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Wojtek Wolski might be early winner of the Richards-Gaborik sweepstakes

New York Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski looks primed to face a fascinating fork in the road in the 2011-12 season. The inconsistent but skilled winger is no stranger to up and down moments, but we could find out a lot about him in the beginning of next season.

Although his golden opportunity might get derailed by a groin injury, NHL.com points to Wolski as the frontrunner for the Rangers’ top left wing spot. First-line minutes are never something to sneeze at, but this could be even more special because of his potential linemates: Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

On the positive end, that’s an amazing chance to put up boffo numbers. That being said, if he can’t make it work with those two, it might be time to ship him to a lower-level league where he can float in relative anonymity.

Like many NHL head coaches, John Tortorella is known for going through lineup changes more often than Madonna changes her accent. Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brian Boyle could also earn time at the left wing spot. Still, for the sake of the team’s balance, things would work better with Wolski on line one.

While Dubinsky would be an amazing fit because he brings some grit (and a right-handed shot) to what would be a finesse-driven line, moving him away from Ryan Callahan would rob the Rangers of a difference-making complimentary duo. Fedotenko and Boyle are probably best suited for lower line duties, although Boyle’s big body could provide an interesting element to the line.

Overall, Wolski fits better by default, but he’ll need to seize the opportunity if he gets it. Wolski shared his thoughts on playing with such skilled forwards.

Tortorella expects Wolski to be ready for Wednesday’s practice at Ericsson Globe Arena. If he’s back doing line rushes with Richards and Gaborik, we’ll have our answer.

“To be able to play with those types of players gives you a better opportunity every night to win, to play well and to be consistent,” Wolski said. “As a forward, I’m supposed to put myself in position where I’m playing among the top-six guys. That’s usually what is counted of me. I have to be creative and I want as much ice time as possible.”

It’s hard to believe that Wolski sports ideal NHL size because of it frequently goes to waste because of his passive style. He would be wise to break those habits and bring that above-average frame to the net for a bounty of garbage goals. Richards’ sublime passes should open up frequent tap-in goal opportunities while Gaborik’s speed and fearsome skills should divert plenty of defensive attention.

If Wolski could ever choose a time to assert himself, this would be it.

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg (3) is hit by St. Louis Blues center Paul Stastny (26) during the second period in Game 1 in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks – Game 1

Nashville Predators' Paul Gaustad, left, defends against San Jose Sharks' Joel Ward (42) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Nashville won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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After stunning the Anaheim Ducks with a Game 7 win in the first round, the Nashville Predators remain in California to take on the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can catch Game 1 on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Sharks have some ‘pent up energy,’ eager to start series with Preds

Game 7 win is ‘a big step’ for Predators

Burns, Doughty, Karlsson named finalists for 2016 Norris Trophy

Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after winning the award at the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson have been named finalists for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, but the debate about who should win is likely to persist right through to June 22 and the annual NHL Awards.

Not only did Karlsson, last year’s Norris winner, lead all blue liners is points with 82, he led the league in assists with 66 and finished tied with Joe Thornton for fourth in the entire NHL in total points. Those lofty offensive totals could make the Ottawa Senators star the clear favorite to claim the award for a third time in his career.

From NHL.com:

Karlsson is the first NHL defenseman to score at least 82 in a season since Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (85 points) and Ray Bourque of the Boston Bruins (82 points) in 1995-96.

Burns — is there an award for most outrageous beard? — is also coming off an impressive regular season, finishing just shy of the 30-goal mark with 27 and 75 points in 82 games for the Sharks. He’s also had a strong showing in the post-season, as well, with eight points in the opening round versus L.A.

Doughty’s offensive numbers don’t match up with the production from Karlsson or Burns, with 51 points in 82 games for the Kings. There were eight defensemen ahead of him in overall point production. But he’s often recognized for logging hefty amounts of ice time, averaging 28:01 in the regular season, on a Kings team that often dominates puck possession at even strength.

“If you’re going to win, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have to play the other side of the puck,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently said to the Associated Press.

“You’re going to have to make those little plays that aren’t going to show up on the highlights. (Doughty’s) defensive partners — the little things he’ll do just to get his partner time to make a play. He’s three steps ahead of everything, and because he is that, he makes it look easy.”