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Not trading Patrick Sharp the best deal Chicago never made

In the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship the hard realities of playing in a salary cap world became apparent to GM Stan Bowman almost immediately. After performance bonuses kicked in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the bite on the Blackhawks ability to spend was instantaneous for this season and tough decisions had to be made. Out went character scorers like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien among others, but one guy who was rumored to also get sent out of town stayed.

Patrick Sharp, a former Flyers castoff in his own right, stayed in Chicago and this season he’s made Chicago’s faith worthwhile. Sharp’s been nothing short of being the team MVP this season as the Blackhawks have relied on cast-offs and very green rookies to make a run at another Stanley Cup. Where would the Blackhawks be without Sharp though? It’s frightening to picture.

This season, Chicago’s lost Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for multiple games due to injury putting pressure on a host of different young forwards to try and fill their spots in the lineup. Any number of players from Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ryan Potulny, and Jack Skille have all seen time while players have been out but Sharp has been the iron man of the team.

Looking through the stats this season it’s easy to see why Sharp was the guy the Hawks hung on to. Sharp leads the team in goals with 25, he’s also leading the team in goals scored at even strength (13), on the power play (10), shorthanded (2) and is by far the team leader in game-winning goals (6).

Wayne Gretzky always said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and that’s been Sharp’s motto this year as he’s firing shots on goal at an insane rate leading the team with 186. He’s averaging nearly four shots on goal per game and that sort of offense is necessary for a team that’s essentially rolling with two lines that can be counted on to score at all.

When you see the types of seasons Ladd and Byfuglien are having in Atlanta and if you pair that sort of production up with what Sharp’s doing this year, picture losing all of that from one lineup. The Blackhawks off-season was hard enough as it is in dealing with the salary cap, and for as important as Ladd and Byfuglien have been to the Thrashers, both virtual team MVP-type players, losing Sharp makes the difference for Chicago from being a playoff contender and from looking ahead to the NHL draft. With how tough the Central Division and the Western Conference in general has been, losing a guy of that caliber is enough to decide the race in the playoffs. For Stan Bowman, not dealing Patrick Sharp has to be the best deal he never made.

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 20:  Joel Ward #42, Alex Ovechkin #8, Nate Schmidt #88 and Brooks Orpik #44 of the Washington Capitals take a break on the bench as head coach Barry Trotz (L) and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe (R) oversee the action against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of changing the plan when things didn’t go their way. They would play too much as individuals. They would play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

 

 

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”

No hearings scheduled for Boyle on Hickey hit, or Hickey on Drouin hit

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Doesn’t look like there’ll be supplemental discipline coming from Tampa Bay’s crazy 5-4 OT win over the Isles at Barclays last night.

Per the Times, both Brian Boyle and Thomas Hickey have avoided hearings for their big hits — Boyle’s on Hickey, Hickey’s on Jonathan Drouin.

An NHL spokesman has confirmed to PHT that no hearings have been scheduled.

Both hits went unpenalized, but were focal points of Tuesday’s game.

The impact of the Hickey hit forced Drouin from the contest for a lengthy period of time, though Drouin did return to set up Nikita Kucherov‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation.

Boyle’s hit on Hickey was followed by Boyle scoring the game-winning OT goal roughly 10 seconds later.

It also led to Isles head coach Jack Capuano venting his frustrations in his postgame presser.

“It’s a direct shot to the head,” Capuano said, per ESPN. “I mean, probably going to get suspended a game. That’s what I mean. The whole game, it shouldn’t come down to that. [Referee] is standing right there. I’ve watched it numerous times now. Those are the types of hits that we’re trying to eliminate from our game.

“It’s just too bad that it had to end that way. It’s frustrating because it’s right there. The play is right there. He’s looking right at it. The league can look at it if they want, but I’ve watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it’s just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot.”

Capuano didn’t have an update on Hickey following the contest.

Game 4 of this series goes on Friday at Barclays, so there could still be developments forthcoming. The league holds the right to schedule a hearing later (should it be deemed appropriate), and there will likely be an update on Hickey in the coming days.

Related: Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

Report: Ducks sign ’15 first-rounder Larsson

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Jacob Larsson poses after being selected 27th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Though it’s yet to be announced by the club, Swedish d-man Jacob Larsson has reportedly signed on with the Anaheim Ducks — the club that selected him in the first round (27th overall) of the 2015 draft.

Larsson, 19, is set to join Anaheim’s AHL club in San Diego, per Hockeysverige. The Gulls are currently in the midst of the Calder Cup playoffs, embroiled in a series against Ontario.

Larsson came into the ’15 draft fairly highly touted. He was pegged by Central Scouting as one of the top-10 international skaters available, and ended up the seventh defenseman off the board (after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and Noah Juulsen.)

Per Hockeysverige, Larsson is still under contract to SHL club Frolunda for another year, and will be loaned back to the club for the ’16-17 campaign.

Ergo, this trip overseas appears to be so Larsson can get a taste of pro hockey in North America.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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There’s just one game scheduled for tonight, but it should be an exciting one and as you’ve likely guessed, you will be able to watch it via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Washington at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh holds a 2-1 series lead, but this game in particular will be a big test for the Penguins as they’ll be without defensemen Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (upper body). The contest will air on NBCSN and if you want to stream it, you can do so by clicking here.

In the meantime, here are some relevant links:

If there’s an expansion draft, which goalie should Pittsburgh protect?

Penguins bring up Sestito and Oleksy

Video: Letang suspended one game for late hit with ‘significant head contact’ on Johansson

With Letang suspended, Schultz out to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’ if he gets the call in Game 4