Carolina Hurricanes v Atlanta Thrashers

Around the rink – February 13; Sabres look to keep rolling, Pacific Division races heat up

12:30 p.m.

Boston @ Detroit

It’s NBC’s Game of the Week and the Bruins are looking to get one back after being humbled by Detroit on Friday night 6-1. Detroit’s offensive breakout was as much of a surprise as Boston getting lit up as the B’s have been one of the stingiest teams in the league this year. One thing working in Boston’s favor is that Detroit has been inconsistent the last month and a half so getting it back today might happen. Of course, Detroit’s getting healthier and have virtually their entire normal starting forward corps back on the ice.

3:00 p.m.

NY Islanders @ Buffalo

Well, well, well… Looks who’s back in the mix for the playoffs. The Sabres are just three points behind Carolina and Atlanta who are tied for the eighth spot in the East and with a win today their climb back into the mix will be legitimate. They’ve gone 9-2-0 in their last 11 games and when you go on a tear like that in the East, all things are possible. Sadly for the Sabres, they were so down and out of it before that that run only gets them back into the discussion for the playoffs. The Islanders will be looking to save some face after their embarrassing win over Pittsburgh on Friday which saw them collectively lose their minds and saw them have two players receive lengthy suspensions. We’re figuring the fisticuffs will be put away for this one, but the Sabres of late have found ways to get under everyone’s skin.

Pittsburgh @ NY Rangers

The Penguins hellish trip into New York this weekend that’s seen them get jumped by the Islanders to the tune of 346 penalty minutes and then end up in a bus accident yesterday winds up with a game against a Rangers team they haven’t seen eye-to-eye with at all this year. The fun never ends it seems and they’ll deal with a desperate Rangers team that’s seen their losing streak reach six games in a row. Apparently the Rangers were a team better off without all of their starters on offense as the returns of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Vinny Prospal have netted them nothing. Things will turn around eventually, but after New York’s gutbusting loss on Friday to Atlanta, heads are down and wondering for the Rangers.

Columbus @ Dallas

The Stars are treading water of late and they’re holding on to the slimmest of leads in the Pacific Division. They’ve got the Sharks, Ducks, and Coyotes nipping at their heels and for the Stars, the problems have been on defense. Losing six of their last eight games, they’ve allowed 34 goals in those eight games. Giving up just over four per game isn’t going to win you much in the league aside from the approval of your opponents. Columbus has won three of their last four games, a run that has inched them closer to the pack trying to find a spot in the playoffs. Steve Mason has played better of late and getting consistent goaltending out of him is just what the Jackets need. Their forward groups have played better of late and getting better goaltending serves to be a rallying point.

Los Angeles @ Philadelphia

The Flyers are hot. They’ve gone 13-3-0 in their last 16 games and have won five of their last six games. Dealing with a Kings team coming fresh off a sound 4-1 beating of the Capitals should give them a healthy test as the Kings are loaded with tough players worthy of bringing it at any time. Just ask the Caps what happens when you go into a game ill prepared with L.A. The Kings are in the middle of their 10 game road trip which they’ve gone 3-0-2 on to this point. Earning points in each game on a season-long road swing is quite the accomplishment but continuing that run against the East’s best team won’t be easy.

5:00 p.m.

Carolina @ Atlanta

A huge game in February? You better believe it. These two teams are tied for the eighth spot in the East and for Atlanta they’re looking to keep the good mojo going. Their comeback win over the Rangers on Friday might serve to be the rallying point they’ve been looking for. It’s no coincidence that they pulled out a win in the game they got Tobias Enstrom back in the lineup either as the puck-moving defenseman is key to their success this year. The Hurricanes’ youth has shown its colors of late with the team having lost five of their last six. Bouts of inconsistency are bound to happen, but for Carolina it has come at a bad time as the team could’ve taken control of the eighth spot with Atlanta floundering of late. Of course, without that mutual mess-making we wouldn’t have what sets up to be a great and desperate tilt today.

San Jose @ Florida

The Sharks will be hoping to put their frustrating loss to New Jersey behind them going up against a similarly tough Panthers squad in Sunrise. Florida may not win every game, but they’ve got the nasty habit of making everyone they play against earn it. It’s a yeoman effort for the Panthers to pull this off and their trading of Michal Frolik means that each game will be a bit tougher physically. San Jose though continues to press and put the heat on the Stars to stay ahead of them in the Pacific Division and going 9-1-1 in their last 11 games will do that. Coincidentally enough, the Panthers have lost nine of their last 11 games and their defense and goaltending has been mediocre at the very least.

8:00 p.m.

Anaheim @ Edmonton

We’re not going to say it’ll be an easy game for the Ducks, but considering the Oilers are coming off a disturbing loss to the fellow cellar-dwelling Senators yesterday, the minds of the Oilers are collectively about as low as they can go. When you have four wins in your last 24 games, being down about life will happen. For Anaheim, they’ve won seven of their last nine and are coming off an incredible comeback victory against Calgary on Friday night.

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…