A look at potential 2nd round matchups

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CanucksBlackhawks.jpgWith two Game 7’s left to play, we are that much closer to finalizing
the second round matchups. Here are the scenarios:

Western
Conference:

1) San Jose Sharks vs. 4) Phoenix
Coyotes OR 5) Detroit Red Wings

Obviously, this matchup is
dependent on tonight’s game. It’s tough to say which team would be the
better matchup for the San Jose Sharks, although you have to think that
the Sharks would see the younger and inexperienced Coyotes as a better
chance to make it out of the second round. Either way, neither the
Coyotes or Red Wings will be a pushover for the Sharks. I’ll start
researching Joe Thornton’s statistics versus each team shortly, although
I’ll just have to throw his regular-season numbers out the window.

2)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. 3) Vancouver Canucks

This is a
dream scenario for those of us that love fast paced, exciting hockey.
While the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t exactly look impenetrable against
the Predators, a big series against the firepower of the Sedins and (um)
Mikael Samuelsson could be exactly what they’ll need to prove they’re
prepared for what’s supposed to be a Stanley Cup run.

Eastern
Conference
(these are possible matchups based on either a Caps or
Habs win in Game 7)

4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 6) Boston Bruins (Caps win) OR
8) Montreal Canadiens (Habs win)

A Habs win in Game 7 would make the Penguins the the highest
seeded team left in the conference (who saw that coming?), and make for
an absolute ratings bananza between two of the biggest fanbases in the
NHL. Although we wouldn’t get to see another Sidney Crosby and Alex
Ovechkin rematch in the conference finals (sniff), it gives the Penguins
a supposedly much easier road back to the Stanley Cup. While Jaroslav
Halak was been great, I’m guessing the Penguins are watching these last
few games on television thinking “gee, we really do NOT want to play
against Tuukka Rask in the second round.”

1) Washington
Capitals vs. 7) Philadelphia Flyers (Caps win)

If the
Washington Capitals win in Game 7, then the Philadelphia Flyers’
Cinderella season is in serious jeopardy. While taking out the New
Jersey Devils in the first round was one heck of a feat, taking on
Ovechkin and the Capitals is a different animal altogether. After facing
the absolute terror of Jaroslav Halak in the first round, Brian Boucher
will be a much more welcome change of pace even if Boucher did outduel
Martin Brodeur.

6) Boston Bruins vs. 7) Philadelphia Flyers
(Habs win)

It’s amazing that the two teams that barely
backed into the playoffs (although the Bruins certainly turned it on at
the end) could be facing off in the second round. The Bruins and Flyers
took out the Sabres and the Devils, two of the most consistent and
successful teams this season, in a clear sign of just how unpredictable
the NHL playoffs are.

Hemsky, Faksa and the Michalek brothers added to Czech Republic’s World Cup roster

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 18:  Ales Hemsky #83 of Czech Republic celebrates after scoring in the first period against Slovakia during the Men's Qualification Playoff Game on day 11 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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Team Czech Republic announced their full 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Like every other team, the Czechs named 16 players to their roster back in March. Joining the likes of Jakub Voracek, Tomas Plekanec, Ondrej Palat and David Krejci are Milan Michalek (Toronto), Dmitrij Jaskin (St. Louis), Ales Hemsky (Dallas), Radek Faksa (Dallas), Jakub Nakladal (Calgary), Zbynek Michalek (Arizona) and Michal Jordan (Carolina).

Hemsky posted 13 goals and 39 points in 2015-16 and added a goal and four points during the Stars’ postseason run.

Milan Michalek has represented his country a number of times, including in the last Olympics where he had no points in five contests. The 31-year-old was traded from Ottawa to Toronto as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade, but he didn’t have a good season, as a finger injury derailed his year. He finished the season with seven goals and 16 points in 45 games.

Milan’s older brother, Zbynek, has also represented his nation a number of times at the international level. He took part in each of the last two Olympics.

Nakladal completed his first season in the NHL in 2015-16. The 28-year-old had two goals and five points in 27 contests with the Flames.

Former St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka, who was named to the team back on Mar. 2, is the only player on the roster who isn’t currently in the NHL.

Here’s the full roster:

G Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings
G Michal Neuvirth, Philadelphia Flyers
G Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets

D Radko Gudas, Philadelphia Flyers
D Michal Jordan, Carolina Hurricanes *
D Michal Kempny, Chicago Blackhawks
D Zbynek Michalek, Arizona Coyotes *
D Jakub Nakladal, Calgary Flames *
D Roman Polak, San Jose Sharks
D Andrej Sustr, Tampa Bay Lightning

F Radek Faksa, Dallas Stars *
F Michael Frolik, Calgary Flames
F Martin Hanzal, Arizona Coyotes
F Ales Hemsky, Dallas Stars *
F Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
F Dmitrij Jaskin, St. Louis Blues *
F David Krejci, Boston Bruins
F Milan Michalek, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens
F Vladimir Sobotka, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
F Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Earlier this week, Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr announced that he wouldn’t be taking part in the World Cup event.

In a surprising move, Jagr’s teammate in Florida, Jiri Hudler, was left off the roster. The 32-year-old had 16 goals and 46 points in 72 games with the Flames and Panthers in 2015-16. Radim Vrbata (Canucks), Tomas Fleischmann and Andrej Nestrasil (Carolina) also didn’t make the cut.

Laine makes Team Finland for World Cup, Puljujarvi doesn’t

Patrik Laine of Finland celebrates scoring against Russia during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship final match between Finland and Russia in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT
AP
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The Finns rounded out their 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster on Friday morning, and two of the country’s brightest young prospects received decidedly different news.

Patrik Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP and likely No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft, was named to the squad. Jesse Puljujarvi, the 2016 World Juniors MVP and presumptive No. 3 pick, was left off.

Puljujarvi, 18, was edged out for a spot at forward by Laine, Minnesota’s Erik Haula and Sebastian Aho, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect that spent last season playing for Karpat of the SM-liiga.

Aho, another 18-year-old, played alongside Laine for Finland’s silver medal-winning squad at the Worlds and finished the tournament with seven points in 10 games.

On defense, Finland added three more skaters to the roster: Calgary’s Jyrki Jokipakka, Chicago farmhand Ville Pokka and Sami Lepisto, who plays in the KHL.

In goal, another KHLer — SKA Saint Petersburgh’s Mikko Koskinen — was selected, and will compete for minutes with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.

The Finnish roster, in full:

G Mikko Koskinen, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) *
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

D Jyrki Jokipakka, Calgary Flames *
D Sami Lepisto, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) *
D Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Ville Pokka, Rockford IceHogs (AHL) *
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

F Sebastian Aho, Karpat Oulu (SM-liiga) *
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild *
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Patrik Laine, Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga) *
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks

* named to roster today

Among the notable “snubs” for Finland? Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Vancouver’s Markus Granlund (Mikael’s brother), Winnipeg’s Joel Armia, former Boston Bruin Joonas Kemppainen and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki.

In addition to Puljujarvi, it’s also worth noting two of the country’s brightest young prospects failed to make it: Kasperi Kapanen, who made his NHL debut for the Leafs this year, and Mikko Rantanen, the promising Colorado forward taken 10th overall in ’15.

Pittsburgh’s run fueled by ‘Baby Pens’

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Thursday night was big for Pittsburgh.

But it was also big for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.

After the Penguins defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Mike Sullivan praised four key players that spent parts of this year with the club’s minor-league affiliate: Matt Murray, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Lest we forget, Sullivan is a WBS guy too. He was coaching in the AHL prior to replacing Mike Johnston midway through the year, and seemed to know his minor league guys — the ‘Baby Pens’ — could produce at the NHL level.

“Those guys were huge,” Sullivan said in his presser. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it
took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played.”

The most obvious hero was Rust, a rookie that scored both goals in the Game 7 win. The Notre Dame product had five goals in 55 career regular season games, but now has five goals in 17 playoff games this year.

“I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be  happier  for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said of Rust. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.”

Murray, who turned 22 earlier this week, was also a key factor. He was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, had two points through Games 5-7 and fired an impressive five shots on goal tonight. Kuhnhackl was a little quieter, but still chipped in with five points this postseason, and provided a physical presence.

Overall, the quartet provided something that Pittsburgh’s lacked in previous playoffs. The knock was always that if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren’t producing, the Pens weren’t winning. They just didn’t have the depth at forward to compensate when their star players went quiet.

That’s not a problem anymore.

“Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit,” Sullivan explained. “There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.”

‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Thursday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

“He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

“I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

“We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”