Mikael Backlund

Paging Matthew Stajan? Calgary’s Mikael Backlund out six weeks with broken finger

In a perfect world for the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla would play until he’s 100 years-old and not miss a beat. They’d also like to have a healthy crew of centers so that all their lines would at least have pivots they can bank on. Instead, Calgary heads into the season with Brendan Morrison hurting and now they’ve got another problem to sweat out with young center Mikael Backlund being put out of action for six weeks thanks to a broken finger.

Without Morrison and Backlund, the bulk of the offensive burden at center falls on Olli Jokinen. At least for Calgary, Jokinen found his touch again last season. As for who else they’ll look to fill things out up the middle, there’s a rather uninspiring list of candidates to choose from as Vicki Hall of the Calgary Herald makes note of.

As a rookie, Backlund registered 10 goals and 25 points last season with the Flames. His absence leaves the NHL club awfully thin up the middle with Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan and Roman Horak the only natural centres.

David Moss can move inside from the wing, if necessary. Brendan Morrison, 36, is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.

Jokinen we know about already. Horak is a youngster who made a name for himself in camp and is getting a shot to prove himself. David Moss is generally better off on the right wing than at center.

That leaves Matthew Stajan as the guy needing to step up and help the team out in their time of need. Stajan is one of many Maple Leafs castoffs in Calgary and while vets like Morrison and Jokinen have reignited their games in Calgary, Stajan hasn’t exactly grabbed the opportunity by the reins.

Pressed for comment about the unachieving centreman — who had a couple of nice moments in pre-season games — Flames coach Brent Sutter offered a lukewarm appraisal.

“He’s got to continue to get better,” Sutter said of the 27-year-old who represents a $3.5 million cap bite. “He had an OK camp, OK exhibition (games). Staje has been fine.”

“So Staje has to push to get in that mix,” said Sutter, “and that’s where it’s at. He’s had a decent camp. It hasn’t been outstanding, but he’s played OK.”

If Sutter had lightly praised Stajan any more he might’ve fallen asleep doing it. Stajan isn’t the ideal replacement when you’ve got two guys down that could/would be higher on the depth chart for center. Times are tough in the meantime though and Stajan will need to be the guy to keep the Flames from starting off poorly.

If you’re hoping for a miracle, however, don’t hold your breath. In Stajan’s 103 games as a Flame he has nine goals and 38 assists. In other words Flames fans, you’re hoping for speedy recoveries for both Morrison and Backlund.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.