Allan Maki shares his opinion on the previous night’s NHL action and looks at the early news of the day Monday through Friday during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It turns out the NHL does have shootouts in the playoffs.
That’s what Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final turned into Wednesday night, an old-fashioned, hold-your-breath, to-hell-with-defence, every-shot-has-a-chance-to-go-in exclamation point of a hockey game. A 6-5 overtime decision for the Chicago Blackhawks that featured almost as many goals as totalled in the first three games combined.
How do you explain it – how a series that was tighter than a snare drum suddenly goes all loose in the pants? No one on the ‘Hawks or Boston Bruins really had an answer for it. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville gave it as good a response as any when he said afterwards: “One of those nights. Some pucks go in.”
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added: “We were looking for a breakout. We believed if we earned those scoring chances they would go in eventually.”
And they did. In fact, pretty much everything went in. It was like watching a morning shoot-around in the NBA. Or an Arena Football League game. The second period alone, arguably the wildest we’ve seen this postseason, supplied 24 shots on net (two of them on partial breakaways), five goals, including one on the power play, and enough defensive gaffes and breakdowns to turn a goat’s stomach, assuming goats watch hockey.
It wasn’t just strangely out of character for this final; it was the first 11-goal game of the 2013 playoffs. And let’s be honest: as sloppy and choppy as it was, it made for great drama and intense viewing. The kind of game that was forever on the edge of chaos.
So much of what we see now in the NHL has to do with systems and defensive layers and closing gaps and pinching defencemen and blah, blah, blah. Sometimes, it’s a treat when two teams fire the puck at the net and the goal light goes on and the players get to celebrate in repeated fashion.
Sure, the goalies hate it. Tuukka Rask fished the puck out of his net after Chicago’s fourth goal and shot at it the ‘Hawks’ happy scrum. Chicago’s Corey Crawford looked as if he was playing with an oven mitt on his left hand. It was all great fun.
Claude Julien, the Bruins’ pro-systems’ coach, wasn’t all that wild about the way the evening played out. He explained why: “I just think we weren't very sharp in our decision making. Where we talked about we have layers, our D’s were pinching, our forwards were not really covering up, weren't totally committed to that part of the game.”
Translation: there was too much unstructured hockey going on. And coaches hate unstructured hockey the way they loathe being told by the media, “You should play Toews with Patrick Kane more often.” (After finally reuniting Toews and Kane on Wednesday, Quenneville admitted, “I’m sure they’re excited about returning together. Maybe it looks like I didn’t know what I was doing.”)
As expected, the ‘Hawks thrived best in the wide-open affair while the Bruins were occasionally hesitant and sluggish and it hurt them, enough to make super-man defenceman Zdeno Chara appear vulnerable. The probability is that, for all the goal-scoring frivolity of Game 4, we’re about to see a return to normalcy in Saturday’s Game 5. That means more stranglehold defensive play, more blocked shots, more predictably and fewer goals.
It’ll still be dramatic. It just won’t be as unscripted. The coaches will love it.
Shanahan the Man in Calgary
There is no signed contract yet; no official announcement. But NHL administrator Brendan Shanahan is about to become the Calgary Flames’ new head of hockey operations.
Shanahan and the Flames have reached an agreement and will confirm it once the Stanley Cup Final is completed, according to a well-placed source. (Are there any other kind?) Shanahan is currently the NHL’s director of player safety and he reviews game incidents for supplementary discipline, his primary function.
Various media outlets reported Shanahan was in Calgary last Friday and met with Flames’ principal owner Murray Edwards. The two have gotten to know each other through league business during the past two years and discussed the Flames and how the franchise should proceed.
It has also been reported Calgary spoke with former NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell, although there has been no information of a face-to-face meeting. Speculation has it the Flames have been approached by Joe Nieuwendyk, the former team captain who was recently fired as GM of the Dallas Stars.
According to the source, the Flames consider Shanahan as their top choice and that his hiring “is basically a done deal.”
The Flames plan to slide current president and CEO Ken King into a new role, one that would see him step up the team’s pursuit of a new arena. Behind the scenes, Calgary team officials have worked closely with the Edmonton Oilers, who stickhandled their way to a new $480 million downtown arena targeted for the start of the 2016-17 NHL season. The Oilers got the city on board; doing the same in Calgary will be far more challenging given Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s beliefs.
“It will be hard to convince me it’s a good use of public money,” he recently told The Globe and Mail. “What’s wrong with the ‘Dome?”
With Shanahan in charge of the hockey side, it is expected he will work closely with general manager Jay Feaster, who will spearhead the team’s efforts at the coming NHL entry draft.
Shanahan has worked at the NHL head office since 2010 but has no experience in overseeing how a franchise goes about its hockey work.
The final words go to Boston’s Brad Marchand, who was involved in a scrum/fight at the end of Game 3 with Chicago’s Andrew Shaw.
“Stuff happens in hockey, especially in the playoffs with tempers running high,” said Marchand, who added Shaw tried to gouge him in the eye while the two were scrapping. “I’ve done that (punched a guy laying on the ice) before. The eye gouge is what I didn’t particularly like, but it is part of the game. I’ve got a nice little scratch mark on my forehead from the claw marks from the, you know, kitty cat.”
Kitty cat? We may have now seen and heard it all in a Cup final.