Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News' senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League's Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

Fleury, Price just good enough to win Game 1

Price save

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. If the four teams in the Eastern Conference play throughout the playoffs the way they did on the first night of the post-season, none of them will be around beyond the second round.

It was a night where all the playoff rules were broken, but also one in a couple of hockey’s age-old axioms held true. The notion that defense and goaltending rule in the playoffs went out the window very early in both the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 overtime win over Tampa Bay and the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The age-old theory that scoring dries up in the playoffs also made a hasty retreat.

But, hey, it’s the Eastern Conference. If you’re looking for masterpiece games from a defensive standpoint, take your complaints to Dave King. If you seek actual entertainment, intensity and some pretty damn compelling hockey, don’t take your eyeballs off the screen for a second.

Playoff Conventional Belief No. 1 that held is your success in the playoffs is directly connected to how your depth players perform. In Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby was minus-2 and was on the verge of snapping over all the attention Brandon Dubinsky was paying him. But Brandon Sutter, who scored the game winner and provided a great screen on another power play goal, might have been the best player on the ice, followed closely by linemate Beau Bennett.

In Tampa, the Canadiens got outstanding play from their bottom six forwards, capped by Dale Weise’s overtime goal in the dying minutes of the first overtime period. What exactly, you might ask, was Montreal’s fourth line doing out there in overtime? Should Weise, Daniel Briere and Michael Bournival not had their hockey pants nailed to the bench? You might think so, but that would dismiss the fact that Briere is one of the best clutch players of his generation. No surprise it was his pass from behind the net that led to Weise’s goal. The Canadiens third line of Lars Eller between Rene Bourque and Brandon Prust was just as good.

But the playoff axiom that held most true on the night was that your goaltender doesn’t have to necessarily steal games for you, but he can’t lose them. On that front, both Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins and Carey Price of the Canadiens delivered. And given both their checkered playoff histories, that must indeed provide a healthy amount of relief for fans of both teams.

Were Fleury and Price good? No, not particularly. Will they have to be much better if their teams hope to have long playoff runs? No question. But despite not playing well, they both found ways to make the stops at crucial times – Fleury late in the game when the Blue Jackets were pressing and Price in overtime when the Lighting took nine of their 25 shots.

Fleury’s playoff career can be delineated by two distinct phases – the successive seasons the Pittsburgh Penguins went to the Stanley Cup final and all the others. And the difference in those two time periods is astounding. In 2008, when the Penguins lost in six games to the Detroit Red Wings in the final, and 2009, when the Penguins prevailed over the Red Wings in seven games, Fleury compiled a record of 30-14 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

In the other five playoffs in which Fleury has played, he has a 15-20 record, 3.26 GAA and .880 save percentage. Fleury’s reputation for being either brilliant or brutal in the post-season was cemented last spring when Fleury watched Game 5 of the first round and the rest of the Penguins playoff run while Tomas Vokoun took his job.

Price wasn’t much better last year before getting injured in the first round against the Ottawa Senators, but he has rebounded in a big way, putting himself in the Vezina Trophy conversation and being full marks for earning the No. 1 job for Canada at the Sochi Olympics.

There’s no doubt Price and Fleury have to be better than they were in their respective Game 1s. But if their teams take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes and score the way they did on opening night, at least they don’t have to be perfect.

My playoff bracket and NHL Awards ballot

Ken Campbell
Boston celly

With all due respect to Andy Williams and, well Christmas, we all know that this really is the most wonderful time of the year. For hockey fans, there is no better two weeks on the calendar than the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The pace is frenetic. There are always a couple of shocking upsets. Overtime games abound. Pacing yourself and dealing with little sleep, particularly on the nights when the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings play, is paramount.

When the league came up with its current playoff format that puts more of an emphasis on divisional play and geographical rivalries, this is exactly what it had in mind. And I wouldn’t be surprised if NHL chief operating officer John Collins, the marketing genius who has transformed the league into a big-time, event-driven cash cow, wasn’t in on the planning.

Because what the NHL has done has taken a page from March Madness with its new playoff bracket system. Who had ever heard of a playoff bracket before this season? Prior to this spring, doing playoff brackets were too unwieldy because you always had to wait until the rounds were over to untangle the seedings and move on to the next round. Now it’s nice and tidy. We know that regardless of upsets, the winner of the Boston-Detroit series will play the winner of the Montreal-Tampa first round set, and so it goes.

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Coming soon to an NHL team near you: This man

Ken Campbell
Jeff Blashill

Jeff Blashill and Jon Cooper are really close friends and it will only be a matter of time before they’re both living out their dreams as NHL coaches. You know all about Cooper now that he’s working his magic with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And sooner or later, you’ll learn about Blashill, who was named the American League’s coach of the year for his work with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

It may not be this summer, but Blashill will be an NHL coach very soon. And who knows? With all the coaching opportunities that figure to be opening up this summer, perhaps someone will take a chance on a 40-something AHL coach of the year and Calder Cup winner, the way the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Cooper. It’s not without its precedent. Since 2009, Cooper, Guy Boucher and Scott Arniel went directly from being AHL coach of the year to the head man behind an NHL bench.

“Personally, I think he needs another year or two to get more of a base of experience,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who hired Blashill as an assistant in Detroit before making him the Griffins head coach in 2012-13. “But I think he’s an NHL coach in the making, there’s no doubt about that.”

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Barry Trotz should be next coach of Toronto Maple Leafs

Ken Campbell
Barry Trotz

Talk about the luck of the Irish. On his first day on the job, Brendan Shanahan was handed a gift in the form of Barry Trotz being fired by the Nashville Predators.

And there is no move that Shanahan, the new president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, could make that would create as much excitement and give this team the boost it so desperately needs than to fire current coach Randy Carlyle and replace him with Trotz. It’s been speculated that Shanahan had his eye on Peter DeBoer, but the New Jersey Devils coach still has a year on his contract and will soon sign an extension. John Tortorella if he loses his job in Vancouver? Well, this crew of defensive misfits could do worse, but that might just be a little too toxic.

The Nashville Predators decided not to renew Trotz’s contract because it was time for a new voice. With 1,196 games and just two playoff series victories to his credit, Trotz cannot say he is being hard done by in losing his job. Hockey is a results-oriented business and the tandem of GM David Poile and Trotz did not deliver.

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Shanahan + Linden = zero experience

Ken Campbell
Shanny and Linden

For those of you keeping score, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks have just handed the keys to their kingdoms to two men who have – just a second while we add it up – um, zero experience at their new positions.

So in hiring Brendan Shanahan as their president and Trevor Linden as their president of hockey operations, the Leafs and Canucks have accomplished absolutely nothing to this point aside from winning the news conference. And if that was the intention here, to try to assuage the fan base by hiring a big-name personality, it runs the risk of providing them with nothing more than more of the same. Read more

Power Rankings: Ducks finish up where they began

Ken Campbell
Ryan Getzlaf

After a rocky patch, the Anaheim Ducks are back for end of the regular season where they started it – as the No. 1 team in thn.com’s weekly Power Rankings. Now can we just get on with the playoffs already?

And while we’re at it, do you think there’s any way we can lobby the NHL head office to put all the first-round games between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings to 4 p.m. local time so we can all watch them at a reasonable hour? It’s a shame that one of those teams will be out after the first round, but we can all enjoy it while it lasts. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.) Read more

Nicholson talking to Canucks, Linden could be GM

Ken Campbell
Bob Nicholson

According to a source close to the situation, former Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson is at his home in Penticton, B.C., this evening and is negotiating with the Vancouver Canucks to become the next president of the team. It’s expected he’ll accept the job and there is mounting speculation that he’ll name former Canuck legend Trevor Linden to replace Mike Gillis as the team’s GM.

Nicholson did not respond to a voice and text message left for him by thn.com Tuesday night, but a source said he has been negotiating with Francesco Aquilini, the chairman of the Canucks, about becoming team president.

As soon as Nicholson announced his resignation from Hockey Canada last week, NHL teams were reportedly immediately in hot pursuit of him. He had reportedly already turned down the presidency of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment before the job was given to Tim Liewicke in 2013, and there is speculation that the Washington Capitals quickly made him an offer, which he also turned down. Read more

Where has Kessel been during the slides of March?

Ken Campbell
Phil Kessel

In the last moments of his last news conference at the Sochi Olympics, Canadian coach Mike Babcock had the following observation: “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal? See ya.”

And with that he left for the closing ceremonies, having coached Canada to its second straight gold medal. It bears mentioning that most of us still remember who won the scoring championship in Sochi. Phil Kessel had five goals and eight points for Team USA, finding the back of the net more often than Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry, Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Marleau, Martin St-LouisPatrice Bergeron, John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Chris Kunitz combined. Read more