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Vancouver’s loss is the NHL and hockey fans’ gain

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As strange, stunning and memorable as Patrick Kane’s overtime Stanley Cup-clinching goal was last year, there were at least a handful of hockey fans who were sad when it happens. That group wasn’t exclusively made up of Philadelphia Flyers fans, either; many of us simply wanted to see a Game 7 in a series that was quite a bit closer (and a lot more fun) than expected.

My bet is that you’ll see some variation of the statement “Simply put, there’s nothing like a Game 7” approximately 1,000 times if you read enough about Wednesday’s contest. As maddening as cliches can be sometimes, it’s true that Game 7’s tend to be the most fun, even if the games don’t always live up to our wild hockey expectations.

Yet when you think about the 2011 NHL playoffs, it would only be fitting if tomorrow’s game ends up being unpredictable and thoroughly entertaining. From an unbelievable first round to a strange second one and some great conference finals contests, hockey fans have often been spoiled by this lengthy postseason. Every single round of the postseason featured at least one series that went a full seven games; it makes you wonder how the 2012 playoffs will top this. (Hopefully this isn’t a sign that Mayans were correct that we simply won’t see another postseason, right?)

One almost wonders if there is a small part of every Canucks fan – probably located far, far from their damaged hearts – that is half-glad this happened. Obviously, they don’t want their team to lose, but it extends the party and the speculation and the excitement for two days. It also gives them one more home game to latch onto before the long wait begins for October.

With the NBA finals further in the rear view mirror and little else but baseball to distract casual fans, this should be one of hockey’s great chances to captivate the sporting public. Who knows what kind of “product” the two teams will churn out. It could be a carbon copy of the other skin-tight games played in Vancouver or the pressure/randomness of a Game 7 could dictate a blowout for either side.

The biggest hope is that the teams decide it, rather than the officials or some other outside factor. Despite the Canucks’ unexpected belly-flopping in Boston, both teams fought hard to get this far and each team is worthy of the Stanley Cup.

Hockey fans – from casuals to diehards – are worthy of a great final game, too. Stick with us as we try to stoke the flames of what should be a fascinating Game 7.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.