Kukla's Korner Hockey
Tim Thompson is at it again...
from David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail,
Paul Martin leads the Pittsburgh Penguins in playoff points.
That is nice for the veteran defenceman but it says just about all you need to know about the Penguins in their first-round NHL playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which resumes Saturday. Martin has eight assists in four games, double the number of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the same number of goals as the superstar pair – zero.
The only other thing to know is that after Marc-André Fleury tantalized the fans into thinking he was the playoff goaltender of 2009 over the first three games, in the space of about three minutes in Game 4 he turned into the post-season flop of 2010 through 2013. In other words, he wilted when the heat was on. Maybe that’s why they call him Flower.
So once again the Penguins, as talented a team as you can find in the salary-cap era, are at the centre of a playoff storm. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and being declared the NHL’s next dynasty, the Pens have been as far as the Eastern Conference final once, where they were summarily dismissed by the Boston Bruins last year, and were bounced in the first round twice.
from Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch,
“This is what you dream of as a kid,” Dubinsky said. “You play this game for one reason — to lift that 35-pound (Stanley) Cup. Your top players have to be your best players. If you consider yourself a top player — and I do — I think this team relies on me to do that.”
Dubinsky has limited Crosby to no goals and 12 shots on goal in the first four games. Moreover, he set the tone for the Blue Jackets in the opening game, physically confronting Crosby all over the ice, knocking him down on several occasions and drawing boos from Penguins fans. Dubinsky has 30 hits, and Crosby has received six of them.
“I used Brandon most of the time against Crosby, and that’s not an easy task,” Richards said. “But Dubi is hard on (faceoffs), he plays a physical game and there’s a commitment in his game to playing defense.”
Crosby is so skilled that he can go off at a moment’s notice, but his performance in this series has been so blasé that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was asked yesterday whether Crosby was injured. Bylsma quickly said that Crosby is healthy, but he included Crosby in a group of Penguins that needs to play with more passion and more of a physical edge.
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers,
Nationwide Arena is mostly empty this morning, save for a few workers milling about. Blue Jackets coaches arrived early to do what they do -- review film, get updates on injured players, strategize for Saturday's Game 5 -- but players were given a day off to rest weary legs and bruised bones.
Still, there was an afterglow in Nationwide, a lingering electricity from the Blue Jackets' rousing 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
"I slept very well last night," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. He may have gone to bed late, though, like many others in Columbus.
One got the sense last night that our city was transformed in some way. Yes, it's had major league sports here for more than a decade, but the Blue Jackets -- to many -- joined the big leagues last night, and they dragged central Ohio along with them.
Last night's game had all the elements in place to be a lifelong memory. You could say it had Babe Ruth calling his shot and Bill Buckner flubbing an easy grounder, all rolled up into one hockey game.
from Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet,
Crosby can’t be held without a goal much longer; Evgeni Malkin is probably on the verge of a four-point game; Fleury is going to make some more jaw-dropping saves. And when it happens, we’ll all be tempted to once again believe in this giant Cup tease.
But that faith is misplaced. As Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, of the Pens’ past 20 playoff losses dating back to 2010, nine have occurred after the team blew a third-period lead. Fleury? Sure. But that’s about more than goaltending; that’s about a team with systemic issues that won’t be worked out this spring.
The best approach for Penguins fans right now, difficult as it may be, is to embrace the ride. And from a tactical standpoint, you wonder if Pittsburgh shouldn’t actually try to blow teams out of the water. It sounds crazy, but protecting leads clearly isn’t working. Maybe they need to further exploit Sergei Bobrovsky’s .900 save percentage and stretch those goal gaps out as much as possible.
That may run counter to conventional playoff thinking, but at least Pittsburgh would be playing to its strength instead of trying to be something it’s not.
NHL.com followed both the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets into the dressing room after their wins last night.
It is not often you get to see a coach talking to his team post-game.
The Dallas Stars are up first...
Then the Columbus Blue Jackets...
from Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
Fleury's toast now. He's a train wreck that not even a team of the planet's most advanced sports psychologists could cure. He'll give up floater after floater in Game 5 and beyond, right up until the Penguins are eliminated and, then, spend their summer searching for another franchise goaltender.
If I know my city, the invectiveness sprayed at TV sets across Western Pennsylvania was all that and a whole lot uglier.
Well, count me out.
Don't misunderstand, please. Fleury blew it. He blew it big-time. He had no business straying from his net or conceding Foligno's shot from somewhere south of Cincinnati. He let the team down when it needed him most.
But sorry, this just doesn't come with the same feel of the Fleury we've seen flop in years past.
I remember Fleury on Long Island last spring, ramming his forehead against a cement-block wall at the back of the locker room. He was a mess of the worst kind. Dan Bylsma didn't want to turn to Tomas Vokoun, but he had no choice.
This just isn't that. Not yet, anyway.
more and below, watch the game tying goal and OT goal by Columbus to even the series at 2 games...
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers at the Columbus Dispatch,
This first-round series between the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins has made for immensely compelling hockey. The Blue Jackets must exert their will to keep the Penguins from exerting their skill.
Last night, the Jackets had the Penguins tangled and frustrated for the better part of two periods before a delirious crowd of 19,148 in Nationwide Arena, which hosted its third-ever Stanley Cup playoff game, the first in five seasons.
But all of the Jackets’ good work came unraveled in a dizzying span of 2:13 of the third period, when the Penguins scored three goals to take a 4-3 lead and, eventually, a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Nationwide.
“I don’t think Game 4 can come fast enough for us,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said.
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers,
The Blue Jackets will be backed by a sold out crowd in Nationwide Arena tonight -- the diehards who have endured all along, those who drifted away and have fallen back in love, and the newbies who are getting their first look at the greatest spectacle in sports ... the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he was concerned about his players getting too caught up in the emotions of the moment and suffering an energy crash as the game moves along. But mostly he's excited, too:
"The city has earned this, the fans have earned this," Richards said. "There will be great energy in here. We've seen it before (against Nashville in the last game of last season), but it's going to be elevated here tonight."
from Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
The Blue Jackets had no business getting back in this game. Bylsma left the screen door open. Columbus had been dangerous on the penalty kill all season and had scored a short-handed goal in Game 1. There was no reason to take a chance.
Sure enough, Malkin fumbled a puck at the right point. He escaped unscathed. He then was victimized at the left point, which led to a 2-on-1 and Matt Calvert's short-handed goal.
This was sheer Penguins arrogance — and it changed the game for good. They never recaptured control. After outshooting the Blue Jackets, 15-4, in the first period, they were outshot 41-27 the rest of the way.
Afterward, Bylsma explained that he went with four forwards because it worked so well during the regular season. That is true. The Penguins had the league's top-ranked power play. But the playoffs are a different animal. Coaching staffs have way more time to break down opponent's special teams. They look for weaknesses.
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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