Playoff hero Sean Bergenheim questionable to play for Tampa Bay in Game 6

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One of the missing elements from Tampa Bay’s Game 5 loss to Boston was that of playoff hero Sean Bergenheim. Bergenheim leads everyone in the playoffs with nine goals and when he was knocked out of Game 5 with an injury, the loss of his production and depth on the Lightning’s third line was obvious.

With Game 6 coming up tonight and Bergenheim’s health still in question, you have to wonder if perhaps his potential loss from the lineup is the one that helps sway their Eastern Conference finals series with Boston. Will he play tonight though? Lightning coach Guy Boucher says it’s a game time decision tonight.

Q. Bergenheim was able to skate a little bit this morning. How optimistic are you that he’ll be available for Game 6?

COACH BOUCHER: We have to wait. The doctors are looking at him now, and we have to wait until tonight. And then make a game-time decision.

Q. If Sean can’t go, what are your plans? And what are the implications if he can’t go in terms of what you need from other players?

COACH BOUCHER: Well, obviously when you take somebody out that’s been a big part of our Playoffs, it does take some chemistry out. And I gotta find that. I had to struggle with that in the second period of the last game, and the third period I kind of found what I wanted.
So if he is not playing, we’ll go with the chemistry that we planned on, and we’ve got the choice between putting Tyrell in the lineup and to fill the forward spot or we put in a seventh defenseman with Randy Jones. So that’s still something that we’re oscillating between, yeah.

No offense to either Dana Tyrell or Randy Jones, but we’re not exactly overflowing with confidence that they’ll be able to help contribute the same way Bergenheim has in these playoffs for the Lightning.

If Bergenheim is out the Lightning are going to have to rely even harder upon their top players like Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Stamkos, and Simon Gagne. While Gagne has had a great series, the other players are having a hard time handling the pressure the Bruins defense has put on them. The play of Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference has been outstanding in this series and then there’s the whole issue of trying to find ways to beat goalie Tim Thomas.

If Bergenheim plays tonight, don’t expect him to be at the top of his game. The question here is whether or not it’s worth it for the sacrifice and the possibility that Bergenheim injures himself further. Players will always want to push things more when their team is in need (see: Joe Thornton) but if he can’t go, that’s it. Either way, both Boston and Tampa Bay will need to be prepared for tonight’s elimination game.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)