Jay Harrison, Anssi Salmela

Around the Rink – Saturday, February 19th

Let’s take a look at today’s nine games. As always, the start times are according to Eastern Standard Time (ET).

3:30 pm

Atlanta @ Edmonton

The Thrashers are four points behind the eighth-place Hurricanes, so they need to win games like these. It’s as simple as that. They’ve gone a disconcerting 3-9-4 in their last 16 games, so you never know with Atlanta right now.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Toronto

Two trade-altered teams who seem to have “punted” away their seasons face off in this game. The Maple Leafs might still be holding onto to some slim playoff hopes, but both clubs must be looking toward 2011-12 deep down.

New Jersey @ Carolina

The Devils took the two teams’ last game earlier this week, but this should be an interesting test. The Hurricanes have reason to take New Jersey more seriously as Ilya Kovalchuk & Co. come into this game on an undeniable tear. Both teams are in the second half of back-to-back games this weekend, as the Devils shut out the Rangers while the Canes outlasted the Flyers Friday night.

Los Angeles @ NY Islanders

The Islanders probably look up to the Kings, a team that is being very patient as they grow from cellar dwellers in previous seasons to playoff contenders for the last two. That being said – and with all due respect to John Tavares – the Islanders don’t have a player on Drew Doughty’s level. Maybe another lottery pick could change that?

7:30 pm

Florida @ Tampa Bay

Are the Panthers still mixed up about being buyers or sellers during the trade deadline? Surely someone could give them something for Tomas Vokoun, unless they would rather get Bouwmeester’d again. Meanwhile, the Lightning “bought” Eric Brewer, so it will be interesting to see how the aging veteran fits into what Tampa Bay is trying to do.

8:00 pm

Anaheim @ St. Louis

The Ducks have a loose grip on the eighth spot in the West, while the Blues are either starting an unexpected run back to the middle of the bubble or they’re ruining their tanking opportunity.

Phoenix @ Nashville

Despite their reputations for overachieving (or at least grinding out a lot of wins with low amounts of marquee talent), it’s still surprising that the Coyotes are third in the West and first in the Pacific while the Predators are in fourth. Then again, Phoenix could roll way back down to the lower seeds in the span of a couple games (or even one).

10:00 pm

Dallas @ Vancouver

The banged-up Stars could be one loss away from a disturbing fall from the top of the Pacific to being out of the West’s playoff picture. They’ve lost three in a row and only won two in their last 11 games and seem lost lately. Playing against the Canucks won’t make it any easier to find themselves either.

10:30 pm

Colorado @ San Jose

The Sharks could end the night in a place that was once quite familiar: first place in the Pacific. They only trail the Coyotes by one point and actually have one more win. San Jose will face a drastically different Avalanche team, as the club will no longer have Craig Anderson in net nor will they have Chris Stewart crashing opponents’ nets. Yup, the Sharks would regret it if they drop this one.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”

 

Video: So, Joe Thornton is pretty stoked about playing in the Stanley Cup Final

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‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton is off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career. The San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

And yeah, the 36-year-old Thornton, a veteran of 1,367 regular season games with 1,341 career regular season points, is pretty excited for both himself and his team when it comes to this feat.

It hasn’t been easy in San Jose. It hasn’t been easy for the franchise, for the fans, for the players, for Thornton or for Patrick Marleau, who is also 36 years old and has played his entire career (1,411 regular season games) in San Jose.

There have been playoff failures and a regular season disappointment last year. There has been a coaching change and harsh words exchanged between Thornton and management — more specifically, GM Doug Wilson — and an organizational decision to remove the captaincy from Thornton.

After all that, however, the Sharks are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Did we mention Joe Thornton is excited about the final?

Franchise history: The Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final

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For the first time in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks are off to the Stanley Cup Final.

This, after a monumental and historical collapse in the first round to the L.A. Kings two years ago. This, after they failed to make the playoffs a year ago, resulting in a coaching change. There have been other post-season disappointments along the way before that, too.

Those difficult times may never be forgotten. But the Sharks have rebounded, and it culminated with a 5-2 victory over the visiting St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Fans at SAP Center could feel it, too, especially after Joel Ward scored his second goal of the night, giving San Jose a three-goal lead early in the third period.

The Blues attempted a furious comeback but couldn’t quite complete it.

The Sharks this year have eliminated the Kings, Nashville Predators and now the Blues in that order. They await the winner of the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Sharks got off to the perfect start in the series clincher versus St. Louis. Joe Pavelski recorded his 13th goal, which leads all players in this post-season, and the Sharks continued to roll from there.

Ward increased the lead in the second period and again in the third. His second of the night proved to be the winner. Joonas Donskoi‘s goal, making it 4-0 San Jose before the midway point of the third period, proved critical as the Blues tried to spark a desperation comeback.

The Blues’ leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko (40 goals, 74 points in the regular season) was held off the score sheet through the first five games of this series, before finally striking for both St. Louis goals in Game 6.