Henrik Lundqvist’s excitement for new season bubbling over

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Henrik Lundqvist is the man who holds it together in Manhattan for the New York Rangers. He’s their top goalie and he’s one of the best in the NHL. While the Rangers have had their struggles in recent years in making it to the playoffs or just missing out, they’d be going nowhere without Lundqvist holding things down.

Lundqvist got his new season off to an early beginning getting to play the first 30+ minutes of the Rangers’ preseason opening 2-1 overtime loss to the Devils. Lundqvist stopped 17 of 18 shots during the first half of the game and for him, it was the exact kind of welcome back to real game action he was looking for.

“I think it’s good I get out there right away and start working on my game and timing and focus. It’s one thing to practice on your skill and technique but to play the game it’s a lot of mental approach and how you focus for the game. It’s good to get out there right away and start working and it’s fun,” Lundqvist said. “I missed the game.”

Wait, even a preseason game is exciting? Is it more fun than the stressful regular season?

“No… It’s more fun in the regular season. The excitement, the feel, the pressure… You’re nervous and anxious. You see how fun the game is. I love the game. It feels great to be back… But when it really starts is when the real fun begins.”

The Rangers kick off their season in Europe for the NHL Premiere series in Prague, Czech Republic and Gothenberg, Sweden and for Lundqvist, it’s a trip he’s eager to make with the team.

“I’m really excited about that trip. Starting off in Prague and then to Gothenberg to play my old team and get to play against my twin brother. I’m excited to bring this team there and show them Sweden a little bit. I’m real excited about that.”

With the Rangers heading into what could be a very big season for them, Lundqvist is excited by everything that lies ahead for the team. From the additions of guys like Brad Richards and Mike Rupp as well as seeing a lot of the same guys come back from last season, he’s encouraged by where the Rangers are headed.

The work Rangers GM Glen Sather  did in the offseason was to not radically change things up. Retaining restricted free agents Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Michael Sauer helped keep a strong group of guys in tact. In past seasons, the Rangers would drastically change the landscape of the team by signing many big names while foregoing how they develop players.

By retaining their youthful group of players and continuing to develop more of them, the Rangers are building from within rather than taking chances with high-priced stars. That’s an effort Lundqvist seems to be in full support of.

“You know, I looked around a couple weeks ago and it was fun to recognize so many guys. I think the management did a great job to re-sign a lot of the guys. We have a good corps, a good group here,” Lundqvist said. “We’ve got an interesting group and I think everyone is excited to start playing and see what we can do as a group.”

With the Rangers’ kids growing up and experienced vets like Rupp and Richards helping fill out ranks, all Lundqvist might have to be is his usual brilliant self to help get the Rangers deeper into the playoffs. After all, Lundqvist seems more than eager to bring on the pressure and fun that is the playoffs.

Hagelin making ‘significant steps’ in returning to Pens lineup

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It’s been nearly six weeks since Carl Hagelin last suited up for the Penguins.

His return sounds like it’s on the horizon.

Hagelin, out since Mar. 10 with a lower-body injury, was deemed “close” to coming back by Pens head coach Mike Sullivan, just ahead of tonight’s Game 1 against Washington.

“[Hagelin] is a day-to-day decision at this point,” Sullivan said. “He took limited contact this morning. The next step, obviously, will be the full contact approach.

“He is certainly making significant steps in the right direction here.”

The speedy Swede missed the final 16 games of the regular season with his ailment, and all five games in Pittsburgh’s opening-round win against the Blue Jackets. The end result was just six goals and 22 points in 61 games played, down from the impressive stretch he had last season after being acquired from Anaheim.

Pittsburgh is hopeful the 28-year-old can rejoin the team, and provide similar production as last year’s playoff run. Hagelin had six goals and 16 points in 24 games en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Hagelin isn’t the only veteran forward that could make his return this season. Earlier this week, the Pens announced winger Chris Kunitz had been cleared for contact, and is available for the Washington series.

Sweeney shares offseason plans for Bruins

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The Boston Bruins had a relatively successful season, getting back to the playoffs after narrowly missing them the past two years.

But another interesting summer awaits GM Don Sweeney, who has a number of areas he’d like to improve.

From CSN New England:

Sweeney listed the “middle of the [forward] lineup, transition-minded defensemen and the backup goaltender position” as places he had in mind for offseason upgrades. Those were glaring areas of need throughout the regular season and postseason. 

More specifically on Sweeney’s to-do list: a left wing to be paired with David Krejci, a revamping of a third line that underachieved far too often and another top-four defenseman capable of moving the puck to go along with a more dependable backup goaltender situation than the Jekyll and Hyde performance from Anton Khudobin last season.

Boston’s pending unrestricted free agents include Drew Stafford, Dominic Moore, and John-Michael Liles, the latter of whom turns 37 in November.

At some point, the Bruins will need to find a replacement for 40-year-old Zdeno Chara. But the NHL’s oldest defenseman still has one year left on his contract, and he says he’d like to play beyond that.

To start next season, the Bruins could go with a top four of Chara, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy, two lefties and two righties. Assuming they don’t re-sign Liles, adding another left shot for the bottom pairing seems an attainable goal for Sweeney. Adding another top-four d-man could be tough, though.

Another situation to watch is the one with Ryan Spooner, the 25-year-old forward who found his way into Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse in the playoffs. Spooner is a pending RFA and arbitration eligible. He can be good offensively, but without the puck he’s still tough to trust.

Sweeney did not share his plan for Spooner with reporters, but it’s safe to say the player’s future with the Bruins is uncertain.

Panthers looking for ‘modern day guy’ as next head coach

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There are just two coaching vacancies left — in Buffalo and Florida, respectively — and on Thursday, Panthers GM Dale Tallon outlined what the club is looking for in its next bench boss.

“We’re looking for a modern day guy, a good communicator and a good teacher,” Tallon said, per WQAM radio. “Someone who is firm, but fair and can think outside the box a little bit, because creativity is important too as far as how you differentiate yourself from other teams playing a similar system.”

To that end, the Panthers have already interviewed one candidate — University of Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Sportsnet reported Florida spoke with him on Monday.

Montgomery, 47, has spent the last three years at Denver, building one of college hockey’s most elite programs. This year’s squad was anchored by Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, U.S. junior shootout hero Troy Terry and, perhaps most interestingly, freshman scoring sensation Henrik Borgstrom — Florida’s first-round pick at last year’s draft.

Montgomery aside, Tallon and the Panthers sound like they’re casting a wide net to find Tom Rowe’s replacement.

The club reportedly reached out to Vancouver with interest in former bench boss Willie Desjardins. The Miami Herald floated the possibility of bringing in ex-Habs coach Michel Therrien, who resides in South Florida. Montreal radio station 91.9 Sports also connected Therrien to the gig.

Put it all together, and the coaching decision doesn’t appear to be a rush job. Tallon all but cemented that last month, when he said there “are some candidates that are in the playoffs that we can’t talk to,” adding he might wait “until at least mid-June” to make a hire.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.