Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture, and Michael Grabner named Calder Trophy finalists; Who should win?

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This year’s rookie class was especially loaded in the NHL which helped make the race for the Calder Trophy all the more interesting. With numerous players having outstanding first seasons, the campaigning to see who would end up being the three finalists to see who would land the league’s rookie of the year award was tough. In the end, if you’re not scoring you’re not trying as three high-flying, high-scoring forwards will vie for the big prize.

San Jose’s Logan Couture, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, and Islanders winger Michael Grabner were named the finalists for the Calder Trophy this afternoon and each of their résumés offer a great case to be made.

Jeff Skinner was the leading point scorer amongst all rookies with 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists). Skinner emerged to become an instant fan favorite in North Carolina and turned his great season into an All-Star Game appearance as well. Skinner’s point total put him second on the Hurricanes in scoring just behind Eric Staal. Skinner’s play nearly led the Hurricanes into the playoffs as well, only falling short in the season’s last game. With an All-Star Game nod and being the top point getter amongst rookies, Skinner’s case to win it all is perhaps the strongest.

Logan Couture was a revelation for the Sharks and helped lead them to a Pacific Division title. While the Sharks saw disappointing seasons from Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, Couture’s 32 goals made him the team’s second best goal scorer just behind Patrick Marleau. His 56 points were second amongst rookies and the fact that his team is actually in the playoffs helps boost his case.

Michael Grabner’s case is a real heartwarmer. During the summer, Grabner was traded by Vancouver to Florida as part of the Keith Ballard deal. In Florida, they didn’t seem to have a spot for him in the lineup and then waived him only to be claimed by the Islanders. Many thought playing there would be the last chance for the once highly touted prospect. Instead, it turned out to be the awakening he needed as he finished the season with 34 goals, best amongst all rookies. More amazingly so, only two of those goals came on the power play and six came shorthanded, second best mark in the NHL. Grabner’s speed and his offense made him a revelation and a steal for the Islanders. From a guy squeezed out of a roster spot in two cities to a potential rookie of the year. Not too bad.

Of course, with the announcement of the finalists there’s some debate over who got snubbed. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford heads that list after his outstanding season saving the Blackhawks and leading them to the playoffs. Defensemen P.K. Subban in Montreal, John Carlson in Washington, and Kevin Shattenkirk of St. Louis also turn out to be also-rans. After seeing a defenseman win the award last season in Buffalo’s Tyler Myers, this year’s outstanding corps of forwards made it tough for defensemen and goaltending to be noticed.

So now we ask you, who do you think wins the Calder Trophy this year? Let us know in our poll as well as in our comments.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.