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Around the rink – Thursday, February 3

7:00 p.m.

Carolina @ Toronto

Is revenge on the minds of the Toronto Maple Leafs players? Perhaps. Carolina’s Tim Gleason caught the ire of Clarke MacArthur for his manhandling of Nikolai Kulemin in a fight during their last game. One guy that won’t be condoning retribution will be Leafs coach Ron Wilson who thought Gleason did nothing wrong. Carolina is trying to catch Atlanta in the race for the eighth spot in the East and trading losses with the Thrashers won’t get it done. Carolina’s going to have to treat games like this as must-win affairs. Toronto, meanwhile, looks to improve on their shootout win over Florida on Tuesday.

Dallas @ Boston

Dallas heads to Boston in a bit of a funk. They’ve lost three of their last four games and are looking terrible in goal in those losses having given up 18 goals in those three games. Will they get a reprieve from the offensive onslaught against the Bruins? You can never be too sure but after Nathan Horton snapped his goalless streak against Carolina, the Bruins offensive worries of late could be on the mend. Dallas might want to get back to winning though as the Sharks have caught fire in the Pacific and are now tied with Anaheim five points behind in second place.

New Jersey @ NY Rangers

Vinny Prospal makes his return to the Rangers lineup and he’ll get to play on a line with Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik. Not a bad way to welcome a guy back. The Rangers got off to a rough start after the All-Star break with a shootout loss to the Penguins. The rough and tumble Pens are a good way to warm up for the more difficult to play against Devils. After dropping two in a row, the Rangers would like to turn things around against the NHL’s worst team. New Jersey, though, are winners of five of their last six games and are coming off a 2-1 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.

Nashville @ Philadelphia

The Flyers get a bit of a break in that they don’t have to face Pekka Rinne tonight. Instead, they’ll have to deal with 6’5″ Swedish rookie Anders Lindback. Don’t expect things to be any easier for the Flyers in facing Lindback though. The lanky rookie is more than capable as Rinne’s backup. The Flyers are hoping to have a bit better luck than they did against Tampa Bay on Tuesday where they were shutout 4-0. The Flyers are also hoping to keep putting a little distance between themselves and the Penguins who just keep finding ways to win behind them.

Calgary @ Atlanta

Two teams headed in opposite directions. The Flames are hot and winners of five in a row and just one point behind Minnesota for second place in the Northwest Division. Everyone there is playing for second behind Vancouver but just the fact that Calgary has launched themselves into the playoff race after being so bad for most of the season is stunning.

Atlanta, meanwhile, hangs on to a playoff spot by a thread after playing woefully poor lately. They’ve lost eight of their last ten games going 2-5-3 in that time and holding a slim lead over Carolina for the last spot in the East playoff race. In that time, the  Thrashers offense and goaltending has disappeared scoring just 18 goals in their last ten games and allowing 41. Panic hasn’t set in there yet, but frustrations are high and GM Rick Dudley is looking to shake things up with a deal.

9:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ Colorado

Another case of teams going in opposite directions. The Wild are playing solid lately and have gotten themselves heavily into the mix for the playoffs. After how poorly the team started this season some wondered if coach Todd Richards would end up losing his job over it. Instead, patience is paying off for the Wild and goalie Niklas Backstrom is rounding into the form Wild fans are more accustomed to from him. Colorado has gone mediocre of late going 5-4-1 in their last ten games. It’s decent but not as good as they’d like to be and considering they were able to keep pace with Vancouver for a short time, things certainly aren’t as good as they once were. The main issue is goaltending as both Peter Budaj and Craig Anderson have been fighting bouts on inconsistency all season long. The Wild give the Avalanche fits all the time so keep an eye out to see if the frustration continues once again in Denver.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE