Erik Cole

Erik Cole meets the Montreal media

One of the most sought-after free agents this year made his triumphant first appearance in front of the local media on Thursday. Erik Cole seemingly said all of the right things as he met with the (sometimes) over-bearing Montreal media. He even said the right things in the right language. Never underestimate the importance of a few French words to make a good first impression in Quebec. While skating with some kids at a summer hockey camp, he told reporters: “I am proud to play for a team that has such passionate fans,” in a local language.

He certainly knows how to make a first impression.

He continued making friends as he spoke about his excitement to play in the Bell Centre 41 times every year. It was one of the major reasons he chose to sign his 4-year, $18 million contract with Montreal on the first day of free agency.

“Playing in that building…there was always something special about it, an aura that you sensed every time you played there. The arena, the city and the fans, there’s such an energy in Montreal. It’s nice to be here and nice to get this chance. It’s strange how things work out. I’m just thrilled.”

The excitement is certainly a two-way street. The Habs were excited to successfully land a top-end player who has proven over the course of his career to be a consistent point producer. He had 26 goals and 26 assists for the Carolina Hurricanes last season while playing a top-line role. Throughout his career he’s absolutely killed the Canadiens; when healthy, he’s a guy who’s good for 20+ goals and 50+ points. Besides, it wasn’t just the points that he put up—it was the timing of his points. He was fourth in the league with 9 game-winning goals last season.

There are certainly a few question marks around Erik Cole and his ability to withstand the pressures of a Canadian hockey market. In his only professional stint outside of Carolina, Cole struggled with only 27 points in 63 for the Edmonton Oilers in 2008-09. He was traded back to Carolina towards the end of the season and like a switch had been flipped, he picked up right where he left off the season before. Many people have openly questioned whether Cole folded under the constant pressure of the hockey media in Canada. He thinks it had more to do with a new city and less to do with the specific market he joined.

“I was a player adjusting to a new environment after being with one organization for a number of years, so it took some time to get comfortable and to figure things out and to be comfortable with the coach and what he was looking for out of me. The day I got traded, the conversation with (Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini) and (coach Craig MacTavish) was that, especially over the past couple of months, it certainly wasn’t about my play because I was playing really well. It was about managing assets and that’s what they felt they needed to do. To be perfectly honest, at the time I would have been more than happy to stay.”

We’ll find out pretty quickly if he’ll be able to withstand the pressures of the Montreal media. They may love him today for his great quotes and honesty, but honeymoon periods don’t usually last very long. If he gets off to a slow start, the critics will be questioning his contract faster than you can say “bleu blanc et rouge.”

On paper he’s exactly the type of players the Canadiens need up front. In a few months, we’ll see if he’s as good as advertised.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”