Red Wings hold significant Game 7 experience advantage over Sharks

All that really matters is what happens tonight – not what happened in the previous six games, not anymore, at least – but there’s no denying that the Detroit Red Wings hold some advantages over the San Jose Sharks.

One is the looseness that comes with not having to worry about being on the wrong side of history. The other is another kind of history: Red Wings players have almost twice as much Game 7 experience as the Sharks. In fact, according to an NHL.com report, every Red Wings player has some Game 7 experience.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, really, considering Detroit’s 20-year run of playoff appearances (with many of them running deep). While 11 Sharks players have played in a Game 7 before, 21 Red Wings have been in this situation.* Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is 2-2 in his coaching career in Game 7s while Sharks coach Todd McLellan is 0-0.

Perhaps most telling is the Game 7 scoring statistics. Nicklas Lidstrom leads Detroit with seven points in Game 7 situations with two goals and five assists while Niclas Wallin is the Sharks’ most experienced player in Game 7s, having played in four in his career. San Jose’s Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi managed to accomplish that feat without playing a single Game 7.

Here’s a bit more from NHL.com.

Scoring in Game 7s is no different. The Red Wings have scored 17 goals and 39 points in their plethora of Game 7s, while the Sharks have tallied just 3 goals and 4 points in their 11. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard also has one Game 7 to his credit, beating the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round last season, while neither San Jose goalie — Antti Niemi or backup Antero Niittymaki — has played in an NHL Game 7.

This will be Mike Modano’s first Game 7 with Detroit, but he’s played in plenty of them during his lengthy and impressive career with the Dallas Stars.

“The nerves are very high, obviously,” he said. “You just want to be quick, you want to be precise in what you do, you want to be very direct in your play as far as with the puck and without it. Ultimately you want to skate, you want to relax and take the plays that are there and not force the issue, especially on the road. I’ve never been in one on the road, so it’s just about playing smart.”

It’s also about enjoying the moment and the nail-biting that comes with it.

“Those Game 7s have a lot of drama,” Modano said. “Every shot, every save and everything that happens out there is magnified.”

Almost every playoff game brings its unique excitements, but few things match the scale and suspense of Game 7. We’ll keep you informed and entertained right up until the first nail-biting puck drop (and beyond).

* – Well, not this exact situation, since the Red Wings have never come back from a 3-0 deficit before.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.