HARD HITS: To Trouba or not to

Jacob Trouba is an intriguing top pair defenseman on the block who the Rangers should consider acquiring. AP Photo via Getty Images.

As the calendar finally turns to June, there are at most four games left to play in the Stanley Cup. With Game Three in the books and the Bruins delivering a message to the Blues with a 7-2 blowout in St. Louis, the hockey season is coming to a close. Either the physical Blues or counter attacking Bruins will win the Cup. We’ll see how the Blues respond tomorrow.

While fans tune in to find out what will happen, the offseason is upon us. Phil Kessel already vetoed a trade that would’ve sent him to Minnesota with Jason Zucker returning to Pittsburgh. For some inexplicable reason, the Penguins believe they’d be better off without the proven scorer despite winning consecutive Cups with him. Strange until you realize that GM Jim Rutherford wants to find a taker for the foolish contract he gave Jack Johnson.

As for Zucker, how can he return to the Wild if they don’t want him? His production was way down this past season. He followed up a breakout year of 33 goals and 31 assists with 21 goals and 21 assists. As someone who bought into the hype, I made the mistake of taking him too high last year in fantasy hockey. That won’t happen again. Maybe a new team would motivate him. The Wild gave away Nino Niederreiter to the Hurricanes for Victor Rask. Now, he’s reportedly on the block.

It’s a most interesting time of year. Sure. The Stanley Cup will be over sometime this week. Hopefully, one of the remaining games will showcase both teams at their best. That’s yet to happen. It doesn’t help that network partner NBC refuses to air the entire series without shifting two games to NBCSN. Imagine the NBA doing that with the NBA Finals rather than having it exclusively on ABC. Exactly.

As far as the upcoming offseason which is already here for 29 of 31 teams, the rumor mill continues to heat up. Between the anticipation of the NHL Draft featuring Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko with the Hudson rival Devils and Rangers taking center stage in Vancouver, and the open window for general managers to make calls on potential targets via trade or even restricted free agents who can sign offer sheets, there’s a lot to digest.

You’ll also have a good free agent class headlined by A listers Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin ready for the chaos ahead. For some executives, that could mean dealing for the negotiating rights in late June by sacrificing a mid round pick to see if they can get their primary target signed, sealed and delivered. If as expected Russian tandem Bobrovsky and Panarin are departing Columbus, the Blue Jackets should get what they can in return. GM Jarmo Kekalainen made it clear that he only wants players who want to be Blue Jackets following their second round exit to the Bruins.

For some teams with lots of cap space such as the Rangers, they’ll try to be aggressive. It’s no secret they like Panarin, whose world class skill set would be a significant upgrade in the top six that likely will feature Kakko along with top scorer Mika Zibanejad and definitely Pavel Buchnevich. If new Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton agree to keep power forward Chris Kreider by extending him this summer, they’ll no doubt want to upgrade to give coach David Quinn a more competitive roster.

If it’s not Panarin, they’re expected to be in on Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba. A Group II free agent, the 25-year old big right D would be a good fit for a unproven blueline that lacks a top pair defenseman who has the skill and physical tools Trouba can bring.

The 6-3, 202 pound defenseman just completed his seventh season with the Jets. Unlike the previous two seasons where he missed a combined 49 games, Trouba played in all 82 games while setting career bests in assists (42), points (50), power play points (3-15-18) and even strength points (4-25-29).

He earned $5.5 million in the final year of his contract. A year away from unrestricted status, Trouba can command a hefty raise over the long-term. He’s still young enough to have peak years ahead. That’s what makes him so attractive to suitors interested in acquiring the American from Rochester, Michigan.

Trouba is a complete player who will pay the price to help his team win. In all seven seasons, he’s blocked at least 100 shots while not being shy about throwing his weight around. That helps explain why he’s missed chunks of time during a few seasons. So, there is a potential risk. Isn’t there always when it comes to a good player that can improve a team? With that risk comes reward.

Let’s say Rangers brass are serious about getting Trouba. Something TSN insider Bob McKenzie seems to believe. It would take a significant package of young, controllable assets and prospects or picks. What would they be willing to offer? Perhaps key RFA Tony DeAngelo would be part of it along with Lias Andersson and say a lottery protected first or second round pick. It would probably take three assets to acquire Trouba.

I’m not crazy about throwing around names like I just did. But you don’t get a proven top pair right defenseman for nothing. Some might argue why make such a deal when you can sign Karlsson. If you watched him closely with the Sharks, then you already know the answer. As talented as the former Norris winner is, he’s way too much of an injury risk. No way I offer him the seven years at around $10.5 million AAV that will take him into his mid 30’s.

The Rangers have done that before. Brad Richards? At least he had success in the Big Apple before he was bought out. Scott Gomez? They paid him top dollar as if he were more than a playmaking pivot who topped out at 70 points. Thankfully, Glen Sather must’ve spiked Bob Gainey’s drink in stealing away Ryan McDonagh. Chris Drury was another one. It was never a question of effort, but of the taxing style he played. It’s ironic that he’s the current Rangers Assistant GM. Even Rick Nash didn’t work out quite the way they envisioned. But the contract was one they inherited from the Blue Jackets.

Not many big names have been successful on Broadway. Marian Gaborik was posting two 40-goal seasons before John Tortorella soured on him, resulting in the interesting trade with Columbus that landed Derick Brassard and John Moore. Derek Dorsett was also in that deal. Without Big Game Brass, the Alain Vigneault Blueshirts don’t reach the Stanley Cup in 2014 and get within a period of consecutive appearances. The end of that run still hurts.

But also, don’t forget that the Great Gabby scored that huge overtime winner against the Caps. He helped the 2012 roster reach the Eastern Conference Final. It’s still bittersweet how Gaborik wound up on the Kings and did in his former teammates two years later. Crazy how things work out.

Whatever they decide, the Rangers know they’re getting a franchise player in less than three weeks. It’s an exciting time for fans of the team. Maybe ’19-20 isn’t the return to the playoffs. It doesn’t have to be. They must remain patient in the construction of the roster by making calculated decisions that bode well over the long haul. That’s why they should steer clear of Karlsson, who will be past his prime in a few years.

On the other hand, Panarin has some good peak years ahead. He only has played four full NHL seasons. He’s also 27. To win the Bread Man sweepstakes, they’ll have to overpay due to the unfair system that allows teams in Florida and Vegas to take advantage of no taxes. That must be changed during the next CBA. It’s not right. Level the playing field.

BODY CHECKS:

I don’t get why the Stanley Cup doesn’t take precedent over shows such as American Ninja Warrior and Dateline. Maybe the executives at NBC can explain it. We know the NHL won’t.

Sergei Fedorov. Pavel Datsyuk. Patrice Bergeron. All tremendous two-way centers who have dominated due to their hockey sense, skating and attention to detail. Those are my favorite three centers.

Did Pierre McGuire really expect to get an honest answer from Bergeron following his question of whether the Boston top center is hurt after a signature performance that included a power play goal and two assists? Come on!

I don’t agree with the one game suspension Oskar Sundqvist served for his two minute boarding minor penalty that injured Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. Sometimes, that’s hockey. He turned and put himself in a prone position as Sundqvist went to finish the check. Consequently, the Blues missed his tenacity in the lopsided Game Three Boston took 7-2.

When they impose their will due to the heavy forecheck and relentless hitting, the Blues control the play. It’s astonishing that they needed overtime to win Game Two. To think it came from Carl Gunnarson, who felt he needed one more chance after ringing the post late in regulation. He wouldn’t have even been in if not for an injury.

St. Louis misses Vince Dunn in this series. He’s a excellent left skating defenseman who can transition the puck and jump into the rush. It’s asking a lot out of Gunnarson and Robert Bortuzzo to contribute offensively. Bortuzzo played less than 10 minutes in Game Three.

When they first made the trade for Charlie Coyle with the Wild, it didn’t start off well for Boston. While Coyle struggled to fit in, Ryan Donato was scoring for Minnesota. After producing just six points in 21 games, then came the postseason. The 27-year old center has been instrumental during the Bruins run. He again came up big with his eighth goal of the playoffs from deadline pick up Marcus Johansson with 2:20 left in the first period last night. Then came the crushing Sean Kuraly goal at 19:50 which was properly ruled onside due to Joel Edmundson bringing the puck back into the St. Louis zone. Coyle is up to 15 points (8-7-15) this Spring. He’s definitely boosted his value.

I emphasized the importance of Kuraly for Boston. He put away the Maple Leafs in Round One. Now, he’s scored and set up big goals in both of Boston’s wins. Along with Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari, they’re making a difference in a grind it out series with little space.

The Blues style most reminds me of the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. Seek and destroy. They play such a physical brand of hockey that it can wear down opponents. It worked in the first three rounds against Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose, who were battered. Pat Maroon and Sammy Blais will continue to finish checks and be effective players on the forecheck.

In order for them to have any chance of winning, they must get Game Four in their building. That means better performances from star forwards Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. The top line was shutdown on Saturday night. It would also help if Ryan O’Reilly could find the back of the net. He hit the crossbar on one point blank opportunity off a Boston turnover.

David Pastrnak finally got into the series with his first goal. A beautiful backhand finish in front on Jordan Binnington from Torey Krug on the power play. He was more assertive throughout as was Bergeron. Brad Marchand picked up a primary assist on Krug’s power play goal that chased Binnington in the second. He probably should’ve been pulled sooner. He gave up five goals on 19 shots with Jake Allen replacing him.

Krug remains very underrated. He is always involved due to his skating and offensive instincts. In Game Three, he was the best Bruin finishing with four points (1-3-4). Don’t forget the huge hit he had in Game One that injured St. Louis rookie forward Robert Thomas. They miss him. For the postseason, Krug has 16 points (2-14-16). That’s a lot for Boston’s only true offensive defenseman, who knows how to play in his end.

Tuukka Rask remains the favorite to win the Conn Smythe. He made three big early saves on good Blues chances to set the tone. He finished with 27 saves in the win. Even though he hasn’t had to be spectacular, he gave his team a chance to steal Game Two despite the Bruins being largely outplayed. It took a perfect Gunnarson one-timer through a great Alex Pietrangelo screen on a delayed penalty to beat Rask.

If Brock Nelson is worth $6 million AAV, what is Kevin Hayes worth? I’m almost afraid to find out. No disrespect to Nelson, who posted a career high 53 points (25-28-53) with a plus-20 rating in a top six role to replace John Tavares. But wow. He never topped 50 points before age 27. By comparison, Hayes hit 50 for the first time in his career with 55 points (19-36-55) between the Rangers and Jets. Hayes is a year younger than Nelson.

How much will Isles GM Lou Lamoriello spend on Anders Lee to keep him? He scored 40 goals in ’17-18. What about Vezina candidate Robin Lehner? Stay tuned.

With the first 40 goal season of his career, Jeff Skinner is expected to re-sign in Buffalo. He was a perfect fit on the number one line with Jack Eichel, going 40-23-63 with seven game-winners in 82 contests. The average cap hit could be between $8.5 to 9.5 million. The Sabres have no choice. Skinner is 27 and has peak years left. They can’t afford to let him walk.

Interesting secondary FA’s:

W Ryan Dzingel

W Marcus Johansson

W Wayne Simmonds

W Gustav Nyquist

W Joonas Donskoi

W Micheal Ferland

W Brett Connolly

W Carl Hagelin

W Richard Panik

W Garnet Hathaway

W Brandon Tanev

W Pat Maroon

W Alex Chiasson

C Markus Kruger

C Valtteri Filppula

C Brian Boyle

C Oscar Lindberg

C Noel Acciari

C Colin Wilson

D Alex Edler

D Anton Stralman

D Dan Girardi

D Ben Chiarot

D Michael Del Zotto

D Patrick Nemeth

D Fredrik Claesson

D Adam McQuaid

Trivia: Name the three players the Blackhawks got back from the Bruins for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield on May 15, 1967.

Answer to be revealed next week!

Following their impressive Game One victory over the Warriors, the Raptors are three wins away from delivering an NBA Title to the city of Toronto. How will the Maple Leafs feel if it happens?

Drake was just seen talking trash to Marchand. Imagine the possibilities. It couldn’t have hurt Toronto’s chances.

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Stanley Cup: Depth keys Bruins comeback over Blues in Game One

Sean Kuraly got the game-winner in the third period for the Bruins in their 4-2 win over the Blues in Game One. AP Photo via Getty Images.

Last night, the Stanley Cup got underway at TD Garden in Boston. It started out well for the Blues. They capitalized on two Bruins mistakes to take a 2-0 lead early in the second period.

But following Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal off a David Pastrnak turnover a minute into the second, the Bruins responded on the next shift with Connor Clifton able to redirect a Sean Kuraly pass at the goal mouth to cut the deficit to one. The momentum shifting goal changed Game One. It was all Bruins afterwards.

They tilted the ice for over 30 minutes with a wide shot margin. Boston dominated play. They scored the last four goals to post a 4-2 comeback win to take Game One. It was the depth of the Bruins that came through on Memorial Day. Kuraly got the game-winner at 5:21 of the third to finish as the game’s first star with a goal and assist. His fourth line made an immediate impact.

So did Clifton, who had a strong night. In 13:13 of ice-time, the defenseman scored Boston’s first goal and played well overall. His contributions along with Kuraly, Noel Acciari, Joakim Nordstrom, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk were instrumental in helping the Bruins take a one game to none lead over the Blues.

On a night the Blues got good production from the top line of Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, the Bruins overcame an off game from their top line. The trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak were outplayed by the Schenn line at five-on-five.

Rare mistakes from Bergeron, Pastrnak and captain Zdeno Chara allowed St. Louis to take a 2-0 lead. Schenn was given too much time and space on his first of the series. A miscommunication between Pastrnak and Chara resulted in Tarasenko staying hot with his ninth of the postseason from Schenn.

St. Louis took some undisciplined penalties that hurt them. It started in the first when David Perron and Robert Thomas were whistled for minors 3:30 apart. Even though the Bruins didn’t score on the power play, they regained momentum following a flat start due to rust.

As Boston found their skating legs to outshoot the Blues 18-3 in a lopsided second, the Blues continued to take ill advised penalties. Joel Edmundson came up high on David Backes. It was an easy hi-sticking call. This frustrated him. He gave Backes an extra shove because he felt the former St. Louis captain embellished it. He didn’t. It was ridiculous.

An Oskar Sundqvist cross check on Clifton finally cost St. Louis the lead. On a broken play, Charlie McAvoy skated into the Blues zone and surprised rookie Jordan Binnington with a shot that deflected for an unassisted power play goal. That tied the score. Up to that point, the Blues aggressive penalty kill had been getting the job done. They attacked trigger man Marchand. But he was still able to get some dangerous chances with one shot hitting the crossbar while another was a tough save for Binnington.

Of the three Boston top liners, Marchand was the sharpest. He created chances due to his speed and smarts. That included a tricky backhand following a strong move to the net. He would later seal the game with an empty netter with 1:49 left. He leads the Bruins in scoring this postseason with 19 points (8-11-19).

After they were lucky to escape the second still tied, the Blues continued to struggle with the Bruins forecheck. A good shift from the Boston fourth line resulted in Kuraly finishing off a play in front from Acciari and Chara at 5:21 of the third. He isn’t a flashy player. Just an effective one who does the grunt work. Boston might not have advanced over Toronto in the first round without Kuraly. He finished the Leafs off with a highlight reel goal in the third.

You need everyone to win games at this stage. It’s all hands on deck. Boston got that in Game One. St. Louis didn’t. Even though Schenn was dangerous throughout along with Tarasenko, it wasn’t enough to steal the game. Penalty trouble and not enough support cost them.

Ryan O’Reilly was invisible. Other Blues such as Perron were due to physical battles in the trenches. Binnington was involved with Marchand on one play where he impeded the pesky Bruins forward, who didn’t take kindly following a whistle.

It was that kind of game. There was an edge to it and nastiness which made it entertaining. Torey Krug had the hit of the game when he cleanly knocked down Thomas. That got the crowd going.

The hockey wasn’t great. Not when you had neither team playing their best. Boston early due to a 10 day layoff. St. Louis later due to a malaise.

Hopefully, tomorrow’s game will be better. For the Blues’ sake, they hope so.

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Blues and Bruins set for Stanley Cup rematch 49 years later

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins are on a mission. They’re the favorites to win the Stanley Cup versus the storybook Blues. AP Photo via Getty Images.

In less than two hours, the puck will drop on another Stanley Cup. On Memorial Day when we honor and remember veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, the Blues and Bruins get going tonight in Game One up in Boston.

Yes, it’s once again another Boston team chasing a championship. Haven’t they won enough recently? The Red Sox dominated 2018 by winning a fourth World Series in 14 years. The Patriots just won another Super Bowl in February led by the game’s greatest quarterback, Tom Brady. I know I’ll catch flak for that. Go right ahead. Who’s better?

Now, here are the Boston Bruins aiming to add a second Cup after winning it eight years ago. They could be going for number three this decade if not for a wild finish to an epic Game Six won by the Blackhawks in 2013. Let’s just say the name Dave Bolland is one that probably is cursed in Quincy Market. If [insert Yankees] sucks along with anything New York in this town, just imagine the intense disdain they have for Bolland and Aaron Bleeping Boone, who replaced Bucky Bleeping Dent following his game-winning walk off home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS.

As dominant as the Bruins have been in sweeping the Hurricanes (that happened some time this month), the Blues are here due to their grit and tenacity. After getting one of the worst missed calls in an exasperating Game Three overtime loss to the Sharks, they responded like champions by winning the next three games to take the Western Conference Final in six.

Leading goalscorer Jaden Schwartz and dangerous finisher Vladimir Tarasenko have had help thanks to a strong supporting cast. Hometown hero Pat Maroon was responsible for sending them to the Conference Finals with his goal in sudden death that beat the Stars. He’s been one of a few Blues that have supplied scoring depth.

Tyler Bozak, Oskar Sundqvist and promising rookie Robert Thomas have all provided offense at key moments. Veteran Alex Steen now plays a fourth line supporting role along with Ivan Barbashev and Sammy Blais. Even Robert Bortuzzo scored a huge goal for a game-winner against San Jose during the run.

Rookie Jordan Binnington has held it together in net for Coach Of The Year candidate Craig Berube, who never ever panics. That much was evident following the bad break when the four officials somehow didn’t see a hand pass by Timo Meier that allowed Erik Karlsson to score the OT winner in Game Three last round. It typifies how poor the officiating has been this postseason.

St. Louis moved on and won Game Four by hanging on despite a couple of icings from captain Alex Pietrangelo. After that victory, they dominated the final two games against a wounded Sharks, who were without Karlsson and Tomas Hertl in Game Six. Neither lasted a one-sided Game Five.

The Blues do it by pounding the opposition with a relentless forecheck. They’re very physical. The fourth line set the tone in the series turning Game Four when Barbashev scored in the first minute on a forced Brent Burns turnover.

They also boast one of the game’s best two-way centers in Ryan O’Reilly. His 14 points include 11 assists, which is tied with Pietrangelo for first on the team. He takes most of the key face-offs, and is a key penalty killer. David Perron lends support behind the trio of Schwartz, O’Reilly and Tarasenko.

The St. Louis blueline is led by Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. Both are right defensemen who are good at keeping pucks in. They each boast big shots. They get the bulk of the minutes followed by vet Jay Bouwmeester, who is playing in his first Stanley Cup. Joel Edmundson, Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarson receive secondary minutes based on match-ups. Having Vince Dunn available would really boost their chances. He’s a superb left skating defenseman with offensive capability. A very good transition player.

How do these Blues compare with the Bruins? Boston boasts one of the best scoring lines in hockey. The cohesive trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak (Pasta) are a nightmare for opponents due to their lethal combination of skill, grit and speed. They can beat you in transition due to being defensively responsible, or they can hurt you on the forecheck.

Particularly Marchand, who’s everyone’s favorite super pest. The Rat leads Boston in scoring with 18 points (7-11-18). After posting his first ever 100-point season, which was ignored by biased writers due to his antics, Marchand is proving he’s a top 10 player who should be up for the Hart. They may not like him. But he is relentless. The game’s best shorthanded player (26 shorthanded goals since ’10-11) is out to prove something. On Media Day, he admitted that the pain of losing in ’13 still lingers.

The Bruins have more scoring balance than the Blues. Entering this round, six different Boston players have at least 12 points. Following Marchand is emerging star Pastrnak. He has seven goals and right assists in his first deep playoff run. Just 22, he’s already established himself as one of the premier forwards in the league. Combining his skill with Marchand’s tenacity gives Boston a lethal 1-2 punch on the power play. Watch out for the playmaking of Marchand. He can set up either Pastrnak or Bergeron (8 goals) for power play goals. That’s if he’s not doing the finishing himself.

Bergeron has been one of the best players in hockey for over a decade. Stolen by Boston with the 45th pick in the famed ’03 Draft, he is a true three zone player. A multiple Selke winner who can do damage five-on-five, power play or shorthanded, he’s as good as it gets in clutch situations. Just ask Maple Leaf fans. Mention 2013.

It’s up to O’Reilly to stifle the Bergeron line. He’s younger and certainly capable. If his line can limit their attack while playing in the Boston zone, then the Blues have a chance. But they better get something from Brayden Schenn. He’s been almost invisible so far. He’s too good a player to not do anything.

The dilemma for St. Louis is the Bruins also have one of the best playoff performers in underrated pivot David Krejci. Like Bergeron, he can take and win big draws. He’s also very tough on the cycle. So far, he’s been healthy. Unlike past years, Krejci is playing excellent hockey. After only missing a game in a 73-point season, the veteran pivot has 14 points during this run. He and speedster Jake Debrusk have good chemistry. Even though he only has three goals in the postseason, don’t let that fool you. He’s one of the fastest skaters, who can get breakaways due to his explosiveness. Keep an eye on Debrusk this series.

Boston seems to have pushed the right buttons. Both Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson have been great pick ups. Coyle was their best center in the seven-game triumph over Toronto. He also killed Columbus with a game-tying and game-winning goal in a comeback victory.

Coach Bruce Cassidy seems to push all the right buttons. When his team needed a physical lift, he reinserted veteran David Backes. Ironically the former Blues captain, that’s a huge subplot. How will he perform against his former team? They let him go where he signed a big contract with Boston. He’s not the same player due to the physical style he plays. I think he’ll be highly motivated.

It would be a oversight if I don’t mention the impact of Sean Kuraly. Ever since the fourth line pivot returned to finish off the Leafs, he’s made a difference. He isn’t a sexy name in this series. But the relentless checking he brings along with his speed and defensive acumen on the penalty kill are important to Boston. Kuraly gives the Bruins a decided edge at the center position with Coyle. I’m not sure the Blues can match them. It’ll depend on Schenn and Bozak.

For all the hoopla surrounding Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy on the Boston back end, it’s the supporting cast that’s stepped up. Torey Krug is the offensive defenseman who can step up. But Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton are overlooked. Brandon Carlo gets heavy minutes without any fanfare. He’s a physical presence who defends well. It was his big defensive play that forced Artemi Panarin into a gigantic turnover that resulted in a crushing Pastrnak goal that Columbus never recovered from.

There are some questions surrounding Chara’s health. He missed Game Four last round. But has had plenty of time to recover. McAvoy is the key to that top pair. As experienced as Chara is, McAvoy covers up a lot of the future Hall of Famer’s mistakes. Chara is arguably the best leader in hockey. He’ll make the subtle plays. The Blues want to apply pressure on him.

If there’s a big contrast, it’s in goal. While Binnington has come out of nowhere to get the Blues to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 when they were swept by the Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito Bruins, Tuukka Rask is as good as it gets. He’s having the best postseason by a goalie since former teammate Tim Thomas backstopped the Bruins to its first Cup since ’72. Thomas won the Conn Smythe. He wouldn’t allow them to lose to the Canucks despite trailing 2-0 and 3-2 in a memorable seven-game series.

Rask was unbelievable in the last two rounds. After stoning the Blue Jackets by winning three straight, he was a brick wall in Boston’s sweep of the Hurricanes. They only scored five times on him. In his last seven games (all wins), Rask has allowed nine goals. He’s never played better. How will the long layoff affect him?

If he remains as calm and as locked in as he’s been, the Blues have no chance. Rask enters the Stanley Cup with a 1.84 GAA and .942 save percentage with two shutouts. It’s easy to forget that he’s a former Vezina winner who’s taken some ridiculous criticism from unappreciative Boston fans. Shocking. He looks like he’s on a mission. A Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe would vault him into some serious conversation.

The pick is the Bruins. They have the home ice which could be huge if it goes seven. I am not big on home ice. But in a Stanley Cup high pressure situation, that matters. It helped the Devils win in ’03. Of course, the ’09 Penguins and ’11 Bruins are proof that the road team can win Game Seven.

If you’re asking me who has better fans, it’s the Blues. Those fans have waited a long time for this moment. Forty nine years for this rematch. When St. Louis came in during Expansion, they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first three years. They’ve never won a Stanley Cup game. One win and they make franchise history. But they’re here for a different reason with something bigger in mind.

I’ll be rooting for the Blues. They’re likable and I’m sick and tired of Boston winning everything. With the exception of a few I know, most of their fans are annoying. Maybe it’s the stench of the Red Sox and Patriots.

Asked how many games, I actually took Boston in 5. I was told I’m disrespecting St. Louis. Maybe. I think the Bruins match up better at every position. Binnington will need to stand on his head and outplay Rask. I’m not saying it isn’t possible. I just wonder if Tarasenko will disappear against the tenacious checking of the Bruins. Is Schwartz going to continue to score?

The Bruins have more scoring threats. That concerns me. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and we get a classic series. Let’s Go Blues!

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Led by Kevin Lankinen, Finland takes gold at World Championships

Gold medal winner Finland was led by Kevin Lankinen at the World Championships. AP Photo courtesy Detroit News.

As it turned out, nobody had better team chemistry than Finland. It didn’t matter that they lacked proven NHL stars. Suomi more than made up for it with good overall play and stellar goaltending from hero Kevin Lankinen.

That was enough to take gold at the 2019 World Championships in Bratislava. After shutting out the powerful Russians in the semifinals, Lankinen allowed one goal to runner up Canada in a 3-1 victory on Sunday. He was tremendous for Finland throughout the tournament, finishing with a World Championship best 1.50 GAA (goals-against-average) and .942 save percentage.

Facing the two winners of each Group in the single elimination round, Lankinen stopped 75 of 76 total shots to backstop Finland to the gold medal at the Worlds. That included a 32 save shutout in a 1-0 upset of Russia. Marko Anttila scored the only goal with 9:42 left in regulation. The 24-year old Lankinen made it stand up by thwarting the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Evgeni Dadonov, Kirill Kaprizov and Nikita Gusev.

After beating one of the best teams Russia had ever sent, for an encore, he held Canada to one goal on 44 shots yesterday. The only tally came from defenseman Shea Theodore at 10:02 of the first period on a breakaway. Canada led until Anttila tied it up with a power play goal at 22:35 of the second period. The Finland captain also got the tournament winner in the third. Harri Pesonen added the insurance marker with 4:06 left.

Finland was led by 18-year old forward Kaapo Kakko. The big right wing scored six goals and added a helper in the preliminary stage. Even though the teenager didn’t register a point in the knockout stage, he certainly established himself. Kakko’s combination of size, speed, skill and strength were on display in the tournament. Whether he goes first or second in next June’s NHL Draft, Kakko is ready.

Canada had a good roster that took silver. It wasn’t on par with Russia, who settled for the bronze by posting a 3-2 shootout win over the Czech Republic. The Canadians were led by Tournament MVP Mark Stone. He paced all skaters in goals (8) including the clutch overtime winner to stun Switzerland in the quarters. That came following Damon Severson’s miraculous tying goal with 0.4 seconds left.

Stone was great on the big stage adding a goal and assist in Canada’s 5-1 semifinal win over the Czech Republic. He tied with teammate Anthony Mantha for fifth in scoring with 14 points (8-6-14). Along with tournament leader William Nylander (5-13-18), Mantha was a breakout star finishing with seven goals and seven assists.

For Russia, both Kucherov (6-10-16) and Gusev (4-12-16) tied for the team lead in scoring. Gusev will likely play for the Golden Knights this Fall. If he does, adding him to a nucleus that includes Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and key RFA William Karlsson will make them even more formidable.

Team USA was led by Patrick Kane. His dozen points (2-10-12) paced a roster that never showed enough consistency to contend for a medal. Kane’s Blackhawks teammate Alex DeBrincat potted seven goals while adding two assists. The 40-goal man will be heard from for years on an aging Chicago roster that’ll need more youth to stay competitive.

As brilliant as Kane and Jonathan Toews are, they’re getting older. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are near the end and Corey Crawford has battled concussions the past two years. He turns 35 on New Year’s Eve.

Is it possible that one day Lankinen supplants Crawford as the Blackhawks starter? They signed the Finn last year. A proven performer for HIFK Helsinki of the SM-liiga, winning gold for his country could give him the confidence boost as he enters his second pro season in North America. In 19 games for Rockford of the AHL, he went 7-12-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .910 save percentage.

Collin Delia and Anton Forsberg have NHL experience. But neither is overwhelming. Former Stanley Cup champion Cam Ward was the Chicago backup in 18-19. He’s unrestricted this summer.

Maybe we see Lankinen in the future for the Hawks. Who knows? It’s happened before. You never know when a unknown player who stars on the international stage will get enough recognition to finally make it to the NHL. Mats Zuccarello, anyone? Artemi Panarin? Time will tell.

Congrats to Finland!

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Disappointing tournament for Lundqvist worrisome for Rangers

Nobody likes to be the harbinger of bad news. Especially when it comes to a star player who’s clearly seen their better days.

Great players break down. It’s a hard reality for fans to accept. Even the legendary Willie Mays struggled in center field when he concluded his career with the Mets. Martin Brodeur ended his career in obscurity with the Blues. Hardly the way any Devil fans envisioned.

The Rangers are facing a similar situation with Henrik Lundqvist. A future Hall of Famer, the affable 37-year old franchise goalie has been a Broadway staple. Since he entered the NHL as a bright eyed rookie in ’05-06, the 2000 seventh round gem has been brilliant for the Blueshirts. He backstopped three very good teams to the Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup Final.

The ’11-12 Vezina winner has won a franchise record 449 games including a team record 63 shutouts. In 857 career games, he’s 449-298-93 with a 2.41 GAA and .918 save percentage. After leading the Rangers to the postseason in 11 of his first 12 years, Lundqvist has slowed down the past two frustrating seasons. Following putting up a respectable .915 save percentage in 63 games during a playoff less ’17-18, he slipped to a career worst .907 in 52 starts this past season. That included an 18-23-10 record with a 3.07 GAA and no shutouts. The first time in his career he didn’t record one during a season.

Rebuilding is a long process. It has to be especially tough on a prideful man who demands the very best out of himself and the team. Following the All-Star break, he didn’t play as much due to rookie Alexandar Georgiev. In his first season, the 23-year old from Bulgaria finished strong. He won 14 games in 30 starts while putting up a 2.91 GAA, .914 save percentage and two shutouts.

Georgiev’s good finish opened eyes. With top prospect Igor Shesterkin signed, Rangers brass will have a close eye on both young netminders with the future in mind.

Where does that leave Lundqvist? He could’ve accepted a trade over a year ago to go to a contender. But he wanted to stay. He’s a very loyal player, who loves being a Ranger. Signed through 2021, it’s coming to an end soon. With a hefty cap hit of $8.5 million AAV, it’s hard to see new Team President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton keeping him. Once the contract expires, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

The discouraging thing is Lundqvist did nothing to help himself in the IIHF World Championships. Playing for a loaded Sweden that featured Elias Pettersson, William Nylander, Gabriel Landeskog, Patric Hornqvist, Elias Lindholm, Alex Wennberg, John Klingberg and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the veteran goaltender struggled in the tournament.

In a crushing 5-4 overtime defeat to Finland in the quarterfinals, he allowed some bad goals. Sweden blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in the disappointing loss. A Finland team without an NHL player advanced when Sakari Manninen beat Lundqvist from the left circle with a unscreened shot that went high glove. It wasn’t the worst goal he let in. The game’s first goal to Niko Mikkola was a routine shot from distance that eluded him.

It wasn’t a good tournament for Lundqvist. He finished with a 2.84 GAA and subpar .887 save percentage. In a tourney where lesser known goalies such as Finland’s Kevin Lankinen, Swiss netminder Leonardo Genoni and Germany’s Mathias Niederberger shined, Lundqvist was one of the worst goalies in the big event.

What does it mean? It’s hard to say. What I do know is he’ll have to look a lot better following the summer vacation. If it doesn’t change, I can’t think of a good reason he should be the full time starter. His workload should continue to be micromanaged. At this point, 40-45 starts seems realistic.

Unless he rediscovers the form that made him one of the game’s best at the position, Georgiev and eventually Shesterkin should have every chance to show what they can do.

This isn’t to say it’s over for Lundqvist. There are still two years left to play. It’s getting increasingly hard to see where he fits in.

The good news is that whoever they wind up with as a consolation prize between Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, that’ll kickstart the rebuild in the right direction. It’s too early to get into what will happen this July. We’ll leave that for JD and Gorton.

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Jack Hughes has best game in Team USA elimination at Worlds

It was quarterfinal day at the World Championships in Slovakia. Two of the four games went to overtime. Three were decided by a goal.

That included Team USA against Russia. A game won by the more skilled Russians, 4-3. It’s not surprising that they lost the quarter.

Russia was stacked. They boast elite talent including Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Evgeni Dadonov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not to mention two of the best non NHLers in Nikita Gusev and Karill Kaprizov.

Gusev had a goal and two assists while Kaprizov notched a goal in the win. Mikhail Sergachev also went 1-2-3. Mikhail Grigorenko tallied.

In a losing effort, Jack Hughes had his best game of the tournament. He picked up two assists, finishing plus-2 with two shots and a takeaway in 12:52 of ice-time. He set up Noah Hanifin for one American goal. Ranger defenseman Brady Skjei had the other goal for Team USA.

The projected top pick also was involved in leading USA sniper Alex DeBrincat’s seventh that cut the deficit to 4-3 with 2:50 left in regulation. He fed Patrick Kane, who threaded the needle across for a perfect DeBrincat one-timer past Vasilevskiy to give the Americans a chance late. Hughes was in the right place looking for a deflection on the goal. For his effort, he was awarded with Player of the Game.

Team USA was unable to tie the game in the closing moments, allowing Russia to hold on. They advanced to the semifinals where they’ll meet Finland. They were 5-4 overtime winners over rival Sweden in come from behind fashion.

The other semifinal will feature Canada against Czech Republic. It almost didn’t happen. The Canadians needed a last second tying goal from Damon Severson to force overtime against pesky Switzerland. After having his first shot blocked, the Devil defenseman had the puck come right back to him for a shot that trickled past Swiss netminder Leonardo Genoni with only 0.4 seconds remaining.

In the new three-on-three format that lasts 10 minutes, Mark Stone won it when he tipped in a brilliant Pierre-Luc Dubois pass into an open net to convert a two-on-one. That gave Canada a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory over a heartbroken Switzerland. They’ll next face the Czech Republic, who ousted Germany 5-1.

Most encouraging is how Hughes performed against tough competition. He received lots of praise for how he played in an elimination game.

The knock on the smaller Hughes is that he could be pushed around. That wasn’t the case today. He was very good and definitely helped himself. It’ll be interesting to see what the Devils decide next month. They can fill the center slot with Hughes or go with size and strength in Kaapo Kakko.

Whoever they choose will give the Hudson rival Rangers a good consolation prize. See you at the Draft.

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Oh Baby! Rangers introduce Davidson as new Team President

The Rangers made it official. Earlier today, they introduced John Davidson as new Team President. Davidson takes over the day to day operations from recently retired Glen Sather. With it comes a lot of responsibility.

Having necessary experience with Columbus and St. Louis should help. Davidson made the smooth transition from the broadcast booth to the front office. He helped rebuild the Blues and more recently, the Blue Jackets. Even though neither organization achieved ultimate success resulting in a championship, they both improved under him.

Something he noted was that seeing the current Blues finally return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970, he was partially responsible for. Though many names have changed, he was there when they drafted Vladimir Tarasenko in 2010. The star Blues forward has eight goals and five assists during their playoff run. He’s scored 30 or more goals the last five seasons.

Leading goalscorer Jaden Schwartz is right behind Boston netminder Tuukka Rask for the Conn Smythe. He will enter the Stanley Cup round with 12 goals and four helpers. St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo has been there for a decade after he was taken third overall in ’08. Colton Parayko also was one of the last draft picks that Davidson was involved in. He went number 86 in the 2012 Draft. So, their two best defensemen and two best finishers are staples of the current group aiming to make history.

One thing I like about JD is his sincerity. When speaking about what the Rangers have done since last year, he emphasized that he’ll have to be patient. Something that is a good message to the fans. Some of who might be getting ahead of themselves as far as building a championship contender is concerned. It takes some time.

That’s even true if Davidson convinces Artemi Panarin to come to the Big Apple in July. That’s why I’m against temporary solutions like Erik Karlsson, who finally broke down in the Conference Final when the Sharks needed him most. I like him as a player, but the multiple injuries he’s played through in runs with Ottawa and San Jose, make him a huge long-term risk for any team that signs him.

Panarin isn’t that big a risk due to having just completed his fourth NHL season. He should have a lot of peak years left. That’s why I’ve changed my mind on signing him. I’ll lay that out in another post. When asked by a reporter about Panarin, Davidson wisely didn’t comment. By NHL rule, he can’t. That’s what I was trying to tell excellent NHL.com writer Dan Rosen.

At the top of the hour, Davidson will join former broadcast partner Sam Rosen on MSG 150. OH BABY! That’ll be a must watch for any Ranger fan. Sam and JD have given us so many memories including that special hot summer night on June 14, 1994.

It’s a very exciting day. Especially when you think of what JD has meant to the organization first as a player, and then as the best color analyst in hockey. Ask Doc Emrick about that. Both he and Rosen know how special Davidson was in the booth. They’re all Hall of Famers.

Now, it’s a new challenge. Bringing respectability back to the franchise while continuing to mold it into a team we can be proud of for years to come. The work has just begun.

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Rangers boost D prospect depth by signing Yegor Rykov to entry level contract

Earlier today, the Rangers made it official. They signed defenseman Yegor Rykov to an entry level contract.

Acquired from the Devils as part of the Michael Grabner trade that also fetched a 2018 second round pick last year, the 22-year old Russian will make the transition from the KHL to North America this Fall. Whether it starts in the AHL or NHL depends on how he does in training camp.

Originally a Devils fifth round pick in 2016, Rykov spent the past few years in Russia where he played mostly with St. Petersburg SKA before moving to Sochi HC last season. In 47 games, he had three goals and six assists with 19 penalty minutes and a minus-4 rating. He added three helpers in six postseason contests. His best output came with SKA in ’17-18 when he posted 12 helpers and 14 points over 53 games.

A left skating defenseman, he’s listed at 6-3, 225 pounds by the Rangers website. Interestingly, Rykov paced HC Sochi skaters in ice-time averaging 21:36 during the 2019 Gagarin Cup Playoffs. His three assists paced all defensemen on the club. The three points tied for third overall on the team.

Due to his age, the ELC is only for two years. So, we’ll see how the Rangers manage him. Given the depth they boast in the system due to adding Hobey Baker finalist Adam Fox to a prospect pool that includes Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist among the notables, it gives the organization with another young player to look at. A surplus of D is never a bad thing.

Currently, the Rangers still have veterans Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Marc Staal. The younger blueliners include Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk and Brady Skjei. Both DeAngelo and Pionk are Group II free agents this summer. If they make changes, Pionk could be moved. That largely could depend on what happens this offseason and September. Fredrik Claesson is unrestricted. John Gilmour will leave following a career year with the Wolf Pack.

Both Hajek and Lindgren should have the inside track to making the NHL roster due to each playing five games for the Blueshirts in ’18-19. They’ll likely compete with Fox and Pionk (assuming he’s still here) in camp.

I’ll wait and see before drawing any conclusions on Rykov.

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John Davidson is coming home! Rangers hire JD as new Team President

Oh Baby! John Davidson is the new Rangers Team President. AP Photo courtesy Getty Images.

Welcome back JD! After spending 13 years away from MSG, John Davidson is coming home. He was officially named the new Team President of the Rangers today.

A move that had been anticipated once Glen Sather stepped down, Davidson will now assume the role for the team he carried to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final. He served as President of the Blues and Blue Jackets. He helped rebuild both clubs in the front office.

First, he returned to St. Louis, where he started his NHL career. Following a very successful stint as a color analyst for the Rangers from 1986-87 through ’05-06, Davidson took over as Team President for the Blues. A role he served until October 2012.

After helping rebuild St. Louis, he was hired by the Blue Jackets the same month. He did a good job with Columbus too. He hired current GM Jarmo Kekalainen in January 2013. A move that helped stabilize the franchise. It was also under Davidson that former Rangers coach John Tortorella was brought in to replace Todd Richards due to a poor start in October 2015.

They’ve made three consecutive postseasons for the first time, and recently won their first series in a huge upset of the Lightning. They stunned the President’s Trophy winners by sweeping them to advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history. After taking a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinal, they lost three in a row to the Bruins to lose the Atlantic Division Final in six. Boston has been on a roll ever since, sweeping the Hurricanes last night to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

With the future in Columbus looking bleak due to the expected departure of Russian stars Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, Davidson left his post earlier today to take the job with the Rangers.

A huge fan favorite, JD as he’s known received some of the loudest cheers when he was announced during the emotional 25-Year Anniversary of the ’93-94 Rangers. This time, he’s back in a much more important role that’ll help determine the future of the club.

It’ll be up to Davidson and current GM Jeff Gorton to continue to make wise moves that’ll bring the Rangers back to respectability. Having the second pick in the Draft definitely helps a lot. Especially when you have two franchise players going 1-2. Whether it’s Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, it’ll set them up for the future.

How much of an impact will JD have if any on whether Panarin chooses the Rangers or the rumored Panthers, who are expected to go hard after Bobrovsky and the Bread Man? That remains to be seen.

If you’re not excited about the return of Davidson, then you might want to lock yourself in a cave. It’s better following what the Blueshirts do than the unmitigated disaster going on in the NHL Playoffs.

Oh Baby!!!!!

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Kaapo Kakko leads Finland to 3-1 win over Denmark

Kaapo Kakko continues to roll in the IIHF World Championships. The 18-year old right wing led Finland to a 3-1 win over Denmark in Slovakia earlier today.

He was involved in all three goals. After Mortin Madsen put Denmark ahead early in the second period, Kakko scored his sixth of the tournament to tie the game four minutes later. As the highlights show below, it was a brilliant goal in which Kakko used his speed and patience to maneuver around the Denmark defense and tuck the puck in around Dane goalie Sebastian Dahm.

Kakko helped set up Suomi’s second of the day. He dropped the puck for Mikko Lehtonen, who skated in creating two chances for Toni Rajala and goalscorer Sakari Manninen to convert on the rebound for a 2-1 lead.

With less than nine minutes left in the third period, Finland put it away. Pulling up at the circle, Kaako waited before firing a wrist shot that Harri Pesonen tipped in for the insurance marker. It was a well executed play.

Kakko finished with a goal and assist with two shots and a plus-three rating in 14:02. In four games, he leads Finland with seven points (6-1-7). That’s tied for sixth in scoring. His six goals are tied for first with Evgeni Dadonov of Russia.

The only game he didn’t hit the score sheet was in an overtime loss to Team USA. It wasn’t for lack of effort. A dominant OT shift during a three-on-one nearly produced the winner if not for Devils goalie Cory Schneider. Dylan Larkin won it.

USA has also played four times so far. Still no points for Jack Hughes. He had six shots in yesterday’s 6-3 victory over Great Britain. It’s again worth repeating that his role is very different from Kakko, who’s the Finnish headliner.

Tomorrow, Finland faces the British. The Americans have the day off to prepare for Denmark on Saturday. Games can be seen on NHL Network.

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