Matthew Lombardi, Robert Lang, Ian Laperriere

Brian Burke says Leafs won’t rush Matthew Lombardi back into action

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When the Nashville Predators signed Matthew Lombardi in 2010, many people thought that the team found its perfect center. Even skeptics who believed his breakthrough 2009-10 smelled like a classic contract year outlier admitted that his combination of speed, defensive aptitude and occasional offensive  creativity would probably make him a natural fit for Nashville.

Sadly, that plane never really lifted off the ground as concussion issues plagued Lombardi since he fell face-first into the boards on October 13. He only ended up playing two games for the Predators, failing to score a single point before the Preds packaged him with Cody Franson in a trade to Toronto that looked bad the moment it was announced and keeps looking worse with each passing day.

Franson’s solid promise probably gives the Maple Leafs the “W” in that trade on his own merit, but Nashville did manage to unload the last two years and $7 million of Lombardi on Toronto. Rich teams like the Maple Leafs can take advantage of risky moves like these; while it’s easy to say that the Leafs can just shelve Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit on the long-term injured reserve if he can’t play, Toronto still would have to actually pay him.

One might wonder if the Maples Leafs are anxious to get Lombardi on the ice when you combine the uncomfortable idea of paying him to recover from his injury with the tantalizing premise of upgrading this team down the middle with the additions of Lombardi and Tim Connolly. Thankfully, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke seems keen on taking a patient approach instead.

That doesn’t mean Toronto general manager Brian Burke will push his luck by rushing centre Matthew Lombardi back for the vital first part of the schedule. Not even in the wake of reports that the centre’s summer of recovery from a severe concussion continues to go better than most people thought.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Burke told Sun Media. “As we always do with head injuries, we’ll err on the side of caution.”

Which means keeping Lombardi out of contact drills at the start of training camp and perhaps no game action until well into the schedule. The hopes is that the club’s new projected No. 1 centre, Tim Connolly, clicks with Phil Kessel and that Tyler Bozak gets accustomed to his likely spot as No. 3 pivot behind Mikhail Grabovski. That would buy valuable time.

Lombardi and Connolly rank as serious wild cards going into next season. The two centers could help Toronto make a playoff bid if they can reach a moderate level of health, but that’s a big if for both players. Getting a healthy two years out of at least one of those pivots would go a long way in breaking what must be an interminable playoff drought for many crazed Leafs fans. It’s unclear where exactly Lombardi is on his road to recovery, but we’ll keep an eye out for updates along the way.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Judge for yourself: Was Drouin’s would-be 1-0 goal offside?

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To start the seemingly pivotal stretch, Andrei Vasilevskiy made an outstanding save on Evgeni Malkin on what sure looked like a scary chance.

The play swiftly shifted from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s end to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side of the ice, and it seemed like Jonathan Drouin scored a big 1-0 goal in Game 6.

As it turns out, the goal was disallowed thanks to an offside goal review.

Here are a few viewpoints on that moment in GIF form … you can get a fuller view via the video above.

The general feeling among those who don’t have a horse in the race is that it was the right call. (Lightning fans were, uh, not happy.)

Lightning coach believes Drouin ‘is going to be dominant in this league’

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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At some point, it will probably be kind of boring to hear members of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization praise Jonathan Drouin.

At least if Drouin re-signs with the Bolts after quite the affirming postseason and his ascension amid injuries.

These days? It’s still sort of entertaining.

In the latest case, Jon Cooper was asked to compare the development paths for Nikita Kucherov vs. Drouin. After empathizing with the pressure Drouin carries as a high-end pick (vs. Kucherov’s ability to come in under the radar), Cooper had some very positive things to say about No. 27.

” … So many people think, well, you’re just going to step in the league at 18 and be dominant,” Cooper said. “I truly believe Jonathan is going to be dominant in this league, but it’s hard to do at 18. He had to work through it, and that’s it.”

Drouin, now at 21, has 12 points in 15 playoff games.

In other Lightning news, it sounds like the team will roll with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that has been working well lately and also came through at times during the 2015 postseason.

The Penguins, meanwhile, replace Beau Bennett with Conor Sheary.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 6

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning collides with Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Tonight could be the final game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here. The Bolts lead the series 3-2.

Here’s some relevant reading material to get you ready for tonight’s game:

Malkin guaranteed a Penguins win in Game 6

Lightning coach doesn’t seem flustered by Malkin’s guarantee

Kucherov continues to be clutch for the Bolts this postseason

Marc-Andre Fleury: ‘I should have been better’ in Game 5