Saturday, May 10, 2014

Soderberg's line comes up big again for Bruins

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have been searching for a reliable two-way third line almost since the day right wing Michael Ryder packed his bags as a free agent and left a hole next to center Chris Kelly and forward Rich Peverley after the 2011 Stanley Cup championship season.

With center Carl Soderberg and right wing Loui Eriksson getting rookie Matt Fraser to join their line, the Bruins' search might be over.

The three combined for six points in the Bruins' 4-2 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday at TD Garden. The Bruins now lead the series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Monday at Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"Well, I mean it's happened to us in the past. Anytime that we've had more than just two lines that can be a scoring threat, that's really helped," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Carl Soderberg's line has been arguably our best line so far in this series and they make things happen. So you've got to give them a lot of credit. It certainly takes a lot of pressure off the other lines."

The pressure began to be relieved in Game 4, when Fraser capped a strong night by the line by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime off a feed from Soderberg. That evened the series 2-2.

Soderberg and his linemates picked up right where they left off in Game 5. Soderberg scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoffs goal at 13:20 of the opening period from in front of the net off a feed by Eriksson. Soderberg won a faceoff and Fraser had passed the puck to defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who slid it down low to Eriksson.

With the Bruins protecting a 3-1 lead in the third period, Eriksson struck at 14:12. Fraser fired a wrist shot from the right half-wall off Montreal goaltender Carey Price's pads right to Eriksson in the slot. Eriksson's goal was his first in five games.

"Yeah, we're playing really good," Eriksson said. "We're playing smart and simple and we're making good plays. And we're getting some really good chances out there, so it definitely feels good. We have to keep doing that."

Since Kelly went out with a back injury in early April, the Bruins have tried several different players with Soderberg and Eriksson. Veterans Jordan Caron and Daniel Paille and rookie Justin Florek all skated in that spot in the playoffs to varying levels of success. Fraser was called up from the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League on Wednesday to skate in that spot in Game 4.

Eriksson and Soderberg had played together for a couple of months, ever since Eriksson got healthy after two absences because of concussions. Sometimes when two players have chemistry, it can be difficult for a third player to find his way, never mind one that hadn't ever played in the NHL playoffs before.

Fraser hasn't found fitting in to be difficult.

"You know what? They've both helped me out a lot. They've both talked to me, and that's such a big difference from, something I've noticed from the American league to the NHL is everyone's talking to you," Fraser said. "Everyone's letting you know how much time you have, and that makes such a world of a difference to, you get that split second to make the right play rather than kind of shoveling it up the boards."

Eriksson and Soderberg sometimes communicate in their native language, which is Swedish. They make sure to clue in the Alberta-born Fraser, and all three players bring a little something different. Soderberg uses his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame to clear space and his powerful legs to build up a head of steam. Eriksson is shifty with the puck and smart about getting open on the attack and into passing lanes on defense. Fraser has a dangerously quick release on his shot that has benefited from Soderberg's ability to back off defenses.

"Like with Kelly before, it took 10 games, 15 games to get the chemistry together. But then you're all set," Soderberg said. "And Loui and I have that chemistry for that long time. And now we have changed the third guy on our line and I don't know, like it seems like [Fraser] is a pretty good option there."

Julien was uncharacteristically transparent after Game 4 when he said that Fraser would play in Game 5. Nothing he saw Saturday should change his mind before Game 6. It should soothe the coach to know that Fraser and his linemates don't plan on simply duplicating their efforts of the past two games. They expect to increase their production.

"Yeah, I think as a line you can always be better and always want to be better," Fraser said. "Anytime you get satisfied is when you get stale, I think. And it's again, like it's fun playing with those guys. They work well with each other, and I'm doing my best to try and complement them."

Said Eriksson: "Yeah, it's definitely a nice feeling. But like I said, we played good the other day too and we just kept going there."

Canadiens' offensive stars need to step up in Game 6

BOSTON -- Saturday began with Max Pacioretty saying he needed to find a way to make an impact for the Montreal Canadiens in their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins.

It ended with him and many of his fellow teammates still looking for offense following a 4-2 loss in Game 5 that gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Defenseman P.K. Subban scored his fourth goal of the series at 17:31 of the third period to give the Canadiens a glimmer of hope, but the problem has become that the rest of the team has combined to score nine goals in five games, seven at even strength.

"We have to be better 5-on-5," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said.

Pacioretty and David Desharnais have three assists between them in the series, all on the power play. Thomas Vanek has one shot on goal in his past two games. Even the always reliable Tomas Plekanec had an icing that led to the Bruins opening goal in Game 5 and was in the penalty box for each of Boston's power-play goals that came 32 seconds apart early in the second and essentially iced the game.

"He's a veteran guy that's been around and been a great player for this team for many years," defenseman Josh Gorges said of Plekanec. "There's not much you have to say to him, he knows and he bounced back. He always plays well for us, so we're not too worried about that."

The Canadiens have not scored an even-strength goal on Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask in nearly 150 minutes of play (147:27), a streak that is still running heading into Game 6 on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Canadiens will need some of their offensive stars to snap that skid and start producing if they want to force a Game 7 back in Boston on Wednesday.

"I still think we're in a good spot," Subban said. "We're going back home. That's the barn. You know it's going to be loud. You know it's going to be full of energy. We're going to be ready to play. That's for sure. This one stings a little bit. We had an opportunity to take a stranglehold on the series and we didn't. We have to give them credit.

"At the same token, my experiences in the playoffs, when we've had success facing elimination, it's fun. It's fun hockey. You know we're going to bring our 'A' game next game, that's for sure."

Canadiens now desperate after another loss to Bruins

BOSTON -- Desperation.

It's a word that gets tossed around with great frequency this time of year and for the first time in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens are being forced to use it.

The notion of playing desperate hockey has been around almost as long as the game itself, but how to do it effectively is what separates the great teams from those that are merely good.

The Boston Bruins had it in Game 4 of this Eastern Conference Second Round series when, facing a 2-1 deficit in a hostile Bell Centre against an arch rival, they entered trying to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole the franchise has never climbed out of in 21 attempts over 90 years.

The desperation the Bruins showed in that game manifested itself through increased defensive awareness and seemingly put all of their energy into avoiding mistakes at all costs. The Canadiens suddenly weren't getting three breakaways anymore. The Bruins stopped making uncharacteristic turnovers in their own zone. Their game tightened up noticeably.

The result was a scoreless game through 60 minutes, a fortunate bounce off the end boards right at the beginning of overtime and the goal of a lifetime from Matt Fraser to tie the series at two games apiece.

After winning 4-2 in Game 5 at home on Saturday on the backs of yet another stellar performance from the line of Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson and Fraser, the Bruins are now the comfortable team in this series.

And now it's the Canadiens who are desperate.

Montreal swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and won Game 1 of this series on the road. Truth be told, the Canadiens have had a rather easy road through these playoffs until now.

How this group of players will react to this kind of situation is basically an unknown.

Based on what happened when the Ottawa Senators were successful in making the Canadiens lose their composure in a five-game playoff loss in the first round a year ago, the precedent is not strong.

"You back any animal into a corner, it's going to be desperate," said Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who had another strong night despite allowing four goals for the second time in the series. "We're going to be a desperate hockey club come the next game.

"We're excited for the challenge."

The Canadiens had reason to be desperate at the start of the third period of Game 5, down 3-1 on the scoreboard and still well within striking distance. But they weren't.

Montreal mustered four shots on goal through the first half of the third and none of them could have been considered the least bit dangerous.

Sometimes, desperation can in fact hurt you.

"It's tough, because you come out with desperation, like we've got to throw everything we've got at them. It doesn't always translate well to playing well," defenseman Josh Gorges said. "You can be desperate, then all of a sudden you wind up out of the play, or you're too overexcited.

"You're going so hard and you want to do so much."

The Canadiens didn't show much life until coach Michel Therrien pulled Price with under five minutes remaining and the score 4-1 after Eriksson scored his line's second even-strength goal of the game and fourth of the series.

It came too late, and now the Canadiens have a day to collect themselves and figure out how best to apply the desperation they will feel in Game 6 at home Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"It's a fine line," Gorges said. "It has to come, especially from the older guys on the bench reassuring everybody and communicating to everyone that you have to have that desperate mindset. That puck has got to be yours. That 1-on-1 battle has to be yours. Pucks on the blue line have to be out, they have to be in. That desperation has to be there, but not, 'I've got to do extra.'

"I have to bear down, I have to be desperate to do my job, but still play the game."

The Bruins will need to manufacture that same feeling, which shouldn't be too hard for them. This is a team with pedigree looking to reach the Eastern Conference Final for the third time since 2011, and doing it by eliminating a hated rival in its own building to boot.

"You can't count them out," Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. "We've been in situations before where we might have taken a team lightly, but you can never take this team lightly because they're a great team and you have to respect them."

The Bruins will need to respect the Canadiens, who were in this exact same situation in 2011 and won Game 6 at home to force a Game 7 that was won in overtime by Boston.

But even more than the Canadiens, the Bruins may need to respect their desperation.

Blackhawks seek way to shake free of Wild

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks admit they are frustrated by the defensive ways of the Minnesota Wild in this best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series, which is tied 2-2.

The Wild clawed their way back with a pair of dominating wins in Minnesota, allowing Chicago to score a total of two goals and manage 39 shots combined in Games 3 and 4. On a good night, the high-flying Blackhawks don't have to break a sweat to reach 40 shots in game. But in the four games of this series, Chicago hasn't managed more than 23 in any.

Game 5 is Sunday at United Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS), and the Blackhawks believe they have a multilayered answer to the suffocation they have been suffering.

First, Chicago is going to fall back to the default position of any team struggling to score in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Get to the net with a purpose.

"We have to get some bodies at the net, [and] when we do shoot the puck there's some traffic," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday at United Center. "We had some zone time that things didn't materialize. But I think whether you're getting 20 or 30 shots against this team, that's almost the quota. If you get quality off that, it's going to be with traffic at the net."

The Blackhawks are a high-skill team that likes to string together passes and make pretty plays. It is not working against the Wild, who have no qualms about setting up a five-man gantlet that must be navigated before a quality shot-on-goal attempt can even be contemplated.

So Quenneville is preaching the gritty style used by other teams so successfully in the playoffs. He wants his players to man-up in the slot, taking away the vision of Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. He wants his players to throw pucks at Bryzgalov, creating rebounds and deflection opportunities. He wants his group to be harder on the puck when they don't have it, generating offensive chances off turnovers and winning 50-50 puck battles.

Basically, he wants his team to play the way the Wild have in the past two games.

The Blackhawks also have another weapon in their arsenal: They are one of the fastest teams in the NHL and have to use that speed to their advantage.

"We need to play with high speed like we usually do," Chicago forward Marcus Kruger said. "That's something we haven't found, really, in this series."

Ilya Bryzgalov

Ilya Bryzgalov

Goalie - MIN


GAA: 2.91 | SVP: 0.866

Forward Michal Handzus said, "We can use speed. They try to slow you down for sure; they clog up the neutral zone and you have to get through it with speed. If we play a simple game, get speed through the neutral zone, you can get more shots. That's what you have to do."

The Blackhawks believe the last chance at a line change, afforded to the home team, will tilt the matchups dramatically in their favor.

Many of the top offensive players for the Blackhawks, including forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, looked out of sync during the two games in Minnesota. That's because Wild coach Mike Yeo was able to deploy the line centered by Mikko Koivu against the line of his choice. Plus, Yeo was able to deploy defenseman Ryan Suter against the forwards he felt to be most dangerous.

Quenneville said he will work harder in Game 5 to get away from those matchups and try to exploit the fall-off in talent from Suter when Minnesota gets deeper into its defensive rotation.

"The matchup, they've had it both games," Quenneville said. "Suter probably plays exclusively against Toews on the back end and up front he sees a lot of Koivu. We'll see; I know that having the last change we'll see what we can do, what we look to do. Every game is different, but certainly that's a very good pair and it's a very good line as well."

How Much Will Niskanen Command on the Open Market?

May 10, 2014, 2:50 PM ET [19 Comments]



Had an interesting talk with a veteran NHL scout about how much he thinks Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen will command on the unrestricted free agent market this summer if he does not re-sign with the Penguins first.

"I'm not a capologist, but I would think he'll easily get $6 million this summer on a long-term deal," he said. "He's had a great season, eats a lot of minutes, shoots righthanded and is still just 27 years old. It also helps him that the market has really thinned out because most teams have signed their UFA defensemen that other teams would covet on the market."

"Six million?" I asked. "Has he had enough high end seasons to get that much?"

"That's the risk," the scout said. "He's a good player but will he match his salary-drive season next year and beyond that? That's just the nature of the beast when you are doing business in the UFA market. He's going to get paid like a perennial star in his prime, bank on it."

From what I have heard, Niskanen will have no lack of suitors this summer. It will be interesting for sure.

More to come...

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Shaw shows encouraging signs, remains doubtful Sunday

There’s some light at the end of the tunnel for Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, but that doesn’t mean that his return from a lower-body injury is imminent.

“He’s progressing. Felt better the last couple of days, encouraging sign, but I wouldn’t expect him (Sunday),” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Shaw sustained the injury in Game 1 of the Blackhawks’ second round series against Minnesota when he was hit by Clayton Stoner. His mixture of grit and skill has been missed by the Blackhawks, who have dropped two straight contests going into Game 5.

With Shaw doubtful and forward Brandon Bollig facing a possible suspension, the Blackhawks might put Kris Versteeg back into the lineup. Versteeg was a healthy scratch in Game 4 and has two assists in seven playoff contests.

Loktionov, Polak out for rest of Worlds

Calgary Flames forward Sven Baertschi isn’t the only early casualty in the 2014 World Championship. While Baertschi suffered a fractured rib, Carolina forward Andrei Loktionov and St. Louis defenseman Roman Polak are both out for the rest of the tournament with shoulder injuries, according to the IIHF.

Loktionov, who was playing for Russia, will be evaluated further in Switzerland. The exact severity of his injury isn’t known, but his left arm was seen in a sling, according to Sport-Express’ Slava Malamud.

The 23-year-old forward had seven goals and 22 points in 68 games with New Jersey and Carolina this season. He was traded to the Hurricanes as part of the deal that sent Tuomo Ruutu to the Devils and is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer.

Polak, 28, had 13 points and 71 penalty minutes in 72 games with the St. Louis Blues in 2013-14. The Czech Republic-native comes with a $2.75 million annual cap hit through the 2015-16 campaign.

Andersen out tonight, Boudreau won’t reveal starter

Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen will miss Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings tonight because of a lower-body injury. If he was healthy, he would have probably started.

As it is, the decision is down to netminders Jonas Hiller and 20-year-old John Gibson. In other words, the veteran who struggled late in the regular season and lost the starting job in the playoffs or the promising rookie that has just three games worth of NHL experience.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t about to tip his hand.

“(Gibson’s) going to be a great goalie,” Boudreau said, per the Los Angeles Times’ Helene Elliott. “I don’t know if he’s today’s goalie.”

That’s not the only question mark for Anaheim as the Ducks announced that forward Mathieu Perreault (lower body) will be a game-time decision.

Like Andersen, Perreault was hurt during Thursday’s game. Forward Matt Beleskey also sustained a lower-body injury during that contest, but he has been ruled out by the Ducks. Daniel Winnik will make his series debut as a result.

The game will start at 9:30 p.m. ET and air on NBCSN. Los Angeles has a 2-1 series lead.

NHL schedules hearing with Hawks’ Bollig for Ballard hit

The Chicago Blackhawks might have to get by without Brandon Bollig during Game 5 on Sunday.

That’s because the NHL has announced that they have scheduled a hearing with the 27-year-old forward after he boarded Wild defenseman Keith Ballard at 17:13 of the second period during Friday’s game.

Bollig received a two-minute penalty for his actions while Ballard left the game. You can see that incident below:

This has been a difficult season for Ballard, who has already dealt with concussion problems in 2013-14 and had just returned from a groin injury on May 9. His current injury is being termed as “upper body” and he won’t travel to Chicago for Game 5, per the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc.

Update: It’s a phone hearing, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon.

Therrien: When Pacioretty gets hot, he’ll get ‘really hot’

Montreal coach Michel Therrien didn’t name names yesterday, but when he talked about the need for “certain players” to do more offensively, but it was generally believed that forward Max Pacioretty was one of the main guys he was talking about.

Pacioretty is a two-time 30-plus goal scorer and set a new career-high with 39 markers during the regular season, but he has just one goals and three points in eight postseason games. Therrien was a little bit more direct today, speaking specifically about the team’s reliance on Pacioretty, but he mostly choose to look on the bright side.

“He’s got to keep fighting, he’s got to keep playing with emotion,” Therrien said. “When he’s going to do that … eventually you know the puck will get in the net.”

Therrien added that when Pacioretty gets hot, he gets really hot. He just hopes that the 25-year-old forward turnaround will start tonight.

For his part Pacioretty acknowledged that he’s relied upon to score goals, but feels he’s been contributing in other ways.

“I just have to keep fighting the way I have been and maybe just calm down a bit,” he said, per the Canadiens’ website.

You can watch Therrien’s press conference below:

Game 5 will start at 7:00 p.m. ET and air on NBCSN.

Rangers riding emotion into Game 6 at Garden

New York Rangers center Brad Richards ideally would be playing a Stanley Cup Playoff game on Mother's Day knowing none of his teammates, let alone close friend Martin St. Louis, is dealing with any type of personal tragedy or hardship.

Because reality doesn't meet Richards' wishes, he said the Rangers should again try to keep their season going by using the emotional lift of having St. Louis in the lineup, this time for Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, days after the sudden passing of his mother, France.

The Penguins lead the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series 3-2. St. Louis was in the lineup for Game 5 on Friday, a 5-1 Rangers' win, after his 63-year-old mother died of a heart attack Thursday.

"When your season is on the line it's a given that you have to come in with every ounce that you have mentally and physically and put it all on the line," Richards said. "I think we did a good job of having everybody do it [Friday] night. That's the biggest challenge, getting everybody to put forth that energy level and try to do it all again [Sunday] night, make them try to get to our level. It was Marty [on Friday] night, and it's Mother's Day [Sunday], so we'll try to use that and get even more emotion and try to go out there and get a big win."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said St. Louis flew home to Montreal after the game Friday to rejoin his family. The 38-year-old left the team Thursday but returned in time to play Friday.

Vigneault said St. Louis is bringing his father and sister to Madison Square Garden for the game Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"Hopefully that will bring us some positive energy," Vigneault said.

The Rangers could use it. They are facing elimination for the third time this postseason. So far they are 2-0 with a win in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers and in Game 5 against the Penguins.

New York is 8-2 in its past 10 games when facing elimination, with its losses coming in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins last season and in Game 7 against the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a .953 save percentage and 1.38 goals-against average in potential elimination games since the start of the 2012 playoffs.

"It's going to be an emotional night without a doubt for our group, again, but through adversity and some of these moments we've been able to focus in the right areas," Vigneault said. "That's what we did [Friday] night. We focused in the right areas. We applied the game plan that we wanted to apply.

"Right now if our intentions are on continuing to play this year we have to win [Sunday]. Pittsburgh, if they don't win [Sunday], they still have another opportunity. From our standpoint, we don't have a choice. Our level of play, our level of execution, our level of compete and desperation has to be as high as it can be."

The Rangers' levels of execution, compete and desperation were admittedly low the previous time they played at Madison Square Garden. They managed 15 shots on goal and lost 4-2 to fall behind 3-1 in the series.

Richards said the difference between New York's dominant, winning performance in Game 5 and its poor, losing effort in Game 4 was skating.

"They have some talented people where they can go back and get pucks and wheel up the ice, and we gave them a lot of free ice in Game 4," Richards said. "We just seemed like we were [skating] more in fives [in Game 5], and when you're skating in fives you cover a lot more ice, and you turn pucks over, and you create a lot more."

The Rangers created traffic in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who gave up four goals on 26 shots through two periods Friday. They forced the Penguins into errors that led to two power-play goals, New York's first since Game 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The line of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello combined for seven points, including three each for Brassard and Zuccarello.

"We kept jumping on pucks, getting back together, getting back up the ice as quick as possible," Richards said. "I think it all starts with skating, and not just one guy on the line. The D-men and forwards, everyone was in unison and moving up the ice."

Why they didn't do that in Game 4 is a moot point now, Vigneault said.

"Like we've mentioned a couple of times, it was a bad time to have a bad game," he said, "but we did and we've moved passed it. We got ready for [Friday] night and we played a good game."

They did so by riding an unfortunate emotional lift created by a teammate's personal struggle.

The Rangers wish the circumstances were different, but carrying those raw emotions into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Mother's Day of all days, might help them force a Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.


‘Something was amiss,’ says former Blues assistant coach Agnew

Losing in the playoffs can come with consequences. Gary Agnew, an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues for two years, found out all about that.

The Blues were defeated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The club gave head coach Ken Hitchcock a one-year contract extension, but parted ways from Agnew and goalie coach Corey Hirsch. The decision to let Agnew walk was one that Hitchcock, it appears, could not offer influence on.

“There was no sign of extensions for anybody,” Agnew told “Nothing was happening. Something was amiss. When we lost to the first round to Chicago, it fueled the fire.

“Hitch and I are thick as thieves. He couldn’t do anything about it.”

But where one door closes, another is surely to open in the National Hockey League for Agnew, who spent six previous seasons as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Video: Ducks spin the goalie carrousel

The Anaheim Ducks are in a difficult position right now, with respect to their goaltending. The club, in the midst of a heated playoff series with their California rivals, the L.A. Kings, recalled John Gibson due to an injury to Frederik Andersen. Gibson could potentially be an option to start in Game 4 of that series, although Jonas Hiller did come in to relieve an injured Andersen in a Game 3 victory for Anaheim.

Blackhawks’ Toews: ‘This series is long from over’

The Chicago Blackhawks, defending Stanley Cup champions, have found themselves in a series with the Minnesota Wild. It didn’t look like that would be the case a few days ago.

The Wild, down 2-0 early on in this series, have won the last two games. That includes a 4-2 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 4 on Friday. The series now shifts back to Chicago, all tied.

“This series is long from over, so that’s the good news. We’ve got a chance to redeem ourselves and be better than we have been,” said Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews afterward, as per Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Toews added: “It’s playoff hockey. It’s not supposed to be easy. There’s going to be some moments where your stomach drops.”

The Blackhawks were shut out in the third game, and kept to just two goals – Ilya Bryzgalov was sensational for Minnesota after allowing a weak goal to Patrick Sharp – in the fourth game. (Just check out this save late in the third period.)

Chicago might have the advantage in this series on paper when it comes to talent. But the Wild have been able to keep the Blackhawks’ skilled players in check, for the most part, in the past two games.

On Friday, Chicago had just 20 shots on Bryzgalov in the entire game.

“We can look in the mirror and know we can do a better job of getting to their net and creating scoring chances,” said Sharp, as per Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.

Wild defeat Blackhawks in Game 4, tie series 2-2

Home ice has been the advantage in this second round Western Conference series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild.

After the Blackhawks took the first two games back in Chicago, the Wild erupted for a pair of wins in Minnesota. What was once a best-of-seven series is now just a best-of-three, as it shifts back to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday.

The Wild once again held the high-octane offensive players of the Blackhawks in check for the most part, keeping Chicago to just 21 shots on goal in a 4-2 victory in Game 4 on Friday. The series is now tied up 2-2.

Ilya Bryzgalov was front and center for Minnesota in the win. Yes, he had one of his moments when he gave up a soft goal to Patrick Sharp in the opening period. The Blackhawks’ forward beat the Wild goalie through the legs with a wrist shot from near the bottom of the faceoff circle, getting Chicago onto the board.

But he was brilliant after that.

His biggest save came off Sharp in the second period. Bryzgalov kicked out the right pad on Sharp’s breakaway chance, maintaining his team’s one-goal lead at the time.

Jared Spurgeon, with his second goal of the evening, gave the Wild a two-goal lead early in the third period.

Chicago had its chances, but it could be argued the defending Stanley Cup champs didn’t test Bryzgalov enough. Friday’s game was the fourth of this series in which the Blackhawks were held to less than 25 shots on goal.

There was a scary moment in the second period, when Chicago forward Brandon Bollig ran Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard from behind into the end glass.

Bollig was assessed a minor penalty for boarding.

Frustrated Blackhawks look for answers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is famous for his composure. Nothing, it seems, ever rattles Toews, who has already claimed two Stanley Cup titles in a career that has not yet reached its apex.

That's why it was so jarring to watch him skate back to his bench after another trying shift Friday in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

His team was trailing in what would become a 4-2 loss that evened the best-of-7 series at two victories each and the Blackhawks could not sustain any offense.

Toews' anger was apparent in the purse of his lips and the knit of his brow. His ears were ringing from the hoots and hollers of the 19,000-plus shaking the rafters of the house of horrors the Blackhawks were trying to escape. And then, without warning, his stick slammed on the ice just before he reached the bench, a telltale sign to anyone interested in such things that Toews was rattled.

"We're frustrating to play against," said Minnesota's Zach Parise, talking about how his team prides itself on making the opposition run a gauntlet of five players in order to even entertain the thought of a quality scoring opportunity.

When the Wild are on their game, as they were for the two games at Xcel, they can be a demoralizing opponent to play.

But the constant battle throughout this series for open ice is starting to wear on more than just Toews. All of the Blackhawks' big guns are frustrated by the grating attention to defensive detail demonstrated by their opponent.

"They do a good job playing their system and clogging up certain areas of the ice," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "But there are ways we can work on and talk about to create more offense. We're going to have to have more shots. Don't know what we finished with, but I looked up in the second period and we had nine shots. We have to create more."

Chicago finished with 20 shots on Friday, three nights after managing 19 in a 4-0 loss in Game 3 that allowed Minnesota back into the series. The Blackhawks had 23 shots in each of the first two games in Chicago.

How stifling have the Wild been? Consider this: Chicago has played 85 Stanley Cup Playoff games since 2003 and have been held to fewer than 24 shots on eight occasions. Four have come in the first four games of this series.

No wonder Toews appeared so unhappy.

"I think it's reflecting of our intensity," he said of the struggles to get shots on Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been thrust into the starter's role through a string of injuries to other goalies on the Wild. "They worked for their chances. They worked for everything they got. We have to do the same. I don't really know how to explain it, we have to be better.

"It's frustrating to not get a win the last two games on the road. Could have put ourselves in a great spot had we played the way we need to play to try and get a win these last two games. But we didn't. This series is long from over. That's the good news. We have a chance to redeem ourselves and be better than we have been."

So how do they do that?

"They play a well-structured game, but I think it comes down to using our speed and supporting one another better," Keith said. "Obviously, they're doing things too, but we can be better as far as using speed to support one another out there and make quicker plays and simpler plays."

That looked nearly impossible on Friday. For far too long, the single-digit number under the shots column on the Chicago side of the Xcel Energy Center scoreboard mocked the visiting team, a visible testament to the internal despair bubbling below the surface of the players.

The Blackhawks insist they will find a way out of this; that they will recover from blowing a two-game lead in this series. They insist they will win this best-of-3 race, which begins Sunday night with Game 5 on their home ice at United Center (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS). They insist they will find their offense.

Why? They have done it before, that's why. The defending Stanley Cup champions have faced hardship before, have looked it in the eye and refused to blink in situations as dire as this one, if not more. That is why they got to party with the Stanley Cup last summer -- because they had the mental toughness to outlast all comers.

"It's playoff hockey; it's not supposed to be easy," Toews said, already purging himself of the frustration he showed in Game 4. "There's going to be some moments where you're stomach drops and you're not feeling like everything is going your way. That's the way it goes.

"You have to find a way to battle through that and create something out of nothing, especially in this building when it's loud. They're playing with energy. Everywhere you look they seem to be there. They're checking you. You have to find a way through that. When you work hard enough, people are going to get lucky."

Wild's Cooke makes presence felt in Game 4 return

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke returned from his suspension in a big way Friday in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Cooke, who was suspended seven games for his knee-on-knee hit against Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series, led the Wild to a 4-2 win that evened the series at 2-2 heading back to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).

He immediately made his presence felt, slamming Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith into the boards with a big hit 20 seconds into his first shift.

On his second shift, Cooke hit Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy along the wall, forcing a turnover that led to an odd-man rush the other way.

On his third shift, he was instrumental in getting the Wild on the board, using an aggressive forecheck to create another turnover and leaving the puck on the stick of linemate Justin Fontaine, who rifled a shot past Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford for a 1-0 Minnesota lead.

“He’s a playoff performer,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “He was brought in here to do a lot of things and help you get to the playoffs, but the experience he has, the way that first goal was created, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Cooke didn’t look rusty in his return to the Wild lineup, playing the type of energetic game he’s become known for over his 16 NHL seasons. He led the Wild with five hits. His three blocked shots were also a team-high. He killed penalties and finished the game a plus-1.

“I felt like I had a lot of jump,” said Cooke, who signed with the Wild as a free agent last summer. “Just to get in there, get on the forecheck and create some energy, and it turned into a scoring chance. [Fontaine] made a great shot. It’s fun to contribute and fun to chip in. ... It’s just fun to be back out there again.”

Cooke said he knew he needed to bring energy, and he didn’t disappoint.

“I should have fresh legs,” he said. “I gotta go out there and lead the way, and hopefully my energy is contagious.”

Despite being out of the lineup for 18 days, Cooke has been a constant presence in the Wild’s dressing room. Following each win against Colorado and in Game 3 here against Chicago, Cooke was the first player to greet the Wild in the room.

With 101 playoff games under his belt, there isn’t much Cooke hasn’t seen, and his teammates know that.

“He’s been there, he knows what it takes to win,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “I think for all of us, to see from the first shift, the way he came out ... it’s not easy to come out after seven games. Great effort by him to go out there and lead by example.”

Cooke’s teammates also know what they will get from him each game, especially now that he’s making up for lost time.

“He makes a lot of little plays that go unnoticed,” Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. “He’s hard on their defensemen, and whether it’s on the PK or in on the forecheck, he’s able to get momentum for our team.”

Cooke said he worked hard over the past three weeks to remain in prime shape, doing extra skating work on the side in order to be ready when the suspension ended.

“After Colorado, I knew I was going to get a chance to play again,” Cooke said. “It was a push from that point on to know that when I went out and played again, I didn’t want to just be a guy on the perimeter that wasn’t able to go out and help my team.

“They helped me a lot. I wanted to go out and return the favor.”

Cooke’s hard work paid off late in Game 4, when he was still skating like it was early in the first period. As Chicago prepared to pull Crawford in favor of an extra attacker with less three minutes to play in the third, it was his relentless forecheck that forced Blackhawks defensemen to hang on to the puck behind the Blackhawks net, killing 20 or 30 seconds at a time.

“It’s 30 seconds they have to defend and play in their own end,” Cooke said. “It may not always lead to a goal, but we’re going to get opportunities; we’re going to get 2-on-1s.”

For the second straight series, the Wild have dug out of a 2-0 hole to turn a best-of-7 into a best-of-3. No matter what happens next, the Wild are a better team going forward with Cooke in the mix.

“A great veteran guy to have in the room,” Spurgeon said. “He’s won a Stanley Cup. Just to listen to the things he says before a game, and the way he plays out there in the playoffs, especially the playoffs, it’s a great boost for our team.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

Rangers 'play hard' for St. Louis after mother's death

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers weren't expecting to see forward Martin St. Louis when they took the ice for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

But one day after the death of his mother, France, St. Louis rejoined the team in Pittsburgh. He had one shot on goal in 16:19 of ice time, but it was his presence that inspired the Rangers to a 5-1 win that extended the series.

St. Louis learned of the death of his 63-year-old mother Thursday when the team arrived in Pittsburgh. He immediately left to join his family in Montreal. After spending time with his family and talking with his father, St. Louis returned to Pittsburgh on Friday.

"I know deep down my mother would have wanted me to play this game," St. Louis said. "She'd be proud of me coming here to help as much as I can. ... She was a great lady, best human being I've known in my life. I owed it to her to do it. I know she would want me to do it."

The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 on Sunday in New York (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Rangers had scored two goals total in the previous three games, all Penguins wins, before scoring five times to stave off elimination.

"He gets to the rink [Friday] and he's standing there ready to go," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "Can't say enough about the guy. Comes in and doesn't want to leave us out to dry. Comes and wants to compete with us and try to win the hockey game. Can't imagine what he's going through, what he's feeling like. It's an emotional lift. You want to play hard for a guy like that who's coming from such a tragedy. You want to rally around it."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said before the game he left the decision on whether to play to St. Louis.

"We had a good talk [Thursday] night, and at the end of the day my message to him was there's more important things than hockey," Vigneault said. "You have to do what's right. You have to take care of your dad. But they got up [Friday] morning and they talked and they sorted it out. And he's here."

St. Louis has been with the Rangers since the NHL Trade Deadline, but credited his new organization and teammates for helping him get through the past two days. He said he also has heard from friends around the League, and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby extended his condolences during a brief conversation before the game.

"When we landed at the airport [in Pittsburgh], we had to go, but I bet you if we all could have gone with him, the whole team would have gone with him [to Montreal]," New York forward Derick Brassard said.

The fact that Game 6 is Sunday -- Mother's Day -- is a coincidence not lost on Vigneault.

"For us, it was obviously a real emotional day," he said. "We got another chance to continue. It's going to be on Mother's Day, which is obviously going to be real special for our group. We're going to be ready."


Penguins fail to match Rangers' effort in Game 5

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins did the opposite of what coach Dan Bylsma preached during the past two days.

Bylsma said repeatedly that the Penguins could not allow the New York Rangers "any breath, any life" in Game 5 of their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series. Instead, the Rangers are very much alive after a 5-1 victory Friday. They trail 3-2 and can even the series by winning Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

After a desultory effort in a Game 4 loss to Pittsburgh at home on Wednesday, the Rangers came out from the opening faceoff with the kind of desperation Bylsma had warned his team about -- and the Penguins didn't match it.

"We expected their best and their very best off the hop," Bylsma said. "They came really hard, really aggressive down the walls and we turned over a few pucks as a result, led to their offensive zone time. But, in addition to that, we had some unforced errors. We shot it over the glass with not a lot of pressure and we had an unforced icing that led to a goal and we have a bad change that leads to a power play and another goal.

"So in addition to them playing their hardest and their best, I think we had some unforced errors as well."

The Penguins started Game 5 at Consol Energy Center in the same fashion that they began Game 1, which resulted in a 3-2 overtime loss. Pittsburgh trudged through a first period in which it was outplayed in nearly every facet of the game en route to a 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes.

New York outshot the Penguins 17-9 in the first and held a 12-3 advantage at one point. The Rangers also snapped their 0-for-36 power-play skid with a goal from forward Chris Kreider at 9:36 on their first opportunity with the extra man.

"I thought they came out like a team whose season was on the brink," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "At the start, I think we played like a team that looked like we had an automatic bid to the next round. When it's 2-0 right off the bat and you're playing from behind, it's not easy. You have to take chances, you have to play your big offensive guys … you have to wear them out. It's never easy.

"We didn't make it easy on ourselves tonight."

Pittsburgh came out much stronger in the second period, and the ice seemed to tilt in the Penguins' direction early in the period thanks in large part to the effort of forward Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin got the Penguins on the board at 3:23 with a spectacular individual effort. He skated past Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi and through defenseman Marc Staal before putting a shot on Henrik Lundqvist, who made the save. But Malkin outfought everyone for the rebound, made a full-circle spin and whipped the puck over Lundqvist to make it 2-1.

The Penguins played the next few minutes as if they were inspired by Malkin's effort, controlling play until Rangers forward Derick Brassard scored his second goal of the game at 7:58. New York's second power-play goal, a blast from the right point by defenseman Ryan McDonagh 50 seconds later, buried Pittsburgh in its first three-goal deficit of the series.

Pittsburgh had opportunities to get back into the game but failed to capitalize. Brassard and Girardi went off 37 seconds apart late in the second period, giving the Penguins 1:23 worth of a 5-on-3 power play. But they failed to register a shot with the two-man advantage.

"I think that's something that you can't allow to happen," center Sidney Crosby said. "I don't think there's much good to take from it. So, I think we have to be sure we come with the right mindset going to New York.

"Whatever mindset we had tonight, it wasn't enough."

Entering Game 5, Bylsma said "three wins get us nothing." The Penguins still have three wins, with one less chance to earn a fourth.

"I think you have to turn the page and you have to turn the page real quick," Bylsma said. "We're getting on a plane tomorrow, we have to go to the Garden for Game 6 and it's a tough place to play and a top building and a team that played desperate right now, played desperate in Game 5 and came up with a big victory.

"Now we're forced to go back there, and we have to play with that same desperation and we have to do it back there."

Video: Rangers get off to a good start

A 2-0 first period went so well for the New York Rangers, you almost expected a Rick Nash goal.

That didn’t happen, but they did score their first power-play goal since April 20 (Game 2 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers) in Game 5 on Friday:

Derick Brassard made it 2-0 with about four and a half minutes in the opening frame:

The easiest way to illustrate the turnaround is that the Rangers fired more shots (17) on Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period tonight than they did in all of Game 4 (15).

Video: What the Canadiens need to do

Montreal Canadiens fans had to feel pretty rough about Game 4′s 1-0 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins.

Any playoff defeat stings, but the Habs were one goal (from a player who never scored a postseason tally before Thursday) away from being up 3-1 in this series instead of tied 2-2 as they are. Even with that painful blow, EJ Hradek and Don La Greca discuss Montreal’s solid chances and what they must do to win this series in a Face Time segment:

Kings were prepared for long series vs. Ducks

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings didn't use a conventional method to win their Western Conference First Round series; instead, they became the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win a best-of-7.

So why shouldn't their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks become as drawn out?

That reality set in a day after the Ducks held on for a 3-2 win in Game 3, cutting its deficit in this series to 2-1. Anaheim can get even by winning Game 4 on Saturday at Staples Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).

"Going into the series, you knew it was going to be a highly competitive environment," Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said. "They had 116 points this year, and I think they scored over 260-some goals. We knew it was going to be a battle, and it has been."

Many pundits predicted the series would go seven games, but that perception was skewed some by the 2-0 series lead Los Angeles grabbed with wins down the freeway at Honda Center.

"Coming into the series, we were told that it wasn't that close, so we kind of bunkered in there and said it was," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "So we think it is close."

Los Angeles held a video session Friday, presumably to review the neutral-zone turnovers that led to their loss in Game 3. The costliest mistake was a puck that came free out of a collision between Kings Slava Voynov and Anze Kopitar that led to Teemu Selanne's go-ahead goal late in the second period.

Los Angeles committed 36 giveaways in the first three games. Martinez pointed to getting back to their bread-and-butter neutral-zone forecheck to eliminate those mistakes, but that has to be accomplished against a Ducks team that has four effective lines.

Sutter didn't have much to fault his team for.

"I think that, from all the data that we receive and look at, it was probably our best game of the series," he said.

Sutter cited puck possession, faceoffs and hits among the "wealth of knowledge" they receive.

"Those are dominant stats for us last night," he said. "I don't know how we didn't win."

Six of the eight games between the teams this season have been one-goal results. The exceptions were a 3-0 Anaheim win in the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series outdoor game on Jan. 25, and a 3-1 Kings win in Game 2 that included an empty-net goal.

With such little separation, the details come into focus. For the Kings, a common denominator in their wins in Games 1 and 2 was scoring first. The Ducks scored first and won Game 3.

"I think good starts are really important," Martinez said. "That's something we've preached all year, especially in the playoffs. You want to get off to a good start, play your game early, establish some momentum in how you're going to play the rest of the night. Obviously, that first goal is huge."

Defending home ice will be a huge part of the rest of the series, considering the road team has won every game. In any scenario, the Ducks and Kings are prepared for a few more bus commutes.

"Nobody thought, on our part, that we were going to blow them out right away," Kopitar said. "It's obviously nice to win on the road, but now we have to take care of business at home."

Bruins' Fraser proving time in AHL was well-spent

BOSTON -- During a 14-game stint with the Boston Bruins over the winter, forward Matt Fraser scored two goals and had a couple fights.

He was doing whatever he could to make an impression in his first season in the Boston organization during his first call-up.

In his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre, Fraser found a way to make a huge statement.

Fraser’s game-winning goal in overtime evened the series 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS) at TD Garden. Back home where the Bruins held an optional skate that Fraser did not take part in Friday, the 23-year-old wing was his humble self a little more than 12 hours after his heroics.

“You always think about it, but you never think it’ll happen to you. And it was a good play by everyone on the ice. I was just the beneficiary of it,” said Fraser, who’d been summoned to Montreal by Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney on Wednesday. “You always want to score big goals, but I think for myself I just wanted to be a guy that was contributing, whether that was scoring goals or making sure that I was good in my own zone. I think that was more important.”

Fraser’s performance even made coach Claude Julien, who’s normally tight-lipped about lineup changes, break his code of secrecy when it came to whether the 6-foot-1, 204-pound native of Red Deer, Alberta, would get another shot to thrive in Game 5.

“I think you will see him in the next game for sure; he is in,” Julien said.

Throughout the season the Bruins have received contributions from players they received from the Dallas Stars in the trade that sent star forward Tyler Seguin to Texas. Forward Reilly Smith had a 20-goal regular season and has three more in the playoffs. Forward Loui Eriksson battled through an injury-plagued season for 37 points in 61 games. Now Fraser has a chance to prove he was more than just a throw-in in that trade.

“I’m perfectly fine with just kind of not being in the spotlight and kind of going about my business,” Fraser said.

During training camp, Fraser shared the spotlight with a handful of players that were competing for one open forward spot among the Bruins’ top nine. Smith, veteran returnee Jordan Caron, journeyman Nick Johnson and a couple others all battled until Smith won the position. Fraser was demoted to the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, where he spent most of this season.

In 42 games for Providence, Fraser had 18 goals and 28 points. Goal-scoring has never been an issue for Fraser, who scored 70 in 135 games in his first two professional seasons. He also had two 30-plus-goal seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, including 36 during 2010-11. That season he signed with the Stars as an undrafted free agent.

But the Bruins wanted Fraser to work on the rest of his game so that his split-second release on his shot wouldn’t go to waste in a League that can tear apart a one-dimensional player. When the Bruins were hit by injuries and suspensions in December and January, they gave Fraser a look and he showed off that release and other improvements. He’s since honed his game some more.

“I mean, this is a guy if you give him the opportunity he can certainly put the puck in the net,” Julien said. “He’s gotten stronger and he’s played a bigger game than he had in the past, and those are the improvements you look for in young players. … So he just had to improve in certain areas and when those guys do that, they see the results and they see what it can do for them.

“He has come in here and, for a guy who maybe said he was nervous for the game, he certainly didn’t look like it. He seemed poised out there, and I said he made some good strong plays throughout the whole game.”

The demotion in training camp didn’t demoralize Fraser. Instead he accepted the coaching he needed and continued to prepare for a potential call-up down the road. By the time the Bruins called him up for Game 4, he’d already become an overtime hero with a goal for Providence in its first-round series against the Springfield Falcons.

Matt Fraser

Matt Fraser

Right Wing - BOS

GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1

SOG: 2 | +/-: 1

“I mean, you always want to make the team coming out of camp. I don’t think it was so much frustration, it was just you know that there’s a plan in place and you’ve got to trust that plan,” said Fraser, the first player to score a playoff overtime goal in the AHL and NHL in the same season. “And you know going down to Providence you play with some great players there and there’s good coaching there. And there’s lots of input from up here down there. You’ve just got to trust yourself and trust that there’s a plan in place and let your skill take over.”

Fraser, who will turn 24 later this month, found firm chemistry with center Carl Soderberg and Eriksson in Game 4. He played with Soderberg and fellow prospect Ryan Spooner during his earlier stint in the NHL. He’ll likely stick with the Swedes for Game 5 and until Julien feels the need to change things up.

The only thing Fraser wants to change is the length of his NHL resume. The goal in Game 4 is at the top, and there’s a lot of room for additions.

“You know, I guess the biggest thing is you don’t want to be a one-hit wonder,” he said. “Again … you always envision scoring those goals, but you never think it’s going to be you. And for myself, you want to be a guy that wants to contribute every night and bring something to the lineup. So during the pregame skate when the coaches are wondering who they should put in, they can look at me and know that I can do my part and get the job done.”

Therrien cautions Canadiens need more from top line

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The inability of Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais to make an offensive impact in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is beginning to wear on Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.

Friday, a day after the Canadiens' 1-0 loss at home to the Boston Bruins in Game 4 that tied their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Second Round series 2-2, Therrien was asked about his top two offensive players all season.

His answer, while not directly naming them, was revealing.

"If you look at the playoffs from the start, there are certain players that are having some trouble contributing offensively. These types of players need to adjust to the intensity of the playoffs," Therrien said in a conference call with reporters.

"Yes, they are being checked very tightly, we're aware of it on both sides. But there's an intensity to the beginning of the season, an intensity to the middle of the season and there's an intensity to the end of the regular season.

"But when you get to the playoffs, it's another type of intensity. Those types of players need to adapt to that challenge."

Though it is true Desharnais and Pacioretty have been made a defensive priority by Bruins coach Claude Julien, Therrien was able to get their line with Brendan Gallagher away from Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron for most of Game 4.

"I'm not pointing my finger at anyone," Therrien said. "There's a group of players that need to perform and bring us some more offense."

Desharnais, Pacioretty and Gallagher combined for four shots on goal in the game matched up principally against Boston's third line of Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson and Matt Fraser and the defense pairing of Matt Bartkowski and Johnny Boychuk.

Desharnais and Pacioretty have one point at even strength in eight playoff games after combining for 79 even-strength points in the regular season. That lack of production at 5-on-5 is what prompted Therrien to remove Thomas Vanek from their line and replace him with Gallagher in Game 3, a 4-2 Canadiens win.

In Vanek's first game on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Michael Bournival, he produced a highlight-reel assist to Plekanec. In Game 4, Vanek set up Bournival for a number of great chances, resulting in the rookie finishing with four shots on goal, or as many as the Desharnais line combined.

"This is an adjustment for them," Therrien said, "and they have to find that adjustment as quick as they can."

Even when discussing the play of Bournival, who had nearly as many shots Tuesday as he did in his previous six games combined (five), Therrien managed to take a bit of a shot at some of his top players by suggesting the rookie doesn't need to make any adjustments to the intensity of the playoffs.

"[Bournival] feels perfectly comfortable playing in a game like that," Therrien said. "He was definitely one of our most committed forwards in the game."

Aside from the lack of production from the top line, there was no sense of panic around the Canadiens on Friday.

Yes, they are facing the NHL's best regular-season team in a best-of-3 situation without home-ice advantage, but the Canadiens insist they are a confident team.

"It [stinks] to lose, it always hurts no matter what, but we're not discouraged," said center Lars Eller, who has been one of Montreal's most consistent forwards. "It's 2-2 and it's still a very open series. We've won games in Boston before, we're confident we can do it again, and we're not in a bad position here.

"We're still confident."

Looking ahead to Game 5 on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS), one of the questions facing the Canadiens will be what Therrien will do with his third defense pairing of Mike Weaver and Douglas Murray.

They were often matched against Boston's Soderberg line, which not only produced the Game 4 overtime winner from Fraser but was a possession monster with even-strength shot-attempt percentages higher than 70 percent for all three members of the line, according to

Therrien said he was very pleased with the performance of his third pairing, and Murray in particular.

Murray was inserted in the lineup prior to Game 3 to replace Francis Bouillon and has played 26:18 and been credited with 11 hits.

"I thought they played really well. I thought they were physical, they were blocking shots, they contained really well for most of the game," Therrien said. "A guy like Douglas Murray, he's a tough customer. He's tough to play against, he's physical and certainly he's a presence out there for us.

"I thought Weaver and Murray did a fantastic job for us."

Without the last line change in Boston, Therrien might feel compelled to bring Bouillon back in for Game 5 or he might not considering how well he thought Murray played in Game 4.

Either way, Plekanec said he feels with the series tied the Bruins are the team that will be under the gun to win Game 5 in front of their fans, and not the Canadiens.

"We expect a long series," Plekanec said. "It's not a surprise it's 2-2. Now we're going to their building and I think it's pressure on them.

"They're playing at home and they need that game."