Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

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Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

As good as he has been, as dominant as he has been, as absolutely overpowering as Henrik Lundqvist has been against the Flyers in particular, this could be the defining spring for him.
 
Only once in his past seven playoffs has Lundqvist been able to get the Rangers to an Eastern Conference finals.
 
Some observers think it has to change, and it begins in the opening round against the Flyers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
 
That Vezina Trophy that Lundqvist won in 2012 can’t erase the fact that he hasn’t been a clutch goalie in the playoffs, in which he's put up a 30-37 record. That's when reputations are forged in the NHL.
 
Gotta Cup?
 
Lundqvist said he’s come to realize postseason play is not assured anymore.
 
“You definitely don’t take it for granted,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “You have to earn it and you have to work really hard to get here, and for each round you appreciate every moment, I think. It’s part of getting older, too, realizing how lucky you are to be in that position.
 
“When I was younger I expected it a lot more. Coming here, I played a lot of finals back home, coming here, maybe it’s been a little bit of a different approach. But now I just look forward to the challenge. And try to win, that’s the ultimate goal now. I’m just really excited to get started.”
 
His coach, Alain Vigneault, believes pressure hones your skills. He had Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and saw firsthand: Luongo never won the so-called “big one.”
 
“Obviously, I believe having been in that situation before, playing in big pressure games should help a player,” Vigneault said. “In Hank’s case, he’s been through the biggest games possible except for the Stanley Cup finals.
 
“So he’s been waiting for this moment, I would say just like the rest of our team. We had to first get in, now we’re one of the 16 teams that has a chance for the Cup, and I would say all the teams have a chance at it and we’ve got to take it one game at a time. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
 
Assuming he plays, at the other end of the ice, Steve Mason has just four playoff games on his resume. All with Columbus. All in his rookie year. And all losses.
 
Lundqvist has played in 67 playoff games. He’s battle-tested.
 
“I don’t know if it’s a help,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you. Being younger, you look at the game differently, you learn from it every year and maybe I have a different approach now than when I was 20 or 23.
 
“But the emotions you feel during the game are pretty much the same. You’re nervous, you’re excited, and the highs and lows are incredible, actually, through the playoffs and the series. The way you feel, some days are tough and some days are unbelievable. When you’re winning big games at home, that’s probably the best feeling.”
 
Winning Game 1 is paramount for the Flyers, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Craig Berube’s players are highly cognizant of the fact they have not won at Madison Square Garden in three years (see story).
 
To lose another game would only greatly increase the pressure to absolutely win Game 2 or go home facing a possible sweep. The Flyers can’t afford that.
 
For the Rangers, to lose Game 1 would plant an element of doubt into a team that fought the Flyers tooth and nail down the stretch for second place in the Metro Division. They split the season series, 2-2.
 
“I don’t know how important it is,” Lundqvist said of Game 1. “I think we just want to go out and have a good start and not overthink it or put too much pressure on ourselves.
 
“It’s the first to four wins, it’s about getting that first win, it’s about getting that fourth win. The mindset going into this, it’s always important.”

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

WINDSOR, Ontario — Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls is hoping a move back to wing will make him a more versatile player as he looks to make the jump to pro hockey next season.

Dove-McFalls, a natural center, has spent parts of his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playing wing because of injuries among the Sea Dogs' forward group.

The 20-year-old is hoping his versatility will help earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers and a spot in Lehigh Valley.

"It can only be beneficial for me to play both positions, it'll help me be more versatile for when I get to the next level," Dove-McFalls said Monday at the Memorial Cup. "Some guys play one position their whole career, they have to play there, otherwise they're not able to play their game, so I think it's only good for me that I spent some time playing the wing this year."

A knee injury limited the 6-foot-1, 202-pound forward to just 29 games last season. Even when he did return to the Saint John lineup, Dove-McFalls admitted he wasn't 100 percent.

However, after a full summer of training, the Montreal native felt better than ever entering the 2016-17 season.

"I did a lot of power skating. I felt my skating was better and I felt a lot more confident out there," he said. "Last year, I was getting a little frustrated and stuff.

"[I] got more explosive and I think I move around the ice a lot better."

The work put in during the summer paid off this season as Dove-McFalls set new career highs for goals (17) and points (53) in 66 games with the Sea Dogs. He added five goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

One of Dove-McFalls' goals for this season was to earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers. He has until June 1 to do so before the Flyers lose his exclusive rights, according to CapFriendly.com. Drafted in the fourth round (98th overall) in 2015, Dove-McFalls could make the jump to the Phantoms next season if signed.

"Obviously, you do [think about it], but you have to play for the team," Dove-McFalls said. "I don't control what they do and what decision they make. All I can do is try to play my best.

"When the team does well, then everyone does well. Hopefully, that's going to happen, that's the plan."

Dove-McFalls is in constant communication with Flyers player development coach John Riley, and the two don't always talk just hockey.

"[He] just sends me articles about pro athletes and what the pro life is all about," Dove-McFalls said. "Not necessarily always just hockey — stuff that's off the ice too. When he does come and watch me play, he focuses more on the hockey part.

"[The articles] show how hard it is to be a pro and how dedicated you have to be to the game. Articles on Tom Brady or Kobe Bryant — those greats who are dedicated to their game."

Dove-McFalls continued a trend for Flyers prospects this spring. He became the fourth straight to win a President Trophy as QMJHL champions, joining Philippe Myers (Rouyn-Noranda, 2016), Sam Morin (Rimouski, 2015) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Val-d'Or, 2014).

Described as a big two-way forward who can kill penalties and contribute offensively, Dove-McFalls points to current Flyer Sean Couturier and Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal as NHLers he tries to model his game after.

In order to make that jump to the pro game, Saint John coach Danny Flynn thinks Dove-McFalls needs to continue improving on his skating.

"He has to continue to work on foot speed. He has to continue to play a solid two-way game, but he has a good feel for how he's got to play," Flynn said. "If I were to be critical, because all young kids need development from our best player to our weakest player, foot speed would be an area that he'd like to improve on."

Seeing youngsters such as Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov make the jump to the NHL has Dove-McFalls excited for the future.

"It's interesting," he said. "Obviously, they had nine or 10 guys at the world juniors this year and then you have Konecny and Provorov who were already on the team, so that's exciting. We have a lot of good young prospects.

"I think the organization is moving in the right direction. I'm not really looking too far ahead, I realize I'm still a long ways away, but it's good they're going in the right direction stockpiling prospects."

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Predators down Ducks to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Different players just keep stepping up for the Nashville Predators, and now their magical postseason run has an even bigger destination: the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Colton Sissons scored his third goal with 6:00 left, and the Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 win in Game 6 on Monday night in the Western Conference finals.

"In the back of your head, you've been thinking about the Finals and then when the buzzer goes off, it's an amazing feeling," Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said.

The Predators, who've never won even a division title in their 19-year history, came in with the fewest points of any team in these playoffs. They lost their top center, Ryan Johansen, for the playoffs after Game 4 because of emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher has missed two games with an upper-body injury.

"We went through a tremendous amount of adversity the last 72 hours losing two key guys in our lineup," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said. "I mean, I said it before earlier in the playoffs that this team's got tremendous amount of composure. There is so much confidence in this dressing room what we can accomplish together if we play the right way."

They've swept the West's No. 1 seed in Chicago, downed St. Louis in six in the second round and now the Pacific Division champs. Peter Laviolette is the fourth coach to take three different teams to the Final, and the first since the playoffs split into conference play in 1994.

Laviolette joked that probably means he's been fired a lot.

"Our guys know the big picture," Laviolette said of his Predators. "They understand what it is that we're trying to do here. And when that time comes, we'll be ready."

The Predators will play either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

Anaheim lost in the conference finals for the second time in three years.

"Our effort was there and we were a desperate hockey club right from the opening faceoff, and we didn't quit until they scored the second empty-net goal," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Cam Fowler tied it 3-3 at 8:52 of the third for Anaheim as the Ducks tried to rally for the fifth time this season when trailing by multiple goals.

But Sissons, who scored on the third shot of the game, scored twice in a wild third period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:00 and then 4-3 three minutes later.

"I don't think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can't speak enough for just our whole group," Sissons said. "We've been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are."

Austin Watson scored on Nashville's first shot and had an empty-netter with 1:34 to go. Filip Forsberg also had an empty-net goal.

Rinne made 38 saves to improve to 12-4.

Ondrej Kase scored his second career goal -- both in this series -- giving Anaheim a chance to tie the NHL record with a fifth rally when trailing by multiple goals. Chris Wagner banked the puck off Rinne's head for a goal at 5:00 of the third to keep the Ducks close.

But this has been the best postseason ever for Rinne, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, a stretch ranking among the NHL's best. And the 6-foot-5 Finn used his big body to turn away shot after shot even with the Ducks trying to crash the net every opportunity.

Music City buzzed all day leading up to the puck drop waiting for one of the biggest sports parties this town has ever seen.

Superstar Garth Brooks spoiled the usual mystery of who would sing the national anthem with Twitter hints hours before the game. Sure enough, his wife Trisha Yearwood became the latest to handle the honors. Former Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George waved the rally towel to crank up the fans.

That didn't even include the throngs packing the plaza outside the arena's front doors and the park across the street.

The Ducks, who came in 2-1 when facing elimination this postseason, peppered Rinne with pucks.

But they had goalie Jonathan Bernier making his first career playoff start after John Gibson was scratched with a hamstring injury. Caryle said Gibson, who went out after the first period of Game 5, was expected to play before telling them he was unavailable after skating Monday morning. Jhonas Enroth dressed as Bernier's backup.

Watson's third this postseason deflected off the left skate of Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour just 81 seconds into the game. Sissons skated on the top line in place of Johansen. He finished a game-high plus-5.

"This one is going to sting for a while," Ducks forward Corey Perry said.

Notes
Laviolette won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached Philadelphia to the Final in 2010. Laviolette joins Scotty Bowman (St. Louis, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Detroit), Dick Irvin (Chicago, Toronto and Montreal) and Mike Keenan (Flyers, Chicago, Rangers) taking at least three teams to the Final. ... Sissons' hat trick was the first in a conference final clincher since Chicago's Patrick Kane in 2013 against Los Angeles. His hat trick is the second in Nashville playoff history.