Breaking the ice: Lemieux, Crosby become first people to skate at Consol Energy Center

For years, the Pittsburgh Penguins enjoyed the increasingly rare advantage of playing at home in an old arena. Rather than playing in a sterile*, impersonal new megadome the team played in crusty old Mellon Arena. As you may know, starting next season, that will change as the Penguins open the arena that Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin built: the Consol Energy Center.

* – Of course, judging from recent health code reports about the Verizon Center and other crummy concession stand situations, “sterile” isn’t such a bad description.

The team had video and a story about Lemieux and Crosby being the first two people to ever skate at the soon-to-be-opened palace. Before I get into some of the details from the story, check out the footage.

Two of the more hockey-relevant details regard the pros and cons of having a new building versus an old one.

One of the common issues with having an old barn is that there are some “bad seats” in the house while new arenas typically are designed to shoot down that problem. Lemieux raved about the sight lines in that article.

On the other hand, old arenas are known for having more charm than their fancier, newer counterparts. Both Lemieux and Crosby said that the seats are pretty close to the ice, though.

“We felt that the seats were pretty close to the ice and that should be great for the atmosphere of the building,” Lemieux said. “We thought that it was going to be great for the fans being so close to the ice. And we also talked about how beautiful the building looked.”

Besides how beautiful the arena looked from ice level, and much like Lemieux, Crosby was also blown away by how close the fans are going to be to the action.

“On the ice I just liked looking around at the building,” Crosby said. “It is first class all the way. When you are out there the stands and the suites seem like they are really close to the ice. That intimacy is something that we had at the Mellon, and I think we brought it here.”

For nostalgic fans, it’s always sad to see an old arena go. Even if the seats are cramped, the bathrooms are decrepit and the place is falling apart. Yet, if Crosby and Lemieux are correct, the Consol Energy Center might provide the best of both worlds – the bells and whistles of a profitable new arena plus the intimacy of an older design. We’ll wait and see, because chances are, they’ll get to test drive it in the playoffs soon enough.

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    The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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    Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

    Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

    The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

    St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

    Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

    Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

    There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

    It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

    Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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    After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

    Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

    Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

    Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

    The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

    Wow.

    With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

    As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

    Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

    Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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    Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

    Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

    Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

    Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

    Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

    Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

    Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

    The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

    Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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    Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

    If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

    It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

    Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

    That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

    That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

    If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.