Brian Rafalski cites injuries and wanting time with family for retiring from NHL

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When word broke out on Monday about Brian Rafalski retiring from the NHL, the speculation ran high as to what might make a 37 year-old guy want to give up the game they love so seemingly early. Whether it’s us being spoiled by seeing guys play well into their 40s (Chris Chelios, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, Nicklas Lidstrom) or the fact that we don’t think of someone being 37 as being old, Rafalski’s news caught us off guard.

During Rafalski’s press conference in Detroit in which he officially announced his retirement, the reasons why he’s calling it quits became that much more clear and apparent. He also made it more than clear that the $6 million he was due to make next season wasn’t even a thought in his mind as to whether or not he would stick it out one more year.

“After 15 years of playing professional hockey, I’d like to announce my retirement,” Rafalski said during a news conference at Joe Louis Arena, adding he made the decision two months ago. “It’s been a challenging season, both physically, mentally and spiritually, but also rewarding.

“It’s time for me to move on.”

Rafalski also cited that his son is starting high school next year and that being there for him was important. Rafalski, a spiritual man himself, cited his reasons for calling it quits.

“Three factors that led to my decision: Serving God, my family and others,” Rafalski said.

Personal beliefs like that don’t make much of an appearance with hockey players as that’s always treated as a very personal matter. Rafalski was more than open about owing his decision to his faith in having the courage to retire. Ongoing problems with his back and knee as well as the ability to keep up with the speed in the NHL these days were major factors.

As for the money he’s leaving on the table by retiring, that didn’t even enter into his mind.

“As far as money goes, there are more important things.”

In an age when money is often viewed as the main motivation for players to stick it out and keep playing even in spite of being past their prime, Rafalski is a proud man. As CBC’s Elliotte Friedman noted in his 30 Things column this week, there’s some things that even a player of Rafalski’s caliber still can’t get past to discuss them.

What I’ll remember about Brian Rafalski: As we approached the one-year anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal, how many reporters wanted to do a story? 1,000? Rafalski refused, wanting no part of it. Here’s a guy who won three Stanley Cups and two Olympic silver medals. But he was so bothered about being beaten on that one goal he wouldn’t discuss it. I admire that, considering there’s one thing in my career I’ll never get over, either.

Rafalski’s career was a great one amassing 515 points with the Red Wings and New Jersey Devils and winning the Stanley Cup three times, twice in New Jersey and once in Detroit. Winning two silver medals for Team USA in 2002 and 2010 are also tremendous accomplishments. While he’s not likely to end up being a Hockey Hall of Famer, his spot in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame is secure as is his legacy as one of the top American defensemen of all time ranking up there with Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, and Phil Housley.

Rafalski’s retirement will now put the focus on Detroit to find a way to fill out ranks on the blue line in the offseason. With Nicklas Lidstrom’s future still up in the air as well as Jonathan Ericsson and Ruslan Salei set to be unrestricted free agents, the Red Wings could be looking at a major rebuild this summer. They’ll also have a lot more money to play with in the free agent market as well so expect the Wings’ summer to be a fascinating one.

Evander Kane ejected for cross-checking Bellemare in the head

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The first game of the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be a total dumpster fire for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

Not only were they completely dominated from the opening faceoff by the Vegas Golden Knights, they also lost their composure, taking nine penalties and giving Vegas two separate 5-on-3 power plays on the night.

The second two-man advantage happened because Sharks forward Evander Kane got himself thrown out of the game for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after the whistle.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That came with Vegas already trailing 5-0 on on the scoreboard. Vegas converted twice on the ensuing major penalty to open up a 7-0 lead.

This could have quite an impact on the series because that will probably get a serious look from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a potential suspension. The league has already issued four suspensions this postseason and we have only completed one round of the playoffs. Keep in mind there was only one suspension throughout the entire postseason a year ago.

Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline, Kane entered play on Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first four playoff games. He scored 29 goals and had 54 total points during the regular season in 78 games. Nine of those goals and five of those assists came as a member of the Sharks.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period from four different players as Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Tuch all scored goals.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Tuch’s goal was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 15 shots he faced in the period.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL reportedly asked Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players

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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman regals readers with many great nuggets in his regular “31 Thoughts” column, but this bit on how the NHL reportedly responded to Brad Marchand‘s obnoxious kissing/licking of Leo Komarov from Game 1 (see the video above) might just take/taste the cake:

22. After Game 1 of the Toronto/Boston series, the Bruins got a, “We’d prefer if you could tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people” phone call from the NHL.

Seems fair enough?

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That said, you wonder if the NHL might have sent the Boston Bruins pest a better message by, say, handing him a fine for unsportsmanlike conduct? The league could have attached a helpful message, such as: “There are better ways to tell Leo Komarov that you like his cologne.”

(One can only imagine how harsh the discipline might have been if Sean Avery was the one committing this … infraction.)

As a reminder, Marchand addressed his actions after that Game 1 win, not exactly apologizing for his actions:

You could say that Marchand had the last laugh being that the Boston Bruins ended up winning the series in Game 7 thanks to last night’s 7-4 win. Then again, Komarov didn’t get to dress for that game, so it doesn’t seem totally fair.

The bottom line is that Marchand revels in this sort of controversy, even as he’s gone from a good player with bad habits to an elite one who still makes questionable decisions.

Even last night’s Game 7 was an example of the kind of competitor he is. While Kasperi Kapanen shook him off for a memorable shorthanded go-ahead goal, Marchand got the last laugh, celebrating after an empty-netter that sapped any remaining drama from the game.

While Marchand surely gives the Bruins headaches with his antics and sometimes suspensions – don’t forget that there were years of rumors that his behavior might get him traded, at least before he jumped another level or two – he’s a huge part of a dominant line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. For all we know, Marchand wouldn’t be the same player if he avoided some of the uglier stuff. Hockey is a violent, emotional sport, after all.

Still, if you’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, you must be wondering: “Could we be the team to get the better of Marchand?” Few teams have the firepower to match that top line (not to mention a defender to make life tougher for them in Victor Hedman), so maybe the Bolts will find a way to push Marchand closer to becoming a net-positive?

One thing’s for sure: the NHL will be keeping an eye on what Marchand does, so he better … watch his mouth.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.