Tim Thomas, Dennis Seidenberg

Can Dennis Seidenberg generate a strong encore after his outstanding playoff run?

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Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg has been an underrated asset for quite some time now. The German-born defenseman produced three consecutive 30+ point seasons while playing an efficient puck-moving style. (He also absorbed enough punishment from receiving hits and blocking shots to earn the nickname “The Pain Sponge” in 2009-10.)

After being quietly impressive for years, Seidenberg drew some dark horse consideration for the Conn Smythe as he worked some shutdown magic alongside Zdeno Chara on the Bruins’ top defensive pairing in the 2011 playoffs. After averaging between 22:20 and 23:33 minutes per game in the last three seasons, Seidenberg’s workload ballooned to a 27:38 minute average in the last postseason. He responded by playing some of the best hockey of his career, as Seidenberg continued his efficient ways while adding extra doses of poise and physicality to his game.

Obviously, it didn’t hurt his cause to pair up with an all-world defenseman like Chara, but CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty wonders if Seidenberg can back up his breakthrough playoffs. Seidenberg admits that even he’s surprised to watch how well he played for Boston during NHL Network’s replays of the postseason games.

“When I saw those games on NHL Network all the time and I’d turn and just watch for a second. It seemed like everything was so simple and nothing seemed to faze me, or us,” said Seidenberg. “You think that you can do that anytime you want, but when you get on the ice you don’t always have that calmness and composure with the puck.

“It’s tough to get back when you’ve been off the ice for a couple of months.”

Seidenberg should be a useful blueliner for the B’s whether he plays alongside Chara or not, although his numbers would probably dip if he finds himself with one of the team’s other defensemen.

“It was definitely on my mind over the summer, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter whether I’m paired with him or not,” said Seidenberg. “I have to play my game and focus on my tasks. I just have to focus on my game and keep trying to get better.”

Did Seidenberg get a little spoiled skating with Chara during the playoffs after the two were separated for the entirety of the regular season?

“Every time you’re on the ice with him you get spoiled,” said Seidenberg. “I learned so much from him. It’s a lot of fun being paired with [Chara].”

There was a considerable drop-off from Chara/Seidenberg to the rest of Boston’s pairings, so it might make sense to split them up – at least during the regular season. That would allow the team to have better balance overall and Haggerty points out that the two weren’t paired with each other very often during the 10-11 regular season.

Either way, it might be tough for Seidenberg to match his efforts from the 2011 playoffs, but the Bruins should be happy if he maintains his versatile and often selfless style of play in 2011-12.

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

So, do things feel different this season?

“I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.