Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Pavelski

The greatest Game 7 heroes in NHL history (and who might become one tonight)

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A lot of people think that it’s unfair that the playoffs can make or break players’ legacies. It’s reasonable to feel uncomfortable about that since the sample size is so small, but there’s no doubt that lasting memories are made when everyone can focus on one game. The fact that tonight’s Detroit Red Wings-San Jose Sharks match is a Game 7 only intensifies that scrutiny.

The fact that Game 7s are still technically one game means that lesser known players can often steal the spotlight. Maxime Talbot scored two goals against the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to win the Pittsburgh Penguins’ third championship. Mike Rupp came out of nowhere to score the game-winning goal and two other assists in the New Jersey Devils’ most recent Cup win. Ruslan Fedotenko scored two goals to help the Tampa Bay Lightning win their only Cup in a similarly surprising fashion.

Still, when The Hockey News named its top 10 all-time Game 7 performances, most of the biggest games were provided by the biggest names. Perhaps it only makes sense that the sport’s most famous star also happened to top the list of performers in the league’s highest profile games:

3. Mark Messier, Rangers, 1994

The Rangers captain famously guaranteed a win against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference final, then followed that up with the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 against Vancouver.

2. Ron Hextall, Philadelphia, 1987

It’s rare to see the Conn Smythe Trophy given to a member of the losing team, but that’s what happened to Hextall in Philly’s Cup final series loss to the Oilers. Hextall made 40 saves in a losing cause in the Flyers’ Game 7, 3-1 loss and was spectacular throughout the series.

1. Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles, 1993

During the Campbell Conference final between Toronto and the Kings, Gretzky put up arguably the best single-game showing of his unrivaled career, recording a hat trick and virtually willing L.A. to victory over a plucky, Doug Gilmour-led Leafs squad.

(If you here some rumbling from Toronto, their words might sound like “high-stick!”)

NHL.com provides its list of three unlikely heroes from each side, but I thought I might throw out a few more anticipated names who might come through for their teams.

Most likely Detroit heroes

Nicklas Lidstrom – He leads the Red Wings in points in Game 7s and factored into some of the team’s most important goals in this series already. Most signs indicate he should be back to play next season, but if he has doubts, he’ll obviously want to keep this run alive.

Pavel Datsyuk – Despite shrugging off an injured wrist, the all-world forward is still an irresistible force.

Henrik Zetterberg – He’s often overshadowed by Datsyuk, but Zetterberg is a dynamic two-way player in his own right and was the team’s top regular season scorer with 80 points.

Niklas Kronwall – Kronwall is showing signs of returning to the form that made him seem like the “next big thing” on the Detroit blueline a couple years ago. He gets most of his attention from those bone-crushing checks, but Kronwall can score points too.

Most likely San Jose heroes

Devin Setoguchi – He scored the OT-winner to clinch the Sharks’ historic comeback against the Kings and already has an OT winner against the Red Wings in this series. This would solidify the belief that he’s a thorn in Detroit’s side.

Joe Thornton – Jumbo Joe already has a playoff series-clinching goal this year. Would another one turn his critics’ volume down that much more?

Joe Pavelski – “The Big Pavelski” has been gold in the last two postseasons for San Jose.

Dan Boyle – The Sharks’ greatest weapon from the blueline has a Stanley Cup ring on his resume and plenty of scoring ability.

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Of course, the Hollywood ending would involve Patrick Marleau either coming up huge for his team or blowing the game in a tragic way. We’ll see what happens tonight, but in the mean time: who do you think will be the biggest difference-maker?

Ekblad back on the ice for Panthers after World Cup injury

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers had a bit of a scare during the 2016 World Cup when defenseman Aaron Ekblad, while playing for Team North America, was injured in a first-round game against Finland that kept him out for the remainder of the tournament.

On Saturday, Ekblad was back on the ice for the Panthers doing some individual workouts following the injury.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said, via Alain Poupart of NHL.com.  “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

It was initially reported that Ekblad had a concussion, but it was later reported to be a neck injury.

The Panthers haven’t been overly concerned with the injury over the past week.

Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has quickly become one of the franchise building blocks for a Panthers team that is on the rise in the Eastern Conference.

Still only 20 years old, he is already a top-pairing defenseman in the league and has scored 27 goals in his career, a number that is pretty much unheard of for a defenseman that young.

According to the hockey-reference database, the only defenseman that has scored more goals at that age through their first two seasons is Phil Housley.

After winning the Atlantic Division in 2015-16 and having a busy offseason that saw them add Keith Yandle and Jason Demers to their defense, the Panthers look like they could be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and Ekblad is going to be a major part of that.

Ilya Bryzgalov’s Canada – Russia take is the best take

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 24:  Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of Russia comes into the game against Canada during the ice hockey men's quarter final game between Russia and Canada on day 13 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 24, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Admit it: you miss Ilya Bryzgalov.

Saturday presented the latest reminder that hockey’s just a little less fun thanks to the absence of Mr. Universe, as Bryzgalov regaled ESPN’s Craig Custance with his impeccable analysis of the drubbing Russia received from Canada during the 2010 Olympics.

You see, Breezy initially described Canada’s start “like gorillas out of a cage,” but upon further reflection …

… Well:

“Not gorillas,” Bryzgalov said. “More like Orcs from ‘The Hobbit.’ You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.”

Fantastic.

Now, it’s possible that Bryzgalov meant “Lord of the Rings” rather than “The Hobbit,” but both series featured “Big. Mean. Scary” orcs, so who knows:

Really though, it paints quite the picture. Imagine, for a moment, Shea Weber or Brent Burns decked out like that one especially big, mean and scary orc. One can only imagine the Photoshop masterpieces that may sprout up thanks to the vivid story Bryzgalov told.

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Now, there are some great bits leading up to Saturday’s Canada – Russia semifinal. PHT should have more to come tonight.

Sportsnet looked back at a moment in which a seemingly sure-thing Canadian team hit a brick wall in a Russian opponent. NHL.com provided a fascinating look at Mike Babcock and his quest for control. TSN captures a moment of sorts for Steven Stamkos.

There’s a lot of great stuff out there, but Bryzgalov’s takes are truly one of a kind, and they’ve been truly missed.

Bruins’ Vatrano to miss three months with foot injury

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Frank Vatrano is supposed to be one of the young players the Boston Bruins will be counting on this season to help replace some of the offense they lost when Loui Eriksson signed a free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately for the Bruins they will have to wait a few months before he gets an opportunity to make an impact.

The team announced on Saturday that Vatrano is going to require surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot and is expected to miss at least three months.

General manager Don Sweeney said that Vatrano was injured in his training in preparation for the team’s training camp.

Vatrano appeared in 39 games for the Bruins in 2015-16 season and scored eight goals, including a hat trick in an early season win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent the rest of his season playing for Providence of the American Hockey League where he scored a league leading 36 goals in only 36 games. Just for some perspective on that goal total, only one other player in the league scored 30 goals for the entire season, and that was Chris Bourque who scored 30 in 72 games.

Star-crossed: Cody Eakin to miss about six weeks

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Cody Eakin #20 of the Dallas Stars waits for the face off against the New Jersey Devils on January 2,2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars’ run of injuries hasn’t ended even with the World Cup of Hockey winding down.

Training camps are starting up, so that’s a new way that the team can encounter bad luck, and it didn’t take much time for the hits to keep coming. Cody Eakin suffered a lower-body injury that’s apparently bad enough to sideline him for six weeks, according to the team.

That same announcement revealed that Devin Shore will miss “some time.”

Before that bad Eakin news leaked through, head coach Lindy Ruff tried to spin the injuries as positively as possible, as the Dallas Morning News noted.

“We’ve got a little bit of the injury bug hitting us, but you’ve got to get through it,” Ruff said. “I’d rather have it now than three or four weeks from now.”

In case you’re wondering, Ruff didn’t pass around bubble wrap to everyone in the Stars’ locker room after making that statement.

Eakin has only missed four games over the last four seasons, so this injury bug is becoming quite the epidemic for the Stars.

Related: Stars might be the biggest losers of the World Cup