Tag:2011 Conference Quarterfinals
Posted on: April 28, 2011 12:51 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 3:03 am

Horton delivering first time on biggest stage

It took seven seasons. Perhaps it took the bright lights of the big postseason stage. Or maybe it was just a better supporting cast.

Whatever the answer, the end result is that Nathan Horton has finally begun to show the promise and top-level potential that was seen in him. Because it was Horton, a newcomer to Boston this season, who finished the crazy best-of-7 series vs. the Canadiens with an overtime winner. It was also him who ended Game 5 in double overtime.

Yes, the winger is stepping into the spotlight in his first time on the stage. For years he was lost in hockey purgatory, a.k.a. Florida.

Only once did the Panthers come close to the playoffs, finishing in an eighth-place tie with the Canadiens but losing on a tie-breaker. So perhaps this was some sort of revenge. Doubtful. His memories from his cellar-dwelling days are likely gone. That tends to happen when you move on up to the penthouse that is Beantown for your hockey home.

And, perhaps unfairly, Horton was always seen as bit of an underachiever for the Panthers, somewhat a victim of the high expectations, somewhat of being seen as the most talented player on a constantly underachieving team. He had flashes in his time with the 'Cats, but most felt he was capable of so much more, that he just needed to get out of the losing environment and with some better teammates. Then, many said, he'd flourish.

Well, this is a start. Horton's numbers this season didn't surpass what he had put up in Florida. His 26 goals this season were five below his career high of 31 in 2006-2007. But the weight of his latest goals is something he's never put up before.

"It’s been good [to watch], obviously, when you score two overtime goals in the series. You understand how big a piece of the puzzle he’s been for this hockey club. He had a really good start in the first month [of the season], then he cooled down a little bit," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Game 7. "But what I saw from Nathan from the half-point on until the end was a guy who became a lot more consistent in his game. His preparation was good, whether he scored or not, he was battling. He played hard. I think he’s really grown a lot in the second half."

I'd say so. And it can't be lost on the man coaching on the other bench, Jacques Martin. The Habs coach was behind the Panthers bench for much of Horton's time there before moving into the general manager's chair.

"Right now scoring those two big goals, [which] he’s been saving those for seven years, right?" Julien said. "He has a lot of winning goals in him."

Boston can only hope.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: April 27, 2011 2:26 pm

Report: Lucic not suspended for Game 7

After receiving a game misconduct and a five-minute major for boarding in Game 6, Milan Lucic will not be suspended for Game 7, Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sports net in Canada reports.

It answers a big question that was raised the instant Lucic was sent to the locker room early for his crushing hit on Jaroslav Spacek. Debate has raged since the hit of whether it was the right call or too severe. Either way, it's a moot point now as the series reaches the pinnacle, Game 7 tonight in Beantown.

Lucic was a key player for the Bruins' scoring punch this season, netting 30 goals to complement his 32 assists. But in this series the Habs have done a good job keeping him in check as Lucic has just one assist in the six games with a minus-1 rating and 17 penalty minutes (greatly assisted by the Game 6 misconduct).

The Bruins and Canadiens face off at 7 p.m. ET tonight for the eighth Game 7 in the storied rivalry's history, the most times of any two teams in NHL playoff history. For a breakdown of the game, click here . Watch the hit in question below.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:30 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 1:42 pm

Game 7 breakdown: Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh

No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins

Time: 8 p.m.
TV: CBC/RDS (Versus is scheduled to join the game in progress)

Road to Game 7

The CONSOL Energy Center’s debut season gets a Game 7. It won’t feature the arena’s two starring attractions -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- and it’s a game the Penguins could have avoided. The Pens held a 3-1 series lead before they were blown out, 8-2, in Game 5 then were done in by third-period goals from Steve Downie and former Penguin Ryan Malone en route to a 4-2 loss in Game 6. The series also feature two suspensions -- Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Downie each received a game -- after Game 3 altercations. The Pens have the edge in experience having gone through three Game 7s over the previous three years.

In net

Dwayne Roloson (Tampa Bay) vs. Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburg): At 41, Roloson has been more than just adequate in his first postseason appearance since 2006. His .941 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average both best his younger, Cup-winning counterpart. (Fleury has a GAA of 2.77 and a .890 save percentage.)

Injury report

Despite the alleged eye gouge perpetrated by Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, the Lightning enter fairly healthy. Tampa Bay defenseman Randy Jones is out with an ankle sprain. The Pens are minus Crosby (concussion), Malkin (knee) and Nick Johnson (concussion).

Our picks

A.J. Perez: The Lightning’s run has to end sometime. The Pens are minus their two biggest offensive weapons, but that’s been the case a solid portion of the season. What they need is a competent performance out of Fleury. Is that asking too much? I think there’s plenty left on the Pens roster to grind out a narrow victory.

Brian Stubits: The Lightning enter Game 7 rolling like thunder after impressive showings in Games 5 and 6, and with Crosby and Malkin out, have the greater firepower. This is a team I have not been high on and I'm a little surprised they made it to this juncture. The team's plus-minus this season was the lowest of playoff teams (ranked 20th at minus-13), which indicates they were somewhat lucky this season. So why go in the face of what looks to be a lucky streak right now? You have to wonder about the confidence level of the Penguins while the Lightning can't be feeling much in the way of pressure. Tampa Bay moves on.

Posted on: April 27, 2011 1:16 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 2:28 pm

Game 7 breakdown: Montreal at Boston

No. 6 Montreal Canadiens vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins

Time: 7 p.m.ET
TV: Versus

Road to Game 7

The Canadiens took the first two games of the series, stealing home-ice advantage and then some. Patrice Bergeron scored the only goal for the Bruins in those two losses, but the Bruins bounced back with 11 goals over the next three games to take a 3-2 series lead with two of the tilts going to OT. Brian Gionta, who had a goal disallowed via quick whistle earlier in the game, scored the winner in Game 6 as the Habs forced a decisive game with a 2-1 victory on Tuesday. He also leads the series in scoring with three goals and six assists.

In net

Carey Price (Montreal) vs. Tim Thomas (Boston): Two of the best goalies of the regular season haven’t disappointed. While they each have a 3-3 record, Price has the edge in the stats department. He has a .942 save percentage and a 1.85 GAA, while Thomas owns a .928 and a 2.16  GAA.

Injury report

The Habs were without defenseman James Wisniewski (apparent back injury) and forward David Desharnais (sprained knee) in Game 6 after each got hurt a game prior. Montreal forward Max Pacioretty remains out with a concussion. The Bruins' only noted injury remains Marc Savard (concussion).

Our picks

A.J. Perez: Take away the fact the Habs scored both their Game 6 goals on 5-on-3 power plays, this series would be over. (Of course, Gionta had a goal needlessly called back, so possibly we’d still be going.) I’m going to have to take Boston, especially if Milan Lucic doesn’t receive a suspension for his boarding of Habs defenseman Jaroslav Spacek.

Brian Stubits: I've been riding with the Bruins all postseason long, no point in jumping off now. This series has not been lacking in intensity, so when it ticks up a notch further, I'm going to like the home team with the raucous arena. It's worth noting that both Game 7s so far have gone to the home team -- also worth noting they were the expected winners, but still. Expect another very tight affair, can't see either team getting away from the other, with the Bruins emerging over the hated rivals from Montreal.
Posted on: April 23, 2011 5:47 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 6:37 pm

Caps use defense first to be first winner in East

So far, so good.

That's the early return on the Washington Capitals and their offseason investment to defense first.

Last year around this time, the sport's most explosive team was in the middle of collapsing, losing to the eighth-seeded Canadiens. Add it to the list of shortcomings in recent postseasons for one of the regular season's best.

This time, however, the focus has changed. And so, it looks like, have the team's postseason possibilities.

All five games against the Rangers were close; the Caps weren't dominating anybody in this series. But they were playing playoff hockey, a tough, defensive-minded game where easy scores are rare. Exactly what was missing before.

They made an average offensive team a bad offensive team, minus the one New York outbreak in Game 4. An offensive powerhouse before, they are becoming a power at protecting their house.

Part of the turnaround can be attributed to Michal Neuvirth in net, to be sure. And he deserves credit. He was incredibly solid and reliable for a team that had featured a turnstile in net the past few seasons.

"He [Neuvirth] didn't give them a chance. He was great. He covered up pucks, didn't give rebounds," Bruce Boudreau said after the game. "A lot of people don't know his name too much, except around our parts, but he's a heck of a goalie."

But it's pretty amazing how much better a goalie is when the shooting lanes are clogged and opposing skaters can't set up and fire away with the accuracy of a regular sharpshooter. Thank the defense.

"I think they've really bought in. From that [7-0 loss Dec. 12 to the Rangers] on, I bet you we had the best goals against in the league," Boudreau said. "They want to win. When they heard this is what we think we have to do to win, they bought in. They've come a long way."

"You can see how we sacrifice our body. Everybody blocked the shots," said Alexander Ovechkin, who played on the right wing instead of the left on Sunday. "It was very important for us to not give them many chances to score goals. To not give them momentum. When we get ahead, We focused on our neutral zone and defensive zone."

It takes a complete breakdown now for the Caps not to have three or more skaters near the net. Granted, this is not new to hockey, it's rather standard for many teams. But it hasn't been for Washington.

After all, defense isn't prone to slumps the way offenses are.

Of course, the price to pay for all this comes at the offensive end. The Caps aren't scoring as much. Nowhere near it. But, as they proved in Game 4, they can abandon the stay-at-home philosophy when needed and let their playmakers go to work. When that list of names includes Ovechkin and Semin -- who each scored in Game 5 -- that’s a daunting proposition.

Now the Capitals get something no other team in the East will benefit from: a rest. They are the only team to wrap up their series in five games or less. It's probably a nice break for fans rocking the red, too. For the first time since the lockout, the Capitals played a series that didn't go seven games.

This has to be what Boudreau imagined when his retooling began. But next round we'll find out how much that defense has truly improved.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: April 19, 2011 2:10 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 2:12 pm

Kunitz, Downie suspended one game apiece

The verdict is already down on Steve Downie and Chris Kunitz from their Game 4 elbows to the head. Each player will be suspended for one game .

In Game 4, the Lightning's Downie flattened Pittsburgh's Ben Lovejoy on the boards behind the net. Lovejoy clearly wasn't aware of the hit coming and it came up high, a very dangerous combination.

A little later in the game, Kunitz threw a clear and undeniable elbow at the head of Tampa Bay's Simon Gagne. He was penalized on the play two minutes for elbowing. While the damage potential wasn't incredibly high, the intent is what matters here, and there's little way to say there was no intent to throw an elbow to the head.

The decision comes down a day after the NHL elected not to punish the Canucks' Raffi Torres for a questionable hit on Brent Seabrook of the Blackhawks, who will miss tonight's Game 4 in Chicago.

The hits are exactly what the league has been trying to eradicate in recent years. It's been a touchy subject with a lot of gray area, but anytime it seems clear there was an intentional shot to the head, the suspension is likely to follow.

In the playoffs there seems to be an uptick in the amount of the big, dangerous hits, something you can likely attribute to the playoff brand of hockey, a more physical and intense brand.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: April 19, 2011 1:38 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 1:50 pm

Boudreau doesn't think too highly of MSG

If Bruce Boudreau isn't familiar with a Bronx cheer, he soon will be.

Apparently the Capitals coach doesn't get the aura of Madison Square Garden. In an interview with a Washington radio station, Boudreau shared a few thoughts on the "World's Most Famous Arena." Here's betting he didn't make any friends in New York.

"Its reputation is far better than the actual building," Boudreau said in an interview on the station. "It's nothing. The locker rooms are horrible. The benches are horrible. There's no room for anything. But the reputation of being in Madison Square Garden is what makes it famous. Our building is a lot louder, too. They can say what they want, but it's not that loud in there."

Did you leave anything out, coach?

Apparently. Here's what he had to say about the Rangers' approach to Caps defenseman Mike Green, who just returned from an absence from concussion.

"It was to the side of the head, and it was a dirty shot. I hope the league looks at it," Boudreau said of a hit in Game 3 from Marc Staal. "That's exactly what we're trying to get out of the league and out of the game. Staal comes in, there's no puck, he takes his arm, he swings it at his head, but it's all forgotten because we score a goal to tie the game up.

"It shouldn't be forgotten and it wasn't the only time they targeted Mike's head."

As if the New Yorkers needed a reason to get more riled up. Just ask Pedro Martinez how it can be after saying anything bad about either New York or its teams.

MSG will surely be as loud as Boudreau has ever heard it before from here on out, especially if the Rangers are able to stay toe-to-toe with the Caps in the series. As for the other charges, well, they might be on target, but that won't matter much to the patrons. If he wants loud, he'll get it.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: April 18, 2011 1:59 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 10:34 pm

Flyers to start Boucher, Leighton to backup

As suspected, there's a new starting goaltender for Philadelphia tonight. Perhaps unsuspected is that all signs point to there being a new backup, too.

After struggling to the tune of three goals surrendered in seven shots, rookie Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher, a move that helped the Flyers come back to beat the Sabres and even their series. Coach Peter Laviolette said Monday that it will, in fact, be Boucher starting Game 3 in Buffalo.

"Brian came in last couple of times and has done a really nice job for us in there," Laviolette said. "He’s on top of his game and in charge of his net. He bailed us out of a couple of situations and I really feel he deserves to go in there and play."

As far as the backup spot, per csnphilly.com , Philly will return to the tandem it used in last year's playoff, at least on Monday.

We know it’s Leighton because he and Boucher have full lockers while Sergei Bobrovsky does not. He has a tiny little stall that can’t fit equipment.
So there you have it.

Philadelphia made its improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year after getting in on the final day despite not having a go-to goaltender. The hope was that would be resolved this year, and Bobrovsky would be the reason why. The Russian rookie was superb in net early in the season, but faltered some as the season wore on. So it was widely assumed he would have a short leash this postseason.

Leighton played in 14 games last postseason, posting an 8-3 record to spur the Flyers. But this year he played just one game with the big club, being placed on waivers at one point.

-- Brian Stubits

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com