Evgeni Nabokov

Why the Islanders should call Evgeni Nabokov’s bluff and make him their No. 1 goalie

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Let’s face it, Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders might be saying all the right things, but it’s pretty tough to imagine the Russian netminder playing in Long Island after he spurned them last season. The situation carries the scent of a blind date gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Yet as awkward as the idea might be, the best way for the Islanders to get their money’s worth – not to mention to justify all the frustration – might just be to call Nabokov’s bluff. I’m not just talking about training camp, either; they should give Nabokov every chance to earn the starting job. If the Islanders really want to justify the murmurs that they could be a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season, it’s hard to imagine them getting there with Al Montoya and Rick DiPietro as their starting duo.

Nabokov and the Isles might be better off together

Even beyond the immediate returns of adding an experienced, big-name goalie, the Islanders need to accept the fact that they probably won’t receive much value in return for Nabokov if they opt for a trade. (Please scratch this statement from the Internet record if the Islanders find someone as smitten with Nabokov as the Colorado Avalanche were with Semyon Varlamov, though.)

It’s not like there are a ton of better options for Nabokov, either. Would he really be better off fighting fellow aging Russian netminder Nikolai Khabibulin for playing time in Edmonton or trying to replace Ilya Bryzgalov in Phoenix? Barring injuries, Long Island might just be the best place for Nabokov to show off his wares, even if it would just be a glorified audition.

It would also be one of the most interesting stories of the 2011-12 season …

From a purely selfish standpoint, I must point out how inherently fascinating it would be if Nabokov became the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie. Many smart hockey people have wondered if Nabokov’s impressive career numbers came largely because of strong support from some exceptional San Jose Sharks teams, so carrying the Isles to the playoffs would make a heck of an impact on his legacy. It would be an unlikely and delightful underdog story if it actually worked out.

The best part could be that the scenario would be entertaining if the experiment ended up being a failure, too. Sure, that entertainment would be more of the “rubbernecking during a bad traffic accident” variety, but it would be hard to look away from that scene.

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Again, it’s most likely that Nabokov’s time with the Islanders will be short. Maybe he’ll make it through training camp or even a few regular season games, but it’s tough to imagine him playing a whole season with the team. That being said, it would be awfully interesting if he did … and the Islanders might actually benefit the most from that option.

PHT Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby eyes more history

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Bob McKenzie shares his memories of Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie, who apparently was a big hockey fan. (TSN)

Don Cherry discusses John Brophy’s toughness after the former Leafs coach recently passed away. (Sportsnet)

 

A look at Vincent Lecavalier‘s career. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

The perils of flip-flopping goalies in the playoffs … although it worked out for the Penguins at least last night. (The Hockey News)

Speaking of which, will the Blues get burned for switching back to Brian Elliott in Game 6 tonight? Here’s a preview:

Sidney Crosby has a chance to join a very rare club of clutch goal-scorers if he can win it for Pittsburgh in Game 7:

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.