It might be safe to refer to Friday, June 24 as Nostalgia Day in the hockey world.
First, we have the return of the Winnipeg Jets. Then there’s Eric Brewer signing a four-year deal worth about $16 million, which is a nearly identical contract to the one he agreed to in 2007. Ryan Smyth seems primed to play NHL hockey for a team in Alberta again as well (although it sounds like he might be a member of the Calgary Flames rather than Edmonton Oilers).
Not to be outdone in turning back the clock, the AHL approved Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula as the new owner of the Rochester Americans, effectively reuniting the two teams. The Americans were the affiliate team for the Sabres for 39 years until that exchange ended in 2008, but Pegula demanded a reunion.
Pegula & Co. aren’t just being nostalgic, though; there’s plenty of logic to having an affiliate that is a stone’s throw from the mother ship. Having the flexibility to call up a minor league who can quickly join the club cannot be underrated considering the often-nebulous nature of injuries in the NHL. Here is more about the renewed relationship between the two sides via John Vogl of the Buffalo News.
Sabres founders Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup Knox bought the Amerks in 1979-80. They were sold to a Rochester-based group in 1995, and previous Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano tried to buy the Amerks in the mid-2000s. After being rebuffed, the Sabres moved their minor-league team to Portland.
There was no stopping Pegula.
The Sabres signed a long-term extension to remain in Portland in March 2010, but they have worked their way out.
Rochester has struggled with attendance since the Sabres left. The hope is that reuniting with their longtime parent will rekindle interest.
Sabres fans should rejoice: it’s obvious their new owner cares about making this team successful and competitive. This could be a big off-season in Buffalo, although it might be true that their biggest addition happened during the 2010-11 season when Pegula bought the team.
Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.
After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.
Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:
Now, back to Rust.
With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.
Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?
What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.
Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.
After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.
Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.
As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.
Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.
Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.
That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.
Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.
It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.
To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.
Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.
In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.
And then Stamkos took the warmup.
As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.
“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”
No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.