Who are Game 7’s potential “no-name” heroes?

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Stanley Cup finals Game 7s through NHL history have often provided us with big performances from players that one wouldn’t immediately think of when it came to their teams winning the Stanley Cup. Think back to 2009 when Maxime Talbot scored the Penguins only two goals of the game to help them beat the Red Wings to win the Cup in Detroit. Talbot scored just 13 goals that season but had the two biggest of the year to help them clinch the Cup. Other names from the past like Aaron Ward in 2006 with Carolina and Ruslan Fedotenko in 2004 with Tampa Bay stand out as others who seized the day and became legends in their home town. NHL.com took a look at the recent Game 7 heroes since 2000 and while some of those names will be a blast from the past for you, most of them at the time were a who’s-who of “who’s that?” players.

With Game 7 set to drop the puck at 8 p.m. tomorrow night in Vancouver (live on NBC) the Canucks and Boston Bruins will be hoping to see their stars try and shoulder the load. If they can’t do that, just who else can get it done for them? We’ve circled a few guys from each team preemptively.

Three guys to watch for Boston: Rich Peverley, Dennis Seidenberg, and Chris Kelly

Peverley hadn’t been heard from too much through the playoffs until he ascended to the top line to take over for the injured Nathan Horton. There he saw immediate success in Game 4 and has had the special offensive spark the team has needed with Horton out with a concussion. In this series he’s got two goals and two assists and while Vancouver is likely more than aware of him now, when you’ve got a line with Peverley, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci he’s probably the guy you’re least worried about. That’s what makes him most dangerous now.

Dennis Seidenberg has been Boston’s double-secret weapon on defense in helping Zdeno Chara shut down opponents but his shot from the point can be dangerous when he opts to use it. He’s got a generally low, heavy shot that’s ideal for deflections in front and if it finds its way through can hit the back of the net. Finding a defensive hero to score goals or set others up can be huge in a Game 7 and Seidenberg fits the bill since most everyone will be worried about Chara.

Chris Kelly is an ideal sleeper candidate. He plays on the third line with Tyler Seguin and Michael Ryder and while those two guys have the offensive punch necessary to make things happen, Kelly’s the quiet man. He’s got a goal and an assist in the series and he’s the center on that line. If the Bruins get the depth scoring they’ll need to be successful, Kelly could figure into the mix ideally. He’ll have his hands full chasing down the Sedin line through the night but the B’s can counter well themselves.

Three guys to watch for Vancouver: Jannik Hansen, Alexander Edler, and Manny Malhotra

Jannik Hansen has had his opportunities during the finals to score. A handful of breakaway opportunities and a few dekes too many have resulted in just one virtually meaningless goal for Hansen in the series (a goal coming in Boston’s 8-1 Game 3 win). With Mason Raymond out for Game 7 with a broken vertebra, Hansen figures to get promoted to the second line to play alongside Chris Higgins and Ryan Kesler. If Hansen can find a scoring touch, he could become Vancouver’s favorite great Dane.

Alexander Edler is a curious guy on the Vancouver blue line. He plays alongside Kevin Bieksa and while Bieksa gets most of the attention and the workload of the pair, Edler sees time on the power play and plenty of ice time aside from that. Much like everyone else on Vancouver, Edler’s shots haven’t found the back of the net but he’s played strong and his shots on the power play can be tricky. With two assists in the series, that means Edler has helped out on 25% of the Canucks goals. Yeah… The offense is hurting a little bit.

You didn’t think we’d not pick Manny Malhotra would you? It’s not just a sentimental choice here given that Malhotra seemed unlikely to even play again this year after injuring his eye in March, but he’s played strong fourth line minutes and now with Raymond out, perhaps he gets a couple more minutes on the ice in five-on-five situations. Just picture the drama if Malhotra turned into the Game 7 hero for Vancouver. In a series devoid of feel good stories, that would be pretty tough to beat.

Tavares says ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Isles

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John Tavares keeps saying all the right things about his future with the New York Islanders.

But that doesn’t change the fact he still doesn’t have a contract extension in place.

Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, spoke with Newsday yesterday, telling the newspaper he was in “no rush” to sign and that he’s comfortable to just “let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal.”

It’s been reported that the Isles’ uncertain arena situation could be complicating matters. It’s still not clear where the team will call home for the long term.

On that topic, Tavares chose to avoid making any definitive statements.

“The possibility with Belmont and that RFP coming out, there’s great potential there,” the 26-year-old said. “We’ll see where it goes. A lot of those things are out of my hands. Some things I don’t try to worry about them too, too much. I’m just a hockey player. I try to be as best prepared as I can be. It’s a big decision obviously because it’s eight years of my career, really entering into my prime years and a great opportunity for myself to achieve what I set out to achieve when I was a kid, making it to the NHL, wanting to win a Stanley Cup and wanting to do that with the Islanders.”

There’s more in the interview, including his thoughts on the Isles’ offseason moves. Click here to give it a read.

Tavares also spoke with Newday about the thumb surgery he had in April. All’s well on that front, according to the captain.  

“I felt I didn’t want this reoccurring and the recovery time was only six weeks,” he said, “so it was the right thing to do once the season ended.”

Related: Tavares open to signing contract extension this summer

Under Pressure: Derrick Pouliot (again)

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

For the second straight year, Derrick Pouliot is our pick for the Pittsburgh player under the most pressure heading into the season.

Perhaps we should just focus on someone else, but the Penguins gave the 23-year-old defenseman a one-year contract extension in July. The eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Pouliot knows time is running short to prove Pittsburgh didn’t make a big mistake.

It should be compelling to watch how he fares.

“I’ve got to make an impact right away and show that I belong in the NHL,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “It’s been three years now. I haven’t fully established myself yet. I want to take it one step at a time and build as the year goes on.”

Pouliot felt he had a strong finish to his AHL season, and perhaps that will help his confidence heading into camp.

But it’s worth noting that he’s no longer exempt from waivers. So unless he earns a spot, that could mean a change of scenery, with the Penguins either losing him for nothing or trading him for pennies on the dollar.

Pouliot could feasibly crack the opening roster as Pittsburgh’s eighth defenseman, behind Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Chad Ruhwedel and new addition Matt Hunwick.

He could then languish on that roster until an injury gives him a chance to play.

The first step, though, is coming into camp and building off the back half of last season.

“For me to establish myself as an NHL defenseman, a regular guy in the lineup, it’s kind of playing how I ended the season: solid defensively, consistent in that regard,” Pouliot said, per the Tribune-Review. “That’s been one thing that’s always been brought up about me, inconsistency. So I think it’s starting with that and building each game.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”

Poll: Who will the Penguins miss the most?

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced into making some changes to their roster.

It’s only normal that championship teams won’t be able to bring all their players back, especially in a salary cap world.

This offseason, the Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Matt Cullen in free agency. Each one of those players played an important role in at least one of the two title runs.

Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.

Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.

One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.

Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.

Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.

Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.

Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.

Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.

It’s your turn to vote. Make sure you make a selection in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.