Buffalo Sabres sign Drew Stafford to four-year, $16M contract extension

The Buffalo Sabres face a lot of free agent questions going into the 2011 off-season, but they opted to answer one of their biggest ones today. The team signed pending restricted free agent Drew Stafford to a four-year, $16 million contract extension according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News.

That works out to an annual salary cap hit of $4 million, which is the same exact mark as fellow Sabres forwards Derek Roy and Brad Boyes. Stafford enjoyed an abbreviated breakout season in 2010-11, scoring 31 goals (and 52 points) in just 62 games played. He scored one goal and two assists for three points in the team’s seven-game series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Obviously, there are natural questions regarding whether or not this was an all-too-convenient “contract year” performance by Stafford. His 17.3 shooting percentage in 10-11 will be tough to duplicate, but he might be able to reach the 30-goal plateau again anyway if he can play in closer to 82 games per season going forward.

Contract year aberration worries aside, there are reasons the Sabres should feel pleased. It’s not a mammoth deal, especially if he can be a 30-goal guy with regularity. He reached the 20-goal mark in 08-09, is only 25-years-old and has the pedigree of a first round pick (13th overall in 2004), so it’s a reasonable gamble.

Using the common estimate of a $60.5-$63.5 million salary cap ceiling for the 2011-13 season, the Sabres will have about $15.6-$18.6 million with 7-10 roster spots to fill. We’ll take a deeper look at the Sabres’ salary cap situation on Saturday.

No mic? No problem: Oilers fans sing American, Canadian national anthems

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There was apparently an issue with a microphone used for the national anthems prior to Game 3 between the Ducks and Oilers in Edmonton.

Canadian country music star Brett Kissel was supposed to perform the anthems, however, as he stepped up to the mic, he soon discovered that there seemed to be a malfunction.

With some quick encouragement from Kissel, fans at Rogers Place stole the show with stirring renditions of both the American and Canadian national anthems.

Here is the Star Spangled Banner:

Here is O Canada:

Sami Vatanen returns to Ducks lineup vs. Oilers

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Good news for the Anaheim Ducks, who trail the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 in their second round series.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen returns to the lineup Sunday for Game 3 — his first game since April 13, which was the opener of Anaheim’s first-round series with Calgary, because of an upper-body injury.

However, the Ducks will be without Kevin Bieksa, who is dealing with a lower-body injury.

Predators stifle Blues to take back series lead

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The Nashville Predators have snapped their one-game funk in these Stanley Cup playoffs, taking back the series lead over the St. Louis Blues.

For long stretches of Sunday’s contest, the Predators kept the puck away from and stifled the Blues, including a stretch of almost nine minutes at the beginning of the second period in which St. Louis failed to register a shot attempt.

The Predators’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 was eventually secured on an unbelievably dominant shift late in the third period.

Joel Edmundson‘s (costly) turnover led to a dizzying attack from Predators, who had sustained puck possession inside the St. Louis zone for about 1:10.

By the end, Edmundson and Colton Parayko had exhausted themselves as the Predators tossed the puck around with increasing ease before Roman Josi halted the madness with a slap shot to the top corner, giving Nashville a two-goal lead.

That continues an impressive trend for the Predators.

They have scored nine goals in this series, with at least one defenseman contributing directly with either a goal or an assist on eight of those goals. Nashville’s group of blueliners — including Ryan Ellis, who has been on quite a productive roll throughout these playoffs — have combined for 11 points through three games in this series.

This series resumes Tuesday in Nashville, with the Predators leading 2-1.

VIDEO: Ryan Ellis continues his incredible postseason run for Predators

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Playing in Nashville over the years it has been easy for Ryan Ellis to get overlooked, always playing in the shadow of bigger name stars on the team’s blue line.

Shea Weber (before he was traded). Roman Josi. P.K. Subban.

But Ellis has been a major part of the Predators’ blue line and he had a career-year in 2016-17, setting new personal bests in goals (16) and points (38) while matching his previous career high in assists (22).

He has continued that strong play in the postseason and is currently the team’s leading scorer after he netted his third goal of the playoffs (and eighth total point) on Sunday afternoon to give the Predators a 1-0 lead over the St. Louis Blues.

You can see it in the video above.

After being held without a point in the Predators’ first playoff game, Ellis has now picked up at least one point in every playoff game since them and is now riding a six-game point streak.

The first half of Sunday’s game has been a defensive clinic by the Predators, by the way, limiting St. Louis to just 10 shots on goal through the first 34 minutes, and none through the first 14 minutes of the second period.

The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 in the second period when Cody McLeod deflected in his first goal of the playoffs to give the Predators some unexpected scoring depth. He had just five goals in 59 games during the regular season between the Predators and Colorado Avalanche.