Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

Nathan Horton returns to the ice for first time since Cup final concussion

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It’s been 112 days since Nathan Horton lay motionless on the TD Garden ice during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. Since then the Bruins came roaring back to win their first Cup in 39 years, the Stanley Cup has toured the globe with the B’s, and Horton has slowly but surely recovered from his severe concussion. Sunday night’s preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens provided Horton his first opportunity to get back on the ice and find out exactly where his recovery stood. If his game against the Habs is any indication, Horton will be just fine when the Bruins open up their season against the Flyers on October 6.

Nathan Horton admitted there were butterflies flowing before the Bruins “home” game in Halifax:

“I was a little nervous coming in, just from what happened. I was just trying not to think too much — just work hard and do the little things. I didn’t feel too bad, to tell you the truth. It felt a little bit different being on the ice, but it felt OK.”

Maybe he should feel nervous more often. Horton posted two assists in the third period and looked good overall as the Bruins laid the hammer on the Canadiens to the tune of 7-3. Putting up points in one thing—but showing that he could withstand the physical part of the game was just as important as any goals or assists. Joe Haggerty from CSN New England shared his thoughts as Horton took the ice for the first time since the brutal hit that ended his season in the Cup Finals last year:

“Good first test run for Nathan Horton tonight. Got a few bumps and bruises, but didn’t seem hesitant or jumpy with the puck at all. Horton also looked very good with Seguin skating on the line with him both in practice and in tonight’s game.”

To say Horton’s line with Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron looked good all night would be an incredible understatement. Then again, when a team drops a touchdown and wins by four goals, it’s safe to say that just about the entire team looked good. Still, it was an important first step for a guy who the Bruins will depend upon this season for scoring and physical play this season. For an organization that is still coming to grips with Marc Savard’s questionable future, any positive news on the concussion front should be greeted with cheers of optimism.

Remember, this isn’t that will be satisfied with another playoff appearance or a series win. If the Bruins want to repeat their success from the 2010-11 season, they’ll need all of their horses playing at the top of the game. Horton’s first game back showed that he’s well on his way to making a quick and relatively speedy recovery.

For anyone who saw the hit he took last June, his return is encouraging news in the aftermath of a very scary incident. Here’s to hoping we see more players recover and return from their concussions in the near future.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.