The untradeable player looking for redemption: Gilbert Brule

Say what you want about Gilbert Brule—he’s had an remarkable offseason. This is the guy who made headlines during the Stanley Cup final for picking up a hitchhiker in Vancouver’s Stanley Park; a passenger that happened to be Bono from U2. A few weeks later, he was reportedly traded at the draft as part of the prodigal son, Ryan Smyth’s return to Edmonton. The deal with LA fell through because of questions surrounding his concussion recovery; thus leaving him in the awkward position of being an Oiler—but knowing the Oilers tried to trade him.

The point that gets lost in all of this, is that Brule was supposed to be a star when he was drafted 6th overall in 2005. Back in the WHL with the Vancouver Giants, he showed that he was the type of player who could play on the edge, agitate the opposition, stick up for teammates, while racking up significant points. Those were the days.

Like so many other Columbus Blue Jackets draft picks, Brule struggled once he hit the NHL. He only managed 12 total goals in over the course of three seasons in Columbus, before he was shipped to Edmonton for Raffi Torres. In a league that isn’t always kind to youngsters, he was afforded the gift that many prospects would kill for: a second chance.

In 2009-10, he finally looked like he had turned the corner and found his niche in the NHL. While playing an improved all-around game, Brule set career highs in goals (17), assists (20), and points (37) over 65 games. His timing couldn’t have been better as he parlayed the career season (and show of potential) into a two-year contract worth almost $2 million per season. If he could build on his newfound success, he’d be set up for a long, profitable career. Then the injuries hit again.

He had a problem with his spleen. He had the flu. He had problems with a bad ankle. Then to cap it all off, he had a concussion that ruined the rest of his season. For a guy looking to build on his previous success, each and every ailment proved to slow the momentum he had worked so hard to create.

Entering yet another contract year, Brule will have to earn the opportunity to prove his worth. As Jim Matheson from the Edmonton Journal reports, there’s a place for Brule if he fights for it:

“…It’s very crowded at forward, but if Brule can stay healthy and can get his emotions in check, he’s exactly what the Oilers need. He can skate, he can hit, he can win face-offs on a team that was 44 per cent last year, worst in the league, and he’s got a wicked shot. He brings a lot to the table when he’s right.”

The emotions that Matheson speaks of could be the key to next year and beyond for the 25-year-old. Brule spoke to Matheson about the mental side of the game that he’s been fighting with over the last few years:

“I’ve been working with a sports psychologist like crazy this summer to get away from thinking I should have done this, I should have done that. That drags me down. I’m thinking too much after games. You do that and you can’t get to sleep.”

“Last year I was just going along. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve talked to our sports psychologist Kimberly Amirault and with Dr. Saul Miller in Vancouver.”

If Brule can get his head straight, he should prove to be a much more valuable player than simply the buy-out candidate that the Kings were looking for in June. He’s shown signs over the course of his career—just mix in a little consistency and he can be a professional for years to come. Now we’ll just see if he can work the “contract year” magic that so many players seem to find.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.