Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The five most memorable Game Sevens in conference final history

Well, at least the Senators came through. While the Ducks couldn't stave off elimination in Monday's Game 6 loss to the Predators, the Senators managed to extend their series with the Penguins with Tuesday night's win. That means we'll at least get one Game 7 out of this year's conference finals.

So to celebrate, let's count down the five most memorable conference final Game 7s, dating back to the introduction of the four-round format back in 1975. Here's hoping the Pens and Sens can deliver something that will push for a spot on this list when they meet Thursday night.

No. 5: Devils vs. Senators, 2003

Here's a secret about the 2003 conference final showdown between the Devils and the Senators: It was for the Stanley Cup.

Nobody wanted to say that out loud at the time; it would have been bad form. But the Senators had posted the league's best regular season record, while the Devils had finished fourth overall. With all of the other contenders already eliminated, Ottawa and New Jersey were playing for the right to face the upstart Mighty Ducks in the final. And while Paul Kariya and friends were a great story, nobody gave them much of a chance against either the Senators or Devils.

So this series really did feel like it was for the championship. And the two teams put on a show worthy of those stakes, with the Devils taking a 3-1 series lead before the Senators roared back to force a seventh game thanks to a Chris Phillips overtime winner in Game 6. That set up a deciding game back in Ottawa, and it lived up to the hype. The teams traded goals, Martin Brodeur and Patrick Lalime traded big saves, and we were all tied at 2-2 late in the third.

And then, with overtime looming, it all fell apart for Ottawa thanks to a broken coverage on a harmless-looking rush.

Jeff Friesen's goal held up as the winner, and New Jersey moved on. Those Mighty Ducks turned out to be a tougher opponent than most of us expected, stretching the final to seven games. But the Devils prevailed, capturing their third Cup and leaving Senators fans to agonize over how close they'd come.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How this year's playoff performances are upending the offseason

The conference finals are always a bit of a weird time for hockey fans. On the one hand, three teams are still alive, fighting tooth and nail for the right to lift the Stanley Cup. There’s nothing more important in this sport than the do-or-die games we’re watching right now.

On the other hand, we’ve got 28 teams on the sidelines, and some of those teams have been there since early April. If we’re being honest, at least some fans are already thinking about the off-season. We’ve got a summer’s worth of trades, free-agency signings, and this year even an expansion draft waiting for us. It can be hard to keep focused on the playoffs without looking ahead.

So which is it, playoffs or off-season? Today, let’s do both. Let’s look at how this year’s playoffs may have changed what we should expect to see in the coming off-season. After all, an especially good or bad playoff run can influence or even completely upend the perception of a player (just ask Dave Bolland). Maybe it shouldn’t — a handful of games shouldn’t change how we view a guy who’s been around for years — but that doesn’t really matter. A few weeks in, the spring can rewrite everything that’s going to happen in the summer.

This year will be no different. Now we just need to figure out who’s changed what. We’ll look at a few key aspects of the off-season, starting with what some GM’s have called the biggest day of the year for off-season mistakes: July 1.

Free agency

There's nothing like a disappointing playoff run to send a player into unrestricted free agency with a dark cloud hanging over them. Fair or not, a player can cost themselves some serious money with a poorly timed post-season slump.

That may have been what we just saw happen to Kevin Shattenkirk. Widely considered to be the top player on this year's market, Shattenkirk doubled as the biggest name to move at the trade deadline. He seemed like an ideal fit for a Capitals team that was already the Stanley Cup favourite. But a disappointing playoffs saw Shattenkirk paired with Brooks Orpik, and the two veterans struggled to keep the puck out of their net.

After eight games, Shattenkirk was sitting at a minus-7 rating, a performance that his own coach publicly called "not good enough". He rebounded somewhat after that, including scoring the OT winner in game three against Pittsburgh. But heading towards July 1, teams will be asking themselves if Shattenkirk deserves to be paid like a top-pairing defenceman, and his playoff performance didn't give him much evidence to point to.

The Capitals' other pending UFAs were more of a mixed bag. T.J. Oshie had a productive post-season and probably boosted his value at least a little bit while Karl Azner struggled. Meanwhile, Justin Williams played well but lost his Mr. Game Seven aura against the Penguins.

The deadline's other top name didn't fare much better that Shattenkirk. Minnesota's Martin Hanzal heads into free agency after managing just a single point during the Wild's abbreviated run. He's a two-way player who wasn't brought in to light up the scoreboard, but when your own owner is publicly wishing his team hadn't traded for you, you may have cost yourself a few dollars.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, May 19, 2017

Grab bag: Kesler vs. Johansen, boring Sens, Kessel vs. Phaneuf

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Are the Senators boring?
- Ryan Johansen calls out Ryan Kesler, kind of
- An obscure player who was the first link between the Ducks and Predators
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we look back at Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel sharing some friendly banter about how much they hate each other

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Podcast: Sens and sensitivity

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I talk about the (maybe) boring Senators and their (definitely) over-sensitive fanbase
- We debate Murray vs. Fleury, and one of us is right
- Thoughts on Ryan Johansen calling out Ryan Kesler
- That terrible new playoff ad that everyone seems to love
- The NHL unveils its list of the 20 greatest teams and it's wrong
- And lots more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 2017 playoff all-disappointment team

We’re well into the conference finals, which is great for fans of the four teams left standing. The Senators, Penguins, Predators and Ducks are filled with positive — and at times even inspiring — stories of perseverance and success.

It’s annoying. All of this saying-nice-things is getting exhausting.

So today, let’s get back to what hockey fans do best: Complaining about guys who didn’t meet our expectations. Yes, it’s time to name our annual playoff-bust team, in which we find a roster’s worth of players who’ve had a disappointing last few weeks.

We’ll fill out a complete lineup card, including a third-string goalie. For an extra challenge, we’ll do it all-star style, meaning we want at least one player from every team (including the four active ones). And like all great teams, we’ll build from the net out…


Sergei Bobrovsky: We'll ease into things with one of the most straightforward picks on the roster. Bobrovsky will probably win his second Vezina this year, and deservedly so. But he never got going during the playoffs, giving up three or more goals in all five games and finishing as one of only two post-season starters with a sub-.900 save percentage.

Would a better performance have powered the Blue Jackets past the Penguins for their first-ever playoff series win? Maybe not, but without their star goalie in top form, Columbus never had a chance.

Brian Elliott: Elliott is the other starter to fall under the .900 mark, and he was actually a few points back of Bobrovsky. He made four starts, the Flames lost all four, and his 3.88 GAA tied with Bobrovsky for the post-season's worst. But unlike Bobrovsky, he almost certainly won't get a chance to redeem himself next year, at least not with the Flames.

Braden Holtby: Emergency backup duties on our all-disappointment roster is a little trickier call; you could make a case for Corey Crawford, or maybe even John Gibson. But we'll go with Holtby, who falls victim to sky-high expectations that he and his Capitals teammates carried into the playoffs. His shaky numbers were as much about bad bounces as any obvious flaw in his game, but given the stakes in Washington, Holtby's performance was a letdown. Spoiler alert: He won't be the only Capital on this team.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet