Penguins, Capitals might turn to two career AHLers to fill lineup gaps

keithaucoingoal.jpgAs Ray Shero discussed in a story we referenced on Sunday, NHL teams can’t stock their teams with high-end players like they did in the pre-salary cap days. Instead, general managers must look for bargains to fill out their rosters, whether that means a savvy veteran, a reclamation project or – sometimes – an AHLer.

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy discusses two AHL veterans hoping to make the leap from the minors to the big-time. He discusses Brett Sterling, who came to the Penguins this off-season after failing to stick with the Thrashers and Keith Aucoin, a 31-year-old center in the Capitals’ system. As Kennedy points out, the two teams are in opposite situations; Pittsburgh needs wingers while Washington could use a center or two.

This is where Sterling can make his mark. Much like Haydar, Sterling has wreaked havoc on the AHL throughout his career – 97 points with the Chicago Wolves in ’06-07 (with Haydar, no less) was his best – but failed to impress in the NHL with Atlanta. Of course, as a left winger, he was buried behind Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov at the time. In Pittsburgh, a good camp could mean Crosby or Malkin feeding him pucks.

Plus, the Pens have about $2 million in cap space left for the season and Sterling’s stipend is a very reasonable $500,000.

Pittsburgh’s archrivals, the Washington Capitals, have the opposite problem – great wingers, but only one great center, Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, the Caps tried to plug the second-line center hole with Brendan Morrison, but decided against a sequel this summer.

That opens the door for 31-year-old Keith Aucoin, another career minor leaguer with an impressive resume. The 5-foot-9 Aucoin (sensing a theme here?) actually had five points in nine games for the Caps last year, so he has contributed. Now, he’ll have to fight off fellow Hershey Bears alumnus Mathieu Perreault and Swedish rookie Marcus Johansson for a spot on the big club.

Considering the fact that both teams have Stanley Cup dreams, I’d imagine each club would rather not settle for AHL table scraps.

Still, if players like Matt Moulson teach us anything, it’s that some players take time to develop or simply benefit from a change of scenery. Time will tell if they finally find a way to stick in the NHL or if their teams go in a new direction.

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    Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

    Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

    With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

    It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

    Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

    The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

    Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

    If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

    Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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    Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

    An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

    After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

    You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

    Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

    Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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    Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

    Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

    Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

    Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

    Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

    An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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    Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

    Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

    Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

    Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

    “It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

    Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

    People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.