All 30 NHL teams will deal with any number of variables going into the 2011-12 season, but few face the kind of high-risk toss-up that the Anaheim Ducks must contemplate with their franchise goalie Jonas Hiller. When healthy, Hiller cleans up a lot of mistakes for a shaky Ducks defense, but vertigo issues prematurely ended his 10-11 season and put his future in serious doubt.
Judging by the fact that he accepted a measly tryout offer with the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s reasonable to think that the Ducks could have signed Ray Emery to another two-way contract in case Hiller’s problems persist. They opted against that, though, sticking with Hiller and expensive backup Dan Ellis going into next season.
That seemed like a dubious risk to take, but maybe the Ducks know that he’s on the right track. Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski provided a translated interview that provides optimism straight from Hiller himself, which must be a breath of fresh air for Ducks fans. (Here’s video of the interview, if you’re among the few who don’t need the translation.)
Reporter (starts at the 00:15 mark): Seven months have passed since the bitter diagnosis. A hard time with new tasks.
Jonas Hiller (00:23): “What I can say today is that, yes, today I am feeling much better than a month ago. This I can say. But I can’t say that I feel much better than yesterday. There are like too small periods to measure. And that’s certainly not been easy for me, somehow, this change. I’m accustomed to getting better every day, [someone] who sets myself new goals on a daily basis. I had to give myself so much time to progress. This was a difficult and especially depressing time.”
Reporter (02:47): In a month, training camp will start overseas. Only then will Jonas Hiller have certainty. But one thing is clear already: He’s doing much better.
Hiller (02:58): “Of course I know I still have to get some ice-training and I have to work hard towards it. But that is something that you do every year. And for that I am here in Switzerland. This is what I’m working towards. And then, I believe, that I’m going to be ready come training camp and the season. And the All-Star game is certainly a goal again.”
It sounds like Hiller’s still going through a recovery process of sorts – or at least making sure his situation is stable by going through typical summer workouts – but it would be fantastic news for the Ducks if he returns to his underrated form next season. Hiller received a well-deserved All-Star selection last season, but it would be that much more impressive (and inspiring) if he did it again next season.
The Ducks would be happy to have him back either way.
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.