Tonight’s officials have Game 7 experience from this season on their side

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One way or another the officials have played a role in how things go in the playoffs. While 98% of the time (a rough guesstimation) they’re able to keep things under control and do things the right way, there’s always those slivers of doubt and bewilderment should they get a call wrong. In tonight’s Game 7 we’ll have a pair of familiar faces officiating the game and guys that have already done a Game 7 in these playoffs.

Getting the job of handling Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals tonight are Dan O’Halloran and Stephen Walkom. Jean Morin and Jay Sharrers will handle the lines but the focus will be on O’Halloran and Walkom. For these two, this isn’t their first Game 7 dance in these playoffs and if you’re wondering how they might handle things tonight, if how they handled Game 7 between Boston and Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals is any clue then don’t expect too many whistles.

In that game, there were zero penalties called as Boston was able to lock things down 1-0 in that Game 7 and move on to the Stanley Cup finals. The zero penalties was the first time that had happened in  a playoff game since 1990. To think we’ll see the same thing tonight out of these two teams that have been at each other’s throats through six games might be asking a lot.

When asked about that today, Claude Julien says he doesn’t expect things to be at all similar in how things are handled.

“I don’t know if it really matters because he’s been physical so far and it hasn’t affected our game. We can say right now in this series that the penalties cost us a game, so we just have to go out there and play, there are no guarantees that just because there were no penalties in the last game seven that it is going to be the same. To be honest with you, I doubt it, the way it’s been played. But nonetheless I think our focus has to remain the same. Good penalty killing and hopefully our power play does a good job tonight. And five-on-five we have to bring our best game,” Julien said.

The addition of O’Halloran to Game 7 is interesting because he officiated in Game 6 with Kelly Sutherland. As the boys at Kurtenblog note, Sutherland had a bit of a curious incident in Game 6 in which he got in between Henrik Sedin and Brad Marchand after Marchand took five or six jabs at Sedin’s face late in the game without a penalty being called nor a Sedin retaliation.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun noted the exchange and Sutherland apparently doesn’t have much a trigger finger when it comes to tossing a guy in the box for doing something obviously wrong, at least according to Sedin.

“Maybe after the fifth. But I took six. What can I do?” said Sedin, clearly agitated after being Marchand’s punching bag in the third period.

An emotional Sedin said something afterward to referee Kelly Sutherland.

“I asked him why he didn’t call the penalty. He said he was going to,” Sedin said.

With Game 7 figuring to be a powder keg-like situation, that lack of ability to control a situation is an absolute no-go. With Walkom, O’Halloran, and Sutherland getting the bulk of the work in the finals, seeing Sutherland not get the call to do this game is certainly worthy of a perked eyebrow.

The officials will give the guys all the room they need to decide the game on their own terms, but should things get out of hand with anything ranging from iffy hits to errant flops on the ice, they’ll make sure to act fast to put an end to it. The officials don’t want to be the reason for deciding a game, but wise words on these sorts of things stem from the Rush song “Freewill”:

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Here’s to hoping all the decisions made tonight are made with correct convictions.

Penguins shouldn’t rush to replace Bonino

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Nick Bonino was an important player for Pittsburgh the past two years. So when he signed with Nashville on July 1, it was natural for Penguins fans to want an immediate replacement.

But for GM Jim Rutherford, finding a new third-line center may take some time. The Penguins might even start the season without knowing who it will be.

What Rutherford wants to avoid is panicking and being forced into a mistake. All the other general managers are well-aware of what he needs. He’s probably been thrown a few anvils already.

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

If nothing is done by the start of the season, the Penguins could give someone like Jake Guentzel a chance to take over Bonino’s role. Or, if they’d prefer to keep Guentzel in the top six, maybe a youngster like Daniel Sprong or Zach Aston-Reese would be game to try, at least on a temporary basis.

It should be noted that Rutherford has proven a savvy mid-season trader. In 2015-16, he brought in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, a couple of veterans who played big roles on the way to a Stanley Cup title. And then, last season, he acquired Ron Hainsey, who likewise played a key part in a championship.

Perhaps owing to that experience, Rutherford says he’s more comfortable waiting to unearth a solution than “trading for somebody where I’m not sure whether they can help us or not.”

In fairness, it’s not easy to just replace a productive third-line center whose salary was a bargain. The Penguins had Bonino for a cap hit of just $1.9 million, and he turned his time in Pittsburgh into a four-year, $16.4 million deal with the Predators.

One potential target that’s come up in speculation is the Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bozak, who just so happens to be Phil Kessel‘s good friend and former center.

Bozak, 31, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, a status that naturally lends itself to trade speculation.

But with a $4.1 million cap hit, making room for Bozak could be a challenge for the Penguins. And on top of that, the Leafs are bound to ask a fair bit for a guy who had 55 points (18G, 37A) last season.

That’s why it’s so hard to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in today’s NHL. The Penguins were lucky to bring back mostly the same roster last season.

Things will be different in 2017-18.

Related: Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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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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.”