Voynov, Kings break Blackhawks' lead in half
JUN 04, 2013 7:09p ET
Like a martial arts master breaking a board with his hand and moving on to the next one, Voynov proved that he, too, can break things and continue on, breaking a stick and still scoring a goal in the second period Tuesday. And the champs proved that they are going to be hard to kill in this series, beating Chicago 3-1 at Staples Center to finally draw blood and draw to within 2-1 in the Western Conference final.
“It was a broken bat single by Voynov that found a way in the net,” Justin Williams would tell the media after the game. “Even though Slava doesn’t speak a lot English, he talks a lot on the ice surprisingly. You always know when he is open. He jumped in the play and he has scored some huge goals for us.”
In breaking his stick and still managing to deflect the puck off the side of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford for a 2-0 lead, Voynov put himself in some exclusive company:
• He leads the NHL with four game-winning goals this postseason.
• His five goals this postseason are tied for the most among all defensemen (with Boston’s Johnny Boychuk) and are a Kings franchise single-postseason record for defensemen.
• His 11 points this postseason (he also had an assist Tuesday) are second in the NHL (tied with Boston’s Zdeno Chara), five goals behind Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang.
Oh yeah, and now the Kings can even the series with a win Thursday at Staples Center (where they are 8-0 this postseason).
In the third period, a Voynov slapshot — and, admittedly, we're taking some creative license here — practically broke Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson at 2:24. Hjalmarsson turned to his side to block the shot and block it he did but by positioning himself sideways, Hjalmarsson exposed himself so that the puck hit him on the inside of his left knee — an area unprotected by equipment.
Hjalmarsson lay prone on the ice as the Kings’ power play continued. Despite being further undermanned, the Blackhawks killed the penalty.
At 19:26 of the third period, Chicago cut the lead to 2-1 on Bryan Bickell's seventh goal of the playoffs, placing the unlikely left wing just one off the playoff lead. However, the Kings held off the Blackhawks' late charge with great saves by Jonathan Quick and an empty-net goal by Dwight King with 28 seconds left.
Coming off a subpar performance in Game 2, the Kings got back to their physical, stifling defensive style on home ice. Plus, Quick was back in his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning form of last year after being pulled in Game 2 for the first time this postseason. The Kings allowed but 10 shots through the first 40 minutes on Tuesday and Quick finished with 19 saves.
The Kings looked as if they were marked for death after the first two games of the series but with players capable of heroics like Williams, who scored Tuesday’s first goal and leads all active players in Game 7 goals, and Voynov, don't count out the Kings just yet.
Their confidence seems to be unbreakable and they more than a glimmer of hope.
Gettin’ a little chippy, eh?
Toward the end of the Blackhawks’ Game 2 thrashing of the kings, tempers understandably flared. On Tuesday night, they carried over to Game 3.
First, Williams gave Patrick Sharp a faceoff bump, Sharp replied with a friendly crosscheck, and then the gloves dropped. But the referees kept the fists from flying — and the two from spending five minutes in the box.
Then things got scarier with little more than 12 minutes left in the second period, when Chicago’s Duncan Keith, after jostling with Kings sniper Jeff Carter, high-sticked Carter in the face from behind. The play left Carter in need of postgame dental work, put Keith in the box with a double minor, and left the defenseman apologizing during and after the game.
The league’s Department of Player Safety is also reviewing the play.
"I have no idea," Keith told the media after the game when he was asked if he thinks he will hear from the NHL regarding the play. "I just said it was an accident."
The wilting flower of Penguins goalies
When the Pittsburgh Penguins went on a 15-game winning streak during the regular season, they seemed an unstoppable juggernaut. After losing 6-1 to Boston in Game 2 at home on Monday — a game in which they trailed 4-1 at first intermission — the Penguins are unthinkably starting to resemble road kill.
The troubles begin in goal. The Penguins rank 10th among 16 teams in goals-per-game in the playoffs at 2.85. Much of the reason for those struggles fall at the feet of Marc-Andre Fleury, the team’s goalie during its 2009 Stanley Cup season who was replaced in the first round by Tomas Vokoun against the Islanders. Vokoun was pulled in the first period of Game 2 after allowing three goals but Fleury allowed three himself.
Since earning the starting job, Vokoun has risen to the challenge, ranking sixth in save percentage at .929 among goaltenders with at least three postseason starts. For his part, Fleury — nicknamed “Flower” — ranks 19th in save percentage at a garish .883.
Coach Dan Bylsma faces an unenviable decision as to which goalie to start in Game 3 in Boston when the Penguins try to revive their chances. Bylsma was grim-faced as he met with reporters on Tuesday and revealed little.
“You know, in terms of learning something from the goaltending situation, I think Tomas Vokoun went in and won two hockey games and a series for us in Long Island and played very good in a five-game series against Ottawa,” Bylsma said of the first two rounds, according to a transcript provided by the league. “Last night it was a situation where I don’t think through the first three goals – we’re really faulting Tomas for those goals or pulling him because of his performance in that as much as giving our team a jolt and giving Marc-Andre Fleury an opportunity to go back into that game. I very much still feel like we were very much -- had the minds of coming back and winning that hockey game.”
One factor that could be affecting the Penguins is what happens to a team when it gets inconsistent goaltending. The confidence of the skaters in front of the goalie starts to erode and it spreads to other areas like some sort of malignant disease.
Certainly, to make a series of it, the Penguins will have to regain their mojo. Part of the problem: in the opposite goal Boston’s Tuukka Rask owns the No. 3 save percentage among starting goalies in these playoffs at .935.
Visors officially mandatory
After meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, the NHL’s competition committee announced that next season it would make the wearing of visors mandatory for all players coming into the league and for those who have played 25 games or less.
The league has seen enough grisly incidents over the years with players getting hit in the face and, in particular, the eyes. Notably, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, a former All-Star, was hit in the eye with a deflected puck on March 5 in a game against Philadelphia and only played once after that for the remainder of the season: in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs on May 6.
Mathieu Schneider, a special assistant with the union, explained the decision to the media after the meeting.
So, 34 years after the league made helmets mandatory, it has followed suit with the face shields. One unintended consequence – or perhaps intended — is what visors might do to fighting.
Michael Farber, who spent nearly two decades as Sports Illustrated’s national hockey writer, raised the question on Twitter on Tuesday in response to a comment from this correspondent
Interesting to see how grandfathered visors eventually affect NHL fighting.— Michael Farber (@MichaelFarber3) June 4, 2013
@jmanasso Seriously, this could be a dagger. Will we have ritualized helmet removing, a la juniors? Who knows?— Michael Farber (@MichaelFarber3) June 4, 2013
In Canadian junior hockey, where visors are mandatory, players who are ready to fight add to the gladiatorial nature of the event by removing their helmets as they circle each other before throwing their first blows.
The NHL board of governors must approve the change but if it does, it raises a further question: Will the league create a new penalty for players who remove their helmets so they can fight?
The league has policed fighting in regards to equipment in the past, awarding a game misconduct if a player’s so-called “fight strap” is not secured, allowing his jersey to come off his head during a fight.