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Around the rink – Saturday, January 15th

1:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh @ Boston

No Sidney Crosby for Pittsburgh this afternoon and that might sting a bit more dealing with a Boston team that’s coming off an inspiring win over Philadelphia and winners of three straight as is. Pittsburgh has been playing a tougher brand of hockey this year and a meeting with the bruising Bruins sets up for a rough game. The Bruins got their three game win streak started on Monday by beating the Pens at CONSOL in comeback fashion. No doubt that the Pens would like a bit of payback for that.

7:00 p.m.

Calgary @ Toronto

We know it’s Hockey Night In Canada, but this one’s set up to be a bit of a letdown. The Flames are playing the second of back-to-back road games and the Leafs are coming home after a five-game road trip and a 5-1 loss to Phoenix. The Leafs will get Jean-Sebastian Giguere back to their lineup but that might be the worst news of all as the recently sent down James Reimer has been the guy responsible for the Leafs recent four-game win streak. What might help out the Leafs is facing a slumping Miikka Kiprusoff for Calgary.

NY Rangers @ Montreal

The Rangers are coming off a big win over Vancouver and would like nothing more than to put one over on the Habs, who they lost to earlier this week. Montreal is coming off a bad loss to Pittsburgh but have been playing solid of late. Taking the Rangers down on home ice would be a good way to get back on the horse. Both teams could use a shot in the arm offensively as they’ve been routinely scoring three or fewer goals.

Buffalo @ NY Islanders

If the Sabres are serious about getting back into the playoff hunt, beating the Islanders has to be seen as a must. Getting Thomas Vanek back out on the ice and boosting the offense will help but getting a big night from Ryan Miller would be better. He’s been playing a little better of late, but to say he might be a bit hungover from how busy he was last year with the regular season, Olympics, and playoffs might be true. For the Islanders they’ll be looking to snap a three-game losing skid. This is the first of three meetings between these two teams over the next eight days.

Tampa Bay @ Carolina

For the Lightning’s sake, we’re hoping they’ve put their stink bomb of a game against New Jersey last night out of their mind. Facing off with a tough Carolina team might not make for the best follow up game for Tampa Bay. Carolina’s won three of their last four but are coming off a tough loss to Buffalo on Thursday. Tampa Bay is hanging on to a perilous lead in the Southeast division and getting a win tonight would put some space between themselves and Washington.

New Jersey @ Florida

The Devils have won two in a row with both wins coming against the Lightning. Weird, we know but they’ll hope their good fortune can continue against the other team in Florida. The Panthers are on a two-game win streak with wins coming against the Caps and Predators but with different goalies earning the wins in each. Will Scott Clemmensen get the nod against his former team, and second straight start, to keep the good mojo going? It might happen. The Devils will have to prove they can score goals against teams other than the Lightning for now.

Columbus @ Detroit

We’re hoping the healthy skaters for Detroit were wrapped in newspaper and Styrofoam on the flight from Columbus back to Detroit overnight lest they get anyone else injured before the back end of their home-and-home series with the Blue Jackets. They’ll be without Jimmy Howard tonight for sure meaning that Joey MacDonald or rookie Thomas McCollum will get the nod in goal. The Jackets, meanwhile, want to keep the good times rolling after snapping their five-game losing skid last night. Perhaps playing each night for charity might not be the worst idea.

8:00 p.m.

Chicago @ Nashville

All of a sudden, this game becomes a pretty intriguing one on tonight’s schedule. With both teams playing great of late, Corey Crawford having two straight shutouts, and the Wings being loaded with injury problems, the Central Division battle got way more interesting. If the Predators can solve Crawford, they’ll be in business. Keeping the Hawks off the board might be the perplexing battle for Nashville as it’s been their role players doing the dirty work of late.

Atlanta @ Dallas

It doesn’t get any easier for the Thrashers. After a tough loss to Philly last night, they head to Dallas to take on the first place Stars where former #1 draft pick goalie Kari Lehtonen awaits to show the Thrashers what they gave up on. The Thrashers are having a rough go of late and dealing with a feisty Stars attack won’t help matters any.

Anaheim @ Phoenix

OK raise your hand if you thought this game would be a battle for second place in the Pacific Division in mid January. That’s right, no hands raised at all. It is a battle for second and both teams are playing some pretty tough hockey. The Ducks have the streaking Bobby Ryan leading the way for them along with the disturbingly steady Corey Perry. Both teams are hoping to keep up with the Stars in the division. Our hope for this one is that Twitter superstar Paul Bissonette gets a chance to drop the gloves once again with mustachioed fan favorite George Parros.

10:00 p.m.

Edmonton @ Los Angeles

The Oilers were able to make fans in San Jose push the panic button on Thursday night beating the Sharks. Beating the Kings tonight might cause the same thing to happen in L.A. with the Kings having lost seven of their last eight games and fans getting impatient with both coach Terry Murray and GM Dean Lombardi seemingly not doing much to help the team improve. You feel like a shakeup is coming in L.A. and a loss to the Oilers might put things into motion.

10:30 p.m.

St. Louis @ San Jose

The Blues are coming off a strong win over the Kings while the Sharks are plummeting in the Pacific losers of six in a row and playing ugly hockey on top of it all. For a team that was at the top of the Western Conference last year, this downturn is stunning. For the Blues, they want to keep the positives going as their win over L.A. was their first in six games. If they can kick a Sharks team while it’s down, they’ll be able to go back home with their heads held high while keeping pace in the Central Division.

Laine makes Team Finland for World Cup, Puljujarvi doesn’t

Patrik Laine of Finland celebrates scoring against Russia during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship final match between Finland and Russia in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT
AP
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The Finns rounded out their 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster on Friday morning, and two of the country’s brightest young prospects received decidedly different news.

Patrik Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP and likely No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft, was named to the squad. Jesse Puljujarvi, the 2016 World Juniors MVP and presumptive No. 3 pick, was left off.

Puljujarvi, 18, was edged out for a spot at forward by Laine, Minnesota’s Erik Haula and Sebastian Aho, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect that spent last season playing for Karpat of the SM-liiga.

Aho, another 18-year-old, played alongside Laine for Finland’s silver medal-winning squad at the Worlds and finished the tournament with seven points in 10 games.

On defense, Finland added three more skaters to the roster: Calgary’s Jyrki Jokipakka, Chicago farmhand Ville Pokka and Sami Lepisto, who plays in the KHL.

In goal, another KHLer — SKA Saint Petersburgh’s Mikko Koskinen — was selected, and will compete for minutes with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.

The Finnish roster, in full:

G Mikko Koskinen, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) *
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

D Jyrki Jokipakka, Calgary Flames *
D Sami Lepisto, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) *
D Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Ville Pokka, Rockford IceHogs (AHL) *
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

F Sebastian Aho, Karpat Oulu (SM-liiga) *
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild *
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Patrik Laine, Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga) *
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks

* named to roster today

Among the notable “snubs” for Finland? Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Vancouver’s Markus Granlund (Mikael’s brother), Winnipeg’s Joel Armia, former Boston Bruin Joonas Kemppainen and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki.

In addition to Puljujarvi, it’s also worth noting two of the country’s brightest young prospects failed to make it: Kasperi Kapanen, who made his NHL debut for the Leafs this year, and Mikko Rantanen, the promising Colorado forward taken 10th overall in ’15.

Pittsburgh’s run fueled by ‘Baby Pens’

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Thursday night was big for Pittsburgh.

But it was also big for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.

After the Penguins defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Mike Sullivan praised four key players that spent parts of this year with the club’s minor-league affiliate: Matt Murray, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Lest we forget, Sullivan is a WBS guy too. He was coaching in the AHL prior to replacing Mike Johnston midway through the year, and seemed to know his minor league guys — the ‘Baby Pens’ — could produce at the NHL level.

“Those guys were huge,” Sullivan said in his presser. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it
took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played.”

The most obvious hero was Rust, a rookie that scored both goals in the Game 7 win. The Notre Dame product had five goals in 55 career regular season games, but now has five goals in 17 playoff games this year.

“I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be  happier  for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said of Rust. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.”

Murray, who turned 22 earlier this week, was also a key factor. He was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, had two points through Games 5-7 and fired an impressive five shots on goal tonight. Kuhnhackl was a little quieter, but still chipped in with five points this postseason, and provided a physical presence.

Overall, the quartet provided something that Pittsburgh’s lacked in previous playoffs. The knock was always that if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren’t producing, the Pens weren’t winning. They just didn’t have the depth at forward to compensate when their star players went quiet.

That’s not a problem anymore.

“Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit,” Sullivan explained. “There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.”

‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Thursday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

“He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

“I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

“We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup Final TV schedule

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

The National Hockey League announced today the schedule for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday, May 30, in Pittsburgh.

Based on their superior regular-season point total, the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins will host Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, as well as Games 5 and 7, if necessary.

The Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks will host Games 3 and 4, as well as Game 6, if necessary.

In the U.S., NBC will televise Game 1 and, if necessary, Games 5-7. NBCSN will broadcast Game 2. Television information for Games 3 and 4 will be announced at a later date.

Game 1 Monday, May 30 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 2 Wednesday, June 1 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBCSN
Game 3 Saturday, June 4 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 4 Monday, June 6 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 5* Thursday, June 9 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 6* Sunday, June 12 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose NBC
Game 7* Wednesday, June 15 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC

Media day will be on Sunday, May 29, time TBD. PHT will be on location for the entirety of the final, and a reminder that all games will also be broadcast on NBC Sports Radio.

PHT’s Mike Halford (that’s me) and Jason Brough will be providing analysis for both pre- and post-game shows.