Grit and sandpaper go a long way come playoff time in the NHL. Toughness is an essential factor in teams making Stanley Cup runs and when a hard-nosed player liked David Backes goes down, the results can change, as is certainly apparent in the St. Louis and Chicago series.
Below are the top five tough guys (we’re talking effective tough guys who can also put points on the board, not pure goons) who’ve laid some of their claim to fame in the most essential of games by laying some smack down.
5. Ken Linseman
Linseman did some major damage for the Bruins in 1987-88 when he recorded 25 points in 23 games, but he also knew how to throw his weight around, earning 56 penalty minutes that same year. He was a major factor in the Bruins making the Stanley Cup final that season and was also a key contributor in the Flyers’ playoff runs of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The Kingston, On., native was a scrappy 175 pound bulldog, which is why he’s still beloved by Bruins and Flyers’ fans to this day.
One Pennsylvania team will get a goalie change in their next playoff game.
The Philadelphia Flyers, trailing the New York Rangers 2-1 in their first round series, will turn to their regular starter Steve Mason in Game 4. Mason, who missed the final few games of the regular season with an upper-body injury, returned to the bench to back up Ray Emery in Game 3 and played the final 7:15 after Emery was pulled in the 4-1 loss.
Overall, Emery hasn’t been bad for the Flyers in this series. The team in front of him has been one of the worst possession lineups in the playoffs so far – better than only Los Angeles (down 3-0), Tampa Bay (swept), and Colorado (the anomalous one). Of the six goals Emery allowed in Games 1 and 2, half were on the power play. And through those first two games, Emery had a .913 save percentage. That’s not a bad performance at all – Emery even deserves most of the credit for Philadelphia’s only win in the series. Read more
Marc-Andre Fleury is no different than any other veteran NHL goaltender insofar as he realizes all the regular-season success in the world doesn’t matter if he falters in the playoffs. So he also has to know that, after an utterly disastrous end to Game 4 of Pittsburgh’s first round series against Columbus, he’d awaken this morning to a chorus of critics calling for management to bench him for the rest of the post-season and end his time with the franchise in the summer.
I’m one of those critics. After Wednesday’s implosion, it’s clear the Penguins no longer can justify going back to Fleury and expect him to regain the form that helped the organization win a Stanley Cup in 2009.
I know we’re supposed to say hockey is a team game, that Pens captain and superstar Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored in his past nine playoff games, that Fleury played a strong 59 minutes and 40 seconds in Game 4 before the wheels fell off. All that is true, but when you sink massive amounts of time, money and effort into a car year after year to get you from Point A to Point B, you’re not happy if the engine explodes three feet from Point B on a number of your most recent trips. You expected and paid for the full journey and you didn’t get it – and regardless of what that car did for you in the past, nobody would fault you for abandoning it at the side of the road in favor of a ride you trusted. Read more
With the Detroit Red Wings trailing 2-1 in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, they’ll go into tonight’s Game 4 with their captain and one of their best players in the lineup for the first time in two months.
A source close to the Red Wings said Henrik Zetterberg has been cleared to play tonight, after missing the last 30 games (including playoffs) and all but one game of the Olympics with a back injury. The source said Zetterberg will likely play only “limited minutes,” somewhere in the range of 10 to 12, but even that will be a massive upgrade for a Red Wings team that is reeling with injuries and has been outscored by the Bruins 7-1 in the past two games. Read more
No one likes knee-jerk analysis during a best-of-seven playoff series, especially when the home team has won the first four games of said series. Regardless, it’s hard not to make alarming observations about the St. Louis Blues, who have now blown a 2-0 series lead in the first round for the second consecutive season.
This team has been my 2014 Stanley Cup pick since last summer and still is, yet I can’t help but remember the questions raised in the THN war room last summer when we were
yelling working out a consensus title pick.
1. Do the Blues have a real superstar to rely on with the game on the line?
2. Do the Blues have a money goaltender who can steal games in the playoffs?
3. Do the Blues have enough veteran experience to guide them through adversity?
As for the first question, look at what Chicago has done the last two games. Captain Jonathan Toews scored the winner in Game 3 and it was Patrick Kane’s turn to take over in Game 4. He scored twice, including this laser to clinch it in overtime:
When in doubt, Chicago can lean on its megastars. In Game 4, Toews had no equal on the forecheck and Kane elevated every Blues fan’s blood pressure every single time he had the puck, terrorizing Ryan Miller. His winner was more of an inevitability than a surprise. Duncan Keith dazzled on the back end with his wheels, too,skating the puck out of trouble repeatedly.
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
The headlines came fast and furious in the Anaheim-Dallas series Wednesday and that was even before the opening faceoff.
First, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau decided earlier in the day he was going to make future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne a healthy scratch. Can you imagine? Actually, it made a lot of sense. Selanne’s production has waned this season with just nine goals and none through three playoff games. Boudreau explained, very diplomatically, that it was a very difficult decision, but in a physical series and without last line change in Dallas, his lineup was better without Selanne in it.
That’s when Teemu’s teenaged son Eemil stepped into the fray on Twitter. Using humor to express disappointment over his father’s healthy scratch, Eemil tweeted Boudreau was getting assigned to the American League.
The judgement has come down and the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Cooke (a.k.a. The Most Hated Man In Hockey) has been given a seven-game ban for kneeing Tyson Barrie in Game 3, which put the Colorado D-man out 4-to-6 weeks with an MCL injury.
Stephane Quintal, the NHL’s new sheriff, explained the decision as such:
Not surprisingly, the consensus among pundits and non-Wild fans is the suspension was too short, far too short. But the league got this one about right. Read more