Tag:2011 NHL Playoffs
Posted on: April 27, 2011 2:01 am
Edited on: April 27, 2011 3:35 am

Blackhawks fall, but don't disappoint

Failing to make the playoffs could have been an embarrassment for the Chicago Blackhawks since they would have joined the Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils as the only teams over the last 15 years to miss the playoffs a season after winning the Stanley Cup. 

This exit --- sealed with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 --- is hardly that.  Despite the fact the ‘Hawks were forced to cede some of their best players -- including Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi -- due to salary cap restrictions and pushed an untested goalie into the fray, Chicago still fell to within a goal of advancing anyway. 

Not bad for a Chicago team who entered as the No. 8 seed that faced a Vancouver squad fresh off its first Presidents’ Trophy.

The Blackhawks weren't hanging their heads, ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers reports:

Tired and saddened, Toews was asked to sum up the incredible 13 days. He paused. 

“We’ve had some good series in the past, but I have to say that’s been the best one,” he said. “We never gave up. You have to feel like it’s meant to be when you get to that point. You have to think it’s going to go your way and when it doesn’t … I can’t believe what just happened. There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win this game coming into it.” 

The Hawks’ bid to become the fourth team to advance in a best-of-7 series despite losing the first three games ended when Alex Burrows scored in OT. The goal came less than five minutes after Canucks goalie Roberto Lungo robbed Chicago’s Patrick Sharp on a power-play attempt.

While Luongo exorcised some demons against a team he lost seven of the previous 18 playoff contests against, the Blackhawks weren’t lacking in net --- especially as the series progressed. Rookie Corey Crawford had 36 saves in Game 7, six more than Luongo. Crawford even stopped a Burrow’s penalty shot 21 seconds into the third period, a stop that allowed Jonathan Toews to force OT with a goal later in the period. 

The Chicaog Tribune's Brian Hamilton reports that Crawford sounded like anything but a novice after the game:

"It's tough to lose in overtime," Crawford said. "I felt we could have won it in overtime. When you're a goalie, and when you give up a goal in overtime like that, it's hard to take. I wasn't really thinking about the saves or anything like that right after they scored."

Crawford had his moments all throughout the game but spiked the angst in western Canada in the third period specifically. First, with the Canucks holding a tenuous 1-0 lead, he denied Burrows on a penalty shot wrister just 21 seconds into the final period to revitalize his club.

"Same thing I always do, just get out there and close the gap on him and read and react," Crawford said. "He's a shooter, so I was ready for a quick shot like that."

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:42 pm
Edited on: April 27, 2011 3:42 am

Brian Boucher makes (very) early case for MVP

Could Brian Boucher be the Conn Smythe frontrunner?

Sure, the never-ending first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t conclude until Wednesday and there might be more obvious choices out there, like teammate Daniel Briere (six goals, one assist). But the Philadelphia Flyers goalie --- not the All-Star netminder on the other ice the ice, Ryan Miller --- was the one still in net as the Philly seized a 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 on Tuesday. 

Boucher improved to 4-1 in the postseason -- two wins coming in relief -- as he stopped 26 of 28 shots fired his way on Tuesday. Miller was chased early in the third period after a Ville Leino goal made it 4-0. Miller allowed four goals on 28 shots before Jhonas Enroth entered. 

"It's just nice to win," Boucher told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "This is why you play hard all season long, to try to get home ice in a situation like this. And I think it was all the advantage in the world tonight."

Boucher dropped his goals-against average to 2.10 and.934 save percentage. Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth is tops in both categories, but the only goalie with a start in the playoffs in saves percentage is Montreal’s Carey Price.

But Boucher has been more about numbers. He’s solidified the starting job ---- twice --- already this postseason. First, he came in after rookie Sergei Bobrovsky struggled in Game 2 and then came into to do the same thing in Game 6 for Michael Leighton.

-- A.J. Perez 
Posted on: April 26, 2011 9:44 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 10:48 pm

Boston's Lucic tossed after charge in Game 6

Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic has all of one point (an assist) in the playoffs, but he really was no use for a good portion of Game 6 on Tuesday. 

Lucic -- the Bruins’ top goal scorer in the regular season -- was tossed 4 minutes, 37 seconds into the second period after an ill-advised check of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who had just dumped the puck in from the red line. Spacek’s face was toward the boards when Lucic charged into him, the kind of blindside hit that the league has crusaded against in recent months after so many high-profile head injuries.

Spacek, who appeared to have blood coming from his right ear, was helped off the ice with assistance of a Habs trainer. He missed about seven minutes of playing time, but did return later in the second period. 

Lucic received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. Because of the nature of the penalty, the hit will be reviewed by league officials and Lucic could miss Wednesday's Game 7 if supplementary discipline is doled out.

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 26, 2011 9:25 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 10:49 pm

Quick whistle negates Brian Gionta goal

Brain Gionta and the Montreal Canadiens got hosed by one of the worst -- and possibly laziest ---  calls of the playoffs. 

Gionta shot the puck between two Boston Bruins defenders in the first period of Tuesday's Game 6, a routine shot that goalie Tim Thomas should have handled easily. Maybe referee Kevin Pollock thought so, too. He blew the play dead even as the puck lay in front of Thomas’ leg pad before Gionta poked it into the net. 

Since the play was blown dead, it was not reviewable. Here’s the rule out of the NHL rulebook:
31.2 Disputes - The Referees shall have general supervision of the game and shall have full control of all game officials and players during the game, including stoppages; and in case of any dispute, their decision shall be final.

As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

“We’ve all been victimized by that sort of play,” said recently retired referee Kerry Fraser, now an analyst on TSN. “When you blow the whistle prematurely, you want to suck the wind right back out of it. It doesn’t work.”

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 26, 2011 4:24 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:36 pm

Game 7 breakdown: Blackhawks vs. Canucks

No. 8 Chicago at No. 1 Vancouver

Time: 10 p.m.

TV: Versus

Road to Game 7 

This series wasn’t exactly a blowout even as the Canucks spun out to a 3-0 series lead. Two of the first three games were one-goal games and other was a two-goal game. The Blackhawks are looking to become the fourth team in NHL history to win a seven-game series after losing the first three games. (The Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, New York Islanders in 1975 and last season’s Philadelphia Flyers all accomplished the feat.) And it hasn’t just been Chicago’s Stars have contributed to this unlikely comeback. Rookie Ben Smith, for instance, scored the game-winner in Game 6. 

In net

Corey Crawford (Chicago) vs. Roberto Luongo (Vancouver): Sure, the Blackhawks have won the Cup. But they’re almost as famous for making Luongo look pedestrian in net during the playoffs. He was pulled in Games 4-5 -- he allowed 10 goals on 40 shots during those two games  -- and sat in favor of rookie Cory Schneider to start Game 6. Luongo is allegedly back in net tonight. Crawford, who seized the starting job from Marty Turco early in the season, has posted a shutout and holds a .922 save percentage and a 2.27 goals-against average in the series.

Injury report

Rumors of Luongo’s alleged arm injury aside, the Canucks could be without defenseman Sami Salo. He went out in the first period of Game 6 and didn’t return after an apparent leg injury. The ‘Hawks will be without forward Bryan Bickell, who the team announced Monday underwent wrist surgery to repair a tendon. 

Our picks

A.J.Perez: I’m not sure if it’s Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith, but one or some combination of the group just always seems to get the Canucks in the end. For that reason, I have to side with the ‘Hawks. As the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks and 2009-10 Washington Capitals showed with first round exits, the President’s Trophy is no guarantee of anything. Sure many pieces are long gone, but there is enough cogs left from last season’s championship team to see the ‘Hawks through one more game. 

Brian Stubits: I know what's happened in the last three games. I know what's happened for the majority of his playoff career. But I just can't imagine this Canucks team and Luongo losing this game. They are reeling. They're hearing it from the fans. If they lose now, this way, it could lead to some serious soul-searching in Vancouver among management. It's going so bad right now, you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop and levity to be restored. I'm flying in the face of momentum, thinking the Blackhawks' improbable comeback comes up short.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:50 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:40 pm

Game 7 breakdown: Sabres vs. Flyers

No. 7 Buffalo at No. 2 Philadelphia

Time: 7:30 p.m., ET

TV: Versus

Road to Game 7

This series hasn’t lacked drama. Whether it’s who will be in goal minute to minute for the Flyers, blown leads and the propensity for games to reach overtime, this series has hardly been dull. The Flyers and Sabres have either been tied or separated by just a goal 87.5% of the playing time, according to the NHL. That’s the highest percentage among the eight first-round series.

In net

Ryan Miller (Buffalo) vs. Brian Boucher (Philadelphia). Both goalies are 0-1 in Game 7s, but Miller does have another pressure-packed game on his resume: the gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Games as he took Team USA to OT. Sure, Canada won, but Miller put in a stellar effort. Miller has started every game this series, while the Flyers have started three goalies -- Boucher, Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky -- so far. Boucher gets the nod after coming into Game 6 in relief of Leighton.

Injury report

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger (out of the lineup since March 8 with a hand injury) made his return in Game 6, although he played all of 4 minutes, 33 seconds. He’ll likely be back for Game 7, but Flyers forward Jeff Carter (lower-body injury) is out. Sabres forward Derek Roy, out since December after he underwent surgery to repair a quad injury, is expected to play. The Sabres, however, will be without Jason Pominville, who is likely done for the season after he was cut in the leg by a skate in Game 5. 

Our picks 

A.J Perez: With the fits the Flyers have given the Sabres the last couple games, I’m going to have to go with Philly. Buffalo just can’t hang onto a lead. Now that Pronger is back in the lineup and there are plenty of players left from year’s Flyers squad that came back from three games down to beat the Bruins en route to the Stanley Cup Final, it's hard to go against the Flyers. 

Brian Stubits: This series has been back-and-forth from the start, so you'll have just as much luck guessing a coin flip as this game. When push comes to shove, I will always look to the net, and, despite some rough games in this series, I'll take Miller any day of the week over Boucher. Scoring hasn't been the Sabres' problem so far, but this time I have a hunch Miller makes their tallies stand. I give little credence to Game 7 experience; if you've played in one elimination game, you've pretty much played in them all.

Posted on: April 26, 2011 12:51 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:00 am

Chris Conner's penalty shot goes sideways

Chris Conner’s unintentional dump-and-chase tact to his second period penalty shot didn’t turn out well.

The Pittsburgh Penguins forward was awarded the shot after he was tripped up by Tampa Bay’s Pavel Kubina on a breakaway attempt. As Conner approached Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson the puck went sideways on him as he neared the faceoff dot. 

By the time he chased it down, the angle was so extreme that it ended up being an easy save. Since the puck was traveling forward the entire time, the shot would have counted had it made it into the net and the game would have been tied at 2.

"I've seen stranger things happen than that thing, and it still ends up in the net," Roloson told Joe Smith of The St. Petersburg Times. "So you've got to stay focused on your job."

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 25, 2011 12:23 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 3:59 pm

Luongo back in Vancouver net for Game 7

There’s likely something wrong with Roberto Luongo

Mentally. Physically. Luongo, the Vezina Trophy finalist who has been the cornerstone of the franchise for a while, isn't right. Not that it matters. He's getting the nod for Game 7, at least that's what Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Monday. 

“Yes, Roberto is starting,” Vigneault told reporters (via The Vancouver Sun). “Positive. Wouldn't lie to you. I'm not kidding. Does this look like the face of a kidder?”

Rookie Cory Schneider was the surprise starter in Game 6, putting Luongo and his $64 million contract on the bench. This came after Vigneault told reporters, evey different way, that Luongo would be in there. After Sunday's 4-3 OT loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Vigneault said he “went with the gut.”
That stint in a ballcap for Luongo -- who allowed 10 goals on 40 shots when he was yanked in Games 4-5 -- ended in the third period after Schneider went down awkwardly on a penalty shot by Chicago’s Michael Frolik. Schneider, who had let in three goals on 20 shots he faced, was helped off the ice. 

"I just lost my legs and I seized up and couldn't do anything after that," Schneider told ESPN Chicago.

Luongo -- who's rumored to have hurt something, likely his arm, in Game 4 -- made 12 consecutive saves after he entered before rookie Ben Smith scored in overtime. Luongo made the initial save on a shot by Niklas Hjalmarsson, but the rebound squirted over to Smith who shot the puck over Luongo.

The Vancouver Sun details some of Luongo's postseason struggles, which go far beyond letting the Blackhawks come back from 3-0 in this series:

Luongo may have handled the big Olympic stage but he hasn't been able to handle the Blackhawks in any of the last three playoff years. His win-loss record against Chicago is 7-11. His playoff record, dating back to 2007, is 13-9 against the rest of the league. Overall, Luongo is a pedestrian 20-20 in his post-season career, all with the Canucks.

The issue of Tuesday’s starter became a comical one Monday when Luongo, who met with reporters prior to Vigneault's daily press conference, attempted to stick-handle around the question.

“I am getting ready as if I'm playing,” he said.

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
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