Tonight's games: They can't all be gems

Not to be ungrateful, NHL, because you are giving fans 8 games tonight but … wow. There isn’t one game that jumps out at me as a barn burner. Really, I hate to say it, but the barn is frozen. Anyway, let’s take a look at tonight’s weak sauce slate of games.

Usually, I’ll choose the best game(s) of the night but … yuck. Let’s just go in order.

Toronto Maple Leafs (19-32-12, 50 pts) at Ottawa Senators (36-25-4, 76 pts) 7:00 PM ET

So Toronto is now the worst team in the Eastern Conference since the Hurricanes decided to start playing hockey again for whatever reason. Really, with Edmonton winning a game for once, things are looking really good for the draft lottery hopes of the … oh, right the Bruins have those picks. Oops.

New York Rangers (29-27-8, 66 pts) at Washington Capitals (43-13-8, 94 pts) 7:00 PM ET

I’m guessing it would be better for Marian Gaborik just to sit this one out; the Caps are an absolutely ridiculous 24-3-3 at home this season.

Carolina Hurricanes (26-30-7, 59 pts) at Florida Panthers (25-28-10, 60 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Look at you, Carolina! Now you can be at the Panthers’ level of being just bad enough to barely miss the playoffs.

Rest of the games after the jump

Atlanta Thrashers  (28-24-10, 66 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning  (26-26-11, 63 pts) 7:30 PM ET

The Thrashers are, at this moment, the 8th seed in the East. I imagine the Lightning aren’t terribly thrilled with their 5 game losing streak right now, but at least they don’t have to pretend to watch Saw III anymore.

Anaheim Ducks (30-26-7, 67 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (38-22-5, 81 pts) 8:00 PM ET

If the Coyotes want to make their feel-good story last more than one round of the playoffs, they’re going to need to hold onto the fourth seed. Twenty-three out of the team’s 38 wins have come in what you’d think would be a slightly depressing home arena.

St. Louis Blues (30-25-9, 69 pts) at Colorado Avalanche (36-22-6, 78 pts) 9:00 PM ET

The Blues are just strange because they’re much better on the road (18 wins) than at home (12 wins, more losses). After Craig “Ice Girls fan” Anderson was left off of Team USA, I think that the goofy but talented goalie deserves a playoff run as a consolation prize.

Montreal Canadiens (30-29-6, 66 pts) at Los Angeles Kings (38-21-4, 80 pts) 10:00 PM ET

Is it reasonable to say that the Pacific division is still the toughest division in the NHL? The Sharks are obviously dangerous, the Kings and Coyotes look like legit playoff teams and even though the Ducks/Stars seem a bit hapless they have the talent to upset anyone. The Kings could probably contend for a division title if they were in the Northwest.

Columbus Blue Jackets  (25-28-11, 61 pts) at San Jose Sharks (41-14-9, 91 pts) 10:30 PM ET

Obviously, the playoff seeding will probably change a lot in the next 18 or so games, but if I were San Jose (or any team) I’d much rather take my chances against the Nashville Predators than the Detroit Red Wings. As for Columbus, how’s that reactionary coach firing treating you?

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    ‘He was great, full of life’: Sharks’ Braun mourns the passing of father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak

    BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the third period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a heavy heart.

    According to CSN Bay Area, Braun’s father-in-law and NHL veteran Tom Lysiak passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with leukemia.

    The news was confirmed Monday.

    “He was great, full of life,” said Braun, as per CSN Bay Area. “Loved to hang out with the boys. Loved to talk about his hockey days. Great father, great husband. Great to me, welcomed me into the family.

    “Just a tough day.”

    Lysiak was a three-time NHL all-star, playing 13 seasons in the league with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 292 goals and 843 points in 919 games over the course of his career.

    Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As per CSN Bay Area, he is expected to be in the Sharks lineup for Game 2.

    “It’s a tough situation. To Justin’s credit, he was business as usual. He’s made some arrangements for after Game 2 to pay his respects and do what he has to do on that end,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

    “There’s not much you can do. You feel for him. He went out there, he battled for us under tough circumstances. I think we all appreciate it.”

    Video: Crosby has an ‘insatiable appetite’ to get better

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    Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?

    Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

    Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.

    (On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)

    “He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.

    On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.

    “He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.

    “That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.

    That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.

    Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.

    (In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)

    The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.

    “I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.

    “As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

     

     

    With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

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    Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

    (The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

    As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

    Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

    Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

    “If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

    “He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”

    ‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

    It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

    “They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

    After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

    But the Sharks kept him in check.

    His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

    As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

    There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

    As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

    From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

    More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

    There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

    If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

    On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded: