Vancouver Canucks v Florida Panthers

Dineen says Versteeg “needs to play a higher level of hockey”

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Things aren’t going as well for the Florida Panthers as they were through the first three months of the season. The Southeast Division leading Panthers have been slumping and they only have a single win since the calendar flipped to 2012. The frustration came to a head when head coach Kevin Dineen sent a strong message to Kris Versteeg when he benched the top-line winger for extended periods during the third period against the Penguins on Friday night.

First thing is first: Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann have been nothing short of amazing for the Panthers this season. For those looking for a reason for the Panthers shockingly strong start, look no further than the trio that has formed on of the best lines in the entire NHL.

Spearheading the line has been the comeback of Kris Versteeg. He’s leading the team with 17 goals and 39 points as he looks to rediscover the form that made him a Calder Trophy finalist in 2009. But lately, his head coach has seen his play starting to slip.

Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel asked Dineen about his decision to limit Versteeg’s ice-time on Friday night. “I think that was a pretty strong reflection of what my feelings were on his play and that’s not a one-game snapshot,” Dineen said. “I don’t do that based on one game. I think there’s been a stretch of games where he … is such an important leadership role for this team, [he] needs to play a higher level of hockey.”

The message? Great start Kris… but there’s still three more months to play.

Versteeg still thinks the line is getting chances and it’s only a matter of time before things turn around for the trio. “We still feel we’ve had a ton of chances. I don’t know how many posts and nets we’ve missed in the last 3-4 games. If one of those go in, it could change the whole dynamic of the confidence for our team and line, especially.”

Dineen’s allocation of ice-time is the best way to express his displeasure with Versteeg’s recent play. We’ll see on Monday night against the Bruins if the message was received.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champions this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, three off his college career high set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, bumping the number of players from that program’s junior class to turn pro to four since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, a 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.