathan Toews says he expects to score "ugly goals" in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That didn't happen Friday night.


Toews' breakaway goal 7:36 into overtime off a clearing attempt from Duncan Keith by way of Andrew Shaw's shin pad was a thing of beauty, and something of a lucky break too. The Chicago Blackhawks' captain will take it not only for the win, but for his personal confidence.



Jonathan Toews



Center - CHI


GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6

SOG: 11 | +/-: 4



Toews was forced to help the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in other ways last year because he went into a deep scoring slump; he went the first nine games without a goal and then another 10 before he scored twice in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Toews had three goals in 23 playoff games last year; he already has two, both game-winners, in five games this year. Toews' goal Friday lifted Chicago to a 3-2 win against the St. Louis Blues and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series.


Game 6 is Sunday at United Center (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).


"It's nice to not have to fight that and work for that first one like I was last year," Toews said. "People start talking about it and whether you want it to or not it gets in your head. You want to score goals. You want to contribute offensively for our team. Last year I didn't have to, clearly, but I wanted to."


Toews, whose goal in Game 3 was the difference in a 2-0 Blackhawks' victory, said he went into overtime thinking he was going to be the hero.


"I think that's the only way you can find a way to score a goal," Toews said. "If you don't go into an overtime period thinking that you might be the guy, [that] you might be the one to help your team end the game and get the win, than I don't think you're in the right mindset or frame of mind to score that goal. Every guy in this room goes in thinking he might be the guy to get that lucky bounce. I tell myself that a lot. It doesn't always necessarily work out, but [Friday night] it did."


Toews has been fast, on pucks, physical and opportunistic through the first five games of the series. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he thinks the six games that Toews sat out at the end of the regular season made a big difference.


Not only did Toews play deep into June last year because of the Blackhawks' Cup run, but he was a significant player on Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.


The six games Toews played in Russia he made up for at the end of the season, when he sat out with a shoulder injury that the Blackhawks knew all along would heal in time for the playoffs.


"Getting that break coming into the playoffs got him fresh," Quenneville said. "A lot of hockey for him last bit of time, but he's skating hard, skating well. That time away did him some good."


Toews said as much earlier in the series. He's feeling even better now even though the five games Chicago has played against St. Louis have been physically and mentally taxing.


Four of them have gone into overtime, including triple-overtime in Game 1, marking just the fifth time in Stanley Cup Playoff history that at least four of the first five games of a series have gone past regulation, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.


"[He's doing it] in such a tight-checking series too," Keith said of Toews. "There was a lot made out of him not scoring last year. I think he still had a lot of chances, but he just couldn't score. It's nice to see him get some goals there. He's always got that leadership, work ethic and two-way game in him. So when he's scoring it obviously makes our team that much more dangerous."


To get the overtime winner Friday, Toews simply had to come onto the ice and go to the right spot. He jumped over the boards and was heading toward the Blackhawks' zone to backcheck when the puck just came to him.


Keith had swatted it out of the defensive one and it hit off Shaw before coming to Toews, who was behind St. Louis defensemen Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester.


"I came on just kind of backchecking through the middle of the ice and the next thing the puck just came up the middle of the ice to me," Toews said. "I turned back and went the other way."


Toews said he noticed Blues goalie Ryan Miller come out of his crease, so he knew he'd have to make a move to try to beat him. He deked to his backhand, got Miller to bite, and slid the puck into the net.


"I wasn't even sure where their D-men were," Toews said. "Just got going as fast as I could to take advantage of a chance.


"It was instinctive."


Shaw and Keith said it was clutch, a word typically associated with Chicago's captain.


Toews didn't have many clutch moments in the playoffs last year, but the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup anyway. That he's scoring goals now doesn't bode well for the rest of the NHL.


"Give an opportunity to a guy like that, he's going to put it in the back of the net," Shaw said.


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