Darroll Powe, Marc-Andre Fleury

Flyers set to play post-Crosby, Malkin Penguins for first time

It’s hard to believe since they are cross-state and division rivals, but the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t played against the Pittsburgh Penguins since December 14th, as Adam Kimelman from NHL.com points out. In that time, the makeup of that Penguins has changed considerably, with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going down with serious injuries.

Yet while the team isn’t quite as dynamic from an offensive standpoint, the Penguins have remained competitive through solid defense and an impressive all-around work ethic. They trail the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference-leading Flyers by five points and Philadelphia has one game in hand, so tonight’s game is still pretty important even though Philly has a healthy lead. The gap might be too large for them to close in such a small time, but it’s far from impossible to imagine if they win tonight.

While Pittsburgh doesn’t overwhelm you with star power anymore, the Flyers are aware that they still must prepare for a challenge. Kimelman writes that the team is giving the Penguins plenty of respect as they prepare for the game.

“They’re missing a couple key players, but … they’ve still been playing pretty well,” defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “They always play hard. They’re good system-wise and if you’re not ready to compete, you’re going to lose the game. We have to go out there and compete and play a full 60 minutes.”

Timonen and his defense partner, Braydon Coburn, likely would have seen a lot of Crosby and Malkin. Obviously they won’t have to deal with that challenge, but Coburn said it doesn’t change how he approaches his job.

“They always play the same system,” Coburn told NHL.com. “They’ve got great players over there, they seem to work well together. They have good team chemistry. Their depth is excellent because they have two top players out of their lineup and doesn’t really seem like they’ve missed too much of a beat.”

It’s difficult to gauge what kind of ceiling this Penguins team has if Crosby cannot return (or even if he does, really). Games like these might be a solid measuring stick, though. The Flyers could just about guarantee a division title tonight if they take a win, so both teams have plenty to play for. We’ll keep you updated about this and other big games tonight at PHT.

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.

Goals of the Week get tougher as Cup Final approaches

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The Stanley Cup Final is almost upon us and picking the very best Goals of the Week is a tough task. See how we did on this edition!

Just for Men: Mike Commodore

RALEIGH, NC - JUNE 14:  Mike Commodore #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes warms up before game five of the 2006 NHL Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers on June 14, 2006 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
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Maybe one would argue that time hasn’t been kind to the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Carolina Hurricanes (at least compared to the pedigree of other winners), but Mike Commodore’s incredible red afro and beard rank as one of hockey’s most timeless combinations.

Seriously, just take a step back from your monitor* and bask in the splendor of that carrot-topped Commodore.

Even then-President George W. Bush remarked on Commodore’s bushy hair and beard (or its tragic absence) when the Canes visited the White House:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Have a seat. It’s a pretty big deal for a guy that doesn’t know how to ice skate — (laughter) — to welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to the White House. We appreciate you coming. You know, I’m not sure what is prettier, the Stanley Cup, or Mike Commodore’s hair. (Laughter.) A little disappointed you got a haircut. (Laughter.) But, welcome.

Good stuff.

And it really is kind of disappointing any time you see Commodore relatively clean-shaven. It’s like Superman without a big “S” on his chest or Metallica with short hair or any number of not-quite-right sights.

* – If you’re doing the Rumsfeld-style “standing at your desk” thing then … kneel for a second maybe?

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