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Eric Staal discusses falling short of playoffs, Erik Cole’s departure and Canes’ changes

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Considering the NHL’s lengthy 82-game seasons, it’s a bit surprising how often a playoff berth can come down to a team’s final contest. The Carolina Hurricanes stared that situation straight in the eyes in April – and ultimately blinked – as the Tampa Bay Lightning handed them an embarrassing 6-2 defeat.

When you get walloped like the Canes did in such a big game, the loss probably lingers for everyone involved with the team. That being said, the heaviest burden might have fallen on the shoulders of the team’s best player and captain, Eric Staal. Staal assisted on one of Carolina’s two goals while registering a -4 rating in that decisive game, a performance that must have left a bitter taste in the former Stanley Cup champion’s mouth. Whether it’s fair or not, that pressure comes with the territory when you’re a four-time All-Star making $7.5 million (with an $8.25 million annual cap hit).

Staal admits that he will allow that feeling to linger a bit for motivational purposes, but also noted that there will be some new faces in Carolina next season. While the Hurricanes will probably maintain their image of being an attacking offense with a shaky defense that leans heavily on the underrated work of goalie Cam Ward, there’s no denying that the team will be a little different.

The Charlotte Observer’s Chip Alexander caught up with Staal to discuss the departure of his successful linemate Erik Cole along with some of the team’s off-season additions including forwards Anthony Stewart and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

“He’s been a good friend and a guy I got to know real well, coming in at a young age in this league,” Staal said of Cole. “It was a lot of fun. But that’s the way this business works. He’s gotten a great opportunity in Montreal and great security for his family. I’m excited for him.”

(snip)

Then there were the free-agent acquisitions: Stewart, Ponikarovsky, center Tim Brent and goalie Brian Boucher. Finally, there was defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup last season after being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We picked up some good players, including some who might have been a little under the radar like Anthony Stewart,” Staal said. “Obviously, Ponikarovsky has had a lot of good seasons under his belt although he was injured last season. Brent had a good strong season with the (Maple) Leafs as a fourth-line center and played his role to a T, which is what we’re looking for. And Boucher is a quality goaltender and quality guy.”

The Canes are investing $12.75 million over three years in Kaberle. Staal called him a proven player who “has a great presence on the blue line” and should help improve the power play.

Skeptics will point to Kaberle’s ineffectiveness when it came to improving the Boston Bruins’ power play, but the former Toronto Maple Leafs PP quarterback might benefit from having more time to build chemistry with his teammates (rather than learning on the fly after being traded at the deadline). If recent trends continue, an improved power play could make a significant difference for Carolina; they’ve received more man advantage opportunities than any team in the NHL since the lockout.

An improved power play would be wonderful, but it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Canes took a step back during the summer. It’s understandable that they balked at matching Montreal’s hefty contract for Cole, but they’re essentially swapping that rejuvenated power forward and Cory Stillman for Stewart and Ponikarovsky. It’s hard to picture that being anything but a downgrade and there’s also the worry that Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner might have trouble matching his fantastic first season.

Staal scored 76 points last season, which is about what you can expect from the big and talented center since he hasn’t come very close to his breakthrough 100-point campaign in 05-06. Carolina will probably need quite a bit more than that from their captain if they hope to make the playoffs in 2011-12, though.

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.”