Kris Versteeg and the Florida Panthers might not be the best-kept secret in the NHL much longer.
Versteeg’s hat trick (plus an assist) gives him a resounding 17 points on the season while his new team just vaulted over the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Southeast Division.*
That’s a pretty stunning development since: 1) Versteeg has been traded four times in his career and three times since June 30, 2010 and 2) the Panthers took this division lead on Nov. 10, 2011. (Sure, anytime between 2013 and 2015 sounds about right, but now?)
The Dallas Stars and their rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan are getting a lot of press for their hot start – and rightfully so – but what bout the job that Kevin Dineen is doing? Going into the season, it seemed like he had a misshapen roster with a glorified backup as his starting goalie, yet it’s all falling into place so far.
There are plenty of reasons why the Panthers could falter. The Washington Capitals won’t just fade away, Florida will face the second heaviest travel schedule in the NHL and they might just run out of magic. Even so, you’d have to be a true cynic not to tip your cap to Dineen, Versteeg, Dale Tallon and the rest of the Panthers for what they’re accomplishing right now.
* – The Panthers have eight wins and 19 points in 15 games while the Capitals have nine wins and 18 points in 13 GP, so it might not last long … but still.
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.
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.
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.
EDINA, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise has been rehabilitating his back injury without surgery, putting him on track to be at full strength by September.
Parise said Thursday he’s “happy with the way everything’s going.” He said he’s been able to work out as he normally does during the summer, despite missing the playoffs because of the injury.
Parise said there’s “no question” he’ll be ready to play for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey tournament.
Parise joined teammates Erik Haula, Jason Pominville, Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker at an autograph signing to raise money for people affected by the wildfires in Alberta. The parents of Spurgeon’s wife, Danielle, lost their home to a fire in the Edmonton area.