Canucks Predators Hockey

Pivotal Game 4 between Nashville and Vancouver sees opportunities for both teams

There’s just one playoff game tonight and it’s an important one to determine the control of the series between Nashville and Vancouver. With the Canucks taking a 2-1 lead in the series thanks to Ryan Kesler’s overtime winner in Game 3, another Canucks win would send them back home one game away from moving on to the Western Conference final.

Vancouver @ Nashville – 8:30 p.m. ET (Versus)Vancouver leads series 2-1

Nashville will be hoping to turn their luck around in Game 4 and with it they’re hoping the referees will be a bit more helpful. At least that’s what coach Barry Trotz wants from them when it comes to some of the Canucks “gamesmanship” in helping them blow their whistles. The Predators got burned in Game 3 when Shea Weber was sent off for a questionable hooking call in overtime that led to the Canucks scoring on the man advantage and ending the game. The Predators will have to make due tonight without Steve Sullivan in the lineup meaning that either J.P. Dumont or Colin Wilson gets the start tonight. Sullivan is bothered by an ankle injury suffered in Game 3.

Vancouver is still looking to get Daniel and Henrik Sedin going offensively. The twins have struggled throughout the playoffs and even more so against Nashville. While Pekka Rinne is making life hard on all of Vancouver’s scorers, the Sedins are MVP-type players and they’re not playing like that in these playoffs. For Vancouver to shake off the doubters, they must step up their play or else they’ll be playing with fire as to whether or not they can win this round, never mind the Stanley Cup.

The highlight of this series though has been the goaltending showdown. Sure the play and the pace of the games might not be all that engaging, but the play of Rinne and Roberto Luongo has made it worthwhile. Two Vezina Trophy finalists doing their thing and making the job of goaltender look like the easiest job in the world with how they’re playing in this series. It’s not that easy, they’re just helping make it look glamorous. The Predators will have to play with some desperation tonight and make Luongo feel uncomfortable in net if they want to send this series back to Vancouver tied up. Otherwise they’ll be staring elimination in the face on Saturday night.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.