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Around the rink – Wednesday, December 22nd

It’s another night for a showdown in the Western Conference featuring the Detroit Red Wings. This time it’s the Vancouver Canucks that come rolling into Detroit. With it being a light night on the schedule, this one stands out as the must-see game of the night. All times listed are Eastern.

7:00 pm

Tampa Bay @ NY Islanders

No Rick DiPietro for the Islanders as he’s back on the IR. Dwayne Roloson gets to be the main man again for the woeful Islanders. Facing the streaking Lightning might not be what they were looking forward to doing. Tampa’s won four in a row but they’ll have to hope Dan Ellis can take the reigns effectively with Mike Smith feeling banged up. The Isles better be ready to stop Steve Stamkos as he’s got four goals in the last four games for the Lightning.

Florida @ Pittsburgh

Both of these teams come into this one after blowout wins on Monday night. The Panthers disposed of Philly in quick order while the Penguins dismantled a sloppy Phoenix team. The Pens are coming into this one looking more dangerous than usual. Sure, Sidney Crosby still has his point streak going strong but now Evgeni Malkin is back and healthy and killing it. Malkin had two goals and three assists against Phoenix and has looked like the former Art Ross Trophy winner once again. That bodes poorly for the Panthers who hope to end up in a lower scoring affair. At least they’ve got Tomas Vokoun on their side to help them do that. Vokoun has four shutouts this season after earning a big one against Philadelphia.

7:30 pm

Vancouver @ Detroit

The Canucks sit tied atop the Northwest Division with Colorado and two points behind Detroit for second place in the Western Conference. It’s not playoff push time, but it still speaks to how good these teams are. Vancouver rolls into town winners of four in a row and looking good defensively while doing it giving up five goals in those four games. Detroit meanwhile has dropped their last two games and three of their last four. A win over Vancouver would be a solid sign of getting things back to normal in Detroit, otherwise it’s time for the fans to start fretting.

8:30 pm

Nashville @ Chicago

The Predators are back in action for the first time since Saturday after getting thumped by L.A. The time off helps them out and Anders Lindback will get to keep playing goal for the meantime. The Preds had won six in a row before that. Chicago comes in with a two game win streak and they’ve done it on the strength of Corey Crawford.  For Lindback, stuffing the Chicago offense that’s still without Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Viktor Stalberg makes the effort seem easier but over the last four games the Hawks have scored 15 goals. It’s stunning that they’ve lost two of those four.

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…