Steve Mason

Blue Jackets experienced NHL’s worst first week

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Give Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson credit: he didn’t go into wallflower mode during this off-season. Howson pulled out some flashy moves, but the smart money is on the Blue Jackets remaining right where they’ve been for years: out of the playoffs.

Sure, they don’t have to worry about being the last NHL team with zero standings points, but the Blue Jackets have had the worst first week of any team in the league.

Ugly early numbers

They’re tied for the league lead in games played with four, yet they’ve managed one measly point. That puts them ahead of the Calgary Flames (two games played) and Winnipeg Jets (one GP) and ties them with the Phoenix Coyotes (two GP).

Yet when you look at squandered opportunities, it’s that much clearer that Columbus is the slowest starting team in the NHL. While the Coyotes lost both of their games on the road, three of the Blue Jackets’ four games were at home. Those weren’t exactly automatic losses, either; they played two teams that missed the playoffs last season and a groggy Canucks club. (Nashville, on the other hand, is not to be trifled with.)

If you ignore his huge paychecks, it’s easy to feel bad for Rick Nash, whose five points have been squandered.

Maybe James Wisniewski will heal some of their wounds when he comes back from a suspension, but it’s still disturbing that the Blue Jackets’ power play has been such a dud. They’ve gone 0-for-20 so far this season while their penalty kill allowed four goals on 15 chances.

The bright side

Their only solace is that they’re not getting blown out; three of their four losses came by one goal and there was a shootout loss in the mix. If Columbus can get their special teams’ act together, they might actually get somewhere.

Columbus has 78 games left – and potentially 74 with Wisniewski – so there’s obviously no reason to panic. Don’t be surprised if Howson and coach Scott Arniel start to feel a little nervous if this bad first week turns into a lousy first month, though.

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Their shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche is a solid example of their good news/bad news scenario. (It’s also a stern reminder that no defense should give Matt Duchene a breakaway.)

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Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…