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Cullen: Seabrook, Habs, Sharks and more

Scott Cullen
4/21/2014 2:28:48 AM
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Scott Cullen looks at the Brent Seabrook suspension (and wakey, wakey), the Habs putting the Lightning on the brink and the Sharks smacking down the Kings, while the Flyers and Bruins both got back to even ground.

SEABROOK SUSPENSION

Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook was suspended for three games as a result of his Game Two hit on Blues C David Backes. While Seabrook knows how long his sentence will be, the Blues don't know when Backes will be cleared to return to action.

Let me start by saying this: both Seabrook and Backes could play on my team any day. They are both really good players who play hard hockey and I like the way they play, a lot.

Seabrook is a physical defenceman that has accumulated 475 hits over the past three seasons, with only 67 penalty minutes, in 207 games. If anything, Seabrook's rep, to some degree, has been that he's been a high-profile victim of nasty hits, including this one by James Wisniewski and this one by Raffi Torres.

So when Seabrook unloaded on Backes in this manner, it wasn't exactly something that was part of his standard operating procedure.

There are a few elements at play that I think lead to this hit. First of all, the stakes are extremely high for the Blackhawks and Blues. Both teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and one of them will be done after the first round. To that end, it's been a physical series and when the Blackhawks see captain Jonathan Toews get crunched with a big hit by Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves in Game One, that fuels the fire. (Note, in the aftermath of Seabrook's hit that Toews is front-and-centre with some words for Backes. They do have some history.) That's not to say that the Blackhawks were on a mission to exact revenge, only that when the Blackhawks' captain is getting rocked, they're not likely to let up if they catch an opponent in a vulnerable spot.

My guess about the play is that Seabrook anticipated that Backes was going to pick up the puck as it ringed around the boards, and Backes tried to handle the puck but lost it, and Seabrook saw an opportunity to deliver a big hit in the corner (maybe even knowing it was Backes), committed to it, and then when Backes didn't have the puck, he followed through anyway. Seabrook certainly didn't seem bothered by the result of the play.

Now, whatever Toews said to Backes, it appears to be someone else weighing in that has really raised the temperature. As an obviously groggy Backes was struggling to stay on his feet, leaning on the boards, it sounds like one of the Blackhawks (Duncan Keith has been the prime suspect for video sleuths) taunts the Blues centre, saying, "Wakey, wakey, Backes." That Keith was slashing his way through the game doesn't add anything positive to what is possibly the second Norris Trophy-winning season of his career.

It's unseemly to taunt an injured player, not least of all when the injury is highly likely to be a concussion, and Blues LW Alexander Steen was suitably ticked off in response, but my suspicion is that this isn't the first time an injured player has been on the receiving end of verbal jabs. They're just not always picked up by rinkside microphones.

What makes the NHL playoffs the best part of the sports calendar is the intensity, how much the players really care about winning and losing, but that isn't always reflected in courageous moments worthy of promotion.

Maybe I'm holding NHL players to a lower standard, and in no way am I suggesting it's a cool boys-will-be-boys situation, but I think it's more about insanely competitive people in an emotionally-charged atmosphere losing sight of where the lines are drawn for good taste and acceptable behaviour.

I've long maintained that an X-rated NHL channel, one that includes audio from the benches and players miked up on the ice, would be amazing, yet don't imagine that the league would ever do it. Not because players start every third word with F, rather, it's the other talk that goes so beyond socially acceptable behaviour, that it would be a PR nightmare.

For as much as increased access can add flavour, sometimes you don't really want to know how the sausage is made.

FLYERS EVEN

Flyers G Ray Emery was a standout, stopping 31 of 33 shots by the New York Rangers, helping Philadelphia to a 4-2 win in Game Two, tying the series at one game apiece.

In a game that saw the New York Rangers dominate possession rather handily, with nearly 60% of the five-on-five play, the Flyers rallied from an early 2-0 deficit, getting goals from Jakub Voracek, Jason Akeson and Luke Schenn before Wayne Simmonds hit the empty net to ice the game in the final minute.

Akeson, who was something of a goat for his costly double-minor penalty in the first game of the series, scored a power play goal and was the Flyers' best possession player (77.8% Corsi%) while skating primarily with Sean Couturier and Matt Read and Akeson started in the offensive zone only once in a dozen shifts that started with 5-on-5 face-offs.

At the other end of the spectrum for the Flyers, D Andrew MacDonald -- who recently signed a six-year, $30-million contract extension -- was destroyed at even strength, with a 16.7% Corsi%, yet he played the most even-strength minutes of any Flyers blueliner.

There's nothing wrong with the end result -- take the split on the road any way you can get it -- but the Flyers will need to be better when they return home for Game Three. They can't bank on Ray Emery outdueling Henrik Lundqvist on a consistent basis.

BRUINS BOUNCE BACK

The Boston Bruins started quickly in Game Two, jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead while outshooting the Detroit Red Wings 18-10 in the first period, on their way to a 4-1 victory, which evened the series 1-1.

Boston's second and fourth goals came on the power play and there was a time late in the first period that the Red Wings appeared to be getting lured into the Bruins' rough-and-tumble game.

In the overall game, the Red Wings had strong enough possession numbers, but the Bruins carried leads of two-plus goals for more than 44 minutes, so score effects negate the value that Detroit might wish to take from those stats. Bruins G Tuukka Rask stopped 34 of 35 shots for the win.

RW Jarome Iginla and D Torey Krug each contributed a couple of assists for Boston, who got goals from LW Justin Florek, RW Reilly Smith, LW Milan Lucic and D Zdeno Chara.

Florek, the 23-year-old, 6-foot-4 rookie out of Northern Michigan, has been filling in for Chris Kelly at left wing on the third line, with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson, and hasn't looked out of place. Guess it's not just the Red Wings that can take an unheralded young forward and seamlessly slide them into the lineup.

LIGHTNING IN TROUBLE

A disallowed goal proved to be the difference as the Montreal Canadiens held on to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.

For the second straight game, Canadiens LW Rene Bourque was force, scoring once and registering eight shots on goal as part of a dominant possession game when he was on the ice, his most shots on goal in a Montreal uniform.

Canadiens RW Brendan Gallagher had a goal and an assist, giving him four points in three games in this series. Gallagher, playing with C Tomas Plekanec and LW Brandon Prust, has also been strong in possession terms, so his point production is backed by solid underlying numbers.

Montreal D P.K. Subban added a pair of assists, playing more than 28 minutes in Game Three, to give him four points in the series.

It's too early to go assigning blame, but one player that the Lightning could use more from is RW Ryan Callahan, who has no points, three shots on goal and a minus-4 rating, with a 47.4% Corsi, while his ice time ranks fourth among Tampa Bay forwards in this series.

Lightning C Steven Stamkos, who left the game for a bit after taking a knee to the head from Canadiens D Alexei Emelin, assisted on both Tampa Bay goals, giving him four points in three games, but it hasn't been enough for the Lightning, who need a miracle if they are going to rally from a three-games-to-none deficit.

SHARKS BITE KINGS

After losing 6-3 to the San Jose sharks in Game One, the Los Angeles Kings needed a good start to Game Two, and they got it, leading 2-0 before the game was 10 minutes old.

From that point on, however, it was all Sharks, as San Jose scored seven unanswered goals, with several more close calls, as the game turned into a rout.

The Kings could have known they were in trouble by the nature of the players that got the Sharks on the board. San Jose's first two goals were scored by RW Mike Brown, a winger who has five goals in 145 games over the past three seasons, and LW Raffi Torres, with both goals set up by Andrew Desjardins (incidentally, those three forwards had the worst possession numbers for San Jose in Game Two). Add in a goal by D Justin Braun, and suddenly the Kings were losing without any of the Sharks' big guns firing.

San Jose rectified that in the third period, as Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton all tallied. Pavelski finished with three points, while rookie RW Matt Nieto and D Dan Boyle each added two assists.

Kings G Jonathan Quick was in net for all seven goals against, on 40 shots, and while that is a tough night in the cage by any measure, it also stood out that none of the goals were on deflections or rebounds. There were screens, sure, but every goal came on an initial shot and to have that happen seven times in one game is rare for any goaltender, let alone one that has played as well in the playoffs as Quick had prior to this season.

After being outscored 13-5 in two games, Los Angeles will return home licking its proverbial wounds, but until a team gets a crack on home ice, it's too soon to write them off entirely. What the Kings need, in addition to some semblance of a possession game, is that they need Quick to be far better than he's shown through the first couple games. Without goaltending, it's going to be virtually impossible to knock off a team as strong as the Sharks.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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