Why are the Penguins struggling? It’s not Fleury; Crosby & Co. are to blame

Marc-Andre Fleury (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The big question mark coming into this series (other than, perhaps, how many games would it take for the Penguins to dispose of the Blue Jackets) was whether Marc-Andre Fleury could shake his recent playoff demons and take his team on a deep playoff run. And surely, after misplaying the puck to allow a late tying maker and letting in the OT-softy that has this series knotted at two, most will say he’s still haunted.

 

 

But if you’re looking to place blame, look at the big-name forwards in front of him first.

Coming off a sweep at the hands of the Bruins last year, where the Pens managed a total of two goals, the stars have once again gone AWOL: Sidney Crosby, zero goals. Evgeni Malkin, zero goals. James Neal, one goal. Read more

Playoff Warrior Vladimir Tarasenko, plus three other playoff performances to keep an advanced stat eye on

tarasenko-183849298

As a 20-year old with SKA St. Petersburg in 2011-12, Vladimir Tarasenko had a terrific playoff performance. He was acquired by the team late in the season via trade, since his old team, Sibir Novosibirsk, figured he was leaving for the NHL at the end of the season. So Tarasenko became the newest member of the top seed in the Western Conference.

St. Petersburg played 15 games in that Gagarin Cup run, but failed to meet expectations by losing in the conference final. Tarasenko, however, exceeded what was expected of him. He led the team with 10 goals and 16 points to finish fourth in overall playoff scoring. And he was six points better than the next player who didn’t qualify for the final.

And now Tarasenko is lighting it up in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and against the best competition he’s faced in the NHL yet. Read more

Johansen helps Columbus win first playoff game ever

Ryan Kennedy
Ry-Jo

Midway through the season, Ryan Johansen was sitting in the dressing room after a morning skate when I asked for an interview. I had interviewed Johansen as a prospect and he was always polite, but today he was confident and jovial. He slapped the bench and invited me to sit down beside him for the brief chat. That was new.

But as he proved in the Game 2 double-overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Johansen has hit his stride and is playing like a star in the making. Johansen had a goal and an assist in Columbus’ first playoff win in franchise history, a 4-3 triumph iced by Matt Calvert on a scramble in front of the Pittsburgh net.

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Can the Blue Jackets keep Sidney Crosby off his game?

Brandon Dubinsky

A few thoughts after Night 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

• Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson is a polarizing player.

On the one hand, he’s an offensive defenseman who is capable of hitting or approaching 40-point seasons. He led the Blue Jackets with 24:40 of average ice time this season, which is actually more than a minute less than he was pulling in a season ago. He’s a guy the emerging Blue Jackets lean on, even though he’s their third-highest paid defenseman at $4.357 million against the cap through 2017-18.

On the other, he can be a liability at times. His negative Corsi for relative percentage this season was worse than every Blue Jackets defenseman and second-worst to only R.J. Umberger on the team. The volatility in his game, especially this season, was a reason why he wasn’t included on Team USA’s Olympic roster this time around.

But Johnson is a competitor. And when it comes to the playoffs, he’s a scorer. Read more

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.

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Four most likely sweeps in the first round

(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images Sport)

As I posted on Twitter Monday, I’m picking two series sweeps in Round 1. But there’s a chance two more go the minimum.

 

Sweeps are killjoys, though, so let’s hope for longer, and therefore much more exciting, series. But the possibility remains that at least one team, or more, will be on the links within a week.

Here are the most likely series sweeps in Round 1:

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Stanley Cup playoff preview: Round 1

Stanley Cup

Welcome to the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and the beginning of a new format. No longer will teams be seeded from 1-8 in their conference, but instead will have to play out of their division first. Teams are no longer re-seeded after the opening round and will face the other winner in their division in the second round.

THN gets you prepared for the action, which will start Wednesday, April 12. Below is our introduction to each series, insider analysis from CBC’s Kevin Weekes and TSN’s Jeff O’Neill, and THN’s prediction.

And be sure to vote on our poll: Who do you think will win the 2014 Stanley Cup?


EASTERN CONFERENCE

BOSTON BRUINS vs. DETROIT RED WINGS
Introduction: A classic Original Six matchup welcomes the Detroit Red Wings to the East side of the playoff bracket and it won’t be a warm reception. The Bruins are the most complete team in the East and asserted their dominance by going through the East with a 12-4 record last playoff season. But the Wings are also an unfortunate draw for Boston. If any team, no matter its drawbacks, is capable of a shocking upset, it’s the experienced Red Wings machine. Just last season, Detroit upset Anaheim in the first round and took Chicago all the way to Game 7. This season, Gustav Nyquist should be even better for them. Read more

Why your team will not win the 2014 Stanley Cup

Boston Bruins lose Cup

Just like the start of the regular season, any fan with a horse in the race starts the NHL playoffs with a giddy optimism. Even if you don’t believe your team will win it all, you’re surely thinking they can pull off an upset or two.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but you’re wrong. Your team isn’t as good or as complete as you believe it to be. They will not win the Stanley Cup.

And here’s why your favorite team will come up empty this spring:

Anaheim: Because the stats community says you’re doomed to fail. Your team’s 49.8 percent Corsi percentage is second-worst among Western playoff teams, which means you don’t possess the puck enough. You were upset last year and it’s going to happen again. Read more