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Thrashers sign Dustin Byfuglien to five-year extension worth $26 million

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Dustin Byfuglien’s big season for the Thrashers is being rewarded in an even bigger way today. The impending restricted free agent cashed in today signing a five-year extension with Atlanta worth $26 million. That amount is good for a salary cap hit of $5.2 million per year until the 2015-2016 season.

Byfuglien is in the midst of his best season as a professional and doing so at a position that many doubted he could perform well at on defense. With 17 goals and 26 assists from the blue line, Byfuglien is Atlanta’s leading scorer. Doing all of this while being moved back to his original position on defense is outstanding work.

After being a revelation during the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run last season as a power forward, Byfuglien has become a scoring threat from the blue line in more elaborate ways than he could as a forward. He’s a threat to unleash a big shot from the point or pinch in deep and make things uncomfortable for opposing forwards and defensemen alike. The work head coach Craig Ramsay has done in helping to improve Byfuglien’s game as well as GM Rick Dudley’s faith in him to pull it off speaks volumes in this deal being signed now.

Of course, with this deal life is made more interesting for other defensemen whose contracts are up after this season. One in particular is Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Chicago is still strapped by the salary cap and Seabrook is going to demand a raise from his $3.5 million cap hit this year. Asking for the sort of money Byfuglien got might be tough to do as Seabrook’s offensive numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy. They’re not bad though as he’s got four goals and 27 assists as well as a -3 plus/minus rating.

There’s also Nashville’s Shea Weber who is set to become an restricted free agent after this season and is coming off a contract that paid him $4.5 million. Being the Predators captain certainly means that the pressure is on Nashville to take care of him long term and they certainly need him to stay.

For now, Atlanta has staked their future on Byfuglien continuing to grow into his role as a leader on defense and as a power play quarterback. Having him teamed up with Tobias Enstrom gives the Thrashers one solid pair along the blue line that can defend a bit and score a ton. The financial commitment may be high, but considering where Atlanta is salary-wise in the league, they can more than afford to make such a big splash.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.