Five unsung heroes who helped the Sharks, Penguins to the Stanley Cup final

Jared Clinton
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau (Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Regardless of the outcome of the Stanley Cup final, Penguins winger Bryan Rust’s Game 7 performance will be remembered in Pittsburgh for years to come.

Rust, a 24-year-old mid-season call up, scored the opening goal in Game 7 and then netted the game-winner on an ugly side of the net jam play shortly after the Tampa Bay Lightning scored the game-tying goal. Those were his fourth and fifth goals of the post-season, and they came two days following his Game 6 insurance goal that sealed that victory for the Penguins.

But because of his Game 7 contributions, Rust isn’t exactly what one would call an unsung hero. Nor is someone like San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward, who would have been a shoo-in for this list had he not scored four goals in the final two games of the Western Conference final. There are still five players who should be getting more credit, though: Read more

How the Mike Sullivan effect turned the Penguins into playoff bullies

Mike Sullivan and Sidney Crosby. (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins have become the schoolyard bullies of these Stanley Cup playoffs, and not in the traditional sense. You won’t see this team dropping mitts with reckless abandon. Their opponents don’t come down with the CONSOL Energy Center Flu, as traumatized teams used to every time they visited the Philadelphia Spectrum in the mid-1970s.

No, these Penguins are a different kind of bully. They tilt the ice to what feels like a 45-degree angle and cram puck after puck after puck down their opponents’ throats. They are the modern incarnation of an intimidator: the analytics version, pelting opponents with shot attempts.

Per war-on-ice.com, The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the NHL’s best possession teams, ranking sixth in score-adjusted Corsi percentage, and the Penguins made Tampa look like the exact opposite. The Corsi (shot attempt) margins for Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final:

Game 1: 71-40
Game 2: 69-44
Game 3: 78-50
Game 4: 65-48
Game 5: 54-56
Game 6: 55-60
Game 7: 64-42

The Penguins controlled the possession game five times in the series. They kept their foot on Tampa’s throat regardless of the score. Instead of going into a defensive shell with a lead in the third period of Game 7, Pittsburgh outshot Tampa 10-7. The margin was 39-17 overall.

How does Pittsburgh seemingly put every opponent, even the offensively elite Washington Capitals in Round 2, back on its heels? The straightforward answer is speed. The Conor Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line skates. The HBK line, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, really skates. The Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust line skates. Fleet-footed Rust put daggers in the Bolts’ hearts in Games 6 and 7. The D-corps, from Kris Letang to Olli Maatta, skates. But it’s more than that. This team’s personality changed completely Dec. 12, 2015, when coach Mike Sullivan took over. They ranked 20th in 5-on-5 score adjusted Corsi and 28th in goals per game at the time of coach Mike Johnston’s firing. Sullivan came in, and the Pens were second only to the Los Angeles Kings for the rest of the season in 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi. It seems Sullivan unlocked or unshackled this team.

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Want your kids to get better at hockey? Have them play less, experts say

Ronnie Shuker
London's Mitch Marner (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Ben Prentiss sees it all the time. Parents come in to his Connecticut gym and expect him to put their child on a path to becoming Jonathan Quick, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk or any of the other NHL stars he trains during the off-season. What they don’t know is that comparatively little training for his high-profile clients involves hockey. In the summer, his guys don’t even hit the ice until late July or early August.

Hockey may be a year-round job for NHL players, but it shouldn’t be for kids. It actually hurts their development in two ways: it decreases their overall athleticism, and it increases the likelihood of typical hockey injuries like torn labrums, hip impingements and groin problems. “That’s a big, big, big problem now,” Prentiss said. “These kids, who are 12 to 15, they’re playing 70 games a year…All they do is play hockey. They don’t get their feet out of skates, they play too many games and they develop an overuse injury.”

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Pavel Datsyuk taking page from Sergei Fedorov’s playbook, but is it the wrong page?

The Hockey News
Pavel Datsyuk (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

By KEITH GAVE

After helping Russia to a bronze medal finish at the World Championship – and presumably negotiating at the same time with some Kontinental Hockey League clubs while he’s under contract for another season with the Detroit Red Wings – Pavel Datsyuk went on vacation.

But before he causes irreparable harm to his legacy in Hockeytown, Datsyuk would be wise to take a moment and put in a call to Sergei Fedorov, who seems to regret his decision to leave Detroit before his time.

Datsyuk plans to meet with Red Wings GM Ken Holland in mid-June, and in all likelihood make official what has seemed like a foregone conclusion for months – that he will leave the NHL to finish his playing career in Russia. SKA Saint Petersburg appears to be his team of choice, though agent Dan Milstein insists no deal has been consummated and his client may still negotiate with other KHL teams.

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Getting To Know: Bruce Driver

Mark Malinowski
Bruce Driver. (Getty Images)

 

Status: NHL defenseman from 1983-1998 for New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. President of the Devils Alumni Association. Part-owner/President/General manager of Twin Oaks Ice Rink in Morristown, NJ. Coach of the Morristown-Beard girls ice hockey team for sixteen seasons.

DOB: April 29, 1962 In: Etobicoke, Ontario

First Hockey Memory: “Probably learning to skate. I have an older brother (Gary) two years older and my father (Gord) played a little bit. We grew up in Toronto. My brother started playing and my dad was coaching and I wanted to get on the ice. I remember pushing a steel chair with full equipment on when I was three. By four I was on a team with my brother. I remember that first shift of that first game was pretty fearful. The ref picked me up and put me in the ice and I essentially stood there for two minutes. I remember in the team photo I looked like the team mascot [smiles].”

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Persistence paid off for Stanley Cup final bound Joel Ward

Mike Brophy
Joel Ward. (Getty Images)

Many other players – some with great potential – walked away from the game.

Not Joel Ward, though. Not even after hockey slapped him in the face.

Not after a four-year junior career with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. Undrafted, but undaunted, Ward spent the next four years playing Canadian university hockey at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Now there have been a few graduates of Canadian university hockey who have gone on to respectable professional careers – Steve Rucchin and Cory Cross spring to mind – but it is not accepted as the surest path to get to the NHL.

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Rumor Roundup: The latest on the St. Louis Blues

Lyle Richardson
David Backes (Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Having come up short in their quest to reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 46 years, the St. Louis Blues face a possible off-season of change.

ESPN.com’s Craig Custance believes the Blues should re-sign coach Ken Hitchcock to another one-year contract. He cites how Hitchcock guided the club to their first Western Conference final in 15 years and how they also overcame injuries to key players during the regular season.

TSN’s Darren Dreger, however, speculates Hitchcock’s tenure in St. Louis could be coming to an end. He believes certain coaches, such as Hitchcock, have a shelf life, suggesting he may have squeezed all he could out of the Blues players.

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World Cup Power Rankings: Take a wild guess who’s No. 1

Sidney Crosby  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Now that the rosters for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ have been finalized, we can now set about to devoting our energies to predicting everything that’s going to happen. After all, the tournament is only four months away and time is of the essence.

With that said, here’s our stab at World Cup of Hockey Power Rankings. Remember, these are Power Rankings and have no bearing on how a team will finish, so stop it with the hate mail and nasty tweets just because your team didn’t do well in this little exercise. That goes double for all you Team Europe fans out there, all three of you.

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