Jason LaBarbera honors Pat Tillman with new mask

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Goaltenders find inspiration from any number of different sources when pulling together a concept for a new mask. Some pay respect to the organization’s history and some keep the same general design no matter where they happen to play. Jason LaBarbera has always has some pretty cool masks for music fans to check out—from Metallica to Eddie Vedder.

This season, he’s taken it to a completely different level.

LaBarbera’s new mask pays homage to the great Arizonan (and American) Pat Tillman. For those who don’t live in Arizona or don’t remember his story, Tillman was the former Arizona Cardinals safety who left an NFL contract on the table in the wake of 9/11 to fight for his country.  After a few tours, Tillman lost his life while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.  Regardless of political beliefs, Tillman was a man who stepped up for his country during an emotional time of uncertainty and confusion.

LaBarbera explains the new mask and theme to NHL.com (you can check it out here):

“I wanted to make sure that all troops knew how much we respect and appreciate their sacrifices to protect our way of life. Pat’s story is well-known around the country and the world, but it’s so important here in Arizona were the people see him as their own. He is a part of Arizona sports history and our nation’s history and I wanted to show that.

“You walk by the Arizona Cardinals stadium (just across the street from Jobing.com Arena, home of the Coyotes) and you see the statue and it really impacts you what Pat Tillman did and the decision he made. Here’s a guy who gave up a very lucrative profession, something he loved and did all his life, to do what he thought was right. Not a lot of people can say that.”

It’s hard to explain what Pat Tillman meant to the sports landscape in the Phoenix area. He played with the hometown Arizona State Sun Devils, was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, and thrived for both. During his time with the Cardinals, he had other offers to move onto greener (and more lucrative) pastures, but stayed to play with the Cardinals. In the wake of his untimely passing, both the Sun Devils and Cardinals have retired his number—you’ll see his name whether you attend a college or pro football game in the greater Phoenix area.

Sometimes goaltenders masks are silly at best—or self-serving at worst. But you have to give it up to the goaltenders this offseason for “getting it.” This year, we’ve seen tributes to the fallen enforcers, former NHLers who perished in the Lotomotiv plane crash, and now a soldier who fought for his country and still means a lot to his community.

If good things happen to good people, expect LaBarbera to have a heck of season as he shares time with Mike Smith this season.

PHT Morning Skate: Four things the Pens need to do to eliminate the Sens

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–Pittsburgh Tribune writer Jonathan Bombulie breaks down the four things the Penguins need to do to close out the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. It starts with being ready to play, being desperate, scoring first and showing Ottawa some respect. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–A few weeks after they were bounced from the playoffs, the Sharks are still deciding if they should bring back Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If anything, it sounds like there’s a good chance they chose to keep Thornton over Marleau at this point. (CSN Bay Area)

–The city of Nashville has come a long way as a hockey market. They went from having fans that needed “Hockey 101” lessons to now being fully invested in their team. There were some lean years in Nashville, but they’ve seen the benefits of education young fans over the years. (New York Times)

–The Nashville Predators locked up their first berth in the Stanley Cup Final by beating the Ducks 6-3 on Monday night. Colton Sissons, who was the unlikely hero in Game 6, scored a hat trick. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Philadelphia Flyers own the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and there’s at least a chance that Nolan Patrick could be available at that spot. Despite dealing with some pretty significant injuries over the last year, Patrick believes he’s capable of staying healthy and playing in the NHL next season. Oh, and by the way, Patrick doesn’t like pizza, but he loves cheesesteaks. (Courier-Post)

–The Hockey News recounts the story of the old Cleveland Barons, who found out they were entering the NHL just three months before the start of the 1976-77 season. As you can imagine, those are some difficult circumstances, and problems arose from the beginning. “I couldn’t even give tickets away. I asked my mailman if he wanted tickets, and he said, ‘I’ve got bowling tonight,'” said former captain Al McAdam. (The Hockey News)

–Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan was at the Preds-Ducks game last night, and yup, he threw a catfish on the ice after the Predators won the game. Here’s the visual evidence:

 

Video: Johansen, Fisher join in Predators’ conference title celebration

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After reaching their first ever Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators topped that in a big way, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

There were a lot of firsts and rarities along the way.

In ousting the Anaheim Ducks with a 6-3 victory in Game 6, GM David Poile’s team advanced to the championship round for the first time in his lengthy time as an executive.

Peter Laviolette also became the fourth coach in NHL history to bring three different teams to a Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are also the first 16th seed to make it this far.

Yep, that’s a long list of milestones (and not a comprehensive one). And, to think, the Predators haven’t even been on the brink of elimination during the postseason yet.

It’s special stuff, so don’t be surprised by the boisterous celebration you can see in the video above this post’s headline.

P.K. Subban: No city in the NHL ‘has anything on Nashville’

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If there’s one thing we can agree upon about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s that these months have really cemented just how hockey-mad Nashville has become for its Predators.

(Yes, you can call it “Smashville” if you’d like.)

The scene at Bridgestone Arena was as boisterous as ever in the Predators’ 6-3 Game 6 win against the Anaheim Ducks, with legions of fans packing and surrounding the building.

Sights like these have becoming resoundingly normal for a hockey market that was once questioned by media and other fan bases:

Yeah, wow.

As the Predators advanced to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, plenty of people were making jokes at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens for trading P.K. Subban. Of course, Subban wouldn’t take a shot at the Habs during such a great moment, but his praise for puck-nutty Predators fans says a lot in itself.

“I played in an A+ market my whole career,” Subban said, via Jeremy K. Gover of the Nashville Predators Radio Network. “There’s not a city in the league that has anything on Nashville.”

Whether their opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins or Ottawa Senators, we already know that Nashville will begin the Stanley Cup Final on the road. That’s OK … Predators fans might need some time to get their voices back and recover from celebrating, so waiting until Games 3 and 4 might be a blessing in disguise.

Ducks’ Cogliano just doesn’t think Predators were the better team

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The Anaheim Ducks battled their way to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, but Colton Sissons and the Nashville Predators ended their season on Monday.

The Ducks are processing that disappointment – being just two wins away from a trip to the championship round – and some of their reactions might spark a little controversy.

Specifically, it sounds a bit like Bruce Boudreau believing that his Minnesota Wild were superior to the St. Louis Blues despite falling in that series.

Andrew Cogliano, it must be noted, was spurned by Pekka Rinne on some early chances in Game 6. He likely feels as frustrated as any Ducks player right now.

Sisson’s hat-trick goal, making it 4-3 before two empty-netters cemented the 6-3 finish, was the dagger that finally put the hard-working Ducks down.

One can understand some of those feelings from Anaheim, especially considering the frustration of a) getting over Jonathan Bernier‘s early struggles to make a very real game of this and b) occasionally carrying the play in a dramatic way, including in Game 6.

Still, the Predators got the right combination of great stretches of play from Rinne and strong work from the expected and the unexpected, such as Sissons.

For an aging star like Ryan Getzlaf – a player who produced some of his best work late in the season and during the playoffs – you have to wonder how many chances remain.