Americans making the difference for Montreal

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Montreal is a town rich in French and Canadian history,
one that is also directly tied to their beloved hockey team.
French-Canadian players are embraced as local heroes and team always has
a distinct Quebec flavor among the players.

This is a town that is obsessed with its Canadiens and
the region’s patriotic spirit is fueled by the success of their hockey
team. After all, the Habs represent the next chance for the Stanley Cup
to return to Canada — although I have a feeling there are some Canadian
hockey fans that wouldn’t mind seeing that drought stay alive another
year.

One thing that is great about this team, this deeply
historical and locally flavored hockey franchise, is how three
American-born players are proving to be the difference this postseason.

It’s tough to say if Jaroslav Halak or Michael
Cammalleri is the MVP of this team so far, but the trio of Scott Gomez,
Brian Gionta and Hal Gill have been just as important to the Habs’
success against the Penguins and the Capitals

Gomez, who has just one goal but is leading the team in
assists, has provided the edge on the forecheck and the hardworking
example that the team hoped to get when they acquired him. While he has
been under intense scrutiny and criticism this past season for not
living up to his lofty contract, he’s turned it on in the playoffs and
made a difference when it was needed most.

For Brian Gionta, the second-leading scorer for the Habs
in the playoffs, he’s relocated his scoring touch at exactly the right
time. He’s tied with Cammalleri for the team lead in power play scores
and has proven just how valuable a veteran goal scorer can be in the
postseason. More importantly, he knows what it takes to be successful in
the playoffs after seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils.

Yet it’s Hal Gill, fresh off a Stanley Cup win last
season with the Penguins, that’s perhaps made the biggest difference for
the Habs. It’s not what he’s done on the scoreboard that’s been
important, it’s been his leadership and play on defense. Gill has been
instrumental in the shutdown of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin,
frustrating the world’s best players on their way to early playoff
exits.

There’s no doubt that Montreal is proud of their local
heroes but it’s these three Americans can be thanked for helping get the
Habs to this point. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, however, national
allegiances are put aside and only the logo on the front of the jersey
matters.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win