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Around the rink – February 27; Lightning-Rangers highlight a busy Sunday

1:00 p.m.

Tampa Bay @ NY Rangers

It’s the first game of the day and perhaps the most intriguing. Bryan McCabe will make his Rangers debut after being traded by the Panthers yesterday. The Rangers hold a three point cushion over Carolina for seventh place in East and trail Montreal by three for sixth. Tampa Bay has a three point lead on Washington for the Southeast Division lead and lead Boston by two points for second. It’s all playoff spot jockeying  for now but the Rangers have won two in row including a humiliating 6-0 win over Washington on Friday night. Tampa Bay has won two in a row of their own and a win would help keep the heat off from the Caps.

3:00 p.m.

Columbus @ Nashville

Teams going in opposite directions here as Columbus has won five of their last six, including three in a row, while Nashville has lost four straight. The Blue Jackets are just two points behind Nashville in the standings now and while that’s great, both teams as of now are out of the playoffs. Nashville needs goals in the worst way as they’ve scored just four goals over their last four games and have been shutout twice. Columbus has been getting stellar play out of both Steve Mason and Rick Nash and if they want to hang in there in the playoff race, taking care of Nashville will go a long way towards that.

5:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Atlanta

This is a huge game for both teams as the Leafs look to get past their wild 6-5 shootout loss to Pittsburgh last night. Atlanta’s second half of the season has been beyond miserable and oddly enough, their season took a turn for the worse since beating the Leafs back on December 20th. Since then, Atlanta has gone 6-17-4 going from a likely playoff team to one that’s now six points behind Carolina for eighth with Buffalo and Toronto in front of them in that race. The Leafs can get to within three points of Carolina with a win. Atlanta can keep their pulse alive for the playoffs with a win.

New Jersey @ Florida

The Devils are coming off a tough loss to Tampa Bay and playing the Panthers today could prove to be the last one in a Florida uniform for any number of players. The Devils can expect either a team that will be demoralized and get run over or one looking to get one last rally in before tomorrow’s trade deadline. If it’s the latter, the effect it has on the Devils slim shot at the playoffs will be profound as a Devils loss could make them finally decide to pack it in and trade some players away themselves.

7:00 p.m.

Phoenix @ Chicago

Speaking of a team in need of a win, the Chicago Blackhawks everyone. The Hawks are just two points behind Minnesota and Dallas who are tied for sixth in the West. With how tight things are there, every game is important and wins in regulation come at a premium. Phoenix, meanwhile, sits in fourth with 75 points and three points behind San Jose for the lead in the Pacific Division. After dropping two in a row to Columbus and Tampa Bay, the Coyotes could stand to get better goaltending and defense after giving up eight to Tampa and five to Columbus.

8:00 p.m.

St. Louis @ Calgary

Welcome to the bigs Ben Bishop. The Blues goalie is coming off his first career NHL shutout in a 5-0 win over Edmonton on Friday. Playing the eighth place in the West Flames should provide a bit more of a challenge, however. The Flames are looking to get off the schneid after two losses in a row to Boston and San Jose, a pair of red hot teams in their own right. St. Louis is barely hanging on in the playoff race and a loss to the Flames would just about put a bullet in their hopes the rest of the way.

Boston @ Edmonton

Boston looks to stay perfect on their six game road trip. They’re 4-0-0 after beating Vancouver last night and they’re looking impressive while doing it. Tonight’s game will show off the top two picks from the 2010 NHL draft in Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Hall’s had the better statistical season, but clearly Seguin is seeing more team success as the Oilers have the worst record in the NHL while the Bruins lead the Northeast Division. On the upside for the Oilers, they’re probably not going to face Tim Thomas in goal. Tuukka Rask, of course, isn’t much of a relief himself.

Colorado @ Anaheim

While the Avalanche’s playoff hopes are pretty much null and void, unless the Ducks can pull out of their tailspin they’ll be joining them. Anaheim has lost their last five games in a row and have gone from being locked in on making the playoffs to being alone in 11th place in the West, three points behind Calgary. With Dan Ellis in goal for the Ducks, it’s a great opportunity for him to prove himself. He played great the other night against Minnesota only to get burned in overtime. The only thing we know for sure with the Ducks is that as long as they keep losing with Jonas Hiller out of action, the stronger Hiller’s case for Vezina consideration is made.

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.