Savard's return provides instant spark for Boston Bruins

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Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
12:30 p.m. EDT, May 1, 2010
Live on NBC

The Bruins are playing some of their best hockey of the season, a
year
in which they stumbled along under the pressure of high expectations,
and now are getting an injection of talent and skill as Marc Savard is
set to return today against the Philadelphia Flyers.

For a while there, it looked as if the Boston Bruins’ season may
have ended along with Marc Savard’s, who last hit the ice with his team
on March 7. With Savard out indefinitely with a brutal concussion after
being hit by Matt Cooke, the Bruins looked like a team missing their
heart and desire to compete.

When the Bruins had their chance at
an overly-hyped ‘revenge game’ against Cooke and the Penguins, hockey
fans were sorely disappointed at the lackluster effort shown by the team
on home ice. Here was a chance for the Bruins to not only get some
legal payback on Cooke and the Penguins, but to use the emotional
motivation to spring board away from the bottom of the playoff
standings. Instead, the Bruins looked disinterested and empty as they
were dominated by the Penguins is embarrassing fashion.

Since that
game, the Bruins have used the criticism as motivation to improve. They
entered the playoffs winning six of their last ten games, and while it
seemed they may fall out of the playoffs altogether were able to finish
in the sixth seed. They used the momentum built in the final weeks of
the season, along with some stellar goaltending, to stun the Buffalo
Sabres with a six game series win in the opening round.

With
today’s return of Savard, the Bruins are getting an instant upgrade on
the power play and a playmaker that is certain to make the Bruins into
an even more dangerous team they showed they could be against the
Sabres. While the goaltending of Tuukka Rask was certainly a major
factor in the team’s success in the first round, getting a player with
Savard’s skill could take the Bruins to the level they were never able
to achieve in last year’s postseason.

As GM Peter Chiarelli said
this week, getting Savard back now is the equivalent of a trade deadline
acquisition. The Bruins have been playing for two months without
Savard, slowly growing together on the ice without their best playmaking
forward. Now, with Savard’s return, the Bruins become a much more
dangerous team. They get the heart of the team back and they get an
instant upgrade in talent.

Of course, Savard won’t instantly go
back to 20 to 25 minutes a game right away. There’s some concern over
how he’ll respond to a full game with contact, especially such a
physical team like the Flyers, but I’m guessing we’ll be getting a
motivated player just itching to make a difference.

‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Aaron Ekblad #5  of the Florida Panthers leaves the ice following warmups prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.

Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.

On Thursday, Ekblad told reporters the injury was actually whiplash.

The 20-year-old Ekblad has had a history of concussions, including one from a Hockey Canada camp in August, 2014 — almost two full months after the Panthers selected him first overall.

He was injured again in January of last season when Matt Hendricks caught him with a dangerous hit against the end boards, resulting in a suspension for Hendricks.

Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.

“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.

“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”

The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.

Stars sign WHL d-man Vala to entry-level deal

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The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.

On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.

Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.

He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.

“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.

Related:

Another — yes, another — blow for Dallas as Janmark spotted on crutches

Capitals send first-round pick Johansen back to junior

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Lucas Johansen poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by the Washington Capitals in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals have sent prospect defenseman Lucas Johansen, selected 28th overall in this year’s NHL Draft, back to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League.

From the Kelowna Capital News:

The Kelowna Rockets have yet to play a regular season game with a full lineup.

That will change this weekend in Prince George when defenceman Lucas Johansen and forward Calvin Thurkauf rejoin their WHL club for a two-game set against the Cougars.

Johansen, a first-round NHL draft pick this summer, is back from the camp of the Washington Capitals, while Thurkauf returns from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Capitals confirmed the news via Twitter.

Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.

Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.

“For a first game, to have that kind of poise playing defense, you don’t see it very often,” Capitals’ associate coach Todd Reirden told the Washington Post.

“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”

Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League has suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw for three preseason games for boarding defenseman Connor Hobbs of the Washington Capitals in an exhibition game Tuesday.

The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.

Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.

From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.

“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”

In a bid to land a gritty forward to their lineup, the Habs acquired Shaw from the Blackhawks, who had been dealing with a cap crunch, during the NHL Draft. He later signed a six-year contract extension with Montreal.