Lou to join Islanders as president of hockey operations

In a move that’s been rumored for a few weeks and reported yesterday by Arthur Staple of the Athletic website, the Islanders moved to hire longtime NHL exec Lou Lamoriello as their president of hockey operations, mere weeks after he left his post as GM of the Leafs.  I can’t say I’m all that surprised Lou returned to the tri-state area (though I would have been floored if it was with the Rangers and not the Isles), especially with son Chris Lamoriello already holding a front office position in the organization – not to mention former ex-Devils Chris Terreri and Scott Gomez on their coaching staff.  As much as I and others made fun of Lou constantly bringing ex-Devs home, he’s already got a few there to greet him.  I’m sure others will follow in time…Tom Gulitti (among others) speculated he might bring aboard Scott Stevens as part of his coaching staff which would make a lot of sense, since the former HOF defenseman and current NHL Network analyst always seemed to have one foot in coaching but the other foot toward staying near family.

Even above nepotism and speculated reunions – another possible one being with head scout David Conte, now an advisor on the (gasp) Western Conference champion Golden Knights – the main reason for Lou’s hiring seems to be to give the organization more credibility, doubly important with franchise center John Tavares set to test free agency in another month.  It’s no secret the Islanders have operated in fits and starts in the twelve-year tenure of Garth Snow (has it really been that long?), and while it’s speculated his contract status all but precludes his firing, the stripping of Snow’s power was rumored all offseason by Staple who deserves credit for being first with both the initial rumors and the actual hiring of Lou.

It’s been reported Lou already spoke to Tavares – at least informally before the hiring was official or announced.  You would think Lou would have a pretty good idea he would be able to convince JT to stay before taking this job, especially considering Lou’s not going to take another job at age 76 to rebuild.  Of course heaven forbid Lou had done this sort of thing with the Devils (speak as an emissiary to a top FA while still technically under contract as an advisor to another team) and the NHL PR police would have been all over us left and right, threatening to take away a pick or fine us.  While you can certainly question Lou’s record in the post-cap era, he’ll be worth his salary to new Isles owners Scott Ledecky and Johnathan Malkin with just two actions…re-signing Tavares and being a GM upgrade over Snow, assuming Lou or Lou via Chris becomes the GM.  He’ll run hockey operations in Brooklyn, giving him more power than he had in Toronto where he was the GM under Brendan Shanahan.

While it certainly won’t be easy for Lou to build a winner in the brutally tough Metro division, he’s never backed down from a challenge before.  As a Devils fan I have mixed feelings on this move.  Clearly Lou can do and go wherever he wants after being relieved as GM in Toronto, and the Isles – while a tri-state area competitor have never been a blood rival like the Rangers or Flyers.  It’ll be annoying having him be more of a direct competitor to us going forward, especially since the Lou-Shero comparisons had started to die down among Devil fans with the team’s run to the playoffs this year, but it’ll be more pronounced than ever now.  Part of me is rolling my eyes a little with Lou at age 76 taking over a brand new job since it certainly isn’t the norm for any chief executive in any sport (and he certainly doesn’t need the job for money or legacy-building), but that’s just stupid ageism…hey I hope I’m as active and vibrant as he is at that age.

I’ve had my own criticisms of post-cap Lou in his last ten years as a GM here – mainly being slow to adjust to the quicker, faster NHL style – but him trying to win isn’t one of them.  Sure, the Devils as a franchise should have tried to rebuild a year or two before they started that process in earnest under Ray Shero.  That said, I never like to pull out the if you’re a real fan card…but if you’re a real fan you appreciate the fact Lou always tried to win without relying on the tankathon card to go for high draft picks, and I’m sure he’ll do the same in Brooklyn.  It’s easy for fans who don’t go to games and are more detached to say let’s wait five years and maybe start to win after getting a bunch of high picks but five years is a long time in life, you can’t sim through it like an EA video game.  Ask Sabres fans, playing the rebuild card doesn’t automatically lead to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Of course it would have been nice if Lou had gotten a GM job in say, Minnesota where we could follow him from afar, but how can you really blame him for taking this job?  It seemed a natural fit from the first rumors this offseason given all the factors stated above with a return to the tri-state area and being closer to his own family (not just Chris) away from the rink.  It’s sort of ironic that Lou shared in Devil fans hatred for the Rangers and Flyers for three decades here – famously not doing deals with either team – and now he goes to another team who’s rivaled with both.  I doubt there’ll be many Lou-Shero deals at this point either haha, our only one with Toronto in the last couple years involved the immortal Sergey Kalinin.

I’m not going to wish him good luck, he’s too close to home now for that but it certainly adds some more spice to local hockey with the Rangers in the middle of a rebuild.

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Conference Finals Preview: Fresh blood good for NHL

Unlike the past decade that’s been largely dominated by the Penguins, Blackhawks and Kings who combined for eight of the last nine Stanley Cups, there’s fresh blood in the Conference Finals which start tonight in Tampa with the Lightning hosting the Capitals.

Of the four teams left, only the Bolts have a wealth of experience. This will be their third Conference Finals appearance in the last four years and fifth of the decade. They lost to the Blackhawks in the 2015 Cup Final. That could come in handy with key additions Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller bringing added experience from deep runs with the Rangers.

While Tampa boasts the most players who have gone this far, the other three participants shouldn’t be discounted. The Caps, Golden Knights and Jets are all here on merit. Washington earning it by finally overcoming the two-time champion Pens in a excellent six-game series.

Now, Alexander Ovechkin finally gets a chance to show what he can do on a bigger stage. The game’s best finisher of this era has certainly been a big factor scoring and setting up goals including Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime series winner to stun Pittsburgh in Game 6. But the brilliant and consistent play from former Vezina winner Braden Holtby is the biggest reason they’re here. It’s amazing to think he didn’t start the Columbus series but has been brilliant since winning six of games.

The Golden Knights remain a unbelievable story as a expansion team that backed up winning the Pacific Division by dominating the Kings and wearing down the Sharks to reach this point. Marc-André Fleury is a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe with the former Stanley Cup champion with the Pens playing arguably his finest hockey. He’s the backbone of a total team that features a dynamic top line anchored by ever dangerous William Karlsson and flanked by Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. All four lines use speed and forechecking ability to tire out opponents under Jack Adams front runner Gerard Gallant. Nate Schmidt is the leader of a underrated blueline.

The Winnipeg Jets are appearing in their first ever Conference Final. For long time Jets fans who go back to the first Winnipeg team that featured Dale Hawerchuk and then Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk, it’s a emotional time after how the second franchise that relocated from Atlanta advanced by winning for a third time in Nashville taking Game 7 last night in convincing fashion 5-1.

Enough credit isn’t given to veteran coach Paul Maurice. Sure. Winnipeg has immense talent which explains how they were the West’s second best team during the regular season finishing only three points behind the Predators. In the seven-game second round series victory, Mark Scheifele scores huge goals in the three road wins. He’s a legit star with 11 markers this postseason. Blake Wheeler’s great set up to Scheifele late in the second on Thursday finished off Nashville. Wheeler is the most underrated captain with amazing skating and playmaking abilities.

That the Jets can come at opponents with rookie Kyle Connor on the top line and the electrifying sniper Patrik Laine on the second line with great deadline pickup Paul Stastny and speed demon Nikolaj Ehlers is scary. What’s scarier is Ehlers has yet to score a goal. The third and fourth lines are superb on the cycle. Still, it’s been the brilliant play of Dustin Byfuglien that has the Jets here. The physically imposing defenseman who won a Cup in Chicago is playing the best hockey of his career. He’s impacting games offensively and defensively with his physicality. He scored a few huge goals versus Nashville while delivering some crunching hits. Just ask P.K. Subban. Tyler Myers is playing strong defensively and Jacob Trouba makes this Winnipeg team tough to play against. In Game 7, they gave the Predators nothing.

If you’re able to get past all that, you must deal with Vezina finalist Connor Hellebuyck. He’s proven why he’s so highly thought of making key saves when called upon. He can be beaten but getting bodies to the net is the key.

As for the Lightning, they took out the Bruins in five games despite not too many goals from Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. They heated up towards the end with Stamkos, Kucherov and Miller hurting Boston the final two games. The play of dangerous second line trio Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point has been huge. They recovered from a awful Game 1 to help neutralize the Bruins top line while doing damage five-on-five. Palat always elevates his play in the Spring. He’s scoring big goals and hitting. Johnson is the smart two-way pivot who can score and set up goals while being a key penalty killer with Palat. Point is a game breaker who can flat out make defenders look silly with his blinding speed and finishing ability. Ask Zdeno Chara.

The scary aspect is the Bolts boast the best depth with the third line featuring Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn and rookie Anthony Cirelli able to contribute. The fourth line with Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan is your classic grind line that keeps play away from their net. When you combine a defense featuring certain Norris winner Victor Hedman with Anton Stralman, McDonagh and Dan Girardi, they are very tough. Don’t forget rookie Mikhail Sergachev who has a lethal shot.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is very good in net. He’s got lightning like reflexes like the team name. So, they are very complete.

On paper, the Bolts are the favorites. Winnipeg will be on the Western side. If it comes off, it would be a great Stanley Cup Final.

The Pick

The Caps are more together than past years which is why they’re here. But Nicklas Backstrom must be close to healthy for them to have a chance. Both John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov will have their work cut out along with Brooks Orpik, who could have issues with the Bolts speed. Ovechkin needs a huge series along with Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie. Tom Wilson is back and he can help annoy the Bolts stars. Holtby will have to stand on his head.

Honestly, I think the Lightning have too much here. They can create match up nightmares for the Capitals. Barry Trotz must come up with a way to slow down Jon Cooper’s Bolts, who can explode at any moment.

Series Prediction: Lightning 🌩 in 6

The Golden Knights are no joke. They play as a team and have enough speed both offensively and defensively to give Winnipeg a series. Winnipeg will focus on shutting down the top line of Karlsson which means James Neal, David Perron and Alex Tuch must step up along with Erik Haula. Cody Eakin, William Carrier and Ryan Carpenter are key bangers who must forecheck effectively.

Shea Theodore and Colin Miller are good skating defensemen who can contribute offensively. Deryk Engelland has become a match-up physical D who Gallant counts on with Schmidt.

In order for them to pull it off, they must stifle the dangerous Winnipeg attack. That means plenty of work for Fleury, who’s been amazing so far. The amount of traffic he’ll have to deal with along with side to side movement is daunting. He’s the backbone of the Golden Knights, who have a great home ice advantage just like the Jets with the Winnipeg Whiteout. It should be fun hockey.

If the Jets can impose their will, they’ll advance. The talent in the top six can really do damage. The depth is solid with Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Joel Armia able to factor in.

The Jets defense will get a good test against the Knights speed. But their physically and size could prove too much. If Hellebuyck holds up, they’ll move on and play for their first Cup.

Series Prediction: Jets in 6

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Ovechkin Caps finally get better of Crosby Pens

It had to happen eventually. In a year where most pundits including myself wrote them off even after they won the Metro Division, the Capitals finally proved they were better than the Penguins. Indeed, the Ovechkin Caps are moving on to their first Conference Final in 20 years after getting the better of the Crosby Pens.

They earned it the hard way by going to overtime before Alexander Ovechkin sprung series hero Evgeny Kuznetsov for a breakaway goal to defeat the Pens 2-1 in Game 6 at Pittsburgh. It ended a great run by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pens, who were seeking to become the first team to three-peat since the New York Islanders dynasty. They won back-to-back Stanley Cups and nine consecutive series. Similar to the Red Wings in ’99 and Lemieux/Jagr Pens in ’93, they lost in the second round.

Another similarity to that great Pens team is they fell in sudden death on home ice to get dethroned. The only difference is the ’93 team lost to the Islanders in seven with David Volek winning it. That was a bigger upset.

This was two evenly matched teams in a rivalry that had been one sided. In the first three meetings all in Round Two, the Pens advanced and went on to become champs. All-time, the Caps had only beaten the Pens once in 10 previous meetings, doing so in ’94. From a historical standpoint, this was arguably the most important win in franchise history.

Given who it involved, they needed this emotional victory. Maybe it was destined to go to overtime for Ovechkin to exorcise all the demons. His team had never been past this point. When it wasn’t the Pens breaking Caps hearts, it was the Rangers driving a stake through their heart in a memorable 2015 Conference Semifinal.

In the series, Ovechkin finished with three goals and four assists totaling seven points. It was his passing that made the biggest difference. In the 6-3 comeback win in Game 5, Ovechkin made a perfect pass to set up rookie Jakub Vrana’s game-winner late in regulation. A unselfish play by the greatest goalscorer of our generation.

In a tightly contested Game 6 with no room, Ovechkin came back hard on the back check to steal the puck following a Crosby turnover in the Caps zone. He then made a nice pass to a streaking Kuznetsov in the neutral zone that allowed the speedy younger Russian to break away. Once he was in on Matt Murray, he faked a backhand deke and tucked a forehand between Murray’s pads for the emotional series clincher at 5:27 of OT. Kuznetsov did his odd bird dance in celebration as Ovechkin and excited teammates mobbed him.

How much did it mean to Ovechkin? In a postgame interview, he had a classic reaction to Pierre McGuire’s question on Kuznetsov’s breakaway.

Well said. This meant everything to the Great Eight. He now gets to play in his first Eastern Conference Final. For the Caps, it won’t get any easier. They’ll face the number one seeded Lightning for a chance at a trip to a Stanley Cup. It was exactly 20 years ago that they made it before getting swept by the powerful Red Wings.

They’re here because they outplayed and outworked the Pens in the two biggest games of the second round. They turned around Game 5 with a unreal third period outscoring the Pens 4-0. Kuznetsov was again involved beating Murray on a breakaway 52 second into the third to tie the score. He was huge.

In Game 6 last night, the Pens didn’t get the strong start they needed in front of the home crowd at PPG Paints Arena. Instead, they were stuck in mud against a defensive minded Caps, who limited them to six shots in a nerve racking first. Neither team did much. But it was a perfect road period for Washington.

When they needed a big save, series MVP Braden Holtby gave it to them. Ever since he returned to the net, he’s been sensational. He turned the first round around against Columbus by winning four consecutive starts. He was the better goalie in the Metro Division Final outperforming Murray, who was still superb in Monday’s elimination game. Even after giving up the short side to Alex Chiasson to fall behind, Murray made some unreal stops to give his team a chance. He was busier making 28 saves. Holtby finished with 21.

The Pens had trouble getting inside on the Caps defense. In particular, big scorer Jake Guentzel, who was blanketed the last two games. He had no shots last night and was surrounded. Ditto for clutch Pen Bryan Rust, who wasn’t able to get off his big shot whenever he had a rush. Crosby was also quiet with only one shot. It was that kind of game.

Pens coach Mike Sullivan adjusted his lines to create a spark. It still took a bounce for his team to tie the score. Off a Crosby faceoff win back to Brian Dumoulin, he passed across for a Kris Letang one-timer that changed direction going off a Cap and by Holtby. He was expecting a different shot and was in position for the save until the odd deflection which tied the score.

Holtby was at his best following the Letang goal. He had to be because suddenly the resurgent Pens tilted the ice turning the Caps into a full fledged panic attack. They survived the onslaught thanks to Holtby and hung on to escape the second still tied.

They regrouped in the third to outshoot the Pens 9-5 in a tentative period where both teams were afraid to make a mistake. The Caps were better nearly untying it late when Vrana got free in the waning seconds. If he could’ve backhanded a loose puck off a rebound, there wouldn’t have been any OT.

As fate would have it, the Caps had to do it the hard way in enemy territory. Barry Trotz’ club did it without Nicklas Backstrom, whose availability for the next round is unknown. I’m sure he’ll be back. Without Backstrom, Lars Eller stepped up. He was one of their best players. So was Jay Beagle, who in limited duty was effective along with Chiasson creating chances. T.J. Oshie was a beast all series.

Trotz deserves full credit for his strategy without one of his best players. He also was without suspended forward Tom Wilson, who served the final game of a three-game ban for his cheap shot that broke Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw and concussed him. They managed just fine going 2-1 in the three games.

It wasn’t surprising that the overtime didn’t last long. The Caps looked confident and wanted to end it and not take their chances in a home Game 7. Can you blame them after last year?

The Pens had only two shots compared to the Caps six. But they did get a great chance. On a good forecheck by Carl Hagelin, he found Tom Kuhnackl open in the circle. He fired a seeing eye shot between Brooks Orpik’s legs right off the far goalpost. That close to Game 7.

It wasn’t long after that Dmitry Orlov forced a on rushing Crosby into a turnover, sending the puck the other way. The Caps transition was one of the biggest factors in the series victory. It was there in Game 5 when Holtby made the big save to deny Dumoulin and send Ovechkin off to the races where he passed for Vrana who scored the winner.

It was there again as Ovechkin retrieved the loose puck and backhanded a pass up the middle to Kuznetsov, who got behind the defense. He did the rest to finally give the Caps the win they’ve been looking for in this round over their kryptonite.

Now, they have more work to do. It won’t be easy against a very deep Lightning team who is loaded both up front and on D. The Caps will again be the underdog. A role they don’t mind. They’ve been counted out all season. This is just another quality opponent standing in the way.

Most observers including yours truly think the Lightning will prevail. The Caps will have to prove us wrong. At this point, I don’t think Ovechkin and his teammates care. They’re finally here. Now we find out if they have what it takes against the East’s best team.

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Stamkos praises ex-Rangers vets following second round win over Bruins

The Lightning returned home and finished the job yesterday. They defeated the Bruins 3-1 in Game 5 to eliminate Boston in the second round series. They’ll now await the winner between the Penguins and Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final. Washington can advance with a win tonight at Pittsburgh in Game 6.

Tampa beat a quality opponent in five games by using their superior depth and speed to outplay Boston five-on-five. In fact, the Bruins didn’t score a even strength goal the last three games. It was the Lightning who took control by continuing to pound away at the Boston defense until it wore down. They didn’t just use their speed and skill but finished checks at every turn. That included a clean hit by J.T. Miller on American idol David Backes that knocked him out of Sunday’s game.

Classy stuff from Miller, who scored the series clincher with a power play goal that put the Bolts ahead to stay. If only more players showed that kind of remorse following hits that injure players. At least his was clean with him just standing up Backes knocking him to the ice. A lot can be learned here from what the former Ranger said. You don’t laugh at injured opponents after vicious cheap shots like the one Tom Wilson delivered on 23-year old Staten Island native Zach Aston-Reese that concussed him and broke his jaw. It earned the controversial Wilson three games off.

More than anything, Tampa is back in its third Conference Final the last four years due to its excellence of execution. Something that would make Bret “The Hitman” Hart proud. They followed coach Jon Cooper’s script to a tee by winning most of the five-on-five battles to wear out the Bruins. It didn’t help that key defenseman Torey Krug went down with a potentially serious ankle injury in Game 4. To hear losing netminder Tuukka Rask tell it, his team had no chance at even strength. A telling quote during the postgame. He was by far the Bruins’ best player with old reliable Patrice Bergeron right behind. Not surprisingly, he offered no excuses.

The Bolts have been aided by the additions of former Blueshirts Miller, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan and Anton Stralman. All played important roles in helping them advance. In particular, Tampa captain Steven Stamkos had high praise for vets Callahan, Girardi and McDonagh and Chris Kunitz following the victory. The portion of the clip starts at 3:04 and ends at 3:48 on that experience helping.

There’s no doubt that what they were able to do following a 6-2 Game 1 loss was impressive. As Stamkos noted, the blowout might’ve actually helped wake them up. He said they came out a little flat from the layoff but responded very well by winning the next four to stun the Bruins.

Stamkos also discussed how important Brayden Point was in the series win. He scored the tying goal yesterday and his line with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson were much better following a dismal first game. As were McDonagh and the team defense. Also emphasized was how focused they were on shutting down the Boston top line of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak at five-on-five. An area Tampa excelled at the final three games blanking Boston. Something unforeseen.

McDonagh talked to the media at his locker about how they were able to turn it around. If I could point to one play by the former Ranger captain, it would be the hit he laid on Marchand while shorthanded. It resulted in a boarding minor penalty putting his team two men down. But that was the kind of edge the Lightning needed to play with. McDonagh and the rest of the Bolts were more physical throughout. It was mostly McDonagh and Girardi who drew the assignment after Cooper put Stralman back with Victor Hedman.

Sometimes, that kind of gritty style can frustrate opponents. In addition, the Bolts got plenty out of the third and fourth line. The third consisted of Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn, who set up Girardi’s crushing overtime winner in Game 4. Cirelli was often parked in front of Rask screening him while Gourde was his feisty self.

The fourth line of Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Callahan were thorns in the side for the B’s. They won puck battles and forechecked and hit every chance they had. Callahan didn’t let Marchand get underneath his skin following the low bridge and licking incident that was ugly for the Bruins and NHL. He got in his face and continued to play the same style he always has by getting in on the cycle, finishing checks and blocking shots. They really were a effective line.

Not surprisingly, Callahan replied, “No words were exchanged,” on the handshake between him and Marchand when asked about it. He moved on. That’s what makes him such a good leader.

It’ll be interesting to see who they draw next. Is it finally time for Alexander Ovechkin to beat Sidney Crosby and make a Conference Final? We’ll get a better answer tonight in Game 6.

In the mean time, the Lightning will be standing in the way. Former Blueshirts and all.

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HARD HITS: Former Rangers having impact for Lightning

When Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller were traded to the Lightning at the very end of the trade deadline, they went from a hopeless situation on Broadway to a pressure packed one in Tampa.

No stranger to deep runs in the postseason, McDonagh has recovered nicely from a injury which held him back at the end of the regular season. The former Rangers captain has found a new home with familiar faces on a supremely skilled Lightning who enter Sunday’s home match against the Bruins looking to advance in Game 5 with a win to the Eastern Conference Final.

Following a disappointing Game 1 in which both he and partner Anton Stralman struggled mightily along with key Bolts trio Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point, McDonagh has been a big part of three consecutive wins to move within a game of the fourth Conference Final of his career. The first three coming with the Rangers including the bitter conclusion against his new team in 2015. First, there’s the matter of getting that fourth game from a tough Boston team who won’t just roll over despite losing key skating offensive defenseman Torey Krug to a ankle injury for the remainder of the series.

In their third straight win which was aided by a missed hooking call on Nikita Kucherov that led directly to Tampa captain Steven Stamkos’ tying goal, McDonagh had a strong game going plus-two with two hits and three blocked shots in 29 shifts logging 23:58 of ice time. It was like old times with number 27 reunited with old familiar number 5, unlikely overtime hero Dan Girardi. They were not only superb throughout five-on-five in their end zone but combined to for the winning goal. Even though he didn’t get an assist, McDonagh kept the play alive with a great pinch to keep the puck in. His aggressive play along the boards allowed Alex Killorn to carry the puck down low and find enough real estate to get it to Girardi for the one-handed tip in at 3:18 of sudden death.

For Girardi, it was a pretty sweet moment. A year ago, he took a lot of heat along with McDonagh for the Rangers’ failures to protect late leads in a second round defeat against Ottawa. Here he is a year later playing a important role for coach Jon Cooper in the top four. Something some doubters didn’t think he could still do. Wonder how they look now after Girardi’s big Game 5 that included the OT winner along with the usual grit from the ultimate warrior who finished with four hits, four blocks along with a plus-two in 29 shifts (21:12) including 19:09 at even strength.

Sometimes, situations become stale. A change of scenery is needed. That could also be the case for soon to be released former Met pitcher Matt Harvey. Of course, he also needs a attitude adjustment. Something Girardi or McDonagh never needed. They’ve been through the playoff wars before. Both still searching to climb the highest mountain and win a Stanley Cup.

The same can be echoed for old warrior Ryan Callahan. Somehow, even after all the setbacks, he’s still able to play the same meat and potatoes game that made him a very popular player in Manhattan. Not even all the wear and tear or Brad Marchand’s cheap shot or despicable licking can stop Callahan from playing the physical game he’s known for.

Playing on a good fourth line with Cup winner Chris Kunitz and overlooked grinder Cedric Paquette, Callahan has fit right in on a effective checking line that’s caused havoc for the Bruins. So it’s no surprise that in 20 shifts (14:57), Callahan delivered four hits and sacrificed his body making two blocks. They might not contribute much offensively but their forecheck and attention to detail have been vital, allowing Cooper to roll four lines.

Since departing New York, Miller has fit in on the Bolts’ top line featuring lethal combo Kucherov and Stamkos. A strong skater who mixes it up, Miller is used to get in on the forecheck and take players off the puck behind the net. He is a good complement due to his playmaking abilities. His postseason hasn’t been great but the goal with five assists in Tampa’s first nine games is a improvement from his Rangers days.

On the unpenalized Kucherov takeout of Charlie McAvoy, Miller recovered the loose puck and made a perfect pass into Stamkos’ wheelhouse which tied Game 4. He still has frustrating moments during shifts where he overthinks the game. Instead of shooting on a quality chance, he back passed to no one for a turnover. That was part of the problem under former Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. Cooper responded similarly by having Point take the next shift on the first line in place of Miller, who retuned to that line the rest of the game.

It would be nice if he improves upon his ugly goal output in his playoff career. He enters today with only two goals in 49 postseason games. That would mean being more aggressive and thinking shot more. Not always deferring to his more gifted linemates.

The fifth ex-Blueshirt is Stralman. A valuable part of two runs to the Conference Final in ’12 and ’14, the low key 31-year old has been a even better player with the Lightning. If only the Rangers had kept him. Stralman plays mostly with Victor Hedman on the top pair. Though he switched with Girardi in the first round working instead with McDonagh. A solid puck moving right D who is effective defensively, Stralman also can play with edge when called upon.

It’s still a bit hard to believe the Tampa Blueshirts are part of what could be a special team. They all are playing their parts well. If it continues and they eliminate the Bruins later, they’ll be back in the Final Four. A place not unfamiliar for the five ex-Rangers. Of the five, Stralman has lost in two Stanley Cups doing so in back-to-back years in ’14 with the Blueshirts and ’15 with the Lightning. Former Ranger and Bolt Brian Boyle also shares that dubious distinction. He was eliminated as a Devil by these Lightning in the first round.

So, how will it finish? Do the five former Rangers finally get their names etched on the Cup? Only time will tell. They still have a job to do. Close out the Bruins. There’s a lot of work left. It’ll be interesting to follow.

BODY CHECKS

-Given how poorly they played in a huge home Game 5 in a humiliating 6-2 loss to the very tough Winnipeg Jets, you can say the Predators are feeling the heat. They’re expected to win the Cup this time. Even if the second round match-up against the Jets, who were three points less during the season seems unfair due to the format. Can they go into Winnipeg again in the loudest environment and win Game 6? The defense will need to be a lot better.

-This isn’t a Pekka Rinne problem. It’s a P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis issue. That’s the strength of the team. It would be hard to recognize it with poor coverage resulting in Rinne being chased twice at home. The forwards also share responsibility.

-Winnipeg is really good. They finally got a breakout performance from rookie Kyle Connor, who scored twice and made a brilliant pass across for a Mark Scheifele goal. Scheifele has been brilliant with nine goals and five assists so far. He’s a superstar. It’s time to recognize how special he’s been. Still, Dustin Byfuglien has been the most important Winnipeg Jet in the series. With a goal and assist on Saturday night, Big Buff is up to four goals and three assists in the series. His seven points have all come in the three wins.

-So does Peter Laviolette reinsert vet Scott Hartnell to slow down and distract Byfuglien? It worked in Game 4. A defensive oriented 2-1 win that evened the series.

-By delivering a great third period in which they outscored the Pens 4-0 to overcome a brutal second in which penalties put them in trouble, the Caps are now a win away from finally getting past their kryptonite. Alexander Ovechkin went from potential goat to hero when on the same shift he forgot to cover Brian Dumoulin, Braden Holtby bailed him out with a huge save to start a transition that led to Ovechkin making a terrific play waiting to the last possible split second to pass to rookie Jakub Vrana for the game-winner with 4:38 left. It’s the best hockey of Ovechkin’s brilliant career. His team now has two chances to get the all important fourth game off Sidney Crosby and Co. It won’t come easy. If they actually close out the two-time defending champs, it’ll be a huge hurdle climbed and mark Ovechkin’s first Conference Final appearance. We’ll see if they have the guts to finish the Pens.

-That they did it minus Nicklas Backstrom is impressive. He only took two brief shifts in the third before exiting with a unknown injury. Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped up with the tying goal on a breakaway 52 seconds in when Kris Letang screwed up the coverage. Letang also blew the assignment on Vrana by puck watching Ovechkin instead of taking the goalscorer. A rough night for Letang. T.J. Oshie made a great defensive play diving to steal the puck away from Phil Kessel. He then scored a empty netter. Valuable checking pivot Lars Eller added a well deserved second empty in the waning seconds for a 6-3 victory in Game 5.

-The Bruins must try to stave off elimination in Tampa today without Krug. A big loss to a blueline without much team speed. Zdeno Chara has struggled with the faster Bolts and rookie McAvoy has had issues. Kevan Miller isn’t particularly good. Matt Grzelcyk is a good skater but suspect in his end. Former Ranger Nick Holden enters a elimination game subbing for the injured Krug. He’s barely played. Hard to believe Rangers GM Jeff Gorton got a third round pick and defenseman Rob O’Gara for him.

-I will always like Rick Nash. A good character player who handled himself well despite only scoring 40 once while dealing with injuries. He is a good three zone player who can play power play and penalty kill. The return on him for Boston as a Spring rental has been disappointing. Three goals and two assists with a minus-five rating isn’t what the Bruins needed. Not for what they gave up. He’s just never been a big playoff performer. Maybe Boston should have rented Summer Rental. John Candy at least wouldn’t have disappointed. He never did.

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No Licking Allowed: The curious case of Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand remains a puzzling star player for the Bruins. A top 10 player who can impact the game in all three zones with his tenaciousness combined with speed and skill, The Rat was up to his old tricks during last night’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning in Game 4 of the Atlantic Final in Boston.

A polarizing player due to his penchant for controversial plays that have resulted in suspensions and plenty of eye rolling from the hockey community, Marchand had a significant role on Friday night at TD Garden. Let’s get to the good part first.

With his team already in a early 2-0 hole, Marchand helped bring the Bruins back. He was in on two of three consecutive goals scored by Boston. The first came on a power play goal finished off by David Pastrnak that cut the deficit to one.

Following a Patrice Bergeron power play goal that tied the score in the second period, a bad call on Bruins fourth liner Noel Acciari put them down a man. With the partisan Bruins crowd booing and giving it to the refs for such a lousy call, Marchand made a great play to force a turnover at the Bruins blueline.

The feisty Boston pest then skated down the right side with the puck as Bergeron cut to the net. Marchand made a perfect centering feed that Bergeron neatly redirected past Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a shorthanded goal with 13:24 remaining in the third. The well executed play gave the Bruins their first lead.

It may have held up had the refs not swallowed their whistles on a controversial no call that led directly to Steven Stamkos tying the score with 7:04 left in regulation. The play in question saw Lightning scorer Nikita Kucherov hook down Boston rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy. That freed up the puck for J.T. Miller to retrieve and make a perfect centering pass to a open Stamkos for a one-time blast past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.

It was definitely a missed call. Considering what they called earlier on Acciari, it was inexcusable. Such inconsistent officiating has been going on the whole playoffs. That the no call which should’ve been a hooking minor penalty on Stamkos impacted the outcome is inexcusable.

Tampa took full advantage with Dan Girardi playing the role of unlikely hero when he was able to get one hand on his stick to deflect home a Alex Killorn pass in front to beat Rask at 3:18 of the first overtime. A feel good moment for the former Rangers defenseman who has found a new home with familiar faces in Tampa after getting bought out last summer.

In between all this, Marchand managed to pull some of his antics which are still being discussed in social platforms. With one of the best point producers in the league, it’s always the Good, Bad and Ugly literally. For some reason only known to him, he can’t stay away from trouble.

The first ugly incident took place in a physical second when following a clean Ondrej Palat check on Boston’s Adam McQuaid, Marchand responded by going low on Ryan Callahan for a dirty hit that could’ve seriously injured the ex-Ranger captain. He low bridged him which an irate Callahan didn’t take kindly to.

What happened next was typical Marchand. Known for licking opponents- particularly Leafs forward Leo Komarov during the regular season and in Boston’s first round series win- Marchand did the same thing to Callahan after he was pushed and yelled at. Here is how the ugly scene looked:

I don’t know what the heck Marchand’s thinking. With it not the first such incident involving his tongue, the league has warned him that he’ll face discipline if there’s a next time. I would’ve fined him the max. Tampa coach Jon Cooper had a strong take on such ugliness which doesn’t belong in the game.

It’s beyond comprehension. This is a player who received a five-game ban for a blatant elbow that concussed Devils forward Marcus Johansson. He missed significant time and didn’t return until the postseason.

Over his nine-year NHL career, the 29-year old Marchand has been suspended six times for 19 games while forfeiting $872,522.61. He’s also been fined three times.

Interestingly, he’ll celebrate his 30th birthday on May 11. By then, the Bruins could be eliminated. Game 5 is tomorrow in Tampa Bay at 3 PM.

Marchand is over a point-per-game dating back to ’16-17 when he achieved a career high 85 points including 39 goals in 80 games. In 68 contests this past season, he matched his career best with 85 points to increase his production on the best line in hockey with Bergeron and Pastrnak. In between the controversial plays and Lick Gate I and II, he’s managed to put up 17 points (4-13-17) in 11 games this postseason.

What if he cut out the crap and just played hockey? He would be much better received. But would changing his style affect him? Some players must play on the edge to be effective. Marchand isn’t the biggest guy. Generously listed at 5-9, 181, he has to play tough to win some of those board battles. More often than not, he comes out with the puck and makes things happen.

At a average cap hit of $6.125 million per season all the way through 2023, he’s easily one of the biggest bargains in the game. But at what cost? If he continues down this immature path, the Bruins might finally conclude enough is enough. Even some of his own fans are getting tired of it.

So, will he ever change? I don’t know. I can’t get inside his head. What I do know is despite everything, he remains one of my favorite players. But this really needs to stop. He’s doing himself and the NHL a disservice. Clean up your act.

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Rangers lose out on Jim Montgomery, Quinn staying at Boston University

The Rangers won’t be hiring Jim Montgomery as the next coach. That domino fell when Montgomery chose to stay in the Midwest and become the new coach of the Dallas Stars yesterday.

The very successful college coach of the Denver Pioneers informed the school he would be leaving to take over in Dallas. Several reports confirmed it.

In five years as the Pioneers coach, Montgomery has posted a 125-57-26 record. He’s led Denver to two Frozen Fours including a national championship in 2016-17 when they went 33-7-4. This past year, they went 23-10-8 making the NCAA Midwest Regional Final.

Prior to taking over in Denver at the collegiate level, Montgomery was a former assistant with Notre Dame and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 2010, he was named head coach of the USHL expansion Dubuque Fighting Saints, leading them to the USHL championship over the Green Bay Gamblers by taking the series three games to one. In ’12-13, he won the Clark Cup.

A journeyman who made the NHL as a undrafted free agent, the former Maine Black Bear standout who led them to a NCAA Championship and was named tournament MVP in 1993. His 301 career points were an all-time record at Maine leading to having his number 19 retired.

He was signed by the Blues after college. He bounced around going to Montreal for Guy Carbonneau before being released. Montgomery also had short stints with the Flyers, Sharks and Stars who he’ll now coach 16 years later.

Reading up on Montgomery, he would’ve been a good fit for the Rangers. A fresh face familiar with guiding young players, it’s too bad he preferred to stay close to home. But if that’s what makes him comfortable, so be it.

There’s no reason to overreact if that’s the case. The Rangers want to bring in a coach who’ll be comfortable handling the media scrutiny and fan expectations in a rebuild.

There are still good candidates out there for GM Jeff Gorton to interview. Boston University’s David Quinn would be one and Toronto Marlins coach Sheldon Keefe is another.

UPDATE: Scratch Quinn off the list. He will reportedly stay at BU per New York Post scribe Larry Brooks. This isn’t a good development.

I’m holding out hope they go outside the box for one of those rather than hire a retread. It’s a rebuild. Not a team expected to challenge for a Cup. I want someone who will fit the criteria and utilize our young talent the right way.

There’s still time for Gorton here. He must choose wisely.

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Golden Knights and Sharks giving good show

So far, the second round has been much better than the first. With more evenly matched opponents, each series has a chance to go six or seven games.

While the Lightning drew even with the Bruins last night, the Golden Knights and Sharks played another barn burner that required overtime. It was the second consecutive game that needed sudden death to decide.

In what was a very entertaining Game 3, the Golden Knights overcame blowing a two-goal lead after the second period to pull out a hard fought 4-3 win in the first overtime. They now lead the series two games to one with Game 4 looming large for the Sharks.

San Jose showed a lot of heart and resolve rallying from a two-goal deficit with a splendid third to force overtime. They controlled most of the first half by dominating puck possession and holding a huge edge in shots and scoring chances.

However, Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be the story for Vegas. The former Pen and three time Stanley Cup winner has been brilliant. He stood on his head for large stretches last night before the Sharks struck on the power play thanks to Timo Meier burying a one-timer for the game’s first goal.

Despite being largely outplayed, the Golden Knights got it together to stun the Sharks with three straight goals. Taking advantage of undisciplined penalties, they made San Jose pay on the power play. Colin Miller and Jonathan Marchessault each scored power play goals off perfect set ups to give the Knights the lead.

Suddenly with momentum, the top line had a good shift that resulted in a nice passing play with William Karlsson tipping a misdirection pass across for a easy Reilly Smith finish to stun SAP Center. Despite being outshot 32-18, they took a 3-1 lead to the locker room.

Called out by NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick at intermission for poor coverage on the penalty kill and backing off, the Sharks responded in the third by rallying to get the game tied.

They took advantage of a Vegas minor penalty thanks to a Evander Kane power play tally from Brent Burns at 7:49 with Logan Couture screening Fleury in front. Though Vegas challenge for goalie interference, there was nothing wrong with what Couture did. He was outside the blue paint and made minimal contact with Fleury, who was at the edge of his crease. The shot whizzed by his glove.

San Jose pushed for the equalizer. It didn’t look like it would come against the stingy Fleury, who throughout made acrobatic saves. But with time winding underneath two minutes, a bit of a fluky play resulted in Tomas Hertl tying the score with 1:57 remaining in regulation.

Hertl made a strong move around the net for a wrap around attempt only to have the puck stopped. It then went by his stick and into a maze of players. With help from teammates Justin Brain and Kevin Labanc, Hertl was able to find the loose puck and put it past Fleury to send the San Jose crowd into jubilation.

To its credit, Vegas came right back with a strong shift nearly untying the score. Karlsson tried a sneaky attempt down low on Martin Jones which he got a piece of with his leg to keep it out.

The game would go to overtime. Considering how hard both teams were playing along with the speed and quick transition, I didn’t think it would last long. I was right.

First, it was the Golden Knights who got not one but two straight power plays in sudden death. One on a bench minor and the second on a lame delay of game on Game 2 double overtime hero Logan Couture. It was ridiculous because he didn’t shoot the puck directly in the stands. But rather accidentally tipping a puck out of midair out. That rule needs to have interpretation as do some others which don’t make sense.

Fortunately, the game didn’t end on such a chintzy call. Instead, the Sharks managed well killing both penalties. With lots of momentum, they applied pressure on the Knights.

When Couture was set up all alone in the slot, it looked like the game was over. But Fleury miraculously saved a laser with a impressive reflect glove save that a gymnast could be proud of. An unreal stop at a crucial moment.

Usually, after a goalie makes such a gigantic save, their team responds by scoring the next goal. Sure enough, they did thanks to a good pass by James Neal that sprung Karlsson for a breakaway. He took off like a jet and fired a quick snapshot high to the stick side by Jones inside the goalpost for the game-winner at 8:17 of the first overtime.

That concluded a great game. After Vegas blitzed San Jose 7-0 in Game 1, the last two games have been excellent. Each saw teams face adversity. Both went to sudden death. They were fast paced with plenty of action.

This series is shaping up to be a good one. Game 4 is tomorrow night at 10 PM. The late start won’t prevent me from catching it. It’s worth it even if I lose sleep.

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Controversy makes NHL look bad in these playoffs

Controversy has surrounded too many games in these playoffs. The NHL looks bad for how some key decisions have impacted games on the big stage.

Look no further than what took place over the weekend. Let’s start with Saturday night in Vegas. Two calls helped determine the winner of a great Game 2 between the Sharks and Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.

The game went to sudden death. With the teams tied at three, you had officials involved in the outcome. A no no at this time of year. The Sharks got some help in their 4-3 double overtime victory that evened the best-of-seven Pacific Final.

In the first overtime, the Golden Knights thought they had won it when Jonathan Marchessault scored on a backhand rebound into a vacated net with Sharks goalie Martin Jones down. But Jones immediately disagreed with a wave of the arm. Was he interfered with? A automatic review from Toronto decided whether or not the goal would stand. Here is how it looked:

This is a tough one because Marchessault has Sharks defenseman Brendan Dillon right behind him as he makes contact with Jones before rebounding home Shea Theodore’s shot with 3:02 left in the first overtime.

At first, I thought it was a good goal. But the replay showed that Marchessault didn’t avoid Jones, who never had a chance to recover for the rebound opportunity. So they got it right. But the interesting thing is not everyone agreed. Former referee Kerry Fraser had a very interesting take on the controversy.

I don’t view it as goaltender interference. It’s incidental contact. Something they can use to reverse a goal. The odd aspect is you even have former goalies indicating that it should’ve counted.

So former NHLer Brent Johnson disagreed with the decision. He felt it should’ve counted due to where Jones’ arm was. His right skate was on the edge of the crease when he reaches with his right arm outside the blue paint to stop the Theodore shot. It’s borderline.

Either way, the reversal was made which drew the ire of some Vegas fans with a few tossing debris. Never what you want to see. It wasn’t as bad as the ugly scene in Philadelphia. It didn’t take long to get it cleaned up and for play to continue.

In the second overtime, this time it was a chintzy call that led to Logan Couture’s OT winner on the power play. Following a successful Knights’ kill of a ill advised Theodore hi-sticking minor, the refs made a questionable hooking call on Jon Merrill a few minutes later which handed the Sharks a second straight power play.

Something you don’t see in sudden death. I can see if it was a blatant infraction. But a soft hook in double overtime should be left alone. Play on. It was a awful call.

Not surprisingly, San Jose wasted no time taking full advantage. Off a successful faceoff win, Kevin Labanc took a Brent Burns feed and made a perfect bullet pass across to a wide open Couture on the left side. He made no mistake burying the shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to score the game-winner eight seconds into the power play at 5:13 of the second OT.

This isn’t to take away from San Jose’s hard fought 4-3 win in Game 2 that makes the series more interesting with it shifting to HP Pavilion for the next two. Game 3 is tonight at 10 PM. In my opinion, the weak call ruined a well played game between two evenly matched teams. It deserved a better ending. Such a garbage call would never have been made pre-lockout.

Fittingly, this wasn’t the only second round game that had controversy. On Sunday afternoon in Game 2 of the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Pens to even their series, you had two more big decisions which affected the game.

The first being the non call on instigator Tom Wilson’s vicious hit that knocked out key Pens defensive defenseman Brian Dumoulin out of the game. He left in the second period and didn’t return. Updating the story, he was at practice and said he was doing okay. Whether or not he plays in Game 3 tomorrow night remains uncertain.

Everyone knows how Wilson plays. A gritty physical forward who plays on the edge not unlike Bruins super pest and star Brad Marchand, Wilson never passes up a chance for a big hit in open ice. Not exactly the most popular player with opponents, he seems to always find himself in these complex situations after injuring opponents.

The controversial play took place during the second period. It was a odd one due to Alexander Ovechkin closing in on Dumoulin from the opposite side. Here’s how it looked:

As we can see, Dumoulin releases the puck with Ovechkin in plain sight while Wilson is coming from behind. Neither Cap leaves their feet. While Ovechkin delivers a clean shoulder with Dumoulin leaning forward, Wilson delivers a glancing blow from the blind side by leading with his right shoulder which catches Dumoulin high in the face and head from the side. The impact of both simultaneous hits flattens Dumoulin who lands hard on the ice in writhing pain with a glove off.

It’s ugly. Somehow, the refs decided no penalty was called. You can imagine how irate the Pens bench was along with the angry reactions on Twitter. There’s even a comparative double hit from both Wilson and Ovechkin that came against the Blue Jackets. Let’s show first Dumoulin’s reaction to the hit and then another close up view of Wilson’s shoulder which contacted the side of the head.

Obviously, he didn’t know Wilson was there at all. Dumoulin was bracing himself for Ovechkin’s hit. No surprise here since he saw him coming. Now, this is a better look at Wilson’s hit which didn’t even get a hearing from the NHL Department of Player Safety:

It looks worse up close. You can see the impact which a unsuspecting Dumoulin had no idea on. It’s amazing he has his wits a day later and was able to speak to reporters. As for the DOPS, why would they even have a hearing or suspend Wilson?

The odd part is opinions have been mixed. Watching NHL Network last night, both Kevin Weekes and Darren Pang felt it was a odd play due to Ovechkin coming from the other side. Weekes said he felt both Caps ran out of real estate which made the collision unavoidable. He also indicated that Wilson didn’t leave his feet which is true.

Considering that they say they want to eliminate such hits, the NHL again falls short here. They look like hypocrites. They punish some dirty cheap shots like the cross check Evander Kane delivered and the awful boarding from behind by Nazem Kadri that earned a three game ban in the first round. But other plays aren’t viewed the same even with a player of Wilson’s nature. Even if he said the right thing afterwards.

That wasn’t the only controversy yesterday. In the third period of Game 2 with the Caps leading 3-1, the Pens thought Patric Hornqvist had cut it to 3-2 with over 10 minutes left. Here is the goal that wasn’t:

Even NBC’s Doc Emrick called it a goal line. So did I. How wasn’t it? Braden Holtby was off his angle when Sidney Crosby went around the net and fed Hornqvist for what looked like a slam dunk. Only the NBC replays never had a definitive look. What’s the point of having cameras if they’re faulty? Another failure for the league partner. This is the best look at where the puck was:

It certainly looks conclusive enough to reverse. The ruling on the ice was no goal. They never signaled goal to my amazement. My question is what camera angles did they have? Just NBC. CBC has the best look.

Holtby does a great job scrambling back to get to the goal line and hide the puck. At no point could you tell if it were all the way over the line. I figured it had to have banked in off the inside of the near post and was sitting there just fully over for a goal.

Instead, the no goal was a huge break for the Caps. Even Mike Milbury thought it was a goal. Instead of a 3-2 lead with plenty of time for the Pens to come back against a fragile team that blew a two-goal lead in the third period of Game 1, it allowed the Caps to relax. A empty netter from Nicklas Backstrom that ironically Wilson assisted on finished off a Washington 4-1 win in Game 2 to send the series back to Pittsburgh all even. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM.

Such controversy isn’t good for the NHL. But this is what’s in place. They have no one to blame but themselves. The overturn in Vegas during sudden death along with the cheesy booking penalty is the worst case scenario. It leaves fans frustrated. Especially if you have a rooting interest and want a perfect conclusion to such a great game.

It’s not gonna change any time soon. Just another reason for hockey fans to question the direction of the league.

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Most deserving team, Sabres win NHL Lottery

Finally, logic prevailed. I know I wasn’t alone in thinking it was gonna happen again. Especially when Carolina moved all the way up into the top three along with the Montreal.

When NHL Deputy Commish Bill Daly revealed picks three and one, the most deserving team won the NHL Lottery. The Buffalo Sabres will pick first overall in this June’s NHL Entry Draft.

The team with the best odds after finishing with the fewest points at 31st overall will indeed get to select top ranked Swedish prospect Rasmus Dahlin in June. It is a huge jolt for the Sabres who have been one of the league’s worst teams for a while. Even landing second overall pick Jack Eichel hadn’t changed that.

Now, they’ll land the impact number one defenseman who can make a huge difference. The smooth skating Dahlin is a two-way player who plays well defensively and is able to generate offense with his shot along with terrific skating in transition. He’s the kind of blue liner who will change the way Buffalo plays.

Now, Rasmus Ristolainen can be a number two defenseman which is exactly what he is. That he’ll likely get to play with his fellow countryman is a good thing. The Sabres have officially cornered the market on Rasmus’s from Sweden 🇸🇪 who play defense. 😂

Once Daly revealed that the Canadiens had only moved up one spot from four to three, it seemed obvious that Buffalo would finally win something. They’ve picked first overall twice in franchise history with Pierre Turgeon going number one overall in 1987 and hockey legend Gilbert Perreault the first ever Sabre selected in the 1970 Amateur Draft.

For Buffalo, they’ll have a few building blocks now in franchise players Eichel and Dahlin, who undoubtedly will become a Buffalo Sabre on June 22 at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Featuring recent first round pick Casey Mittlestadt along with Sam Reinhart, Buffalo should be vastly improved. A lot also depends on what GM Jason Botterill decides to do with the goalie position. With former starter Robin Lehner likely not returning following some disappointing results, they only have Linus Ullmark on the roster. He’s 24. With plenty of cap room, they’ll be in the market for a new starter.

It should be interesting to see what they do. As for the Rangers, I don’t know what they’re planning. They could lose a first round pick if Tampa loses to Boston. I don’t care. It would still be a low pick. They’ll have at least two.

Here is the NHL Draft order from 15 to 1:

https://twitter.com/i/moments/990363198799917056

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