Saturday, April 25, 2015

Islanders' persistence created Game 6-winning goal

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Coaches always tell their team to play to the whistle, and there was a prime example why in the New York Islanders' 3-1, Game 6 win against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday.

John Tavares found Nikolay Kulemin for the game-winning goal in the third period with several Capitals perhaps backing off thinking there would be a whistle.

The result tied the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First round series 3-3, causing the need for Game 7 at Verizon Center on Monday.

With less than 10 minutes remaining in the third period, Capitals forward Joel Ward and Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk were tied up near the benches, and Alex Ovechkin and Brock Nelson also were jousting. But there wasn't a whistle, and Tavares skated into the Capitals zone and took a shot on goal that was saved by Braden Holtby.

Ovechkin checked Tavares behind the net, with Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner nearby, and the puck went to Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy along the boards. He passed to Nikolay Kulemin wide open in the slot, where he scored the goal that made it 2-1 with 9:27 remaining.

"It was a war zone in front of the bench there, and I just realized I had a lot of room and there was a lot more ice because of what was going on," Tavares said. "I tried to get to the net, I got hit there, the puck kind of popped out. Two guys were on me, so I think [Leddy] had time and fed Kulemin, and Kulemin made a nice move."

Kulemin said, "I saw open space in front of the net and Nick Leddy made a great play and Johnny Tavares made a great play in the corner and I had a breakaway."

Tavares, as would be expected, said he was fine with there not being a whistle.

"I don't really care [that play continued]," he said. "I think especially in the third, they let us play. It was just a battle on the wall. I went back to get the puck, so I didn't see what really happened afterwards. You play to the whistle."

Holtby, who made 35 saves, said he was surprised play continued.

"I've never really seen a play like that where it isn't blown down," Holtby said. "Playing 2-on-2 hockey. … It's one where I'd hope we keep our composure a little better and not have double coverage in a situation like that. It's tough to swallow, but it happens."

Ovechkin led the Capitals with five hits, including the one when he followed Tavares into the corner.

"I got a hit [on] Tavares. They make a play," Ovechkin said. "It happens. They bounced back and Kulemin scored."

Capuano said he was happy his players were aware and took advantage of the situation.

"When you think there is going to be a whistle in the playoffs, there's not," Capuano said. "You have to play whistle-to-whistle in this playoffs, and play continued on, and fortunately for us it was a big goal, obviously."

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Capitals facing poor Game 7 history at home

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Washington Capitals couldn't end their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Islanders, losing 3-1 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. The best-of-7 series is tied 3-3, and Washington will host Game 7 on Monday at Verizon Center, but that might not be a good thing.

Washington is 3-9 in Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 2-7 at Verizon Center. Since 2008, they are 1-4 at home.

"Winning is hard," Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin said. "It's not going to be easy. It's going to be a seventh game Monday and it's going to be fun. I think our fans are going to give us very good confidence."

Braden Holtby, who made 35 saves Saturday, was in goal for Game 7 when the Capitals lost to the New York Rangers 5-0 at home in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, the last time they played a Game 7.

"We have a different team now," Holtby said.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz agreed, saying the poor record at home will mean nothing come Monday.

"A lot of our guys haven't been a part of that history," Trotz said. "I haven't, so it doesn’t really mean anything to me."

This Game 7 will decide whether the Capitals or Islanders advance to the second round to play the New York Rangers.

"We regroup and play the same game that we did in [a 5-1 win] Game 5," Holtby said. "We showed flashes of it tonight, but I don’t think we were tight enough defensively. We had our chances, and we will have to make sure we have some heroes in Game 7."

The Capitals are 2-1 against the Islanders in the playoffs at Verizon Center and won two games against New York at home during the regular season.

"The three games [at Nassau Coliseum] were fantastic," Trotz said. "We are going to need our fans to do what the Islanders fans did. Bring it, help us along, and help us through Game 7."

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Farrish: Extra rest will help Rangers in next round

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.

Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.

The New York Islanders earned the right to play another game with their 3-1 win against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum, but former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish said the New York Rangers also have to consider themselves big winners on Saturday.

While the Islanders and Capitals engage in what will likely be another physical game in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series on Monday at Verizon Center, the Rangers will get to relax, watch, heal any lingering injuries and know that no matter who they play in the second round they should be the fresher, healthier team.

"It really is [a big advantage]," Farrish said. "Game 7 is going to be a takeoff of [Game 6] I think, so it's going to be just as physical, if not more physical, and then the winner will turn around and start probably two or three days later [against the Rangers]. That's a huge advantage for the Rangers."

The Rangers earned that advantage on Friday with their series-clinching 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

Farrish was impressed with how the Rangers were able to jump out to a lead and counterpunch when the Penguins started to push and tie the game. He credited center Dominic Moore for the work he did on left wing Carl Hagelin's overtime winner, and said Hagelin deserves a lot of credit for scoring the series-clinching goal and the first goal in New York's 2-1 win in Game 3.

"Two huge goals," Farrish said.

Although Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury fell short, Farrish said he made general manager Jim Rutherford's decision to sign him to a four-year contract in November look smart. Fleury made 34 saves in Game 5 and stopped 139 of 150 shots in the series for a .927 save percentage.

"Not too many detractors now," Farrish said. "What sticks out is the opportune saves by [Henrik] Lundqvist, the really timely saves that he made. But Fleury did everything possible he could do to win."

The Rangers did just enough to beat him, particularly because Lundqvist allowed eight goals on 132 shots in the series.

The expectation is he'll have to be as good, if not even better, in the second round against either the Islanders or the Capitals.

Farrish said the Islanders would be the better opponent for the Rangers because of their injuries on defense; Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky did not play Saturday.

Pittsburgh was missing Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot in the first round. Those injuries significantly altered the type of attack the Penguins could generate from their back end and it gave a major edge to the Rangers, who got 12 points from their six defensemen.

"I just think the Islanders with their injuries on defense makes them a little more susceptible, but you wouldn't know it [Saturday]," Farrish said. "But over the course of time any of those inches in depth, and it showed against Pittsburgh, it gives you the edge. If the Rangers can stay healthy and they can pick on a team with some injuries, and obviously there are going to be some more minor injuries appearing with both of these teams because it's a pretty physical series, that's what I'd lean toward if I was them. But it's dangerous picking your opponent because they always bite you."

The Rangers obviously can't pick who they play, but Farrish said the coaching staff has to prepare for both and that's why this is a working weekend for them. The players have off until Monday.

"That's the problem when you don't know who your opponent is going to be, so you have to prepare for both of them," Farrish said. "This is when all the coaches and assistant coaches earn their pay, when they start having to prepare for two teams. It's a lot of work for the coaching staff and video staff to get all this stuff done and be prepared for either way it goes.

"I'm sure they've been cutting clips [Saturday] and doing everything they can."

Farrish said the Rangers' practice on Monday, if they get on the ice, will likely be more of a general practice to work on some things that the coaches feel were lacking or needed help in the Pittsburgh series.

The practice on Tuesday will be focused more toward the opponent New York will face in the second round. Farrish said it's important for coaches in this situation not to deliver the information on both teams to the players but instead to wait until the opponent is known.

"I think you wait until Tuesday," he said. "You don't want to confuse the players. Let them get their heads clear, let them relax a little bit, enjoy their victory and heal up a little bit. The players know what's going on. I'm sure they're confident in the coaching staff to prepare them for either way it goes. I'm sure every player has his preference on who he'd like to play. Obviously they're not going to say anything, but it's just a waiting game. I think they feel good about that and they're hopefully going to catch a tired team and jump on them pretty quick."

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Fleury's heroics not enough to save Penguins

Marc-Andre Fleury

Goalie - PIT

RECORD: 1-4
GAA: 2.12 | SVP: .927

NEW YORK -- Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury did everything he could to help the Pittsburgh Penguins extend their season against the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

As he did throughout the series, Fleury again proved to be quite the obstacle for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers, who averaged 3.02 goals per game during the regular season, third in the NHL.

Fleury was rock-solid in each game. But that wasn't enough to overcome his team's offensive shortcomings in the five-game series loss to the Rangers, capped by a 2-1 overtime defeat on Friday. Fleury allowed two goals in four of the five games, including the last two, each of which the Penguins lost in overtime.

"[Fleury] really hung in there for us and gave us a chance every game especially [Friday]," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "Whenever we had a breakdown he was there for us. He was exceptional and he's kind of been like that for us all year. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he played."

Fleury made 139 saves on 150 shots in five games against the Rangers, including 34 saves in Game 5. But he wasn't interested in his own numbers.

"All that matters is winning and I'm part of the team, just trying to do my job the best I can," Fleury said. "It just [stinks] to lose."

Fleury had just one win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, but finished with his second-lowest goals-against average (2.12) and second-highest save percentage (.927) during that span. But that wasn't good enough for a team that managed eight goals in five games.

"I knew halfway through the game that there wasn't going to be much [scoring chances]," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "[Fleury] played really well. He kept them in this one. As a goalie, it's important to try and take care of your own business and not get too involved in what's going on in front of you because one mistake and it's over."

The game was played at a fever pitch and the goalies had to be spectacular.

"I thought both goaltenders were really good," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "To be honest, I thought early in the game, they had the momentum early in the first period certainly with a surge of the crowd and then they got that goal. [Fleury] was really good after that and I thought Lundqvist was really good at the other end."

If nothing else, Fleury's effort against the Rangers may have put a muzzle on his critics for the time being. After helping lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009 with a 2.61 GAA and .908 save percentage, Fleury had struggled to find his playoff niche, going four straight seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage in the postseason.

"He doesn't have to prove anything to us," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. "He's been doing that night after night for us in the regular season and playoffs. I've said before that goalies don't have the opportunity after a couple tough games in the playoffs because usually they don't get any more after that, but he bounced back after those tough playoff seasons and I think he's proven for a long time that that's way in the past. He's done a great job for us for a long time. He was great [Friday]; we could have easily gotten that one."

The Penguins played four of their final seven regular-season games with five defensemen after injuries to Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Derrick Pouliot (upper body) and Kris Letang (concussion). Defensemen Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin were called into action for Game 1 and played well in the series, but the veteran losses on the back end were tough to overcome.

"We've had a lot with our share of injuries for our team and we were missing a lot of defensemen for the playoffs," Fleury said. "But everyone that was in battled hard and tried to do their best. I tried to give us a chance to hang in there, it is what it is."

The loss of Letang, their best offensive defenseman, really hurt.

"Certainly Kris Letang is a big part of our team and a huge part of what we do," Johnston said. "I give our defense all the credit in the world with the amount of minutes they played down the stretch. I thought Chorney and Dumoulin stepped in well and played well in a tough series against the tough team."

Fleury and his defense weren't helped by a power play that finished 2-for-13 in the series. The top power-play unit, consisting of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist and Paul Martin, didn't score; the second unit generated both goals.

"Our power play could have done a little more," Crosby said. "Power plays in the playoffs in general aren't clicking like they usually do in the regular season. Being the way the game was [on Friday], our power play could have given us that extra goal here or there a couple of times."

Said Malkin, who was held without a point in the series, "I want to say sorry to fans, to my teammates. I know I'm a leader on this team. Not so good game. I don't know."

Fleury believes the Penguins still have the core pieces in place to return to being a contender next season.

"I don't see why [we shouldn't bounce back]," Fleury said. "We have a good group of guys here. We played against the first team in the League and played them well."

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Pressure shifting to Canadiens after two losses to Senators

MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was calmly answering questions about his team's predicament following a second consecutive loss to the Ottawa Senators on Friday in their Eastern Conference First Round series.

The Canadiens lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but they have scored one goal on 74 shots in the two losses and three times on 123 shots in the three games since goaltender Craig Anderson took over from Andrew Hammond.

Subban, however, did not seem overly concerned.

"It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable," he said. "You'd have to put some bugs, insects in my underpants to make me uncomfortable."

As Subban continued speaking, goaltender Carey Price was speaking to the media in another corner of the Canadiens' dressing room.

Shortly after Price finished speaking, he retreated to the back area of the dressing room. Just then, someone screamed an expletive so loudly that it made Subban flinch as he was listening to a question and look over to see what was happening.

There's no way to be sure it was Price, but it happened just after he finished his media availability and retreated to the back, and it was loud enough to startle someone standing at the opposite end of the dressing room.

Not long afterwards, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien arrived for his media availability just after Senators coach Dave Cameron completed his.

Cameron had said Friday morning that he felt the pressure in the series had shifted to the Canadiens, and that was before Ottawa's 5-1 victory in Game 5. He wasn't about to change his way of thinking after a performance like that.

"When you're in our shoes there, and we were facing elimination, I mean the pressure's on us," Cameron said. "Each game you win, to live another day, the pressure I think shifts a bit towards Montreal."

Once Therrien arrived, it became pretty clear that Cameron might be right.

Normally, after a game in which the Canadiens generated 46 shots on goal, 82 total shot attempts and dominated a great majority of the play, Therrien has shown this season that he can put a positive spin on it.

Normally, you can't really blame him.

But these are not normal times for the Canadiens, forced to head back to Ottawa for Game 6 on Sunday (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) after squandering two straight opportunities to close out the series and suddenly unable to score against Anderson.

Therrien's press conference was tight and terse, using 145 words to answer nine questions total in English and French and taking 2:41 to do it.

"We came out of the gate really hard," Therrien said in his opening answer. "They took advantage of their opportunities. Anderson was really good."

He repeated the exact same answer in French, and didn't say much of anything after that.

Therrien did not look like a man who was encouraged by shot attempts.

It might be because he remembers what happened two years ago, when Anderson stole Game 1 of their first-round series with 48 saves in Ottawa's 4-2 win before they eliminated the Canadiens in five games. That thought might be fresh in the minds of many in the Canadiens' dressing room, including Price, who was significantly outplayed by Anderson in that series in 2013.

"I don't think so," Canadiens center Lars Eller said when asked if the pressure has shifted to his team. "They're the ones that have to win to keep it going."

This is true, but the Canadiens are now in a position to potentially lose a series they led 3-0, something only four teams have done in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are in that position against a Senators team that has given them trouble throughout 2014-15, winning three of four games in the regular season.

The pressure to win is clearly still on the Senators in Game 6. If they lose, their season is over.

But there is now a belief in the Senators' room, one that they have relied on the past two months to erase a 14-point deficit to reach the postseason and one that they can draw upon now to accomplish something nearly as unlikely.

Meanwhile, in the other dressing room, the sentiment the Canadiens need to ward off is doubt.

"At the end of the day, we're up 3-2 [in the series]," forward Max Pacioretty said. "This is a good team we're playing against. Nobody said it was going to be easy. They definitely have a lot of heart. They battled back from the trade deadline and played some of the best hockey in the league. We were expecting them to play that well and their goalie is playing probably the best I've seen him play. We can't focus on that.

"We've got to worry about winning one game and winning a series."

What they need to avoid worrying about is what will happen if they don't win that one game in Ottawa on Sunday.

Rangers in 2nd round, waiting for Islanders or Capitals

The New York Rangers will either stay close to home to play their biggest rival or face a familiar playoff opponent in the Eastern Conference Second Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Rangers will open the second round at Madison Square Garden against either the New York Islanders or Washington Capitals. The Rangers are guaranteed to start every playoff series at home because they won the Presidents' Trophy with 113 points.

New York advanced with a five-game, first-round win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers won Game 5 2-1 in overtime at home on Friday.

Washington has a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series against the Islanders with Game 6 Saturday at Nassau Coliseum (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The Rangers haven't faced the Islanders in the playoffs since 1994, when they swept them in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Rangers have faced the Capitals in the playoffs four times since 2009; they have won the past two series, each in seven games.

The Capitals defeated the Rangers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, coming back from 3-1 to win in seven games. In 2011, Washington won in five games, including overtime wins in Games 1 and 4.

The Rangers defeated the Capitals in seven games in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals. New York won Game 7 at home, 2-1. New York again defeated Washington in seven games in 2013, winning 5-0 in Game 7 at Verizon Center.

Ten Rangers from the 2013 series are on this team. Only goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi remain from the loss to the Capitals in 2009.

New York won three of four games against Washington this season, including 4-2 at Verizon Center on April 11 in the regular-season finale. The Rangers defeated the Capitals 3-1 at Verizon Center on March 11, and lost 5-2 at Madison Square Garden on March 29.

Centers Derick Brassard and Kevin Hayes led New York with five points against Washington. Left wing Rick Nash scored three of his Rangers-high 42 goals against the Capitals; he played in three of the four games.

Lundqvist allowed four goals in two wins against Washington, with a .929 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average. The Rangers outscored the Capitals 7-2 in the first period.

The one issue the Rangers had against the Capitals was on the penalty kill, but almost every team that played them struggled. Washington was 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) on the power play.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored all of Washington's power-play goals and had five total.

The Rangers played the Islanders eight times in the playoffs from 1975-94; the Islanders won five of the series. Four times the winner of a Rangers-Islanders series has won the Stanley Cup, including three in a row for the Islanders from 1981-83.

The Rangers defeated the Islanders in 1994 before winning the Stanley Cup.

The Islanders had the edge on the Rangers early in this five-game regular-season series, winning the first three games by a combined 13-4. The Rangers responded by defeating the Islanders twice at Nassau Coliseum, 6-5 on Feb. 16 and 2-1 on March 10, with goalie Cam Talbot. Lundqvist started the first three games and was pulled early in a 3-0 loss on Jan. 13 at Madison Square Garden.

Lundqvist was 0-3-0 with an .866 save percentage and 4.88 goals-against average against the Islanders in the regular season.

Nash had three goals and four points in five games. Brassard, Chris Kreider, Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan each had three points.

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Perfectionist Miller just wants to help Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Ryan Miller has always been a perfectionist.

The Vancouver Canucks goaltender will spend hours fidgeting with every aspect of his equipment, even driving an hour out of his way after a recent Stanley Cup Playoff practice to visit a hockey store in search of new options. The same thing goes for his game and style tweaks made in his first season with Canucks goaltending coach Roland Melanson.

Miller is meticulous in his preparation, but it wasn't possible for him to take his usual approach given he was a late entry into an emotionally charged Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames.

Coming off a right-knee injury that kept him out most of two months, Miller came on in relief of Eddie Lack in Game 4 on Tuesday, and then made his first playoff start with the Canucks on Thursday with Vancouver down 3-1 in the best-of-7 series. Forget no margin for error -- Miller had little of the timing and rhythm his game has relied on for so long. His knee wasn't even 100 percent.

For an admitted perfectionist, it was far from ideal.

"Oh yeah, I felt that," Miller said. "It's an odd situation for me not to have the flow and timing. You generally get this deep into the season and you have a lot of games under your belt. I am just trying to take the approach it's all about the mentality at this point. It's not about timing. It's not about the physical side of things. It's all about mentally: Can I get into the fight, and how long can I stay there?"

Miller kept the Canucks in the fight by making saves on 20 of 21 shots in a tight 2-1 victory, forcing a Game 6 on Saturday in Calgary (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). If the circumstances are uncomfortable, his teammates aren't seeing it.

"When he came in and played those 40 minutes [in Game 4], you could see how calm and confident he was about his game," defenseman Yannick Weber said. "That gave us some confidence too."

It's a confidence that comes from playing 12 NHL seasons and 55 playoff games; from winning a Vezina Trophy and helping the United States to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It's why the Canucks signed Miller to a three-year free agent contract last July after trading Roberto Luongo late last season.

"He has a lot on his resume that gives us confidence," Weber said. "He's a world-class goalie. He has been in the League a long time. He has won a Vezina Trophy, an Olympic MVP and a silver medal."

Among the few things missing on Miller's resume is a Stanley Cup, and that made it easier for the 34-year-old to abandon his comfort zone and push hard in practice for a chance to get back in these playoffs.

"You have to put yourself out there and take risks in life to do anything," Miller said. "You risk taking criticism, you risk a lot of different things, your reputation, but you have to have a willingness to do it. … Any chance you get at this time of year, you have to just embrace it and put yourself out there and give it your best."

Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller

Goalie - VAN

RECORD: 1-0
GAA: 0.61 | SVP: .972

For Miller that means playing when he doesn't feel his best. In a strange way, that might even re-enforce some of the style changes he tried to make this season. Asked to be more conservative with his positioning and have less of that flow and extra movement that forced him to rely more on the rhythm he talks about, Miller bought in as the season went on, cutting himself some statistical slack early because he believed his game would be better for it by the time playoffs started.

Those plans were derailed when he sprained his MCL in a collision with teammate Jannik Hansen on Feb. 22. It's an especially tough injury for a goalie and one Miller admits won't fully heal this season.

But after a rusty return in the regular-season finale, any lingering lack of strength and power in his legs may force Miller to further simplify his game.

"Maybe a little bit," he said. "For me it makes me kind of drop the perfectionism a little bit. I don't have to be perfect, just go compete and get in front of the puck. Maybe it strips everything down, but we'll see if that theory is reinforced [in Game 6]."

Whether it is, Miller's presence can still be a positive for the Canucks.

"He's really calm, no ups or downs," captain Henrik Sedin said. "His emotions are very calm and he brings that to the locker room."

Miller doesn't expect those emotions to spike because of the raucous crowd at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. He compared it to playing Canada in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics, or as a visitor against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.

"It's about enjoying the moment," Miller said. "It's pretty cool to get that many people together and that excited about hockey to the point they really want you to mess up. They've got a ton of red jerseys and you have to sit back and appreciate people love hockey that much and you are the one out there who gets to play the game. Just try and stick with that respect for the game and also the mentality that for me it's just about entering the fight and seeing how long I can stay in it."

The Canucks are counting on Miller to keep them in it awhile longer.

Lightning forward Johnson knows how to win

BRANDON, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said he got a few more text messages after his game Thursday, and the plane ride back to Tampa was a little nicer.

Otherwise there wasn't much that changed for the second-year player who scored two goals, including the game-winner 2:25 into overtime, to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round and save the Lightning from being on the brink of elimination.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday (6 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN, FS-D, FS-F).

"I don't think I did anything out of the ordinary," Johnson said Friday. "We knew that we had to continue to work and if we could get one past [Red Wings goalie Petr] Mrazek we would have a chance."

Johnson scored Tampa Bay's first goal with 5:26 remaining in the third period, and Ondrej Palat tied the game 1:17 later. Johnson's game-winner was set up by a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman.

"It was a great play by Victor and I'm glad I was able to make it count," Johnson said. "It's definitely one of those things you think about, scoring a game-winning goal in overtime, and to have the opportunity to do it to help the team feels great."

Johnson has four goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos yet to score, it's been up to the line of Johnson, Palat and Nikita Kucherov to provide the best opportunities.

It starts with Johnson, who continues to play with the same chip on his shoulder he's had since entering professional hockey. At 5-foot-9, he was dismissed by many as being too small, but he's proven he can be the biggest man on the ice when he's needed.

"It was a great performance by Tyler, and you always know that he's capable of making things happen at any time," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "He's a clutch player, and when the team appears to be a little down and out, he's the guy that can lift everyone back up."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Johnson is a natural winner and he's proven it at every level of hockey.

"You look at what he's done in the [Western Hockey League] and winning a title there, and winning the Calder Cup in the [American Hockey League], and winning a gold medal at the World Juniors," Cooper said. "And don't get me wrong, I understand that these aren't one-man shows, but I don't think it's a coincidence that he's been on all of these teams that have had success and we've been a more successful team with Tyler Johnson here."

Johnson is no longer a well-kept secret; he made the All-Rookie team in 2014 and was an All-Star this season. Opponents plan for him, and the Red Wings have tried to get in his head with physical play. But the scrum that started Thursday after Detroit forward Luke Glendening sent Johnson into the boards only made Johnson play harder down the stretch. Glendening injured his hand and left the game.

"I wasn't happy about that play, I thought it was a little cheap," Johnson said. "But we rallied around that incident and we stood up for each other. It probably got us a little fired up and we were able to keep that energy level up for the rest of the game. We have a lot of character on this team."

One game-winning goal isn't going to make Johnson's season. He knows the playoffs will continue to demand a higher level of hockey if the Lightning want to advance.

"The games have been tight so far, and we're down to a best-of-3 now, so it's going to get even tighter," Johnson said. "The net hasn't been very wide with their guy back there, and it's harder to score and harder to break through their defense. But that's what I expected from this series. In a lot of ways it's like looking in the mirror because they do a lot of the same stuff we do."

Jets know there's work ahead to get deep in playoffs

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets made significant progress in the 2014-15 regular season, but their quick exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs provided a blunt reminder of how far they still have to go.

The Jets set a franchise record with 99 points, experienced a stretch drive to the playoffs and had several young players blossom, but the Anaheim Ducks swept them in their Western Conference First Round best-of-7 series. It was the first playoff appearance for the franchise since 2007, when it was known as the Atlanta Thrashers.

The most pressing issue for the Jets this offseason will be potential roster turnover. Forwards Michael Frolik, Drew Stafford, Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Frolik has been a versatile jack-of-all-trades for the Jets, capable of playing on each of the top three lines and taking an important special-teams role.

"The organization was great for me, and I love it here," Frolik said Friday, when Jets players, coach Paul Maurice and general manager Tim Cheveldayoff met with the media. "We've got a great thing going, and I would like to be back, for sure."

However, Frolik, 27, left all possibilities open.

"It's my first time [as a free agent], and [when] you get this chance, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Frolik said. "Obviously, I'm excited, but we'll see how it goes. Those things, like I said, it's for my agent, and I don't want to get into that. We'll see."

Stafford, who turns 30 in October, had nine goals and 10 assists in 26 games with the Jets and solidified the second line after arriving in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 11. Stempniak, another addition via trade, had six goals and four assists in 18 games with the Jets and strengthened Winnipeg's group of bottom-six forwards, as did Tlusty.

Is there a long-term fit for Stafford with the Jets?

"I'd say so," Stafford said. "Down the stretch, for us to make the playoffs, we had to win some pretty big games, and to be part of that was extremely exciting. It didn't end the way we wanted. It felt as though we could have a shot to have a pretty good run. But playing here in front of the fans, I mean, that playoff atmosphere was something I've never experienced before."

Stempniak, 32, also enjoyed his experience in Winnipeg.

"I would like to be back," he said. "I liked playing here. I like the city, the fans were awesome, it's a great organization, and the direction of the team is really promising."

Cheveldayoff needs to consider that captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien each can become an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

"[Byfuglien and Ladd are] a big part of our team, big part of our leadership group," Cheveldayoff said. "They've been part of this group since it moved here to Winnipeg, and I would hope and I would do my best to continue to have them as part of our team for many years to come."

But Cheveldayoff will need to decide whether he can sign each player before they reach free agency. If not, would trading them in advance be a possible move?

"I would [be open to signing a long-term contract in Winnipeg]," said Ladd, who disclosed Friday that he sustained a sports hernia injury in December and played through it. "It's something you've got to talk to the family about, but we enjoy it here. Hockey-wise, you see the excitement around the team and what has gone on here. I think that now more than ever you want to be a part of it."

The Jets' growth this season could help them to secure Ladd.

"[Growth is] a big part of it," Ladd said of the decision-making process. "It's funny. You think your career is just getting started, and then you look back, and it has been 10 years, and you really want to win again and be a part of an organization that is going to win sooner rather than later. That's an important part of making that decision."

Along with Ladd's injury, which may require surgery, Maurice said that Byfuglien and center Bryan Little each had dealt with recovering from dislocated ribs and that Mathieu Perreault had an assortment of injuries. Defenseman Jacob Trouba broke his hand in Game 2 against Anaheim and will have surgery.

After the Jets' injured players heal, they can join their teammates in preparing for next season. But Maurice warned that progress this season is no guarantee of future success.

"[People] will use that idea of taking the next step, and we'll assume that that means going farther in the playoffs," Maurice said. "Really what it means is playing that game again that gives you a chance to make the playoffs, becoming consistent with that game."

"[Becoming] re-established where we started will be priority No. 1."

But those are goals for next season. For now, Maurice, who has coached more than 1,200 NHL games, will take away fond memories of this season.

"I had more fun coaching this team than any other year that I've had," Maurice said.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Oilers' Ference talks McDavid, locker room leadership

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ference grew up just outside of Edmonton. His formative hockey years were spent watching the Edmonton Oilers cement their dynasty in the late 1980s. So when Ference had an opportunity to sign with his hometown team and play in the arena where he grew up watching from the stands, he jumped on it, calling it a fairytale.

The fairytale will soon be adding a new character, and Ference, like many of his teammates and Oilers fans, isn't hiding his excitement.

The Oilers won the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery this past Saturday for what has been one of the most hyped drafts in recent memory. The presumptive first pick, forward Connor McDavid, could become the next great hope for Oilers hockey.

"The thing about playing hockey in Canada, it's not just a big day for me personally but for our city," said Ference, who said he watched the draft lottery show on TV. "Our city the last few years has been miserable. We've lost way too much. We haven't been competitive enough.

"To have that and the positivity that comes with that, the anticipation that comes with that, you go out, and you talk to friends in the city and people that are fans of the team and there's genuine excitement. That's good."

Ference said the fortunes of NHL franchises today can swing very quickly, and the line that separates teams is very small. Getting a top player, one most expect to be McDavid, can be a major push in starting that swing for the Oilers.

"You definitely come at it from more of a -- this isn't just the answer, you have to build up everything around what you're doing in the first place," Ference said. "You still have to have that strong foundation of defense and goaltending.

"You can't win with a couple of guys in this League; it just doesn't work. Without a doubt it's a massive piece for us."

Ference said he's watched McDavid play, having seen him on television at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship and in other highlights.

"The biggest thing is what you hear from people that have seen him in person; former players, or scouts, and it's for real, for sure, without a doubt," Ference said. "The speed that he plays with, it's pretty impressive.

"Everybody is pretty convinced he's the real thing."

As the Oilers captain, Ference shoulders much of the leadership load, making sure new players are comfortable and the locker room is cohesive. With McDavid, or whomever the Oilers select at No. 1, Ference said it's very important to make sure the player feels at home.

"The biggest thing is to give him a comfortable space and to just be human, to be a teammate," Ference said. "He's a just a dude. Some people are really great at playing hockey. That's the thing: They're just people who are really good at what they do, and really great, but they have stuff going on outside of hockey, and they have other interests, and they're just like any other person.

"That's the sanctuary, at the rink, when they're around the guys, it's just their chance to just relax, it's just their chance to be themselves; it's a chance to do what they do best in a good environment."

Ference played with forward Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 pick in 2010, when they were with the Boston Bruins. He's played with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev and Jarome Iginla during his career. Ference said the only way to maximize a star's talent is by keeping everything balanced.

"At the rink that's the biggest thing: Just make sure that's a place where he can be him," said Ference. "If he's a guy who loves "Star Wars," he loves "Star Wars." If he's a dude that loves fast cars, he loves fast cars. But you just accept people for who they are, and those dressing room environments where you have that and they're not trying to be some macho version of what they think a hockey player should be in the NHL, those are really comfortable environments."

With three No. 1 picks already on their roster and other young, heralded players in the pipeline, Ference's fairytale return to Edmonton could soon be approaching its apex.

"The way young guys come into the League now, it's incredible," Ference said. "I remember my first couple of years just scrambling and not wanting to touch the puck, and we were brought up differently in junior.

"We weren't as primed to play the pro game. Now when you see young guys come in they're ready. Those guys can have immediate impacts on your team."

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Chlapik making mark in QMJHL with skill, hockey IQ

Filip Chlapik is forever grateful that his father took him aside during his youth hockey days to have a little heart-to-heart after he told his father of his urge to be a goaltender.

Nothing against the masked men, but Milan Chlapik envisioned his son excelling in another area on the ice; mainly center.

"I was a big fan of Tomas Vokoun and loved to watch him when I was younger," Filip Chlapik said. "But my dad told me, 'No way. You're going to be a forward.'"

He made the right choice.

Filip Chlapik is ranked No. 18 on Central Scouting's final 2015 NHL Draft rankings . (Photo: Darrell Theriault/Charlottetown Islanders)

Not only has Filip Chlapik excelled while playing in his native Czech Republic for many years but he has been on the radar of every NHL scout attending games for the Charlottetown Islanders in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2014-15.

"Filip is a very good skater with good vision and puck skills," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He always seems to be in the right position on the ice both with and without the puck, he can jump on loose pucks and transition quickly. He's got a good combination of size, skating and hockey sense."

The Islanders selected Chlapik No. 11 in the 2014 Canadian Hockey League import draft after he had16 goals and 35 points in 38 games with Sparta's team in the under-20 Czech league.

"I watched him quite a bit internationally and we put a great deal of stock as other teams do in trying to secure good picks," Islanders general manager Grant Sonier said. "What I liked about Filip in particular was that he's got a high skill level but also a high hockey IQ, and that's a good combination to have."

Chlapik (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), who models his game after Boston Bruins center David Krejci, considers himself a two-way center with good vision and playmaking ability. It didn't take long for the left-handed shot to warm up to the North American game.

The Praha native had 33 goals, 42 assists and 10 power-play goals in 64 regular-season games and was second on the Islanders in scoring with 75 points. In nine QMJHL playoff games he had one goal and nine points. Chlapik had his first hat trick Nov. 16, scoring on a breakaway, a one-timer and a shot from the top of the circle in a 5-1 defeat of the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He had 24 multipoint games this season, including six in March when he had six goals and 14 points in nine games.

The Islanders (35-28-5) improved from a 15th-place finish in the league standings in 2013-14 to ninth place this season. They also won a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2004, when the team was known as the PEI Rocket.

"It was hard at the start because it was a new place and I had to get used to the battles in the corners," Chlapik said. "It's a physical game but I don't mind that. It wasn't this physical in Czech; it was a more wide-open game. But I got used to this."

Chlapik said maintaining a healthy diet has been one of his bigger challenges.

"The food here is a little different than in the Czech because in the Czech I eat a lot of pasta. But there's a lot more fast food in North America so you really have to watch," Chlapik said. "I've gone to several different places."

Off the ice, Islanders coach Gordie Dwyer said Chlapik can be the life of the party.

"He's endeared himself to his teammates and the fans; he's got a real way about him and he certainly doesn't go unnoticed," Dwyer said. "His personality really does shine through."

Dwyer also liked what he saw on the ice. Chlapik is No. 18 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26-27.

"He's a big body with a heavy shot and he thinks the game really well," Dwyer said. "He's really strong defensively, is a 200-foot player. He's a guy who distributes the puck well and is able to find the open areas and open man on the ice."

Chlapik has played for the Czech Republic at several international tournaments, including the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he had one goal and four points in five games to help his country to a silver medal. Chlapik also played at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the IIHF World Under-18 Championship last season.

"He's not the perfect player, and I don't think there is such a thing, but Filip fit the things we needed as an organization," Sonier said. "I wanted us bigger down the middle and both of our European picks were centers, so it addressed an actual need. We were lucky that Filip slipped to us because we felt he was a top player in the draft for sure."

Chlapik skated with different linemates this season, but he most often played with right wing Daniel Sprong (6-foot, 180), No. 20 on Central Scouting's final ranking. Sprong, born in the Netherlands, is in his second season with the Islanders. He led Charlottetown with 39 goals and 88 points in 68 games.

"He's a very skillful player with great vision and we play really well with each other," Sprong said of Chlapik. "We like to play that European east/west style. At the same time we know when to play north/south and use our skill but also our size and strength to work down low on the cycle."

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Winnipeg fans salute Jets despite playoff sweep

WINNIPEG – For 11 days, the anticipation built.

From the time the Winnipeg Jets clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs late on the night of April 9 to just before the drop of the puck for Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Anaheim Ducks on April 20, this city prepared to unleash its unique brand of postseason fury.

It had been 19 years since there was NHL playoff hockey in Winnipeg, but those 11 days between a Los Angeles Kings road loss to the Calgary Flames clinched a playoff spot for the Jets and the actual drop of the puck on Monday might have seemed even longer to these fans.

But after all that waiting, the whole experience lasted a little more than 48 hours.

And it was over.

The 15,016 fans at MTS Centre would have had every right to be bitterly disappointed when the Jets' sweep by the Anaheim Ducks was sealed by Sami Vatanen's empty-net goal at 19:33 of the third period Wednesday -- but they weren't. They probably knew even before the game that the Jets weren't likely to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, and that even if the Jets won Game 4, there was a good chance it would be the final home game of the season.

When Vatanen's shot from his own faceoff circle hit the back of the empty net, the celebration of this special Jets season began.

The fans began their ovation with 27 seconds left in the game, continued it through the handshake line, and culminated into a thunderous roar as the Jets waved their sticks in acknowledgment for one final time before leaving the ice.

"It's almost tough to describe what that means to us as a group," forward Blake Wheeler said. "I think as the year has gone on, our play and our crowd, we've really come together as one. I think they really appreciated the effort we put forth every night and the results we've gotten, and at the same time we've fed off their energy every night.

"It's becoming a really special place to play every night and to see what they brought at the end of that game, it feels so good."

Wheeler is well-placed to speak to how those fans feel. He was once one of them.

Wheeler was 7 when his Minnesota North Stars left his home state to become the Dallas Stars in 1993. He was 14 when the Minnesota Wild played its first season as an expansion team in 2000, and he was 16 in 2003, when the Wild made the playoffs for the first time.

The Wild reached the Western Conference Final in that first playoff season and faced this same franchise, then called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The Wild, like the Jets, were swept out of the playoffs. But the appreciation the Winnipeg fans showed Wednesday is something Wheeler understands, because he's lived it.

"I'm a human being. I cheer for teams too," Wheeler said. "I remember what it's like, even as a kid growing up and the Wild come back and they go into the playoffs. It's a different feeling. It's a difference being in the NHL; you get your team back to being competitive and playing in the playoffs. It's a different level. So I know the fans really appreciate what we've done this year, and that feeling's definitely mutual."

That Wild team did not reach the playoffs in either of the next two seasons, but there is reason to believe that won't be the case with these Jets.

There are a number of young players on the roster who had their first taste of the playoffs and should only get better. Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and others will benefit from the lessons they learned from the Ducks, a team that is ready to win and that has already experienced the disappointment the Jets feel now.

There are other players on the way for the Jets, the brightest of whom, forward Nikolaj Ehlers, was in the building and witnessed the scene at MTS Centre. He'll likely be on the ice the next time the Jets play a playoff game.

Coach Paul Maurice wasn't very willing to look at that bright future Wednesday, and no one can blame him. This wound was still too fresh. But the man who compared himself earlier this week to a teacher caring for Winnipeg's children also felt his students learned a lot from the time school began last fall.

"We don't have it perfect," Maurice said. "We've got room to improve, we've got areas where we can upgrade. But we've got the foundation — and I'm not going to say 'set,' because next year when we come back, we've got to do that whole thing over again.

"But we took a step forward."

School's out for summer, but the Jets will be a year older and a grade higher in the fall. And the city of Winnipeg will be more than willing to send their kids back to learn under Maurice's tutelage, hoping he brings back a feeling the city waited 19 years to feel, and can hardly wait to feel again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ducks in 2nd round; had success vs. Flames, Canucks

The Anaheim Ducks completed a four-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, earning a few days off before facing either the Vancouver Canucks or Calgary Flames in the Western Conference Second Round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Ducks' opponent could be determined as early as Thursday, when the Flames visit the Canucks in Game 5 of their first-round series (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Calgary leads that best-of-7 series 3-1, and a victory would move the Flames into the second round for the first time since 2004, when they lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A series against Calgary would give former Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller a chance at some revenge. Hiller signed with the Flames as a free agent last summer.

A series against Vancouver would pit Anaheim center Ryan Kesler against the team that traded him last summer. Kesler scored the tying goal in Anaheim's 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 against Winnipeg and scored twice in the third period of a 5-2, Game 4 win.

The Ducks finished first in the Pacific Division for the third consecutive season, and one reason was their success against the second-place Canucks and third-place Flames. Anaheim was 3-1-1 against each, though one of the victories against the Flames and two of the three against the Canucks came after regulation time.

Ryan Getzlaf

Center - ANA

GOALS: 1 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 4
SOG: 11 | +/-: 3

If the Ducks play the Flames, they figure to have a significant home-ice advantage; Anaheim has won 20 consecutive regular-season games against Calgary at Honda Center, including 3-2 and 6-3 this season. The Flames' most recent regular-season victory in Anaheim came on Jan. 19, 2004; since then, they are 0-15-5 and have lost their past six visits in regulation.

Since entering the NHL in 1993, the Ducks are 31-8 with six ties against the Flames at home during the regular season. Anaheim went 2-1 in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, a series the Ducks won in seven games.

Ryan Getzlaf and Kyle Palmieri led the Ducks with four goals in five games against the Flames this season. Hiller's replacement, goaltender Frederik Andersen, was 2-0-1 against Calgary during the regular season and allowed four goals on 67 shots in the two victories.

Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan each scored three times for the Flames. Hiller had a shootout win and two regulation losses against Anaheim.

The Canucks traded Kesler to the Ducks last spring for defenseman Luca Sbisa, center Nick Bonino and two draft picks. Kesler had two assists in the five games against his former team; 11 Ducks each scored once, with defenseman Cam Fowler getting an overtime goal.

The Ducks excelled at shutting down the Canucks offense, which scored seven non-shootout goals in the five games. Vancouver's top scorers, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, each were limited to one assist.

Andersen played all five games against Vancouver; after facing 63 shots in the first two, he saw 47 in the final three, including 17 in a 4-0 shutout at Rogers Arena on Jan. 27. Eddie Lack, who started Vancouver's first four games against Calgary, went 2-0-1 against Anaheim, allowing five goals on 85 shots. Ryan Miller, who relieved Lack in Game 4, lost once in regulation and once in OT to Anaheim, surrendering five goals on 65 shots.

Vancouver's victory in regulation against Anaheim came on March 9, when the Canucks won 2-1 at home to end the Ducks' six-game winning streak at Rogers Arena and the Ducks' 9-0-1 streak against the Canucks since Vancouver's 5-0 victory on Jan. 25, 2013.

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Blues have offensive outburst in win vs. Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Louis Blues talked at the morning skate Wednesday about initiating the play and dictating to their pace against the Minnesota Wild.

Scoring three times in the first period enabled them to do that with shots from all angles, getting bodies in front of Devan Dubnyk in a 6-1 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series at Xcel Energy Center.

The victory ended a nine-game road Stanley Cup Playoff losing streak in which the Blues were outscored 28-11.

The best-of-7 series tied 2-2 shifts to St. Louis for Game 5 on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, FS-N, FS-MW)

"Our scoring is a direct reflection of our checking," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When we check, we score. It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in."

Getting offensive production from their best players didn't hurt, either.

David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo came into Game 4 with a combined zero points. They had a goal and three assists in the first period. Paul Stastny, who didn't have a point in the series, scored in the second period and had several other scoring chances. The four players finished with two goals and three assists.

"Our best players played well," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had three assists to give him seven in the series. "Our whole lineup played well, I think. We were able to get something from everyone tonight, whether it was penalty killing, power play, scoring, checking, you name it. We just had a great team effort, did a great job of just staying on top of them the entire game."

Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals, including a highlight reel goal reminiscent to the one he scored at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers during the regular season.

"He came through offensively for us," Backes said of Tarasenko. "A lot of other guys contributing. [Patrick Berglund] had a great goal, [Stastny] has a great goal, [Ryan Reaves had a] great shot. All in all, it was a great team effort. The defensemen were doing a good job getting pucks out clean and we were able to go into their zone and get pucks back and occupy it."

Despite allowing an early power play goal to Jared Spurgeon 1:41 into the second, the Blues continued to press and as Backes said earlier in the day, "keep the foot on the gas."

"We had to assert ourselves," Backes said. "I think we had 20 guys on the page tonight, similar to Game 2. We've just got to stop this trend of every other game and play the same way in our building on Friday. Great job by [Reaves], [Steve Ott] and [Chris Porter] to get us started, get us on the board there and the rest of us follow suit. Lot of great efforts for guys on the scoresheet and off the scoresheet that played really well that helped us win this game."

The Blues kept their foot on the gas and reclaimed home ice advantage.

"We were able to play well the second game at home a few games ago," Shattenkirk said. "I think with this momentum here and being able to see what works, we just have to make sure we bring that next game."

Hitchcock said if the Blues can keep this blueprint, they'll have a deep playoff run.

"This is our game. It's not our best game," Hitchcock said. "We can play a lot better than we played today. We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game.

"We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them."

After loss, Price says Canadiens can stick to plan

OTTAWA -- The Montreal Canadiens can appreciate the value of the puck bouncing their way so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs even though it didn't against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

The Canadiens allowed the first goal for the fourth game in a row in their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Senators, but they were out of comebacks, losing 1-0 in Game 4 at Canadian Tire Centre.

Montreal had won three straight one-goal games against Ottawa, including the previous two in overtime.

"We got the bounce last game, they got the bounce this game; that's playoff hockey," Canadiens goalie Carey Price said.

Montreal erased a 1-0 Ottawa lead after the first period in each of the first three games. The Senators' one-goal lead in Game 3 held up into the third period before Canadiens left wing Brandon Prust's shot caromed off goalie Craig Anderson into the slot, where Dale Weise gloved the puck and shot it into the net before Anderson could dive across.

Weise scored his second goal of the game in overtime to give Montreal a 2-1 win.

On Wednesday, the bounce in Ottawa's favor saw the puck end up on Senators forward Mike Hoffman's stick in a scoreless game.

"I didn't get a good look at it but I've got to try and fight to see it," Price said of Hoffman's game-winner at 9:05 of the third period. "It's a tough break; nobody was expecting the puck to bounce out to the middle of the ice, and Hoffman was patient with it and picked a side."

Prust had Montreal's best scoring opportunity on the end of his stick on a shorthanded breakaway in the second, but Anderson slid across to close off the left side of the net and thwart his shot, which appeared to hit the outside of the goal post.

The Senators outshot the Canadiens 12-7 in the third to finish with a 32-28 advantage.

Carey Price

Goalie - MTL

RECORD: 3-1
GAA: 1.67 | SVP: .946

"It's been a back-and-forth series, and the first two periods were back and forth," Prust said. "We all were getting our chances, and then the third period I'm not sure what happened to us. We went flat and we were on our heels. We looked like we lost some energy there, so we've got to learn from that. You've got to play 60 minutes in the playoffs, here especially, but we'll regroup and bounce back for Friday."

Despite the loss, Price said the Canadiens need to stick to their game plan Friday in Game 5 at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"We've just got to do the same thing," Price said. "There's no secret to it; their backs are against the wall. We just need to keep pressing and keep making it difficult to come up the ice."

The Canadiens went 0-for-3 on the power play Wednesday. Left wing Max Pacioretty's second-period goal in Montreal's 3-2 overtime win in Game 2 is the Canadiens' only one with the man-advantage in 16 opportunities through the first four games.

"I think we had opportunities to win, but we didn't make the right decision when we had the puck for whatever reason," said Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, who had five shot attempts, including two on goal, in 27:35.

Anderson made 28 saves for the shutout following a 47-save performance in his series debut in Game 3.

New-look Canucks still struggling to score in playoffs

VANCOUVER -- The veteran players on the Vancouver Canucks talked a lot this season about proving that 2013-14 was a blip, one bad season with an ill-fitting coach that left them out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They backed those claims by getting into the playoffs, but a lot of familiar themes have resurfaced. As a result, the Canucks face elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Vancouver is 2-13 in the playoffs since winning Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, and the inability to score has been a constant no matter how much else may have changed.

"We're a totally different team," captain Henrik Sedin insisted. "We got young guys coming up and playing well for us. We’re a four-line team. That's the way we’ve been winning this year. So it's not even close to being the same as in the past."

For all the changes under new president Trevor Linden, new general manager Jim Benning and new coach Willie Desjardins, the results so far in these playoffs have felt eerily familiar. Vancouver has scored eight goals in four games against the Flames, but four in the three losses. The Canucks have 24 goals in 13 games during their past three playoff appearances since 2011.

There are nine players from the 2011 team, but the spotlight always shines brightest on Henrik and twin brother Daniel Sedin.

"I don’t like talking about that long a time ago," Henrik said. "I look at this series and we had enough chances to score more than we have. That maybe wasn’t the case [in] those series, but that was a long time ago."

The Canucks' top line, featuring the Sedins with different right wings, was atop the NHL in possession metrics after four games. Henrik led the NHL entering games Wednesday with a plus-49 shot attempt differential (SAT); Daniel was third at plus-40. The Sedin line is winning the even-strength battle against the Flames' top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler, who have three goals and seven points on the power play but have yet to combine for a point at 5-on-5.

But none of that means much unless the Sedins start scoring more than the one goal and one assist each has managed so far.

"Corsi doesn’t win you games," Henrik said, referring to the former name for SAT. "We know that. But we also believe if you play enough games well you are going to score goals sooner or later. We feel good about our game. We’re getting chances."

The Canucks' inability to convert those chances is hard to ignore, not just in this series but during the past three playoffs. As teams have collapsed to the front of their net, the Canucks have been unable, or unwilling, to win enough battles to convert the rebounds and second-chance opportunities that so often define playoff scoring.

"It's tough to get to second chances when shots don’t get to the net," Daniel Sedin said. "Their [defensemen] step up and block it and it's going the other way. It's more about spreading them out so we can get shooting lanes."

That will be the focus of the Canucks' adjustments in Game 5, but it can’t be the only change. As Daniel noted early in this series, the balanced four-line approach implemented in the regular season works only if all four lines are contributing to the attack.

"When we don't have that, we are an average team," he said.

They haven’t had it against the Flames. Second-line center Nick Bonino has two assists; one came on linemate Radim Vrbata’s only goal, into an empty net in Game 2. Vrbata led the Canucks during the regular season with 31 goals.

Not that scoring has been the Canucks' only problem.

With calgary's youth and Vancouver’s perceived experience advantage coming into this series, the Canucks have rarely looked like the more composed team.

In Game 1 it was Vancouver that abandoned its system after Calgary tied the game in the third period, ultimately leading to the Flames getting the winning goal in the final minute. Even in a Game 2 win, Vancouver abandoned its pledge to make life hard on Calgary’s high-minute top-three defensemen Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell and TJ Brodie, who haven’t been hit steadily since the first period of Game 1 and instead are finding energy to join the attack at the other end. They have combined for 10 points in four games.

On the road in Game 3, it was the Canucks who struggled to adjust to the Flames' increased forecheck pressure, turning over pucks and getting flustered by the hits that came with it. In Game 4, despite being warned things would be called tighter and knowing two of their top penalty-killers were injured, it was the Canucks who took two early penalties that led to goals. It hasn’t helped that the penalty kill, which was second in the NHL during the regular season at 85.7 percent, is last in the playoffs at 63.6 percent.

"We have taken a few penalties we shouldn’t take, to be honest with you, and in some games that has cost us," Daniel said. "We have to just be smart, stay out of the box, and 5-on-5 we’ll play well. We’re a confident group. We believe what we have done throughout this year has worked, and we’re going to keep doing that."

Noel: Lightning must have depth on their forecheck

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings NHL.com has enlisted the help of Claude Noël to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-2014 and interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. He also coached many years in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. Noel a forward during his playing days, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL, and he played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.

The ebbs and flows of every hockey game are inevitable, but the fine line between winning and losing usually comes down to which team is able to take advantage of that golden opportunity when it presents itself.

Claude Noel believes the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to capitalize on that moment when presented a 5-on-3 power play for 56 seconds early in the second period of an eventual 3-0 loss against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Tuesday. The win gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 with Game 4 set for Thursday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (7 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports, FS-F, FS-D).

"I felt Detroit really carried the play and was really coming at Tampa Bay hard early in the second and the Lightning weren't able to generate any offense, but then they got the power play and then a 5-on-3 advantage," Noel said. "That to me was one of the turning points of the game or could have been. Tampa did get a shot off the crossbar (by Tyler Johnson), but beyond that had a couple of non-executed plays that resulted in not getting much done on the 5-on-3. I thought that could have been a turning point that they could take advantage."

The Lightning generated no shots during the two-man advantage. The Red Wings survived and held a 1-0 lead at the second intermission. Noel liked what he saw from the Red Wings from the outset. Detroit saw the return of left wing Justin Abdelkader and defenseman Brendan Smith to the lineup, something Noel felt provided an extra spark. The return of Abdelkader from a hand injury enabled coach Mike Babcock to use Pavel Datsyuk's line against Steven Stamkos, and Luke Glendening's line against Johnson.

"They were back home and they inserted two players into the lineup and were excited about that," Noel said. "I thought Abdelkader helped with the formation of different lines and I think Smith was a solid add (alongside Marek Zidlicky); overall I thought the Red Wings played a good team game."

During the regular season, the Lightning ranked first in the NHL at 3.16 goals per game. They have averaged 2.33 in three games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Red Wings. Noel pointed to some reasons why the Lightning may have stalled on offense Tuesday.

"I thought Tampa Bay didn't generate a whole lot of offensive zone time where you could see their speed and skill," he said. "I thought they ended up playing what I call a three-quarter ice game. What they would do, and what happened a few times throughout the course of the game, was rather than get pucks deep and get in on the forecheck, sometimes they would get it deep and have just one player in on the forecheck because the second or third forward was sometimes caught on a change. So Detroit was always able to recover the pucks when they were dumped in and that resulted in breakouts the other way."

Noel said adding depth in attacking the puck on the forecheck could be the answer in generating more offense for the Lightning.

"I thought Tampa didn't dump the puck nearly enough to get it to the goal line and get some type of offensive zone attacks going and get depth onto their forecheck," Noel said. "They sometimes tried to deke and tried to make plays sideways, but there was no depth in their attack and I thought that was a big difference. When Tampa Bay got into the offensive zone, whether they got it to the goal line or were able to use the whole zone, they were really dangerous. They get on the move, made plays, and could execute passes. But you didn't see a lot of it; you just saw it in spurts."

So while the Lightning look to refuel the offense, the Red Wings stingy defense will try to continue its mastery in frustrating the opponent.

"If you're Tampa Bay you have to figure out how to generate more offense," Noel said. "What Detroit did well was that by playing territorial and getting pucks to the goal line in Tampa's end, while some of those dumps were handled well by [Tampa Bay goaltender] Ben Bishop, it got Tampa Bay out of transition so they didn't have a counterattack game. Detroit was on the forecheck with the pucks deep in the Lightning end.

"Detroit didn't have many turnovers to give Tampa a chance to counterattack because the Lightning skill and speed on counters could be deadly."

Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek made 22 saves to notch his first shutout of the playoffs. Mrazek, who was pulled after two periods in a Game 2 loss, is now 4-0-1 in games after being pulled this season.

"[Babcock] has two good goalies and in the case of [Jimmy] Howard, he'll be a good professional when called upon," Noel said. "Mrazek is young but has experience in knowing how to win in the American Hockey League. Knowing how to win is good experience; I know it's not at the same level, but it does transcend to having some success because you know how to play in those one- or two-goal games."

Islanders reviewing options if Visnovsky can't play

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Less than 24 hours after the New York Islanders failed to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals, they were trying to figure out how to replace another veteran defenseman.

The Islanders could be without Lubomir Visnovsky for Game 5 at Verizon Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, CSN-DC). Visnovsky was hit hard behind the Islanders net by Capitals forward Tom Wilson and was forced to leave the game. He did not return to the 2-1 overtime loss.

The Islanders played the first four games of the series without veteran defenseman Travis Hamonic because of an undisclosed injury.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano did not have an update on Visnovsky's condition when he spoke with reporters Wednesday morning but was hoping to know more later in the day. He did not know if Visnovsky would be able to make the trip to Washington.

In the Islanders dressing room, the players were still upset.

"The puck wasn't even close to where [Visnovsky] was," captain John Tavares said. "It's just a complete target of a defenseless player."

Wilson received a minor penalty for charging for the hit, which occurred at 5:54 of the second period.

Perhaps the biggest issue if Visnovsky is unable to play is the Islanders' already-struggling power play. They went 0-for-4 with the man-advantage Tuesday and are 0-for-10 in the series.

The most likely options to replace Visnovsky are Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart, but they are left-handed shooters and the Islanders already were using five lefties without Hamonic.

So, might the Islanders considering playing Ryan Pulock, their first-round pick (No. 15) at the 2013 NHL Draft? Pulock would provide them with another right-handed shot who can skate on the power play; he possesses a lethal slap shot from the point.

"It's a good conversation piece for sure," Capuano said of the 20-year-old Pulock, who had 17 goals in 54 games for Bridgeport in the American Hockey League this season. "I don't know if we would do it the next game quite honestly, but having the big shot, having the 16 goals or whatever he had down there, we're going to have to talk about it.

"It's a good question, but we feel like we still got the guys on the power play, our veteran guys, that can shoot pucks. For whatever reason we just kept the puck to the outside [Tuesday]. We created 2-on-1s, we had presence, but we didn't get pucks to the net."

If Visnovsky can't play, Thomas Hickey will find himself with a new defense partner. Hickey also was upset about Wilson's hit but knows the Islanders will have to move on if they hope to take a 3-2 series lead on Thursday.

"I think [Visnovsky] has been playing his best hockey of the year lately," Hickey said. "If he can't go it's upsetting and frustrating, but we're going to have to have guys step up, all of us. The way he's been able to bring the puck up the ice, the way he's been standing up at the blue line and keeping pucks in, he's been a big reason why we've played well. If he can't go, we've all got to pull some extra weight."

Capuano did not have an update on Hamonic's status. Hamonic was at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday but did not participate in the Islanders' optional skate. Without Hamonic and Visnovsky, the challenge of winning a Stanley Cup Playoff series for the first time since 1993 becomes even greater.

"It's a big challenge, there's no question," Capuano said. "You win hockey games, you build teams obviously from your net out. I think our defense have done a great job this year, but if Visnovsky and Hamonic are both out they're big holes to fill. Who are we kidding? They're two of our best guys back there.

"It's a chance and an opportunity for other guys to come in and step up. This happens as you move forward to try to reach your goal to win a Stanley Cup, whether it's on defense or up front. Other guys can try to come in and fill a void. We've got other guys that have been practicing pretty hard that can get in there and hopefully do the job for us."

Tavares said, "It is what it is. You can't control that. We have to go out there with whoever's playing tomorrow to go out there and do the job. It's an opportunity for somebody."

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Blackhawks center Vermette comes up big in Game 4

Center Antoine Vermette was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline to bolster an offense that was missing Patrick Kane because of a broken collarbone. After scoring 13 goals and 35 points in 62 games with the Arizona Coyotes, Vermette had three assists in 19 regular-season games for the Blackhawks and was a healthy scratch for the first two games of the Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators.

Given a shot at redemption after coach Joel Quenneville called his number for Game 3, Vermette played 13:35 in 17 shifts of Chicago's 4-2 win. But in Game 4, Vermette made the most of his second chance with a big goal in a game the Blackhawks would eventually win 3-2 in the third overtime.

Trailing 1-0 midway through the first period, Vermette and the Blackhawks went to work and tied the score 1:27 after Predators forward Colin Wilson opened the scoring. Vermette skated to the middle of the ice and redirected a pass from defenseman Michal Rozsival past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne at 13:05 for his first goal in a Blackhawks uniform.

In addition to his goal, Vermette played to his strength in the faceoff circle, winning 60 percent of his faceoffs (12 of 20) after going 4-for-9 in Game 3.

"It becomes that much sweeter when you win," Vermette told the Chicago Tribune. "You knew at some point it would come."

Chicago leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and will have a chance to close it out Thursday in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, CSN-CH, FS-TN). Vermette not only gave the Blackhawks more breathing room, he likely bought himself more time as a regular player.

"Your attitude is one thing you can control -- think positive, having good energy around the guys," Vermette said. "I think that's the way to do it."