Kukla's Korner Hockey
via Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province,
It’s taken a while but if hockey fans aren’t fully engaged in the conference finals by now, the NHL has a problem. To date, the final four has offered just about everything on a fans’ wish list: evenly matched but contrasting teams, constantly changing storylines and star power. And it’s all made for compelling hockey.
The Blackhawks’ 5-4 Game 4 win over Anaheim, for example, offered more plot twists than a season of Game of Thrones with the Hawks a) coughing up a two-goal lead in the third period by surrendering three goals in 37 seconds before b) they tied the game late and c) Antoine Vermette, who had been a healthy scratch the game before, potted the game-winner in double overtime.
You’d think the Ducks’ inability to close this one out will mark a turning point in the series but, really, who knows what’s coming next. It’s the same story in the East where the Rangers and Lightning are producing their own drama, and that should make for appointment viewing.
The issue, of course, is that the momentum of the NHL’s post-season tends to peter out after the opening round. The final four occupies the fans of the teams involved but, even in Canada, there’s the sense a larger audience tunes them out.
It’s also the opposite story in the NBA where interest intensifies the deeper the playoffs run. That league is now looking at a final with LeBron James and Steph Curry at the top of the marquee and an endlessly attractive matchup between Cleveland and Golden State.
The NHL? You just hope the teams will continue to provide great entertainment because the game needs it.
from Pierre LeBrun of ESPN,
"Stammer and Fil, and Killorn, to be honest, I think they've elevated their game to as high a level as you can play," Cooper said after his team’s 2-0 win Sunday night, giving the Lightning a 3-2 series lead over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 6 is Tuesday in Tampa.
"The one thing with Stammer, you look at his seven goals, he's not getting the sixth goal in a 6-2 game,” Cooper said. "He's getting the go-ahead goal or the one that you build off. It was only a matter of time. You can't keep him down forever."
Stamkos, well, looks like Stamkos again.
"I'm definitely more confident now than I was the first eight games, no question," Stamkos said after putting up a goal and an assist in Sunday night’s huge victory. "But I think for me it was a great adversity test.
"Our team was winning, which was great. The depth has prevailed all season for our team. But I knew I was playing the right way. When you play the right way, things are going to start going your way. We switched some things up, moved to the wing, tried to free some things up. The power play has gotten a lot better too, where you get a couple goals, you get a couple points there, now you're feeling a little better. So everything has kind of accumulated to this point right now. But when you have confidence, you try to keep it as long as you can, because it is tough to get at this time of the year."
from Larry Brooks of the New York Post,
This wasn’t good enough from the Rangers, not good enough at all to win a conference final Game 5, and divining meaning from the all-but-empty locker room that greeted the press following the match, the Blueshirts must have known it.
It was 2-0 for the Lightning, who played to perfection what the Rangers had every right to consider their own game to nudge the Blueshirts to the precipice of elimination in taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Blueshirts played with passion and jump throughout the first period, but displayed little of either over the final 40 minutes while being stifled by a Lightning in front of an audience as quiet as Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Marty St. Louis, and … ah, you get the idea.
What a downer.
Below, watch the game highlights...
Scheduled puck drop is just after 8:00pm ET on NBCSN, CBC and TVA.
The series is tied at two games and tonight's game will be played at Madison Square Garden.
Feel free to discuss the game.
from Chris Johnston of Sportsnet,
This is where we are heading into Sunday’s Game 5: All square in the Eastern Conference final with everything on the line. Two wins from the Stanley Cup final or two losses from a summer of regret.
"I think the harsh reality is some guys in this room may never get a chance to get this far again," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said Sunday morning. "Hopefully everyone does, but you never know in this sport. It's so tough to get here. ... There's really no place to hide right now.
"We have to find a way to respond, to play a lot better than we did last game and to get ourselves that much closer to the final."
To date, this has been a highly unpredictable series. Tight-checking in Game 1, a parade to the penalty box in Game 2, scoring bonanza in Game 3 and Rangers blow out in Game 4.
After Tampa made its way here on Saturday, the players were treated to a video and strategy session. The message? Let's focus on playing some defence in addition to the dazzling offence.
Home Team in Caps
CHICAGO 5, Anaheim 4 (2OT) – series tied 2-2
BLACKHAWKS OUTLAST DUCKS, EVEN SERIES IN DOUBLE OVERTIME
Tied 1-1 after 40 minutes, the Blackhawks and Ducks each scored three times in a frenetic third period to set the stage for Antoine Vermette’s game-winning goal at 5:37 of double-overtime. With the victory, Chicago remained perfect in overtime during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs (4-0) and evened their Western Conference Final series with Anaheim at two games apiece.
* The Blackhawks improved to 4-0 in overtime games during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, all of which have required at least two overtime periods. In addition to Game 4, the others included April 15 at NSH (4-3 2OT W in Game 1 of FR), April 21 vs. NSH (3-2 3OT W in Game 4 of FR) and May 19 at ANA (3-2 3OT W in Game 2 of WCF).
from Larry Brooks of the New York Post,
The Eastern Conference final may be level at two-all with Sunday’s Game 5 coming up at the Garden, but make no mistake, this series between the Rangers and Lightning has been marked by peaks and valleys.
The tempo and tenor of one game has been dramatically different from the one preceding it. There have been a multitude of forced errors and unforced ones, all though a creation of both teams’ skill, speed and willingness to go for it.
The Rangers have looked overwhelmed at times, even during most of the second period of Friday’s 5-1 victory in Tampa. But the Blueshirts were able to maintain their poise while under pressure, perhaps a byproduct of Game 4 representing the team’s 73rd playoff game over the last four springs.
They’ve seen it all.
But they haven’t seen the caliber of elite talent the Lightning bring to the rink every night. Indeed, what is now a sprint to two for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup has — goaltending aside for the moment — evolved into a battle between Tampa Bay’s formidable top-end players and the Blueshirts’ formidable depth.
Tampa Bay is not considered a great sports market. We're a melting pot, with fans from all over the country who have not lost their hometown allegiances. We become a good sports market when one of our teams gets really good and following that team becomes the cool thing to do.
Right now that team is the Lightning. Going to Lightning games, following this playoff run is chic. Maybe it could change someday if the Rays get to another World Series or the Bucs get good again.
Until then, the Lightning is Tampa Bay's favorite son.
-Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times where you can read more on the Lightning and other Tampa Bay teams.
from Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times,
Has anybody paid attention to the Hawks’ resolve over the last seven seasons? They don’t cave in. There don’t go away without a fight. They have been known to heal themselves.
Not even that three-goal barrage could kill them.
“I think a lot of teams wouldn’t feel too good about themselves,’’ said Toews, who had a goal and an assist. “I think we did a great job of just collecting ourselves and staying calm and knowing it is what it is and you can’t change that. You’ve got to move forward and you’ve got to find a way to get yourself back in the game.
“…I think we had the character and poise to relax and calm ourselves down and make a game of it and find a way to get back into it.’’
This is the franchise that roared back from a three-games-to-nothing deficit in 2011 to take No. 1-seeded Vancouver to a seventh game, before losing in overtime. In 2013, the Hawks were down three games to one to Detroit and won that series. Doubt them at your own risk.
Lots of people, including some players, had painted Game 4 as a must-win game for the Hawks. No. Whether they won or lost, they would to go to Anaheim for Game 5 and give themselves every opportunity to win. That’s how they operate.
from Jeff Miller of the OC Register,
This Game 4 at United Center wasn’t as long as Game 2 was back at Honda Center, but then that exercise in triple overtime was the longest Blackhawks’ game ever, and this franchise has been around longer than the concept of the playoff beard.
Having suffered their second crushing, late-night, last-call defeat of the week, the Ducks – whose resilience is such that no one should question their ability to rebound from this one, either – said all the right things afterward.
All the right things, plus some.
Andrew Cogliano suggested his team “put some doubt” into the Blackhawks’ minds by coming back after being down, 3-1, in the third period.
Perry joined the chorus in noticing all the minutes being accumulated by Chicago’s top defensemen, saying, “If we just keep doing the same things over and over again, we’re going to wear them down.”
And Cam Fowler continued the drumbeat about the team’s deep-rooted faith, noting, “We’re a group that believes, no matter what, in here.”
The guess in this space, however, is that the Ducks fully understand this series looks like it’s headed for a Game 7 – and potentially an epic one – next weekend.
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.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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