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A new kind of Rangers team thriving

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The New York Rangers current 4-game winning streak has them sitting in the 7th spot with 82 points going into tonight’s game against the Florida Panthers. Tonight they’ll have the opportunity to either gain on the 6th place Canadiens or pull further away from the 8th place Sabres (depending on the result of the Sabres/Habs game). Whether they are able to gain ground on the Habs or increase their lead on the Sabres, the most important thing is the recent streak has created a little separation between them and the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes.

This year’s version of the Rangers is marking a change from the past. In the years leading up to the salary cap – and even a few years after the implementation of the cap – the Rangers were the poster team for over-indulgence on players who were past their prime. Players from Wade Redden to Jaromir Jagr and from Chris Drury to Scott Gomez all knew there was the team on Broadway that would be willing to freely spend for a player whose best years were probably behind them. They were assembling a fantasy roster—unfortunately it was usually the fantasy roster that looked great if it were from two years ago.

The Rangers were the team that was quick to make a splash at the deadline. They’d throw caution (as well as prospects and draft picks) to the wind in hopes of finding that one last player who would be the savior. But over the last year or so, Glen Sather has been singing a different tune. He’s repeatedly stated to anyone who would listen that he was going to stick with the young guys. His plan was to keep the young players and prospects they’d acquired instead of trading them away for a 3-month quick fix. Judging by the organization’s unwillingness to sell the farm for Brad Richards at the deadline, it looks like it might be more than just the usual lip service.

The team now has young players like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky that every team in the league would love to build around. They have young blueliners like Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer, and Michael Del Zotto who look like they could be a very good corps of defensemen. They have prospects like Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan who are coming into their own at the NHL level. Earlier this week, they were able to sign two of their most promising prospects in Ryan Bourque and Dylan McIlrath; who should go well with high-end offensive prospects Christian Thomas and Chris Kreider once they sign with the organization. Simply put, they have players all over the organization who should be productive guys on the roster for years to come.

Not only are the Rangers holding onto the young players, they’re starting to see a different type of player star on Broadway. It’s not the high-priced superstar who is unwilling to do what it takes to win. Now, there are guys like Ryan Callahan who have the sandpaper and heart needed to win. Callahan sees the difference as well:

“[re: Rangers 5-2 victory vs. Pittsburgh] It would have been pretty easy to get down on ourselves and hang our heads after letting up that goal on the power play, but to our credit we showed a lot of character to come back. All year we’ve been fighting in these one-goal games and dogfights in the third period, so we’re used to it and just go out there and do what we have to do.”

In the past, these are exactly the guys who would be sent with a draft pick for the 2nd line rental at the deadline. They are the guys who wouldn’t get a chance to play big roles on the team because they were sitting behind a guy who was brought in (to great fanfare) only to slow the development process of a player struggling to reach his potential. The salary cap has forced it, but New Yorkers are starting to see the benefits of good drafting. More importantly, they’re seeing the fruits of holding onto draft picks and prospects instead of trading them a short-term fix.

If the Rangers are going to be successful this season, it’s going to be these young players who lead the way. The intensity at the end of the regular season and the playoffs always increases about 17 levels – and for the first time in a long time, it looks like the Rangers have the type of players who can handle it. Better yet, they have the type of players who will thrive on it. Their current winning streak is the first time they’ve won four straight in over two years. They couldn’t have picked a better time.

(Update for tonight’s game vs. Florida: Marc Staal will miss his second consecutive game with his mysterious injury.)

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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

Video: Brouwer was big for Blues

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Troy Brouwer made quite an impression in his first year with the St. Louis Blues. After being acquired from the Capitals for T.J. Oshie, the 30-year-old scored 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. His eight goals and 13 points during the playoffs weren’t too shabby either.

Brouwer took on more of a signficant role in the postseason. His points-per-game increased, his ice time increased and he was more productive on the man-advantage (3 goals in 20 games). While the Blues were fighting for their playoff lives in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Final, Brouwer contributed three goals.

Now, the Blues will have to find a way to keep him around. His playoff success likely means that he’ll be expecting a substantial raise between now and the end of the league year on July 1st. Brouwer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on that day.

Brouwer came with a cap hit of $3.66 million and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number climb higher, especially if he hits the open market.

The Blues also need to work out deals with other pending free agents like captain David Backes and Jaden Schwartz (RFA). There isn’t a ton of money left under the cap in St. Louis, which means that GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative this summer.

One of the things Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock liked about Brouwer was the way he seemed to fit in right away.

“He was on the team for a month,” Hitchcock explained earlier this week, per the Vancouver Sun. “I think my meetings were a little bit too long.  He told me it would be best if I kept them a little briefer.  So I knew he had a bite on the team right away. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable with us, which is great.”  

How much will comfort count for in the off-season negotiations between club and player? We’ll find out soon enough.

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.”