Dwayne Roloson, Mike Smith

Who starts for Tampa Bay tonight? Guy Boucher puts his poker face on

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When Lightning goalie Mike Smith took over for Dwayne Roloson in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals after Roloson allowed three goals on nine shots, it was the sort of move  a coach has to make to wake his team up a bit and prevent getting blown out. As it turns out, Smith was just what the doctor ordered as he stopped all 21 shots he saw the rest of the way while the Lightning rallied to beat Boston 5-3 to tie their best of seven game series at 2-2.

As it goes with all great relief appearances, the questions come up about who coach Guy Boucher might lean on to start in Game 5. After all, two of Roloson’s last three appearances have been less-than inspiring and when Smith has been called upon to change things up and stop the bleeding, he’s done so very well. The decision on who start in goal for Game 5 is one that’s got everyone curious and if you’re expecting Boucher to tip his hand, you probably haven’t seen too much of how he works things in the press.

From today’s post-practice press conference, Boucher didn’t give anything away about who he’s leaning on to try and get the Lightning closer to another Stanley Cup final appearance.

Q. Is Dwayne Roloson going to be your starting goalie tonight?

COACH BOUCHER: We’re preparing like usual. He’s preparing like he prepared for all the other games. So we’re prepared.

Q. Why will you not just say for sure whether he’s going to start or not? Is there a competitive advantage not to say, yes, he will be our starter?

COACH BOUCHER: He’s prepared. He got out. He’s done his morning skate like usual. He prepared yesterday. We had a good talk. And he knows what’s coming up.

I wonder if Dwayne Roloson is prepared for the game. I guess we’ll never know.

Playing cheeky about who’s going to start the game is a game we’ve seen from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette in these playoffs and seeing it from Boucher here it just feels like he’s messing with everyone out to find an angle on a potentially huge story in the playoffs that’s not likely to come. For what it’s worth, Roloson was the first goalie off the ice during practice, a general indication of who the starter will be. Of course, Mike Smith followed him off immediately next. Feel free to draw your own conclusions there.

Hey, coaches have to make their own fun when they’ve got the chance to. If Boucher taps Smith to be tonight’s starter that would be a stunning turn of events as we’ve seen Roloson carry the team through the regular season and playoffs to this point. Unless Roloson has something physically nagging at him or he’s lost his confidence somehow, we’re not expecting that Boucher will deviate from the plan. After all, lineup changes have been minimal for Tampa Bay.

That’s not to say there isn’t evidence to back up a potential switch, however, as Damian Cristodero points out.

Roloson, who entered the series leading the playoffs with a 2.01 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, is 0-2 in his past three games with a 5.64 goals-against average and .820 save percentage. Even so, goaltender coach Frantz Jean said Roloson has been technically correct in net and has just got caught up in the ups and downs of hos the team is playing. Smith has stopped all 29 shots he has faced in the series, and Tampa Bay has outscored Boston 7-0 while Smith has played.

Dig out your small sample size arguments here to combat the thought that Smith might start, but that could just point to the Lightning getting the message when Roloson gets pulled from a game: Straighten up and play better. We won’t find out until shortly before tonight’s game as to who gets the start, but if you were a betting type, betting on Roloson would seem like the even money gamble. That is unless we’ve totally misread how Boucher plays his hand.

Report: NHLPA rejects proposal to extend CBA in exchange for Olympics

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v

The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.

In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.

It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.

On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”

There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.

Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.

NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.

There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example,  has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!