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POSTED ON Tuesday, 06.25.2013 / 9:22 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

When we left you last Saturday, both the victorious Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins were limping out of the United Center following Chicago’s 3-1 victory.

The Blackhawks left with a 3-games-2 series lead, but Jonathan Toews had spent the entire third period sitting on the bench after absorbing a second period hit from Johnny Boychuk. Defenseman Brent Seabrook also was temporarily hobbled blocking a shot in the third.

Then there was Bruins’ Center Patrice Bergeron – arguably Boston’s most effective player throughout the playoffs, who was taken out of the building via ambulance during the game for observation.

Both Toews and Bergeron were expected to play going into Monday’s Game Six. They complied, no matter their pain.

Much had been made about the Bruins scoring 9 goals to Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford’s glove side. As it turns out, eight of Chicago’s previous nine goals had been scored with Boston Defenseman Zdeno Chara on the ice.

Awaiting the faceoff, the tension was palpable. “The Blackhawks think they have you tired out,” said NBC’s Pierre McGuire to Chara. “We’ll have to see about that,” said Chara. Would Rene Rancourt be singing the last national anthem of these playoffs?

The Bruins tried to establish their hitting game from the outset. Patrick Sharp appeared to be an early victim, shaken up about five minutes in. Jaromir Jag was hurt shortly thereafter, taking a hit from David Bolland.

With about seven minutes gone in the first, the Paille-Kelly-Seguin line did an outstanding job applying pressure in the Chicago zone, but Crawford kept them off the board. The good move by Boston Coach Claude Julien was to leave that unit, in theory his third line, on the ice after a television timeout…and Kelly scored on an outstanding three-way play, claiming the go-ahead goal at 7:19.

That “third line” was on the ice for Boston again after the next break. They narrowly missed scoring again, and drew a penalty in the process. The Bruins man-advantage unit produced five shots on goal, and after short shift, a departure to the dressing room for Jagr.

As time ran down in the first, Shawn Thornton took a shot, which deflected off Andrew Shaw’s stick and struck Chicago’s Shaw in the face. Shaw immediately went down to the ice, stunned. Seabrook was slow to get up after getting rammed from behind by Boston’s David Krejci. The Bruins received a later powerplay when Michal Rozsival high-sticked Brad Marchand to the side of the Chicago net. The Bruins missed on a perfect chance on a two-on-one, when Marchand beat Nik Hjalmarsson down the left side and Krejci missed the open net at the right post.

It was a desperate and dominant first period by the Bruins, the outshot the Blackhawks, 12-6, and had 12 more shots blocked and another 7 missed the net. Yet, the lead was only a goal. That happened to Chicago in the first period of Game Two. Their 1-nothing lead became a 2-1 loss in overtime.

Both Shaw and Jagr were on the bench to start the second. While Shaw almost lost his face late in the first, he lost his head on his first shift of the period, giving a shot to Chris Kelly in a scrum after the whistle. Ultimately, that set up a shorthanded chance for Jonathan Toews to tie it up. Toews took a chip from Rozsival, stepped around Chara and took the shot while breaking in with Patrick Kane to his left. It was officially an even-strength score, since it entered the net as the penalty time expired.

The Bruins received their fourth powerplay of the game when Seabrook was called for tripping at 5:12. Chicago killed that, but the Bruins kept it in the Chicago zone.

With Jagr shaken, Julien moved Tyler Seguin up with Marchand and Bergeron. Seguin later took the first Boston penalty of the night, a hook at 13:57. Kane just missed cashing a rebound to Rask’s left early in the advantage, thanks to Chara.

It was a much more even second period, as Chicago outshot Boston, 9-6 and heading into the third, tied at 1, with Lord Stanley’s Cup about to enter the building – just in case!

The “Skating Wounded Report” going into the third, Bergeron had played 11:30, had won 3 of 7 faceoffs and had no shots on net. Jagr had played only 4:24 with no shots. For Chicago, Toews had a goal and 12:13 of playing time and had taken 7 of 12 faceoffs.

Kane had a good early chance for the Blackhawks. Jagr took an early shift for the Bruins with Kelly and Paille, and then Seguin returned, replacing Jagr.

With 7:42 gone in the third, Crawford made a brilliant left pad save on a backhander by Paille, cutting across in front. Later in the period, the Bruins had two men in front as the Bruins pressed the attack. Horton couldn’t get his stick on it, Milan Lucic did, and flipped it in at 12:11 to give Boston a 2-1 lead with his seventh of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks earned a powerplay chance at 14:21 when Chris Kelly was called for high sticking Nick Leddy. The Blackhawks had scored just once in 18 previous powerplay chances in the series. It soon became 1-of-18 for Chicago. Toward the end of the advantage, Chara drilled Toews into the goalpost and crossbar.

With Crawford on the bench for an extra attacker, Bryan Bickell tied it at 18:44 and seemingly, we were headed for another overtime…but David Bolland took a rebound off the left post and in just 17 seconds later to put the Blackhawks on the brink of their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.

So much for Corey Crawford’s glove! Zdeno Chara had been on the ice for 10 of the last 12 Chicago goals, a large part of Chicago’s success story. The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up their 5 Stanley Cup championship with a scintillating come-from-behind effort.

We have had two 48-game, lockout-shortened NHL seasons. Those have produced the latest date the Stanley Cup has ever been decided: June 24th. In 1995, when the New Jersey Devils concluded a shocking 4-game sweep of the President’s Trophy champion Red Wings. This year, again on June 24th …only on this occasion, the President’s Trophy winners take home the Cup. For just the third time in the last nine seasons, a team has taken both.

Stay tuned – the 2013 NHL Entry Draft is Sunday!

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POSTED ON Sunday, 06.23.2013 / 10:26 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Following what was a highly entertaining Stanley Cup Final game Wednesday night, what could the fans expect heading into Game Five, with an extra day of rest thrown in?

Would the focus still be on the glove hand of Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford? “In the LA series, they were talking about his blocker side,” said ‘Hawks coach Joel Quenneville before the game.

One thing for certain, Wednesday’s game was an aberration. Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask had the lowest GAA (1.83) in the playoffs, and Crawford (1.86) was second!

The Bruins meanwhile, were concerned that their captain, All Star defenseman Zdeno Chara, had been on the ice for five of Chicago’s goals on Wednesday.

Boston did make a change to add some more offense to their line-up, pulling Kaspars Daugavins, and inserting Carl Soderberg, his first appearance of the playoffs.

The starting pace was similar to Wednesday’s, with outstanding chances for both sides, but both sides missed the net.

At 17:27 of the first, the Blackhawks broke through, Patrick Kane tucking in the rebound off the broken stick off defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. When the stick broke, it turned the initial shot into a “change-up,” and allowing the soft hands of Kane to put it in behind Rask. The first period ended, 1-0, Chicago.

The Blackhawks top line tallied again at 5:13 of the second. Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews worked a give-and-go down the left side against Seidenberg. Bickell took the shot, gathered in his own rebound, and carried behind the Boston net. His fluttering pass beat Zdeno Chara and was backhanded into the net by Kane for his second of the game.

Meanwhile, one of the main cogs for the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron, was on the bench and only briefly on the ice in the second period. Bruins’ Coach Claude Julien told NBC’s Pierre McGuire: “Let’s just say right now, we’re going to give him a little bit of time.”

The Blackhawks took that 2-nothing lead into the third and David Krejci had a pair of good chances early in the period, only to be foiled by Crawford.

As the third period began, the youngster making his first appearance of this post-season, Carl Soderberg was put into Bergeron’s slot. Bergeron wasn’t on the bench to start the third. The CBC reported (later confirmed by the Bruins) that Bergeron had left the building in an ambulance, off to the hospital for observation.

The Blackhawks had their own problems as the third began. Jonathan Toews was absent for his shifts on the top line with Bickell and Kane. Initially, Michal Handzus moved up between them. Johnny Boychuk had blasted Toews late in the second, and the Blackhawks’ captain apparently had not recovered from that hit.

Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara scored, blistering one over Crawford’s glove at 3:40 from Krejci and Lucic, cutting the Chicago advantage in half. At this point, the Bruins had taken the offensive initiative away from the home side.

As the Blackhawks attempted to respond, Patrick Kane gunned one from the left circle, which Rask gloved down at 8:31 of the third.

There was more carnage as the third period unfolded, as Brent Seabrook was hurt while blocking a shot and struggled getting back to the bench. At that point, there was no information on Jonathan Toews’ situation. Toews was on the bench, but appeared done for the night after playing 12:56 with two assists over the first two periods.

The surviving members of the two teams continued the struggle with time winding down. Bickell carried in on a two-on-one with Kane, and rather than risk a pass on the chopped-up ice, took the shot. Ultimately, Boston pulled Tuukka Rask from the net with a minute to go.

Chara tried to help the attack in front of the net, but the Blackhawks muscled the puck out of their zone down the right side and David Bolland fired the puck into the empty net for the 3-1 Chicago victory.

Now, back to Boston for Game Six at TD Garden. Who will be left standing and able to play? Can Boston keep this wonderful series alive for a Game 7? It all gets started at 7 o’clock CT Monday on your local NBC affiliate.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 06.20.2013 / 9:40 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

There were two over-riding questions heading into Game Four Wednesday night at Boston’s TD Garden:

Will Marian Hossa be able to play?

Will this be a short or a long series?

Obviously, a positive answer to the first could play a significant role in answering the second.

NBC’s Pierre McGuire reported that Hossa didn’t look well in the pregame warm-up. After Monday’s surprise, when Hossa was a late scratch, careful observation of the warm-up was mandatory.

The early returns (not always THAT important in a Chicago election) were positive for the Blackhawks. They pressured the Bruins in their zone, made them play all 200 feet, used short passes and attacked the net. Hossa had a couple of good chances, one from in close.

The Bruins were granted an early powerplay when Johnny Oduya was called for interference at 5:18. All that did was set up a shorthanded goal by Michal Handzus to give Chicago the lead. Saad stole the puck from Tyler Seguin, broke down the right side into the Boston zone and slipped a pass to his left to Handzus for the score at 6:48. That ended the shutout streak of the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask at 109:14, truly a remarkable run.

In his bench interview midway through the first period, Boston Coach Claude Julien wasn’t happy with the way his team wasn’t moving its feet, feeling that the Bruins were doing more to frustrate themselves than were the efforts of the Blackhawks.

That frustration came out later in the period with Boston’s Peverly line mixing it up with Chicago’s Shaw line. That followed a botched 2-on-1 when Paille’s return pass went behind Peverly breaking in on Corey Crawford. The Bruins were granted their second powerplay after that skirmish. The Bruins finally got a shot on net during that powerplay, following Torey Krug ringing one off the pipe. The Bruins tied it with :03 left on the advantage when Saad, who had set up the shorthanded goal for Chicago, could not clear. Peverly picked it up and beat Crawford’s glove. That silenced the Boston Boos with cheers, and put the attack back in the Bruins. It was a vulnerable point in time for Corey Crawford and Chicago.

A penalty on Boston’s Nathan Horton for slashing the stick out of Oduya’s hands, resulted in a shorthanded breakout for Boston, and Duncan Keith got called for tripping Rich Peverly. The first period ended 1-1, with the Bruins coming back after a slow start, Chicago had the first eight shots in the game, and at the end of the period, the shots were 12-9, Chicago.

After three straight low-scoring games, all of a sudden the clock was turned back to the “lively puck era” of the 1980s.

Early in the second, Horton narrowly missed from Crawford’s right on the powerplay. Back at even strength, the Blackhawks bounced back from the end of the first period. It wasn’t long before a Michal Rozsival shot was tipped in by Jonathan Toews to give the Blackhawks the lead again, 2-1. Later, Rask was challenged by Patrick Sharp, but made the stop. On the next Chicago rush, Patrick Kane backhanded a rebound of Bryan Bickell’s shot over Rask to make it 3-1 at 8:41, prompting a basketball-style time out by Claude Julien and the Bruins.

It was perhaps the most hectic period of the series for Rask; he faced numerous rebound chances in addition to odd-man rushes, including a Handzus-Sharp attack later on. He stopped that one, giving his teammates a chance to come back. They did – forcing the ‘Hawks to scramble in their end. With Milan Lucic in the slot, two swats at the puck resulted in the goal which cut the Chicago lead to one, 3-2 at 14:43.

That produced some more run-and-gun – not to the Bruins’ benefit. David Bolland put the puck off the left boards to produce a 2-on-1 into the Boston zone with Michal Frolik and Marcus Kruger. Rask stopped the initial Kruger try, then Kruger flipped in the rebound to make it 4-2, 49 seconds after the Lucic goal.

No time to relax for Chicago: a hooking call on Patrick Kane produced a crazy powerplay chance off the end glass and the top of the goal cage, which came down for Patrice Bergeron, and he beat Crawford’s glove to make it a one-goal game yet again at 17:22.

Chicago survived another near miss late in the period (as a matter of fact, the TD Garden goal horn sounded in error), It was a period applauded by the fans, yet loathed by the coaches. Chicago outscored Boston, 3-2, and outshot them, 13-11. Consider this: in 40 minutes, they produced 7 goals. Game One required 112:08 to do the same.

Early in the third, the Bruins got back to even; Bergeron from the right circle ripped one by Crawford to tie it with 17:55 left in regulation. It required 4:43 to erase the deficit, and Crawford was looking like the weak link, each of his four goals against to his glove side.

With the teams playing 4-on-4, Patrick Kane broke in on Rask, but David Krejci took a hooking penalty to prevent the shot. Kane had a pretty good argument for a penalty shot, but it was not granted. On the ensuing powerplay, the Blackhawks tallied. Patrick Sharp got the rebound of a Hossa try. That was the first powerplay goal of the Final for Chicago (in 15 opportunities), as they took a 5-4 lead.

That was short-lived. Crawford gave up another one to the glove side, as Johnny Boychuk drilled one from straight away, above the circles. It was 5-5 with 7:46 left in the third.

This game was such a departure from the norm, that it seemed as if Edmonton and Los Angeles were reprising their 1982 playoff series. That featured a 10-8 game, along with a 7-4 final, and the memorable 6-5 OT “Miracle on Manchester.”

So off to overtime it went, for the third time in four games, with Chicago outshooting Boston, 41-28 over the 60-minute term. How long would this one go? The teams have played 319:47 (the equivalent of five-and-a-third matches) to complete the four games.

Heading into extra time, Chicago may have had the more tired defense corps, as Nick Leddy had played only 2:37, though he remained on the bench. Meanwhile, forwards Kaspars Daugavins and Shawn Thornton had played just 5:53 for Boston.

Bergeron almost ended it early with a redirection of an Andrew Ference shot. In the high pace early in the overtime, Rask stopped Kane breaking in the right side.

It took a three-shot volley by the Blackhawks to end it and tie the series as Brent Seabrook got it by Rask, with Jonathan Toews tied up in front with Zdeno Chara, at 9:51. At least two games remain!

Now it’s another well-earned extra day off, the series headed back to Chicago for Game Five at the United Center. It all gets started at 7 o’clock CT Saturday on your local NBC affiliate.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 06.18.2013 / 9:14 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

After taking the equivalent of three games to arrive at decisions in the first two games on the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins beat the Blackhawks, 2-0 in just 60 minutes Monday night, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Two potentially significant injuries developed prior to the game.

During the warm-up, Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara collided with fellow behemoth, Milan Lucic, but Chara did start, though he left momentarily in the first period.

However, there was a major surprise as the teams came out for the opening faceoff: Marian Hossa was not in uniform for the Blackhawks. In his place was 24-year-old Ben Smith, a Boston College product, who had spent most of the season with the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs. There was a report that Hossa was injured by a shot during the pre-game.

Not so said Head Coach Joel Quenneville afterward. Even captain Jonathan Toews said the team “knew all day long” that Hossa might miss the game. Hossa is now listed as “day-to-day” with “an upper body injury.” The unfortunate thing: everything was so hush-hush that Ben Smith’s mother drove in from Connecticut to visit her son and left before the game because she was under the impression that he had no chance of playing.

This forced a massive restructuring of forward lines by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, including the move of Captain Jonathan Toews to left wing from center, with Marcus Kruger in the middle and Michael Frolik on the right. The latter two have spent much of the season playing on Chicago’s third and/or fourth lines.

Kaspars Daugavins took a bad penalty at 9:57 of the first, an elbow to the head of Andrew Shaw. That gave the Blackhawks a chance to take the lead by breaking their 0-15 powerplay stretch. But, Chicago did not manage a shot on Tuukka Rask with the advantage.

Shawn Thornton took a questionable roughing penalty on Andrew Shaw at 14:15. That produced some shorthanded chances for Peverly and Paille against a very shaky Blackhawks “powerplay,” which managed just one shot on goal. The first period ended 0-0, with the Bruins outshooting the Blackhawks, 11-10.

Daniel Paille broke through at 2:13 of the second period off a Chicago turnover. Paille has now figured in the last three Boston scores, with two goals and an assist. The question before the house now: will the team the scores first be the one to take the loss yet again?

The Bruins were awarded their first powerplay at 12:00 of the second when Dave Bolland crosschecked Chris Kelly from behind. Paille was pulled down by Hjalmarsson, creating 0:11 of a 5-on-3 for the Bruins, shortly after the first penalty expired, Patrice Bergeron scored from Crawford’s right side on an exquisite pass across by Jaromir Jagr.

The Blackhawks then when with a new forward combination: Bickell – Toews – Stalberg. Following a commercial break, it was Sharp – Toews – Stalberg. Frolik – Kruger – Shaw were up next, then Smith – Bolland – Kane. Bolland took a tripping penalty before the next shift at 19:00 of the second. The Bruins ended a dominant second period with a 2-0 lead.

Keeping in mind the Bruins had a pair of two-goal leads in Game One, you could have thought it possible Chicago would tie it at some point take a run at tying it in the third, but that simply didn’t happen.

The third period began with a full minute of powerplay time for Boston. After killing that off, the Blackhawks, had to try something. So Quenneville began with Sharp – Toews or Handzus – Kane, then Bickell – Shaw – Smith; Kruger - Bolland - Frolik; and Smith – Handzus – Bickell.

Quenneville also mixed and matched with his defensemen, putting Keith with Hjalmarsson; Oduya with Seabrook; and Leddy with Rozsival. All of those alterations didn’t do much, and many didn’t last that long.

A third period powerplay created by Kruger’s speed on the attack (McQuaid for tripping) did not help Chicago. When Dave Bolland took a tripping penalty at 13:55 of the third, the Bruins were in position to put it away. Toews and Kane had a shorthanded chance, and soon thereafter, the Blackhawks got a powerplay when David Krejci hooked Brandon Saad on a semi-break in from center ice. While the ensuing powerplay looked better, it netted not a thing.

Crawford got to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:45 to go in regulation. The frustration was clear with less than 12 seconds left. Bickell and Chara scrapped in the slot, as Shaw and Marchand did so at the same time.

For Tuukka Rask, it was a 28-save shutout, putting the pressure on the Blackhawks to produce some offense after scoring just one goal in the last two games

Stay tuned for Game Four Wednesday night from the TD Garden, which goes back onto your local NBC over-the-air affiliate.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 06.16.2013 / 2:00 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask furthered his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy in Game Two. The Blackhawks bombarded Rask with 19 shots in the first period, but he allowed only one goal – by Patrick Sharp – at the conclusion of a lengthy barrage.

Even by conservative estimates, Rask stopped at least three additional “sure things” by the Blackhawks. Sharp had six of the shots and Marian Hossa had five. That sort of goaltending kept his team from getting blown out in the first period, and Rask very well could have taken up residence in the Blackhawks’ heads.

The Bruins got Nathan Horton back in the line-up after his departure during Wednesday’s first overtime. However, his line (with Left Wing Milan Lucic and Center David Krejci) did little to produce much, with Krejci getting the line’s only shot on goal until later in the third. In his interview with NBC’s Pierre McGuire, Bruins’ Coach Claude Julien admitted that the Blackhawks caught the Bruins “on their heals” in the first period.

Late in the second period, Boston was able to capitalize on Rask’s work. The Bruins’ role players came through to tie it – Chris Kelly converting a rebound of a Daniel Paille shot. So, although Chicago had dominated territorially, they had not on the scoreboard. When a breakaway by Brad Marchand was stopped by an overlooked slash by Brent Seabrook and the goalpost to Crawford’s left with 1:48 left, it was clear that no matter how much Chicago “had its way” in the first period, this game could be taken by either side.

A number of icing calls against Chicago late in the third gave the Bruins some opportunities against the Blackhawks, but the Bruins had scored on just one of 16 shots totaled in the second and third periods, during which they held the Blackhawks to nine. Game Two would go to overtime as well!

41-year-old Jaromir Jagr had the best early chance, ringing one off the pipe with a heavy wrister 1:28 into overtime, beating Corey Crawford’s glove. Five minutes later, Rask got just enough glove on a shot by Patrick Sharp to keep the drama going. With 10:59 gone in the overtime, the United Center faithful erupted in a Bridgestone Arena – like ovation to urge on the Blackhawks.

While it was the Blackhawks depth players who produced the win in the first game of the series, their Bruins’ counterparts did it in the second. With 13:48 gone in overtime, Daniel Paille ended the proceedings, on helpers by Tyler Seguin (who had been switched to that line during the game by Julien) and defenseman Adam McQuaid.

The Bruins should be deliriously happy that they split in Chicago. That is particularly after their could-have-been-disastrous first period Saturday night. The Blackhawks are the team thinking about lost opportunities at this point, especially their lack of production on the powerplay.

Now the scene shifts to Boston’s TD Garden for Monday night’s Game Three. Overtime anyone? Better take a nap!

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POSTED ON Thursday, 06.13.2013 / 10:38 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Game One of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final was the epitome of playoff hockey. The Boston Bruins were big and bad, just like the late 1960’s early-1970’s version.

Their biggest and baddest forward – Milan Lucic (give me license here, Nathan Horton is listed as being 9 pounds heavier than Lucic) – provided the Bruins with a 2-0 lead with his goal early in the second period.

Indeed, the Bruins’ top line of Lucic-David Krejci and Horton dominated the early going. They outplayed Chicago’s top line of Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in their head-head battles. The Blackhawks seemed tentative in that first period.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville adapted, and so did his team. Quenneville juggled his lines and put rookie Brandon Saad back with Toews and Hossa, as they had been much of the regular season. Sharp dropped down to left wing with Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw – both units benefitted.

Saad scored the goal that cut the Boston lead in half, and the Blackhawks were all over the Bruins and goaltender Tuukka Rask for the balance of the second. They outshot the Bruins, 16-6, yet were still down a goal when the second ended. The theme seemed to be lost opportunities though, as Chicago had three powerplay situations in the second, including 1:17 of a 5-on-3, but didn’t even manage a shot on goal in that span.

As the third period began, whatever momentum the Blackhawks may have had was neutralized when the Bruins scored a powerplay goal by Patrice Bergeron just 18 seconds after Michael Frolik took the first Blackhawks penalty of the game for tripping Zdeno Chara, making it 3-1, Boston.

Yet, that turned out to be the starting point for what NBC’s Pierre McGuire termed “spectacular theatre.” Less than two minutes after Bergeron’s goal, Dave Bolland beat Rask from his right side to gut it to 3-2. With 7:46 left in regulation, a shot from Johnny Oduya got through Rask to tie it up.

Who would have dreamed the two teams would play almost three full periods after that before it was decided?

The Bruins had great chances, particularly early in the first overtime, but Corey Crawford and Rask held firm. In that first overtime, the Bruins lost Nathan Horton to what seemed to be a re-aggravation of a previous injury. Tyler Seguin was plugged into his spot as Boston had 11 forwards available for the balance of the game. In the In the three overtimes, the Bruins outshot the Blackhawks, 29-24.

The start of the game-winning play was an attempted shot by Michal Rozsival, which was deflected, first by Bolland, and ultimately by Andrew Shaw to end the marathon game at Midnight on your kitchen clock, or 12:08 of the third overtime.

Bottom line, while the big guns tallied for Boston, the role players got the job done for Chicago.

It was spectacular theatre – six periods worth. It set the bar extremely high for these playoffs. The winner was the NHL – and the players and the fans, who have until Saturday to ready themselves for Game Two!

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 05.29.2013 / 9:30 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

He has not worn a Predators uniform since April 27, 2007; yet I still root for Tomas Vokoun. With all the obstacles he has overcome in his career, how could I not? Now, I have the feeling that Pittsburgh Penguins fans feel much the same way.

As this playoff season got started, there was absolutely no indication that we would be talking about Tomas at all. Marc-Andre Fleury shut the New York Islanders out in the first game of the opening series, stopping 19 shots. The second game marked the return of Sidney Crosby, who celebrated with a two-goal night. Still, the Islanders overcame a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, proving that the series was not going to be an easy one for the Penguins.

Game Three on Long Island, the Penguins overcame an early two-goal deficit and won in overtime on a powerplay goal by Chris Kunitz. It was the following game where it all came unraveled for Fleury, the goaltender of record when the Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Fleury was clearly fighting the puck, and the puck oftentimes won. The Islanders tied the series, with 6 goals on only 24 shots. At this point, since his shutout in the opener, Fleury had stopped 88 of 112 shots, or–78.6 per cent. For the record, 13 goaltenders in the playoffs have stopped over 91 per cent of the shots they faced.

That led to a crucial decision by Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma. It was clear that Fleury wasn’t getting the job done. So Bylsma, with his top-seeded team in the East even with the eighth-seeded Islanders after four games, decided to put Tomas Vokoun between the pipes. Vokoun, 36, who had not been in a playoff game since his last with the Predators six years ago, would get the call.

Bylsma’s move has clearly paid off. Vokoun’s play has been stellar. He won games five and six to close out the Islanders in the first round, then lost just once (in double overtime) in five games to the Ottawa Senators in Round Two. Heading into the Eastern Conference Final with the Boston Bruins, Vokoun is 6-1, with a 1.85 goals against average and a 94.1 saves percentage.

The above is the reason Penguin fans love him. Now I will tell you why he rates so highly with me:

Many deals were made as the Predators’ first roster was formed at the 1998 expansion draft. The Montreal Canadiens, who had drafted Vokoun out of the Czech Republic in 1994, begged the Predators to select him, perhaps to ensure they wouldn’t lose a goaltender in later expansion drafts. To emphasize their desires, they also gave the Predators center Sebastien Bordeleau.

Coming into that first Predators’ training camp, the pecking order in goal for the team appeared to be Mike Dunham, Mikhail Shtalenkov, Dominic Roussel and then Vokoun, who had played all of one NHL period for the Canadiens (where he gave up four goals in Philadelphia). Shtalenkov was traded before the season began to Edmonton in a deal that brought Mike Dunham’s first back-up to town: Eric Fichaud. Four days after that trade, Roussel was sent to Anaheim for Marc Moro and Chris Mason.

Vokoun started the Predators’ first season with the Milwaukee Admirals, playing nine games there. He made his Predators’ debut in early November, taking a 5-3 loss in Vancouver. A week later, he held the St. Louis Blues scoreless in the third period, mopping up for Mike Dunham. Eric Fichaud picked up the next four appearances as Dunham was sidelined by injury.

During this time, Tomas would end up in a seat behind me on the team bus. The top goaltender of that era was Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek (also from the Czech Republic). Vokoun knew I had been with him in Buffalo and would ask me about Hasek on a fairly regular basis

On December 10th, Vokoun picked up his first NHL win, 2-1 over San Jose, stopping 34 of 35 shots. He started the next game as well – against the team that wanted to be rid of him – Montreal, and stopped 25 of 27 in a tie at 2. On December 19th, Dunham injured his groin on a penalty shot by Markus Naslund in Vancouver. Dunham would not return for another month. The Predators then used Vokoun, Fichaud and Chris Mason trying to hold things together. They combined to go 5-8-1 (as an expansion team!) in Dunham’s absence.

In his 15th start for the team, one night after a dropping a 2-1 decision to the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in Detroit, Vokoun made Predators’ history. He produced the team’s first shutout, stopping 31 shots in a win over the Phoenix Coyotes. He raised his hands high over his head and was jumped to the side of his net in celebration.

However, Vokoun’s career course was not yet set. He would back up Mike Dunham and have another stint or two in Milwaukee until the big trade of December 12, 2002, when the team decided to go with him as the starter, and send Dunham to the New York Rangers.

At that point, things began to turn for the Predators. Still offensively challenged, they did not make the playoffs in 2003. But they did make them the next four seasons, and Vokoun was the man in net for each of those teams. He is the ultimate team man. He takes responsibility for every goal scored against him, he doesn’t point fingers at his teammates. That sort of behavior helps to hold a team together, particularly through the inevitable tough times that develop.

He has maintained his humility throughout his 15-season career, perhaps the best example of this – the day after one of his typical 40-save performances, he was seen at a craft show in Nashville pushing a stroller with his wife Dagmar and their first daughter, Adelle (now a competitive figure skater). When he was recognized that afternoon, his head bowed, but with a big smile on his face, he said “You did NOT see me here!”

Now Vokoun is being seen all across the hockey world, and he has a chance to play a vital role for a top Stanley Cup contender. I am willing to wager there are a lot of people that couldn’t be happier for him. Who knows just how many points he stole for the Predators over the years? That notwithstanding, there is an outstanding chance that when his career is over, he will look back and the 2013 playoffs and say: “those were the good old days!”

Click on the links below to hear some of my favorite Vokoun calls:

Vokoun records his first career shut out - Jan. 15, 1999

Vokoun shutsouts Detroit - Dec. 20, 2003

Vokoun stymies Pavel Bure

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 05.21.2013 / 4:00 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

For the first time in the Predators’ history, a former defenseman will be part of the team’s coaching staff, as Phil Housley arrives in Music City.

Phil Housley had a Hall of Fame career – 21-seasons long in the National Hockey League. He began as an 18-year-old, fresh out of the United States Hockey League and his hometown St. Paul (MN) Vulcans.

The Buffalo Sabres took him sixth overall in the 1982 draft. Then-Sabres Coach/GM Scotty Bowman likened him to the “next Bobby Orr,” that’s how highly he was regarded.

No one could reasonably expect to measure up to those expectations, but consider he played almost 1,500 games in the league (only Chris Chelios played in more), and tallied the most points (1,232) by any player born in the United States when he retired in 2003. Mike Modano subsequently broke that mark in 2007.

Housley was so creative and gifted offensively that sometimes he was moved up to center a forward line. That also happened with long-ago Red Wing and Maple Leaf Red Kelly.

Inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, he is a strong candidate for the overall Hall as well. Phil played in seven NHL All-Star games, and made and the All-Rookie team in 1983.

Internationally, he also made his mark as part of two gold medal efforts: as a player in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and as Head Coach of Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.

He began his coaching career at the high school level in his native Minnesota with the Stillwater Ponies, where he coached eight seasons before taking on the head coaching job for the U.S. National junior team. In addition to the gold medal his club won this season in Russia, he was also an Assistant Coach in the recently concluded Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships, which ended with a bronze medal. The Predators’ Craig Smith and Bobby Butler played on that team.

Housley highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnjGInqmBIg

Housley after World Junior Team’s training camp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGkDTm5I0qg

Interview with Minnesota Hockey Magazine: http://minnesotahockeymagazine.com/In-Depth/Phil-Housley--Coaching-Plans/144070407

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.23.2012 / 9:50 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, he reviews “The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever.” (Published by Triumph Books)

Jonathon Gatehouse, a senior correspondent for Canada’s MacLean’s magazine, wrote this biography of the NHL Commissioner. Gatehouse is not regularly assigned to the hockey beat, so his perspective on his subject is fresh – and thorough.

While this is not an “authorized” biography, Bettman did cooperate with Gatehouse, providing him with access to himself and others within the NHL family.

Gatehouse takes you into Bettman’s upbringing, his time in college at Cornell, law school days at NYU, breaking into the law, landing at the Proskauer Rose law firm, then the NBA office (where he earned his reputation with a salary cap system), all the way to his NHL office in a corner suite at 47th and the Avenue of the Americas in New York.

We find out that then NHL Board of Governors Chairman Bruce McNall had initially attempted to hire NBA Commissioner David Stern to lead the NHL at a lunch meeting in the fall of 1992. McNall quickly found out that Stern was not interested. McNall then inquired as to the availability of Stern’s second-in-command, Russ Granik, but was rebuffed again. However, Stern heartily endorsed 40-year old Gary Bettman, calling to McNall’s attention the fact that Bettman was entrenched in all of the NBA’s labor negotiation.

That was precisely the sort of endorsement the NHL was seeking as the league made a clean break from the John Zeigler – Gil Stein regime, which many owners thought had failed them in CBA negotiations with the players.

It still left the NHL with some additional restructuring. All previous heads of the National Hockey League had been titled “President.” Bettman was going to come in as “Commissioner,” with enhanced powers over his predecessors.

So, on December 11,1992, at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Commissioner Gary Bettman was introduced to the hockey world.

As he entered the NHL, the league was undergoing massive changes. The day before his introduction, the move of the “North” Stars to Dallas was approved for the fall of 1993. Then, the league expanded to 26 teams with the additions of South Florida and Anaheim. Four years later, was the next wave of new teams, Nashville announced along with Atlanta (now Winnipeg), Columbus, and Minnesota. It seems like the changes have never stopped since that point in time.

Gatehouse provides a behind-the-scenes look at all of those, along with the franchise moves from Quebec City to Denver and Winnipeg to Phoenix. Consider those moves with the ownership changes, and the thought is pounded into your brain – the biggest component of the major league games we follow is business!

What also has occurred during Bettman’s near-20 years as Commissioner are three work stoppages, and how Bettman has tried to hold the league together while the naturally adversarial negotiations take place. After all, that’s why he was hired!

The insights provided here are very important now for fans attempting to understand what the situation is like for Bettman on his side of the table.

Gatehouse gives his interpretation from the outside of the Bettman – Bob Goodenow negotiations of 1994-95 and 2004-05. He also includes a chapter on current NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, former head of the Major League [Baseball] Players Association and student of Marvin Miller.

Those portrayals are important if you are to have any chance of comprehending what hockey faces now. I think such understanding is important to hockey fans today.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.16.2012 / 2:16 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators’ Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, Pete reviews “Breakway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL the Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes” written by Tal Pinchevsky.

We take for granted that players from around the world populate today’s National Hockey League. That wasn’t the case as recently as 1979. Virtually every athlete in the league was from Canada (the greatest majority) or the United States. True, there were a smattering of Swedish players then in the NHL and WHA.

Until the great “Summit Series” between Team Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972, that was not considered remarkable. That was when the eyes of North American hockey were opened. The talents displayed by the Soviet’s “Big Red Machine” were immense.

When the Canada Cup was staged in 1976, further exposure to European hockey showed, what had developed in Czechoslovakia and Finland.

All teams are looking for an edge in talent. But how could the NHL gain access to those from the Soviet Bloc?

Tal Pinchevsy, a staff writer and producer for NHL.com, answers this very thoroughly in his case-by-case study. He brings to life the risks that had to be taken by players in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia while trying to win their freedom to ply their trade in the NHL.

The risks were very real – the cost could have meant their lives or the hardships that would be put upon friends and family members they would leave behind. Those risks were also borne, at least in part, by the NHL representatives assigned to “spring them.”

The point can be argued that the first true defection was that of Vaclav Nedomansky (“Big Ned”) from Czechoslovakia to the WHA’s Toronto Toros as a 30-year old in 1974. He later was part of the first WHA-NHL trade and moved to the Detroit Red Wings.

Where Pinchevsky’s narrative gets to be nerve-wracking is the story of Gilles Leger of the Quebec Nordiques pursuing the Stastny brothers (Peter, Anton and eventually, Marian) is fraught with palpable danger.

The Nordiques began work on bringing them over in 1979, hoping they could do it easily at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games. Suspecting as much, the Czech team security was so tight, Leger could not communicate with them.

Finally, in Austria for a tournament in August of 1980, Nordiques President Marcel Aubut and General Manager Leger made contact with Peter and Anton, and they (along with Peter’s pregnant wife, Darina) drove like Formula One drivers to ultimately escape Czech team officials and ultimately fly to Montreal.

Pinchevsky has similar stories to tell about Petr Klima in 1985, and the battle for the likes of the incredible KLM Line (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov) to escape the Soviet Union.

Escaping the Soviet Union proved to be the most difficult. Goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak simply retired rather than continue playing at his high level when it was made clear to him that he would not be permitted to join the Montreal Canadiens.

While the KLM Line ultimately got to the NHL, that was made possible in part by the development of a top junior line: Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Federov and Pavel Bure. Yet as the Iron Curtain was falling, each of them was able to defect. The Mogilny case was particularly precarious.

However, when these players found their way to North America, the story was actually only beginning. Predators’ fans in particular will be interested in the story of Michal Pivonka and his fiancé. They had left Prague in 1986, supposedly on a vacation to Yugoslavia, only to end up at the U.S. Embassy in Rome to, ready to accept a contract that had been offered him by the Washington Capitals, where David Poile was General Manager. The Pivonkas lived with the Poile family for several months!

After the players arrived, most were faced with a huge language barrier. Some were faced with bigger challenges than others. Consider the Stastny family, leaving Czechoslovakia for French-speaking Quebec, and the English spoken in all the other league cities outside the province.

That is only part of the cultural adjustments that had to be made. For some of the players, it was difficult to take care of their own nutrition since their hockey clubs had attended to that for them.

All in all, a fascinating story of how the trails were first blazed from the Soviet bloc, and told well by Pinchevsky. I think you will enjoy it!

Link to amazon.com book site

Link to author interview

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