The Pittsburgh Penguins let the Ottawa Senators have their fun. Like good visitors, they were accommodating and allowed their hosts to have a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3.
In Game 4, the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded team re-established the natural order of things by dominating seventh-seeded Ottawa 7-3 on Wednesday – scoring six straight goals in less than 30 minutes over the second and third periods.
It didn’t matter if goalie Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh’s second of these playoffs, gave up juicy rebounds. The Penguins can score. And score. And score some more.
In all, nine Penguins – half the skaters they dressed — found their way to the score sheet, but none more prolifically than defenseman Kris Letang, who had four assists. James Neal had two goals and an assist. Jarome Iginla – think he’s glad he accepted that trade from Calgary? – added two goals and Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis each recorded a goal and an assist.
Pittsburgh entered the game with the second- and third-leading scorers in the playoffs, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but Malkin did not even record a point. Letang and Paul Martin were tied for second in points among defensemen with nine. Letang now has a comfortable three-point lead over Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
Behind an empowering first period, the Senators drew first blood with another shorthanded goal – just as they had done in the final minute of regulation in Game 3 to force overtime – with a superhuman effort by Milan Michalek. It represented their first lead in the series other than the game-winning goal on Monday night. By the end of the period, they led 2-1.
Then the Penguins’ unreal firepower reasserted itself, as they scored the next six goals, chasing Senators goalie Craig Anderson from the game at 9:53 of the third period on Iginla’s second goal.
The Penguins can — and should — wrap up the series in Game 5 on Friday at home.
As Canucks seek new coach, where have you gone, Mr. Robinson?
Two seasons after taking his team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Alain Vigneault was let go by the Vancouver Canucks as head coach, along with his assistants.
Whoever fills his shoes (or skates) faces a daunting task. The Canucks have a mature roster with stars like Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. The expectations will remain through the roof, something that general manager Mike Gillis addressed in his news conference on Wednesday.
The media market is one of the NHL’s most intense. Combine that with the expectations and it’s not an easy place for a rookie head coach. An ideal candidate would have been Kirk Muller, who played in the league for a long time and cut his teeth as an assistant in another pressure-cooker market in Montreal. But Muller is taken, in Carolina.
Former longtime Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff could be a trendy name, but his wry, task-master style might not go over well (with the players, fans or media, though he is of a Western Canadian pedigree). In many of his years in Buffalo, Ruff did not work with high-end talent like Vancouver’s roster possesses. His teams usually ground it out behind great goaltending.
One intriguing name – if he’s interested – could be that of San Jose assistant Larry Robinson. He won the 2000 Stanley Cup as head coach of New Jersey. That team was loaded with high-end talent, and he is a Hall of Fame player himself, winning instant credibility. He played in Montreal and knows what pressure is all about.
No matter who Vigneault’s replacement is, he will have one factor in his favor that Vigneault did not in his final season: the ongoing saga of goalie Roberto Luongo and his contract that “sucks,” according to Luongo, is sure to be gone. Cory Schneider has supplanted Luongo as the team’s No. 1, but Luongo and his 12-year, $64-million contract has been impossible to trade, rendering his situation an enormous distraction for the whole team. But he will be gone next season. That much Gillis has promised.
Luongo, who has all but outed himself on Twitter as “Strombone,” posted a somewhat sentimental tweet on Wednesday.
With that distraction removed and a potential influx of talent in return once the Canucks trade him, Vancouver again should be one of the league’s better teams. The lingering question will be whether the Canucks can produce in the postseason after Vigneault’s back-to-back first-round exits in ’12 and ’13 or if they will continue to disappoint.
Blackhawks need more from Seabrook
If the Chicago Blackhawks find a way to get eliminated in the second round by arch-rival Detroit, it would represent a bust of epic proportions.
Not only did Detroit barely qualify for the playoffs, but the ‘Hawks also went the entire first half of the season without a loss in regulation, setting the league afire. Now, they are in danger of going down in flames.
One player the Blackhawks could use more from is defenseman Brent Seabrook. When the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, Seabrook was the defense partner of eventual Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner Duncan Keith and finished 13th in the voting himself.
In these playoffs, Seabrook, who has the largest salary-cap hit of any Blackhawks defenseman at $5.8 million per season, has fallen to fifth among the Blackhawks’ six defensemen in average time on ice at 19:51 per game. His minus-3 rating also is fifth among the team’s six defensemen. Lastly, he has the dubious honor of being one of only four Blackhawks without a point in eight postseason games.
After getting badly outplayed in Game 1 when the Red Wings were coming off a grueling seven-game series with Anaheim, Detroit has outscored Chicago 7-2 in the last two games. They could use some better defensive play to get back in the series.
Seabrook’s play could raise intriguing questions come the offseason. With the salary cap decreasing by some $6 million and raises due to some good young players like Bryan Bickell, the ‘Hawks will be strapped to shed salary. Would they look to move the 28-year-old? If Seabrook picks up his play, he could help answer that question.