INSIDE HOCKEY » Atlantic http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 And the NHL ’15 Cover Goes To… Patrice Bergeron http://insidehockey.com/and-the-nhl-15-cover-goes-to-patrice-bergeron http://insidehockey.com/and-the-nhl-15-cover-goes-to-patrice-bergeron#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 20:19:35 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59021

nhl-15-box-artOn the brink of the cover vote announcement, we sat down with Patrice Bergeron at the EA Sports studios in Burnaby, BC to talk about how it feels to be the cover star of EA’s latest on-ice series, NHL 15.

It was a sunny afternoon as I made my way up to the spacious EA studios. As I was approaching the large entrance, a car pulled up beside me and out walked the man himself – Patrice Bergeron. After an introduction from the team at EA, Patrice would make his way into the studios to try out the game. When I sat down to speak with him, he was fresh off the experience of trying out NHL 15 for the first time.

“NHL 15 is the start of a new generation of hockey video games, where the sights, sounds and feel of the fastest sport on the planet come to life in a way you’ve never experienced before. NHL 15 features the most realistic looking and skating hockey players ever in a video game, along with the most detailed and authentic representation of the game of hockey itself,” states EA in a boilerplate about the game. Patrice’s unprompted explanation of NHL 15 would later nod to this. Interestingly, Patrice is the first cover winner of this next-generation of NHL games.

The gameplay of NHL 15 is impressive and has a realism to it unmatched by previous hockey video games. EA released a trailer of the game as a teaser, which can be viewed here, to showcase the level of gameplay and quality of graphics fans can expect. NHL 15 is available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Game gymnastics aside, sitting down to speak to Patrice I couldn’t help but ponder his accomplishments. Born the same year as myself, the 28-year-old Bruins centre has numerous accolades to his name including a Stanley Cup and two gold medals. I had to ask – where does winning the cover of NHL 15 rank in all of this?

“It’s tough to compare,” he admits. “I don’t want to put numbers on anything that I’ve accomplished with my team or with this, with the cover vote. It is pretty special. I’ve played the game growing up and I remember so many times playing with my brother coming back from school, and never in a million years would I have imagined being on the cover of that same game that I’ve played. So it’s very special. And there are so many amazing players that have been on the cover before in the past so it’s very humbling to be part of that list now.”

We asked Bergeron how he felt knowing the fans voted for him and, despite his humility and wanting to focus on his team rather than his own accomplishments, it was clear he appreciated the support.

“It feels great. I’m definitely grateful of the response that it created, and that the fans made a run for me in the cover vote so it’s definitely something very special. And it’s not surprising from the Bruins fans, we know how passionate they are. I’ve heard about it a lot back home in Quebec, a lot of people like friends and people that I don’t even know that voted. So it was actually a great turnout.”

Bergeron paused. “It’s tough for me to talk about myself, it’s usually more about the Bruins, but it’s definitely very special.”

The Boston Bruins forward and Quebec native has fond memories of playing video games with his brother, but confesses that he plays less now.

“I don’t play anymore, my brother plays a lot still but I got away from a bit as I got older but still I guess. I have so many great memories. That was my first game in a while,” Bergeron admits, referring to testing out NHL 15 immediately prior to our interview. “I was impressed and amazed by how the game looks now, how realistic it actually is. We were in the (TD) Garden playing the Bruins and I was amazed. You know it’s basically like you’re watching TV almost, really intriguing to see.”

nhl-94-quebec-hartfordAnd his favourite video game as a kid?

“NHL for sure!”

He continued, “Yeah NHL 94. I still remember that one-timers were the only – well, the best – way to score goals and I was always the Nordiques, you know growing up in Quebec City. So I remember that a lot growing up.”

And what would he say if he could go back in time and tell himself playing NHL 94, ‘Hey buddy, you’re going to be on the cover of that game one day.’ What would that bright-eyed kid say back to him?

“He’d think I was crazy,” smiled Bergeron. “That would be the one thing for sure. I mean, it was always my dream to one day play in the NHL and make it and I definitely worked hard to get here. I’ve had amazing people along the way who helped me get here, but like I said I never before imagined this would actually happen. It’s a special feeling and I know I’ve had a lot help along the way.”

He’s worked hard too, and he’s inspiring other young hockey fans along the way. It’s a great irony that there are kids right now in the same place Bergeron found himself in all those years ago when he was playing NHL 94. There will be kids out there who play NHL 15, see Bergeron on the cover and dream about it happening to them one day. What message does he have to those kids about following their dreams? His message was simple.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re crazy. It can actually happen. I’m the perfect example, I was one of those kids that had a dream and worked hard for it.”

Bergeron is humble and doesn’t elaborate on his accomplishments, but the truth is he is a great role model for so many. He does a great deal of work giving back to his community and kids really do look up to him. But what about his teammates? We spoke to him ahead of the big reveal at the NHL Awards, and wanted to know what his teammates would say about him being on the cover.

“That’s a good question. I’m sure my teammates will be supportive. They will be happy, and part of it is they’ve helped. I know a lot of teammates who also voted so they helped me get on there and they’ve helped me on the ice as well. So I know they will help me and be behind me. I’m just excited.”

It’s been a big year for Patrice Bergeron. Success in Sochi, winning the cover of his favourite childhood video game, and of course hoisting the Stanley Cup back in 2011. What’s next?

“Hopefully another Stanley Cup. It’s definitely the goal. Once you actually taste it you want more and you want to relive those emotions. It’s definitely something that’s on our mind.”

Something tells us that his wish will come true soon enough.

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B’s Say Goodbye to Fan Favorite in Thornton http://insidehockey.com/bs-say-goodbye-to-fan-favorite-in-thornton http://insidehockey.com/bs-say-goodbye-to-fan-favorite-in-thornton#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 18:20:42 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58982

It is hard to imagine the Boston Bruins taking the ice next season without the services of veteran winger Shawn Thornton.

Unfortunately, that will actually come to fruition.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli announced on Monday afternoon that the team would not re-sign Thornton, thus making him an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Thornton averaged just 5.1 goals and 7.0 assists per season since coming to Boston from the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, but he became one of the B’s most popular players for his physical play and leadership skills. What often goes unnoticed is a certain player’s hard work, dedication, and loyalty to the community. Here, Thornton was actively involved all around the Boston area, servicing several organizations to make the children of the community excited to call themselves “Boston Strong.”

He played in 64 regular-season games and all 12 of Boston’s playoff games this season, totaling five goals, four assists and 78 penalty minutes. However, this season will leave a stain on his reputation when he assaulted and sucker punched Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. The incident led him to being suspended for 15 games. There is no way to assume that factored into the decision not to bring Thornton back, but it is difficult to envision that played a huge role in the organization’s mind.

His leadership, toughness, and captain-esque qualities will be missed in the locker room. Assuming the Bruins go younger for that fourth-line winger role, Justin Florek, Craig Cunningham, Jordan Caron, and Matt Lindblad would be solid internal candidates. Florek flourished towards the end of last year, recording two points in four regular-season games and one goal in six postseason games. His size and speed could make him the logical front-runner for the job.

As for the veterans, someone will have to step in and become a presence for the Black and Gold, both on and off the ice. We wish Thornton the best in his future endeavors. He will remain a Bruin at heart.

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Would Marchand for Marleau Have Made Sense for Boston? http://insidehockey.com/would-marchand-for-marleau-have-made-sense-for-boston http://insidehockey.com/would-marchand-for-marleau-have-made-sense-for-boston#comments Sat, 14 Jun 2014 00:26:36 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58934

Rumors began circulating last night that a trade between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks might be brewing. Sources said that the Bruins would be willing to give up forward Brad Marchand for Patrick Marleau of the Sharks, and that the teams had been in talks regarding those players.

The Bruins traded forward Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars last summer after a falling out with him and the team and bad playoff performance. Marchand performed even worse in the Bruins 2014 playoff run which ended with a second round loss to Montreal. However, general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke on Friday morning and said he would not be trading Marchand.

Marchand did not score once in the playoffs, and other than a 31 game stretch in the middle of the season where he netted 17, he scored just four before and after that stretch. Trade rumors had already begun, but after the playoff loss he already stated that he hoped the team didn’t trade him like they did Seguin.

“I have had no discussions for Marchand and I have no plans to trade him,” Chiarelli told WEEI.com in an article by Bruins writer DJ Bean. “I don’t make it a practice to respond to reports in the social media, but occasionally it is necessary.”

That negates the rumor from last night and any other rumor involving Marchand. However, the question now becomes, would this match have made sense?

First of all, while when general managers squash trade rumors it usually means nothing, it does for Chiarelli. He never denied the rumors about Seguin, so there is no pattern here. If he says he won’t trade Marchand, then he probably won’t.

Marleau might be an interesting player for the Bruins. First, the Sharks are willing to move him whether the Bruins are interested or not. After blowing a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings, they are looking for a makeover, already announcing that Dan Boyle won’t return.

The Sharks met with Marleau in mid May and it is widely speculated it was to discuss a trade, since he has a no trade clause. He is the team’s all time leader in games, goals, points and many other marks. However, he is also an older player, and the Bruins right now clearly lack speed. Jarome Iginla, another veteran they brought in last season, could not always keep up. Would Marleau have been the same thing?

Marleau is 35 years old and carries a cap hit of around $6 million while Marchand’s is $4.5. However, the Bruins do have some cap room and if Iginla leaves as a free agent as well, that creates even more room. This would be a non issue in a potential deal.

If the Bruins are worried about speed, giving up Marchand, the third or fourth fastest player on the roster, makes little sense. However, if they are concerned about performance or a Seguin situation, the fit isn’t that bad. Marleau, after 16 years with the Sharks, is a potential hall of fame player and will be able to score. The Bruins do lack pure goal scorers, so that is another reason for a fit.

It is all for naught though, as this trade isn’t happening. Still, it’s interesting to wonder.

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Angels In The Locker Room http://insidehockey.com/angels-in-the-locker-room http://insidehockey.com/angels-in-the-locker-room#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 08:46:51 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58819

NEW YORK – Multiple Rangers had reason to look towards the heavens as the final seconds of the Eastern Conference final ticked away.

Their loved ones were looking straight back down, straight at them. Their gaze penetrating the vibrating roof of deafening Madison Square Garden. Toasting each other up above it all as New York City showered ear-piercing screams of adoration and admiration for what’s been accomplished despite all of life’s roadblocks.

The Rangers are going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994, after a 1-0 win in Game 6 against the Canadiens Thursday night at the Garden.

Dominic Moore, who scored the only goal of Game 6 – the conference-clinching goal – lost his wife to cancer last January. After sitting out all of last season, he returned to hockey, signing with the Rangers on a one-year contract this year, playing in her memory.

Martin St. Louis lost his mother, France, three weeks ago. The funeral was between Games 1 and 2 of this Eastern Conference final. France’s son played through it all, scoring four goals since his mother’s death, including the overtime winner in Game 4 earlier this week.

“I think as you go through [playoff] runs, that’s just the way things go with teams that go through runs,” said Brad Richards, who was teammates with St. Louis when they won the Cup in 2004, and might be closer with him than any Ranger. “There always seem to be little things that you can grab and build on, and that is what makes it so special to win a Stanley Cup, so many things you go through. The stars have to align, and it’s great that those guys have the feeling that someone’s watching over them and helping them out.”

“Obviously, it’s been a tough year for me,” said St. Louis, who was acquired by the Rangers from Tampa in a deadline-day deal for Ryan Callahan. “This makes it pretty cool. Being somewhere for 13, 14 years and changing teams, to get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final with these teammates of mine, who have been nothing but great through my tough time in the past few weeks, it makes it even more special. I am proud to be a Ranger and do it alongside these great teammates.”

It’s those teammates that helped get the high-scoring forward through one of the toughest times of his life. And it’s those teammates that welcomed Moore back when he decided to return to hockey this past summer.

“I just feel tremendously proud to be a part of this team,” Moore said. “I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me get through this last year-and-a-half, and I just feel tremendously proud to be a part of this team, especially amidst the circumstance of going to the Stanley Cup Final.”

It’s been a two-way street for the two mourning Rangers. They get their refuge on the rink, while providing the rest of the group endless inspiration.

“I think they’ve found refuge,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault “They’ve found a way to find a place where they can be happy, and that is at the rink with their teammates and on the ice. They’ve both been very inspirational leaders throughout the whole thing.”

“He’s not afraid of big moments, and every time we’ve had a big game he’s stepped up with a great performance,” defenseman Marc Staal said of Moore. “He’s a guy that talks about it a lot, too, not being afraid to make mistakes, going out there and playing confident. That’s exactly what he did.”

“In big games, you want to, there’s a tendency to tighten up. It’s natural,” Moore said. “As teammates, you want to encourage each other to make plays. I thought, to a man tonight, we did that. Everyone backed each other up, and you can’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

In a locker room overflowing with emotion, the Rangers spoke of community. They’re not just a group of players brought together for a common goal. They’re more than that. They’re a family.

“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Staal said of advancing to the Cup Final. “You’re proud to have gone through this with your teammates, and to be able to enjoy this as a team. It’s such a great sport because you have to get so close and so tight.”

“I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me get through this,” Moore reiterated. “Especially throughout the beginning of the year, so I just feel a real sense of pride to be a part of it.”

“What’s demanded of us helps push us,” Brian Boyle said of playing in New York City this time of year. “It’s a pretty spectacular place to be able to advance when you have a whole city behind you. We’re fully aware of that, it’s a pretty special feeling. We know what the fans want, and we want the same thing. We haven’t got it yet.”

Not yet. There’s still four more wins left to earn. And they’ve got a pair of angels watching over them. Guiding them. Helping them along. Who knows? Maybe in a couple of weeks, those angels can even help them lift the 35-pound chalice they’re chasing.

NOTES:

Rangers owner James Dolan and general manager Glen Sather were both in the locker room after the game congratulating the players.

Derek Stepan spoke to the media for the first time after he suffered a broken jaw on a hit from Brandon Prust during Game 3. He said he’s on a liquid diet – and will be for six weeks.

During the post-game handshake line, Prust wrapped his right arm around Stepan’s helmet, and the two embraced. Prust, who texted the Rangers center after the injury, appeared to say something to Stepan before continuing to move through the line.

“I’m not going to hold it against him,” Stepan said. “He finished his check, he feels bad about it, he knows it was late, we move on from there.”

Henrik Lundqvist moved into sole possession of first place on the Rangers all-time postseason wins list with 42, passing Mike Richter. He also tied Richter for most postseason shutouts in a career with nine.

This will be the Rangers’ 11th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve won it four times.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

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The Thomas Vanek Dilemma http://insidehockey.com/the-thomas-vanek-dilemma http://insidehockey.com/the-thomas-vanek-dilemma#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 18:28:45 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58811

vanek-thomas-habs

Twenty minutes after 3 p.m EST on the March 5th trade deadline, it appeared that the dust had settled on the wildest NHL trade deadline in recent memory. You could have formed a mini NHL All-Star team with some of the names that were traded, with Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Jaroslav Halak Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky, Matt Moulson, and Ryan Callahan all changing addresses.

Yet the name that had circulated for the longest time was that of Thomas Vanek, who had reportedly turned down a seven year deal to the tune of $50 million dollars from the New York Islanders, according to Katie Strang of ESPN New York.

That sealed Vanek’s fate as an Islander; March 5th saw him traded to the Montreal Canadiens along with a conditional 5th round pick for second round prospect Sebastien Collberg and a conditional second round pick if Montreal were to make the post season.

The hockey community hailed this as a coup for Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin; a mid level prospect and a second rounder for Thomas Vanek, a proven offensive force in the NHL? From a managerial standpoint, Bergevin irrefutably swindled the hapless Garth Snow (who had originally acquired Vanek for Moulson, a first rounder, and a second rounder…ouch).

The Austrian born winger lagged in adapting to his new team, looking lost in his first few outings during the Habs’ western swing. I got a chance to see Vanek play in person in his second game as a Hab against the San Jose Sharks, a 4-0 snoozefest that saw Peter Budaj give up an embarrassing shorthanded goal where he fumbled a soft dump in, only to let Sharks forward Tommy Wingels bang home the rebound.

Basically, it seemed like the Canadiens had been out a little too late in San Francisco the night before. But on a late power play in the third period, Michel Therrien put Vanek on a line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, and they actually seemed to click, being one of the few lines that night that could connect more than two passes in a row, even generating some shots on net.

As fate would have it, that line became one of the most dominant in recent Canadiens history. In the 18 regular season games Vanek played in a Habs uniform, he potted 15 points and revitalized a dormant Montreal offense.

Since the buzzer sounded on the regular season though, the narrative has flipped on Vanek, and deservedly so.

Analysts love to use the phrase “compete level” when assessing players. This usually entails an arbitrary combination battles won along the boards, cross checks taken to the back, and teeth lost. By that measure, Bobby Clarke is the greatest NHL player of all time, so we know that’s bogus.

The reality is that not all players play the way the media and fans would want them to, and no amount of angry blogs or on air tirades can change that. Alex Ovechkin will never backcheck, Joe Thornton will never shoot, and Bobby Ryan will never spell intense; these are notions NHL fans have come to begrudgingly accept.

Yet in Vanek’s case, where fans clamor for him to play with a higher “compete level”, he actually does show flashes of it:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Here we see him getting back and supporting his defense, then sprinting all the way down the ice to finish the play. If you’re wondering what “compete level” could look like, well there you have it.

The problem is, we rarely see that Thomas Vanek anymore. He’s often casual with the puck, attempting  wild flip passes over forecheckers heads, or meekly attempting to retrieve the puck in the neutral zone. At times he’ll over stick handle, seemingly in his own bubble, either trying to do too much, or not realizing the urgency of the moment.

Is the nearly point per game player of the regular season the real Vanek, or is he the 2014 incarnation of circa 2009 Alexei Kovalev?

Being the most high profile offensive player to come to Montreal since Kovalev, the parallel is too easy to make, yet it is also not unwarranted. Kovalev was a good, sometimes great player. The same can be said for Vanek: on most nights, he’s good, on some nights he’s great. He’s not the player that’s going to lead the Canadiens to another Stanley Cup, as this post season has proven. That’s guys like P.K Subban, Max Pacioretty, and Rene Bourque (Yes, I included Rene Bourque on a list with P.K  Subban and Max Pacioretty. Things happen. People change).

The problem is, Vanek believes he is that player, or at least that he should be paid as such. He’s routinely averted questions about his long term status in Montreal, basically playing the hired gun role to a tee. He knows that someone out there will overpay for him, and it could be the Canadiens if the market slides that way.  Is there really a Cup waiting for him in Minnesota, where the consensus has him signing this summer? The Wild can’t get past the second round, and they have some serious questions to ask themselves in net. And what contender would take a flyer on him? San Jose? They’re trying to figure out what the hell their team is going to look like next season. Boston? Chicago? LA? Anaheim? Those teams are set up front. Pittsburgh could be a possibility, seeing as how they’re trying to dramatically alter their franchise. Maybe Toronto could find a way to sign Vanek to a horrible contract, they’re getting pretty good at doing that sort of thing.

Thomas Vanek’s best chance at a Stanley Cup is in a Montreal Canadiens uniform. How weird does that sound? Looking at this team though, and you see a young nucleus with a certified stud on the blueline and in net, depth up front, and decent prospects in the pipeline such as Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.  To boot, they have loads of cap space and their top players are locked up long term, which could feasibly allow them to re-sign both Vanek and Subban this off season, although probably at the cost of letting go Andrei Markov.

Judging by his playoff performance though, this much is clear: Thomas Vanek is not worth the top dollar he’ll be demanding. That money could better be spent strengthening Montreal’s depth on the blueline, or on quality bottom six forwards. At the right price, Vanek could propel the Canadiens into an elite regular season team, but in reality, he’d eat up the cap space needed to address actual weaknesses. If Bergevin has real aspirations of bringing a 25th Stanley Cup back to Montreal, he’ll pocket that money and look elsewhere.

For more on the Canadiens, follow Felix on Twitter: @FelixSicard

 

 

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St. Louis OT Goal Gives Rangers 3-1 Series Lead http://insidehockey.com/st-louis-ot-goal-gives-rangers-3-1-series-lead http://insidehockey.com/st-louis-ot-goal-gives-rangers-3-1-series-lead#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 16:06:33 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58797

After being stymied by Dustin Tokarski on the same shot attempt multiple times over the past two games, Marty St. Louis was finally able to elevate the puck enough to beat the rookie goaltender and score the overtime winner as the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on home ice. With the win, the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead and have the chance to secure a trip to the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night in Montreal.

“It’s quite a big difference up 3-1 instead of 2-2,” said St. Louis, “We were well aware of the opportunity we had with these two games at home.”

While the Rangers did come away with the win, it was not easy for them to do. They gave up the lead twice and lacked discipline, taking nine penalties throughout the course of the game. Give the Habs enough opportunities and they will eventually take advantage, which was the case last night at the Garden. Eight power plays were awarded to the Canadiens, and they were able to break through on their sixth attempt when P.K. Subban recorded his first point of the series and tied the game at two early in the third period. Without Carey Price, Subban is the player that needs to be the difference maker for the Habs if they want to stave off elimination. He has been fairly quiet in this series, unable to utilize the powerhouse shot he possesses, which is a testament to how little room the Rangers are giving him. If he can get going, the Habs will have a better chance of forcing a Game 6.

The story in most playoff games tends to focus on goaltending. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Tokarski put on a show last night, making great saves and coming up big in their teams’ time of need. Unfortunately for the rookie and the rest of the Habs, Lundqvist is playing better than he has ever played in the playoffs. He is seeing the puck well, not giving up weak goals, and always keeping his team in contention. He is the main reason the Rangers have been so successful these playoffs, and he will have to continue to carry them forward.

Much is also to be said about Tokarski who came in for the injured Price. Although he lacks experience and has only played three NHL playoff games, he is playing hard and smart. Last night, he absolutely robbed St. Louis point blank in the second with a beautiful glove save that certainly will appear on highlight reels. He played big, and even though he lost sight of the puck a few times, he had his teammates to bail him out when he faltered. Tokarski has come in and given the Habs a chance in this series. He has his work cut out for him, as does his entire team, but he has proven to be willing to put up a fight.

Aside from great goaltending, the Habs will have to figure out how to slow down the Rangers. The Blueshirts continue to use their speed to trip up the Canadiens, throw them off their game and create scoring chances. Carl Hagelin showed them that he doesn’t need much room in order to make you pay. Hagelin, out on the penalty kill in the first, broke toward the neutral zone where he received a stretch pass from Brian Boyle. All alone, with no one able to catch up, Hagelin slide the puck past Tokarski and into the back of the net.

The first ended with the Rangers ahead, but the Canadiens had a lot of fight left in them and they were going to prove it in the next two periods. Obviously frustrated with their lack of power on the man-advantage, the Habs continued to push and throw the puck at Lundqvist from every angle. The Habs were able to break through 8:08 into the second. Francis Bouillon, not only has extensive experience in the playoffs, but also demonstrated he can fire off a shot. Lundqvist learned that firsthand last night when Bouillon beat him top shelf after Dan Girardi flubbed on a defensive play. Instead of staying in the center, Girardi slid over to cover a man, which turned the Habs 3-on-2 situation into a 2 on 1. The Canadiens took advantage of the room and tied the game at one.

The Rangers once again took the lead with less than a minute to play in the second. Derick Brassard who returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with an injury was back in top form and back with his line mates Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot. The goal was a result of another stretch pass and another breakaway-type opportunity. Girardi, deep in his own zone, saw Brassard all alone at the blueline. He sent him a crisp, lead pass that ended up right on Brassard’s tape. Brassard entered the zone and fired a slapshot past Tokarski.

It would have looked dim for the Canadiens going into the third if the Rangers were a disciplined team, but they kept taking penalties—bad penalties. And although the Habs have struggled on the power play, they knew that it was only a matter of time before something clicked. They have the power and they have the skill and they finally broke through the Rangers strong penalty kill. The key to this particular power play’s success was puck movement. On their sixth power play, the Habs were able to develop sustained pressure in the offensive zone and keep the Rangers on their toes. The Habs moved the puck well, cycling the puck, which eventually opened up a lane for Subban who made sure to make this shot count. With bodies in front on Lundqvist, Subban was able to put his team back in the game.

The teams traded chances the rest of the third, but both goaltenders stood tall. With the end of regulation, the teams needed OT to decide a winner. A little more than six minutes into the OT period, St. Louis was able to figure out the rookie goaltender and send him team into Montreal with a two-game lead.

What did the Rangers take away from the win?

“We have to realize the longer this [series] goes, the more life they have,” Brad Richards said. “We have to come out strong on Tuesday, and our discipline has to be a lot better.”

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Rangers Can’t Take Stranglehold of East Final http://insidehockey.com/rangers-cant-take-stranglehold-of-east-final http://insidehockey.com/rangers-cant-take-stranglehold-of-east-final#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 07:26:32 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58778

NEW YORK – The Rangers had a chance to make this a quick Eastern Conference final. Instead, perhaps it will be anything but.

Really, with these cardiac kids on Broadway, would you expect anything different?

After Montreal took a one-goal lead with 3:02 remaining in the third period, New York tied the game with 28.1 seconds left when the puck deflected off Alexei Emelin’s skate and past Dustin Tokarski (35 saves), sending Madison Square Garden into delirium.

But 72 seconds into the first overtime, Tomas Plekanec sent the puck towards the crease, and watched as it deflected off the body of Alex Galchenyuk, past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-2 Canadiens win.

The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1.

The loss wasn’t from lack of effort by the Rangers. They dominated the puck-possession battle, out-shooting the Canadiens 37-25, and out-attempting them, 75-53. Tokarski was equal to the task, giving Montreal a chance to even the series at 2 games apiece back at the Garden on Sunday.

“We all saw the same thing the same way, with the kid’s background,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien of his goaltender. “The way that he played for us this year, only a few times, we knew the kid was a winner. To be a winner, you need to be a battler, and this is exactly what again he shows tonight.”

“He has great composure for a young guy,” said Habs forward Brian Gionta of Tokarski, forced into action due to Carey Price’s lower-body injury suffered during Game 1. “It’s a tough situation for him to step into, and he has handled it extremely well.”

“For the most part I thought we played a good game and we had some real good looks,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We had the opportunities to take the lead in the game and we didn’t. Give credit. Their team played hard and their goaltender played well.”

These are the playoffs. Playing well doesn’t count for much unless you win. Instead of taking a 3-games-to-0 stranglehold on the series, the Rangers just missed putting their opponent on the precipice.

“We’re not going to get any gimme’s, you gotta go earn them,” said Rangers forward Martin St. Louis. “We just didn’t get by [Tokarski] enough times.”

“In the playoffs especially, it’s about winning and finding a way to win,” said Lundqvist, who made 22 saves in the loss. “As much as you can take the good parts, you don’t want to pat yourself on the back too much, because we lost a game. We have to be better. We have to find a way to win the next one. You take the good parts about this game and build on them for the next one.”

Of Montreal’s three goals, two came off a bouncing puck in front. In fact, during the first three games of this series, only two of their goals haven’t come on a net-mouth scramble. That’s of little consolation for the Rangers.

“We’ll be shocked here tonight, but obviously we won’t have any let-down for the next game,” said McDonagh. “It’s a new series, and we feel like we want to get back to playing the strength of our game.”

Frankly, as good an opportunity as the Rangers had on Thursday — as badly as they outplayed Montreal, well, that’s how Game 2 looked. Montreal outplayed the Rangers in Bell Centre, only to watch Henrik Lundqvist steal the game out from under their fingertips. Thursday, the roles were reversed. So, a series where the Rangers have outplayed the Habs in two of three games shows as such on the scoreboard.

“This is a good team. They just beat Boston,” St. Louis said of the Habs. “We’re up 2-1 in the series, and we play a home game on Sunday. We still got a great opportunity to do something great.”

NOTES:

Early in the first period, Derek Stepan took a late hit to the upper body from Canadiens forward Brandon Prust. While Stepan had to be ushered to the locker room, he returned to the game mid-way through the first, and later told reporters he was uninjured. Prust was not penalized. The play will be looked at by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

Dan Carcillo was assessed a game misconduct 5:51 into the first for abuse of officials, after he tried pushing himself away from linesman Scott Driscoll, who was trying to pull the agitator away from a scrum. Carcillo could be facing a lengthy suspension.

The Rangers are a perfect 22-for-22 on the penalty kill in their last eight games, their longest such streak in the postseason since 1940.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

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Photo Gallery: AHL Bruins @ Penguins (5/19/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-bruins-penguins-51914 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-bruins-penguins-51914#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 12:02:13 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58763

  Eastern Conference Semi-Final Game #6 in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Providence Bruins Alexander Khokhlachev had 2 goals and 1 assist to give the Bruins a 4 to 1 win over the WBS Penguins. Series is now going into Game #7 which will be in Providence.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 WBS Conor Sheary, #2 PRO Niklas Svedberg, #1 PRO Alexander Khokhlachev. Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Photo Gallery: AHL Penguins @ Bruins (5/17/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-penguins-bruins-51714 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-penguins-bruins-51714#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 20:04:05 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58745

AHL Calder Cup Semifinals Game 5: Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center

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Price Injury Test of Character for Canadiens http://insidehockey.com/carey-price-injury-true-test-of-character-for-montreal-canadiens http://insidehockey.com/carey-price-injury-true-test-of-character-for-montreal-canadiens#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 18:48:26 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58752

price-titus-white-jersey-titus

Warning: If you are an ardent supporter of the advanced statistics movement in hockey, the following may lead to nausea, mild back pain, and/or general discomfort:

When Marc Bergevin was hired as the Montreal Canadiens’ general manager in the 2013 off season, one of his biggest points of emphasis was adding character to the organization. A franchise that had seen its fair share of polarizing figures and off ice upheavals was in dire need of a culture change, and Bergevin was intent on doing just that.

Since then, Bergevin has added “character” guys such as Mike Weaver, Dale Weise, Daniel Briere, and Douglas Murray. Every single one of the aforementioned acquisitions was heavily scrutinized by Montreal media, questioned for either taking in aging products or for simply ignoring players such as Murray’s atrocious possession statistics.

Yet in this postseason, you could make the argument that with the exception of Murray, all of Bergevin’s signings have been instrumental in getting the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final. Whether it be the timely scoring of Briere and Weise or the inspirational shot blocking of Weaver, their contributions rank highly in the “character” department.

In Weise’s case, (another heavily scrutinized addition, as the forward was acquired in exchange for Corsi darling Raphael Diaz), his continuous taunting of Milan Lucic throughout the Boston series had to have had an effect on the Bruins mentally. Here we have a relatively unknown depth forward sticking up to the poster boy of the “Big Bad Bruins”, defying him by mocking his puzzling arm-flex taunt at PK Subban. That kind of character won’t show up on any stat sheet, but it had to have affected the team’s belief that they could beat the best team in the Eastern Conference. And if you listen to Weise’s interviews, notably at the conclusion of the series, where he mentioned that he felt that Boston had completely disrespected them, it became clear that this guy takes this stuff seriously. There was a rattled intensity to his voice; he’s not just blowing hot air about this. Does all that matter? Maybe not in an 82 game schedule, but in a seven game death match against your arch rivals, that extra rage and intensity can perhaps lead to a couple extra battles won along the boards, or maybe a penalty drawn from  wreaking havoc around the net. Hell, caring a lot seems to be a generally accepted positive trait, right?

But it’s not just the depth guys that showed character against Boston, how about P.K Subban? Rising above the racist social media hell hole and water bottle spraying to deliver one of the most memorable playoff performances by any Montreal Canadiens defenseman in franchise history speaks volumes to Subban’s confidence. The guy doesn’t just rise above the negativity, he actually seems to thrive off of it. With each scandal thrown Subban’s way this postseason, he’s only gotten better. His breakaway goal out of the penalty box in Game 3 might have been the loudest the Bell Center has been due to a goal in years. He just seems to have that ability to electrify the crowd and his teammates, a fact that shouldn’t be ignored by Montreal brass during contract negotiations this summer.

All of this brings us to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. On Tuesday morning we learned that Carey Price would miss the rest of the series, and probably into the Stanley Cup Final if the Habs are to make it that far. With Peter Budaj in net, Montreal’s sloppy defense won’t be bailed out like when Price is in net. But if you look at Game 1, even with Price in net, that wasn’t even a factor. The reality is that if the Canadiens have any hope of making this a series, let alone winning it, they’re going to have to elevate their game to heights that they might not be capable of. The roster as presently constituted is still capable of beating the Rangers, but without Price, the margin of error just became nonexistent. It’s now up to coach Michel Therrien and his staff to make all the right decisions (i.e. scratch Brandon Prust A.S.A.P), a very unpredictable prospect given how Therrien has managed his lineup throughout the post season.

There’s a lot on the line here, not just for the current hopes of the Canadiens, but also for the future of the franchise. Now Bergevin gets to see how the roster he’s assembled will perform under pressure without the Carey Price safety net. And you have to believe that this will be the defining moment in the “Dwight Howard Movie: Thomas Vanek Edition” saga: he elevates his game in the face of adversity and leads the charge to the Cup Final then perhaps he claims to bleed bleu-blanc-et-rouge and stays in Montreal, or he wilts under the pressure, gets scratched by Game 3, and ends up with the Minnesota Wild this summer like ninety percent of the hockey media has been speculating since last summer. Looking at his no show performance in Game 1, the former is looking disturbingly likely. So there you have it Habs fans, you’re about to find out what your team is really made of, and if all this “character” business is actually worth all the accolades.


 

For more on the Canadiens follow Felix on Twitter: @FelixSicard

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