Tag:2011 NHL Playoffs
Posted on: April 28, 2011 3:06 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 3:36 am

Preview: No. 1 Canucks vs. No. 5 Predators

Full NHL brackets, schedule

It wasn't supposed to be the Predators getting through their first-round opponent before the Canucks, but that's the Stanley Cup playoffs for you. Harken back a week's time and you had Vancouver looking like the Presidents' Trophy winner it is. But it nearly coughed up the series, needing overtime in Game 7 to finally advance past the defending champion, but considerably weakened Blackhawks. For Nashville it was a first-round matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, arguably the hottest team entering the postseason. Never scoring fewer than three goals in any game, the Predators took care of Anaheim in Game 6, advancing past the first round for the first time in the organization's history.

Here's the breakdown.

Forwards: On paper, there's not much comparison between these two groups. Vancouver's fourth-leading scorers (Mikael Samuelsson and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff) would be tied for the team lead for Nashville in points. But if the first round is any evidence, the Predators' forwards are playing at a higher level right now. Averaging more than a goal per period in any playoff series is impressive, I don't care if a team is missing their first-string goaltender as Anaheim was in Jonas Hiller. But still, they will need Martin Erat to be fully healthy for the series. He has returned to practice since the big hit he suffered in the last series made him a spectator by the series' end. They will need him to join back up with Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand and crew. That's because when playing to its fullest potential -- that's the key here -- no team in the league can boast better talent up front than Vancouver. It's more than just the Sedin twins (gratuitous chance to throw this classic video in ) with Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Samuelsson and more pitching in. Wildcard watch: Nashville's Sergei Kostitsyn had the highest shooting percentage this seasn of anybody who played more than 25 games, scoring on 24.7 percent.

Edge: Canucks

Defensemen: Last offseason Vancouver's No. 1 priority was to boost the defensive corps to help Roberto Luongo come playoff time. To do so, the Canucks went out and grabbed Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard. It helped as Vancouver ranked first in the NHL this season in goals against. But don't dare call Nashville a slouch in this department. The Preds were nipping on the heels of Boston for third in the league at 2.32 GAA. Granted, sometimes the stats can be misleading when talking about defensemen because often times, just like penalty killing, the best defender is likely your goaltender. When talking about offensive capabilities from the blue line, each team has a man worth keeping an eye on. The aforementioned Ehrhoff leads the Canucks D corps in scoring while cannon-for-a-shot Shea Weber was two points off the team lead in scoring with 48 for Nashville. Vancouver is hoping to have Sami Salo back in the rotation after he had to sit Game 7 vs. Chicago with a leg injury. In the end, it's no contest when looking at name recognition, but that means squat. Nashville has shown it's stout in its own right in the back end and we're pretty much splitting hairs between these two.

Edge: Even

Goalies: It's becoming an all-too familiar pain in Vancouver come playoff time. Roberto Luongo, a finalist for the Vezina this season, struggling when the brightest lights come on. The Chicago series was nightmarish for Luongo, who was pulled in the Game 5 beatdown and didn't start in Game 6. He was pressed back into action though when backup Cory Schneider had to leave in the middle of the game. Luongo was the only option for the Canucks in Game 7, which is when he looked like the world-class goalie that won Canada Olympic gold. The only blemish on his statline was a short-handed goal surrendered to the Blackhawks in the final two minutes to force overtime. If his confidence is right, there really aren't many better in the game. Very quietly on the other end of the ice is Pekka Rinne, another elite goaltender who struggled some in the first round. His struggles weren't all-too obvious, but he clearly wasn't the best he can be. Except for Game 1 when he allowed just one score, the Ducks were able to find the back of the net a few times each game. So in a way that's good news for Nashville: it was able to get past Anaheim without its best player flashing his A-game. Either way, he didn't go through the meltdown Luongo did and the subsequent drama surrounding his status as the starter.

Edge: Predators

Special teams: You want to find a disparity in the stats? Here you have it. Vancouver was the most effective team in the NHL this season on the power play -- is there a stat the Canucks weren't tops in?? -- while Nashville was ... 26th. This can be largely attributed to the difference in pure skill between the teams. With the type of players the Canucks have, when things start to break down in the power play, they have enough skill to make something happen on their own. As good of a coach as Barry Trotz is -- and he's damn good -- there's only so much he can do. If things start to fall apart, Nashville just doesn't have enough players that can make something happen with the puck by themselves. But things are on a much more level playing field when on the PK. As you'd expect with the stout defenses and goaltenders, each team placed in the top five in PK (Vancouver third, Nashville fifth). It is worth noting that Nashville does a good job of not letting other teams get their power-play unit on the ice, taking the second fewest amount of penalty minutes per game in the NHL this season.

Edge: Canucks

Prediction: It is so tempting to pick Nashville here. I'm a believer in Trotz on the bench and Vancouver just seems ripe for the picking. But perhaps the Canucks exorcised some playoff demons, finally getting past the Blackhawks. I fully expect the Predators to push the Canucks to the limit, but Vancouver will live to see another round. Or perhaps I'm just too much of a wimp to go out on the limb. Either way, Canucks in seven.

-- Brian Stubits

No. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 5 Nashville - Series tied, 0-0
Date Site Time/Result
April 28 at VAN 9 p.m.  
April 30 at VAN 9 p.m.  
May 3 at NSH TBA  
May 5 at NSH TBA  
* May 7 at VAN 8 p.m.  
* May 9 at NSH TBA  
* May 11 at VAN TBA  

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 28, 2011 12:36 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 4:16 am

Roloson, 41, keys Tampa Bay's comeback

The Tampa Bay Lightning defied the odds and their goalie, Dwayne Roloson, again defied his age.

Roloson, 41, stopped 36 shots in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the first-round series Wednesday night. That’s on top of the 27 saves on 29 shots he stopped in Game 5 and the 31 of 33 volleys turned away in Game 6 as Tampa Bay became the 24th team in NHL history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit. 

As The Tampa Bay Tribune's Erik Erlendsson reprots, Roloson didn’t have the easiest path to this win:

The Lightning killed off six power plays in the game, including one with 1:33 left, and killed 35 of 36 in the seven-game series.

"It's just another win for me. Now that this is over, enjoy it, but tomorrow is another day and we have to focus on the next series," Roloson said. "We just laid it on the line. We just went out and played. We just did what we had to do to win hockey games. We didn't care about the score. We didn't care about the results.

"We stayed within our system and our structure and we were able to win hockey games."

Roloson also outdueled Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, not that he could be faulted allowing one goal on 22 shots. Fleury received a cheers from the CONSOL Energy Center after the game's conclusion, Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
He had no chance at preventing Lightning left wing Sean Bergenheim from scoring into an open net. Bergenheim, positioned to the left of Fleury, was free for an open shot after the Penguins paid too much attention to center Dominic Moore from behind the cage.

"Our goalie stopped everything he saw," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: April 27, 2011 11:33 pm
Edited on: April 28, 2011 7:58 pm

Boston's Ference not suspended for blindside hit

Boston Bruins forward Andrew Ference --- who donned the black hat and was saddled with a a fine for his single-figured gesture earlier in the series --- added two assists and one questionable hit in his team's 4-3 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the first-round series on Wednesday.. 

With the puck well up ice about halfway through the third period, when replays showed that Ference delivered a hit to the head of Montreal center Jeff Halpern on the ice and forced a stoppage in play. (No penalty was called on the play.) Halpern was eventually helped off the ice and into the locker room with the assistance of Montreal’s trainer, but he did return. 

Ference had a hearing by phone with NHL officials on Thursday, but the league did not levy a suspension. 

"When it first happened I wasn't (worried about a suspension)," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said (via NESN). "I thought it was just incidental contact, but when I took a closer look at bit I could see where the league's concerns lie. But when you look at the whole play, we turned the puck over at our blue [line], and when that happens the D are supposed to close off the rim around the wall. 

Ference received a $2,500 fine for giving Montreal fans the finger after a goal last Thursday. The league also decided against disciplining teammate Milan Lucic for his hit on Montreal’s Jaroslav Spacek in Game 6 that drew a boarding major and a game misconduct. 

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 27, 2011 10:46 pm
Edited on: April 28, 2011 4:23 am

Boston needs to solve special teams woes

Nathan Horton’s winner in overtime of Game 7 sprinkled a little detergent on the stain on Wednesday, but the Boston Bruins' dreary special teams play in the first round can't be fully overlooked.

The Bruins were awful on the power play and things weren’t a whole lot better on the peanalty kill, which were both on display as the Bruins advanced to the second round with a 4-3 victory. Boston went 0-for-2 with the man-advantage in Game 7 and finished the series 0-for-21 --- the first time since 1952 (also by the Bruins) that a team failed to score a power play goal in a seven-game series. 

Unlike that series against the Habs 59 years ago, the Bruins are the team that advanced this time. They just may not want to try that again in the next round. 

Boston’s PK wasn’t quite as woeful, but the Bruins still couldn’t kill off a Patrice Bergeron high-sticking penalty by Montreal’s James Wisniewski with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in regulation. Forty seconds later, a one-timer by Habs rookie defenseman PK Subban tied the game and sent the contest  to OT. 

Boston allowed six power play goals in 27 attempts (77.8 percent) for the series, which puts them in the lower half of all first-round teams as the Bruins prepare to face the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. 

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