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.

Oilers lament plenty of ‘individual miscues’ in loss to Ducks

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The Anaheim Ducks are apparently heading out of town, reportedly flying a short distance west to Kelowna, B.C., and leaving behind the playoff-crazed city of Edmonton until the series resumes for Game 4.

On the other hand, the Edmonton Oilers are left to contemplate what went wrong in a 6-3 loss to the Ducks on Sunday, as Anaheim got back in the series but still trails 2-1.

From the 25-second mark of the first period, it seemed the Oilers were on a losing path in this one after Rickard Rakell opened the scoring.

Edmonton did come back, but then quickly gave the game right back to the Ducks, who scored three unanswered goals and had completely taken the crowd in Edmonton out of it in the third period. They did a pretty good job of silencing the fans in Edmonton right away, with three goals before the game was 12 minutes old.

“We worked our way back in, but it wasn’t our night,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “We weren’t sharp enough. Individual miscues were plenty. They were all over the board. You couldn’t even shorten the bench to find two or three lines. There were that many who were erring on a consistent basis.”

The Oilers were able to escape Game 2 with a victory — and Anaheim with a 2-0 series lead — thanks largely to the play of goalie Cam Talbot, but the Ducks solved him Sunday, scoring six times on just 28 shots.

The Oilers may have sparked a brief comeback, but there was really no sugar-coating this one, especially after Anaheim regained the lead and then badly outplayed the hosts in the third period — when the Oilers needed to push for the equalizer.

 

Ducks light up Cam Talbot to defeat Oilers

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Chris Wagner‘s first career playoff goal was the turning point in Game 3 for the Anaheim Ducks, as they defeated the Edmonton Oilers 6-3 to get their first win of this series.

Connor McDavid had just scored (another) spectacular goal, this one to get the Oilers back on even terms at three goals apiece after they fell behind 3-0 in the opening period. The orange crush at Rogers Place was, naturally, in a frenzy at the time.

The tide of this game had suddenly turned in favor of the home team, which had a 2-0 series lead.

As suddenly as the Oilers had come back to tie the game, the Ducks regained the lead. Wagner fired the puck from the side boards toward Cam Talbot, who misplayed the puck off his right arm and into the net.

That was only one part of a difficult night for Talbot, who allowed six goals on 28 shots. Anaheim had built up a three-goal lead less than 12 minutes in and needed only six shots to do so.

Talk about a quick turn of events. Talbot was sensational in Game 2, backstopping the Oilers to another road win with a 39-save performance.Edmonton’s troubles started early in Game 3. Rickard Rakell scored just 25 seconds in on a breakaway and the Ducks were rolling from there.

Wagner’s goal came just 48 seconds after McDavid tied the game. Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler increased the Anaheim lead in the third period.

This time, there was no inspired comeback from the Oilers.

While the Ducks found their scoring touch, they also received a 24-save performance from John Gibson. He was at his best in the second period, making a couple of key saves, including a great shoulder stop off a three-on-one rush.

Game 4 goes Wednesday in Edmonton.

Video: Connor McDavid puts on a show with this spectacular goal

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Connor McDavid has his first goal of this series against the Anaheim Ducks — and it was a beauty.

(Another spectacular McDavid goal? Get out!)

With one assist so far in this series, McDavid brought the crowd in Edmonton to its feet with a quick stop and cut back to his left against Sami Vatanen, followed immediately with a perfect wrist shot top corner on John Gibson.

“McWow!” is right.

The Oilers fell behind 3-0 in the first period, but that goal from McDavid tied the game before the midway point of the second period.

The celebration didn’t last long.

Just 48 seconds later, Chris Wagner‘s shot from the side boards, a rather harmless looking attempt, was misplayed by Cam Talbot to put Anaheim back in front by a score of 4-3. That’s the score heading into the third period.

‘We weren’t even competitive’ — Blues coach hints at lineup changes for Game 4

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Lineup adjustments can be a common occurrence in the playoffs. Based on his comments Sunday, St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo is seriously looking to make some changes for Game 4.

The Blues trail the Nashville Predators 2-1 in the series, following a disappointing 3-1 loss on Sunday.

Nashville dominated puck possession for long stretches, putting this one away on a goal from Roman Josi after just such a shift — caused by a Blues turnover in the defensive end — late in the third period.

Yeo praised the Predators for the way they checked the Blues, but was straight to the point with his assessment of his team’s performance.

“I mean, we scored one goal tonight. Fact of the matter is, for a large part of the game, we weren’t even competitive,” he told reporters.

“We obviously have to be way better. We have to make a couple of changes, personnel-wise, for the next game and look at the tape and see what we can do … a little bit better than tonight because it wasn’t good enough.”

Despite getting outplayed, the Blues were, for much of the second half of the game, one shot away from the tying goal. But hopes of a possible comeback were nullified after a shift of about 1:10 of furious Nashville possession in the offensive zone capped off by the Josi blast.

Blues defensemen Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko — who both had a miserable day in terms of puck possession — had been stuck on the ice for almost two minutes before Josi scored, per NHL.com.

That’s one glaring example.

“The way we played in our [defensive zone] matched the way that we executed, matched the way that we competed all over the ice,” said Yeo.

“We were waiting to see what they were going to do. We were reacting to that. So we’ve got to initiate much better.”