Canadiens add another American after handing Erik Cole a four-year, $18M deal

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For a team named the Montreal Canadiens, there sure are a lot of American hockey players on their roster. Some of the biggest names (or at least contracts) are U.S.-born players. That group includes pricey center Scott Gomez, undersized captain Brian Gionta, injured forward Max Pacioretty, skyscraper defenseman Hal Gill and now Erik Cole.

The team handed the resurgent power forward Cole a hefty four-year, $18 million deal today. That’s a $4.5 million annual cap hit, which makes him the fifth highest paid forward in Montreal. In the scheme of this wacky day of strange deals, it’s not a half-bad contract. Would you rather pay Scottie Upshall $14 million for four years or the more-proven Cole $18 million during that same time frame?

My vote would be for Cole, but he does come with his risks. His career was in jeopardy after an ugly hit by Brooks Orpik during the 2005-06 season. Cole eventually bounced back from that injury, but he clearly struggled without Eric Staal by his side when he went to the Edmonton Oilers with his last free agent deal. Cole was traded back to Carolina and had a strong contract year in 2010-11, but one must wonder if he can reach his highest levels without an elite center giving him great chances. The Canadiens lack a high-end center at Staal’s level, so it’s natural to wonder if they’ll really get their money’s worth. Adding his health questions to the mix makes him an even bigger risk.

That being said, he’s a solid power forward who scored 30 goals once and at least 22 goals three other times in his career. Cole can bring a physical element, impressive speed and has semi-decent size, so he might fill a need in the small Montreal lineup.

Overall, it’s a roll of the dice like most free agent moves, but Cole has a better chance of justifying his salary than most of the players who signed new contracts today.

Bolts close gap on struggling Bruins in playoff race

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Well, that was quite a third period.

For the Boston Bruins, it was disastrous. For the Tampa Bay Lightning, it propelled them to a critical victory in the playoff race.

Nikita Kucherov completed the hat trick with a pair of goals in the final period and Jonathan Drouin scored what would eventually be the winner, as Tampa Bay snapped its own three-game losing streak in a 6-3 victory, putting the Bolts within three points of the final wild card spot — held by the Bruins — in the Eastern Conference.

The Drouin goal — his 18th of the season but first since Feb. 19, a span of 13 games — is probably one Tuukka Rask would like back.

Drouin teed up the slap shot from the faceoff circle, beating Rask under the left arm.

And just like that, the Bruins have lost four consecutive games. On Saturday, they face the New York Islanders, another team looking to catch Boston in the wild card race.

Read more: Remember this stretch if Bruins settle for a wild card spot (or worse?)

The Islanders are only two points back of Boston.

Despite the win, there was bad news for the Lightning during this game, as defenseman Jason Garrison left with an injury.

From NHL.com:

The play occurred behind the Lightning goal, Garrison appearing to get his left leg rolled up from behind by a Bruin. Garrison had to be helped off the ice by Anton Stralman and Brayden Point and headed back to the Bolts’ locker room.

The team announced during the second intermission that Garrison sustained a lower-body injury. He did not return to the game.

Video: Ovechkin rocks custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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As promised, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin rocked a pair of custom skates in honor of Russian Heritage Night on Thursday.

On his right skate, he paid tribute to the United States with a custom design, and paid tribute to his home nation on his left skate while taking the pre-game warm-up prior to facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He’ll be auctioning off the skates, as well.

From CSN Mid-Atlantic:

The skates were painted by noted custom shoe artists Nick Avery and Polo Kerber, whom Ovechkin personally selected. The skates feature the U.S. and Russia flags as well as the Capitol Building and Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Video: Crosby slash leaves Methot’s finger bloodied and injured (Updated)

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Sidney Crosby has made news lately for his goal scoring and his use of the stick.

He speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt the other night, and on Thursday he delivered a slash to Senators defenseman Marc Methot, who has since not returned to the game.

The slash rendered a finger on Methot’s left hand bloodied and injured. It certainly didn’t look good as Method (calmly) skated to the bench.

There was no call on the play.

Updated: Methot won’t return to this game.

Show me the money! Nylander sets Leafs rookie record with latest assist

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Toronto’s talented rookies were back at it again Thursday, as William Nylander and Auston Matthews combined to set up the Maple Leafs’ first goal versus the New Jersey Devils.

Nylander added the second assist on the power play goal, giving him 35 helpers on the season.

That’s significant for a couple of reasons: He extends his point streak to 10 games, which sets a new Leafs rookie record. And the assist reportedly secured him another entry-level bonus:

Not bad.