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Flyers’ Vigneault diverts attention to Canadiens’ power play after loss – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Mark this down as the first time Montreal’s power play has upset anybody all year.

Truth be told, it almost certainly had more to do with how offended Alain Vigneault was with his own team’s performance that, without prompting, he questioned why the Canadiens continued to play top players against his Philadelphia Flyers late in the lopsided loss Friday that evened their first-round series.

“I saw towards the end of the game there where Kirk Muller there — he’s got a 5-0 lead — and he puts his No. 1 power play on the ice,” said Vigneault. “We had embarrassed ourselves enough, I don’t think we needed to get embarrassed more. I’m going to make sure our team is very aware of that next game.”

Wow.

First, let’s peel back the layers here: The Flyers were stunningly ineffective in Game 2, watching Montreal build a 30-10 advantage in even-strength attempts over the first 20 minutes along with a 2-0 lead.

“The first period, that’s where we lost the game,” said Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux. “Then we were just trying to catch up to them. It wasn’t our best effort.”

It didn’t get much better after the Flyers failed to cash on a five-on-three power play that lasted 98 seconds early in the second period and then saw emerging young star goaltender Carter Hart mercilessly pulled for veteran Brian Elliott.

Put it this way, Philadelphia was full value for a 5-0 loss.

So Vigneault, a veteran of many playoff wars, had to be looking for something to seize on when he jumped in front of the Zoom camera before any of his players post-game. He obviously knew that turning the conversation back on the Habs would shield his players from scrutiny while putting Muller under even more of a spotlight as he fills in for the ailing Claude Julien on an interim basis.

Muller responded to the complaint by correctly pointing out that the Habs have work to do on a flailing power play and don’t have much chance to do so with games scheduled for Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday in this accelerated playoff format.

“I would never disrespect anybody but we’re in the playoffs and you look at the first series against Pittsburgh, our power play wasn’t that great,” said Muller. “I felt that if this was during the season it would be a different story, but we have no practice here. We’ve got to keep working on it. I totally understand if that was his comments — I was probably expecting it — but my job is to make this team as good as it can be right now.

“I had to keep getting some of these guys that haven’t been productive, they’re starting to feel it, and I’ve got to focus on our guys in that situation.”

The Canadiens did manage to break through with Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi power-play goals during Friday’s game, but they’ve still cashed on just three of 19 opportunities in these playoffs.

What had to worry Philadelphia most was the imbalance in play at even strength. The ice was tilted decisively against the top seeds in the Eastern Conference as they generated just 38 per cent of expected goals and 41 per cent of shot attempts.

“They handed it to us pretty badly tonight,” said Flyers forward Kevin Hayes.

“I don’t think we underestimated them,” added teammate Matt Niskanen. “It was pretty clear, though, that they’re at a higher level that we are right now.”

That’s why Vigneault was playing every motivational card at his disposal. He coached the Canadiens for three seasons early in his career and understands how to direct a storyline under the playoff glare.

Plus, before distracting us with the power-play complaints, he was honest about what happened here at Scotiabank Arena: “They outworked us, they outplayed us, they outexecuted us, so at the end of the day we got our butts kicked today.”

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Lightning’s Stamkos returns, scores in Game 3 of Cup Final vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca

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Steven Stamkos is back.

The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is playing his first NHL game since February as he returns to the ice for Game 3 of the team’s Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.

And in his third shift of the game, Stamkos buried a goal over the blocker of Stars goalie Anton Khudobin. Stamkos took a pass in the neutral zone from Victor Hedman, glided into the Stars’ zone and sniped a shot past Khudobin to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Stamkos had yet to suit up in the 2020 post-season, suffering an injury before the Lightning reconvened from the season pause to begin training. The centreman’s last game came on Feb. 25 — amid a 15-game, 22-point scoring streak — after having core muscle surgery. 210 days have passed since then. The 30-year-old finished the campaign with 66 points across 57 games.

The Cup Final is level at one game apiece after the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Stars on Monday.

Watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN NOW.

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Craig Anderson’s time in Ottawa comes to an end – TSN

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A few minutes into Wednesday’s video conference call with reporters, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion mentioned the club would not be offering a contract extension to veteran goalie Craig Anderson.

It was a low-key, modest announcement – almost a throwaway nugget of information in a session dominated by talk of the upcoming NHL Draft and the opening of free agency.

But in a strange twist, it was the perfect exit for the netminder who never sought the limelight of the No. 1 goalie job in a Canadian market. The 39-year-old would not have wanted a splashy farewell press conference or an emotional goodbye with fans and media.

At some point, Anderson should get an opportunity to re-connect with the Ottawa fan base for an emotional evening. His Senators resume, which boasts more than 400 games and 200 wins, has certainly etched his name as a future addition to the club’s Ring of Honour inside Canadian Tire Centre.

But beyond the dominating statistical profile – which includes virtually every meaningful goalie record in franchise history – Anderson singlehandedly transformed the way Ottawa fans viewed the position in their own market

Prior to Anderson’s arrival, Senators fans often felt nervous about their situation in the crease. Ottawa had earned the reputation of being a goalie graveyard – a place where netminders melted under the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad market.

There was Patrick Lalime’s infamous Game 7 meltdown against Toronto.

The ill-advised, splashy free agent signing of Martin Gerber.

The tumultuous tenure of Ray Emery.

The injury-plagued career of Pascal Leclaire.

Even Stanley Cup-winning goalies such as Tom Barrasso and Dominik Hasek couldn’t seem to shake the curse.

Ottawa was a place that offered job security for public service workers, not goaltenders.

But when Bryan Murray pulled off a trade in February of 2011, sending Brian Elliott – himself a victim of Ottawa’s haunted crease – to Colorado for Anderson, all of that changed. 

In many ways, Anderson’s departure from Ottawa was as understated as his arrival.

Murray brought in Anderson for a test drive – hoping that he could convince the pending free agent to sign with the Senators before hitting the market in the summer of 2011.

Anderson immediately endeared himself to Ottawa fans, posting a 47-save shutout in Toronto on a Saturday night in his first start in a Senators jersey.

Anderson sparkled in his first stint with the Senators down the stretch of the 2010-11 campaign, with an 11-5-1 record and a .939 save percentage. Some fans grumbled that Anderson’s stellar play in that run cost the club the first-overall draft pick – ultimately dropping them down to the sixth spot.

But in hindsight, that was a small price to pay to land a franchise goalie.

For almost a decade, Anderson was the epitome of cool and calm in a tumultuous environment that would have tested the mental resolve of any netminder. While the roster was overhauled around him multiple times, Anderson never once publicly demanded a trade to a better situation, even as veteran teammates were being jettisoned all around him.

Anderson was at his best in the playoffs, establishing himself as a reliable postseason netminder. In 41 career playoff games with Ottawa, he boasted a .928 save percentage – a metric that should have earned him more than just one trip to the conference final.

He held his own in playoff series against the likes of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist – goalies with Hall of Fame resumes who made nearly double what Anderson was being paid.

Even when his team would lose a playoff series with Anderson in net – and they did on four different occasions – nobody pointed a finger at the goaltending position. It was a stark departure from the previous playoff meltdowns in Ottawa, where the No. 1 goalie was often the prime culprit.

But when Ottawa fans think of Anderson’s signature performance with the club, their minds don’t immediately jump to a high-stakes playoff game.

Instead, most Ottawa fans remember the night of Oct. 30, 2016, when Anderson posted a 37-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. With the hockey world aware that his wife, Nicholle, was battling cancer, Anderson turned aside every Edmonton shot during the game – then had to turn aside tears as he was feted by the Edmonton crowd afterwards.

The image of his Oilers counterpart Cam Talbot cheering him on the bench remains one of the most powerful moments in Senators history.

Anderson authored so many memorable moments in the blue paint in Ottawa, but none come close to having the impact of that singular start in Edmonton four years ago.

In the months that followed, Anderson cemented his status as a fan favourite – ultimately taking the Senators to double-overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Pittsburgh that spring.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Senators fan who put any blame on Anderson for the Chris Kunitz game-winning goal, which serves as a firm reminder of how far the pendulum has swung when it comes to goaltending in Ottawa.

Before Anderson came along, it would have been unfathomable for the Senators to suffer a crippling Game 7 loss without a significant share of the blame landing on the goaltender’s shoulders.

But over the course of a decade Anderson managed to change the narrative on goaltending in Ottawa –  a feat that is more impressive than anything on his goaltending resume.

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Lightning, Stars resume punishing Stanley Cup Final as Stamkos nears return – Sportsnet.ca

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Steven Stamkos has been out so long, there’s probably a “believe it when I see it” element to his potential return for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The coach of the Dallas Stars, however, is operating on the assumption No. 91 could be cocking his stick from the top of the circle any moment now.

“I bumped into him the other day in the hallway,” Stars bench boss Rick Bowness said with a chuckle before Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. “When I see him walking out to the ice surface in full gear, I know where he’s going and he can’t be that far away [from playing]. We’re prepared.”

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Tampa coach Jon Cooper said his team’s captain is “inching closer” to skating in his first NHL game since Feb. 25. While acknowledging a lot would go into Stamkos’s return in terms of shaking the rust, Cooper also emphasized the obvious: Put a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner back in the lineup and it’s bound to move the needle.

“He’s a threat,” Cooper said. “So he’s just another thing for a team to think about when he’s out there. Whether that’s on the power play or five-on-five, you get another player who, if the puck gets on his stick in the offensive zone, it might go in the net.”

Preventing the Bolts from scoring in Game 3 could actually get easier for the Stars. Regardless of whether or not Stamkos comes back, Dallas will be the home team for the first time in the 1-1 series, giving Bowness the last-change advantage of lining up his preferred defence pair against whoever Tampa is throwing at him.

“We’ve always put more emphasis on getting the right D out there [compared to matching forward lines],” Bowness said. “Some of these matchup decisions are based on score, time on the clock, if you need a goal you put your offensive guys out. A lot of factors come into play, but the constant one will be getting the right ‘D’ out there against the top lines.”

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One person Bowness hopes can become a tougher defensive matchup for the other squad is his leading goal-scorer from the regular season, Denis Gurianov. The 23-year-old Russian — though still second on the team with nine playoff goals — has hit the net just once in his past 10 outings. He played fewer than 11 minutes in Game 1 and just over 13 in Game 2.

“Nervous,” is how Bowness assessed Gurianov’s play from the most recent contest. “He was nervous.”

When people aren’t speculating about the possibility of a Stamkos sighting, much of the talk through two games has been on how punishing the series has been as both games featured over 100 hits apiece. Early in Game 2, superstar Tampa right winger Nikita Kucherov took a couple of serious knocks before setting up a pair of goals in his side’s 3-2 win. Dallas’s Blake Comeau was rocked by Ryan McDonagh in the second period and did not return. Bowness said Comeau is a game-time decision for Wednesday’s tilt.

Tampa’s Tyler Johnson was asked if the suppressed existence everyone is experiencing with bubble life could be contributing to the nastier scene once the puck drops, as the teams kick off a particularly gruelling stretch of three games in four nights.

“I think everyone is [feeling] couped up a little bit, so you let your anger out on the ice,” Johnson said, perhaps only slightly kidding. “Going into this, I think a lot of people [were wondering] what the playoff hockey would be like: I think the questions have been answered that the guys are competing and working hard and it’s been physical and guys are doing everything they can to win.”

Few in the league have a longer history of mixing it up when it matters most than Dallas veteran Corey Perry. Back in the Final for the first time since winning a ring with the Ducks in 2007, Perry had no trouble identifying the root of the acrimony.

“We’re battling for the Stanley Cup — plain and simple,” he said. “Nobody is going to give you any room on the ice, you’re going to have to earn it. They’ve been here before and we have some guys in our room who have been here before, so we know what it takes as well.”

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