After missing the final two games of the regular season with an unspecified lower-body injury, Pittsburgh winger James Neal reassured the Pens faithful that he’s in for Game 1 against Philly — as if there was any doubt.
“It’s good to get back out there, get the legs going, get the timing back and get ready for playoffs,” Neal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I’ll be ready to go.”
Neal — one of just four 40-goal scorers in the NHL this season — will be a vital contributor for the Penguins this postseason. If there’s been a knock on Pittsburgh during the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era, it’s the lack of elite scoring wingers to compliment the wealth of talent down the middle (don’t forget about Jordan Staal, either.)
Pens GM Ray Shero has worked wonders with short-term deals for the likes of Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko to aid in Cup runs, but Neal is different because 1) He’s been with the team for nearly two full seasons, and 2) He’s signed on to play long-term, inking a six-year, $30 million deal in February.
Speaking of Pens wingers, it appears that Steve Sullivan is good to go after he too missed the final two games of the regular season with an undisclosed ailment. The 37-year-old has never advanced past the second round and is excited to get things underway with Pittsburgh.
“This is the best opportunity I’ve ever had, by far,” he said. “I’m very excited, energized and just ready to go. These opportunities don’t come along very often, so I want to try to make the best of my opportunity here.”
Capitals prospect Madison Bowey is in trouble. The 21-year-old could face supplemental discipline for a pair of incidents that occurred in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Eastern Conference Final on Friday night.
The Hershey Bears defenseman was tossed from the game for delivering a high hit to the head of Toronto Marlies forward Kasperi Kapanen. The 19-year-old was shaken up on the play, but was able to skate off the ice on his own.
Bowey also appears to use a homophobic slur as the on-ice official is escorting him off the ice (the incident was caught on camera).
Here’s some footage of the hit:
Bowey was tossed from the game.
The hit might not be extremely vicious, but it’s unnecessarily high. The possible slur definitely doesn’t improve his odds of escaping without a suspension.
Earlier this season, ‘Hawks forward Andrew Shaw was suspended one game by the NHL for using a homophobic slur during a game.
Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop revealed he had strained ligaments in his ankle/shin area, which ultimately put him on the sidelines for the Eastern Conference Final.
Bishop was stretchered off the ice after suffering the injury in the first period of Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, and never returned to game action, meaning back-up Andrei Vasilevskiy had to take over the starting duties for the duration of the series.
“When I went down, I felt a huge pop. I thought somebody two-handed me in the shin. Once I felt the pop and then it was a bunch of pressure and pain, I thought my leg broke,” Bishop told reporters.
“I pretty much strained all the stuff in my shin and ankle. I was coming back and it was getting better. I was able to skate there at the end but going down in the butterfly and those movements — like going up against the post — it was still really painful and I just wouldn’t have been effective.”
Bishop estimated he was getting close to a return, but still a “week or so” before he could play with the pain.
“It was getting there. Just tough timing.”
Bishop, 29, has one more year remaining on his current deal that comes with a cap hit of $5.95 million and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. Vasilevskiy, 21, played well when called upon in the post-season and has one year remaining on his deal. He’s slated to become a restricted free agent after next season.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman acknowledged that at some point, a decision on their goalies will probably be necessary, either for salary cap reasons or perhaps a potential expansion draft.
“We’ve got two outstanding goaltenders. I know that,” said Yzerman.
Added Bishop: “If you look around this league right now, you need two goalies to win.”
Talk about a whirlwind season for Jonathan Drouin.
The talented forward, and third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, went from the center of a well documented controversy for a public trade request to a pivotal component for the Tampa Bay Lightning in its playoff quest that fell just short of a Stanley Cup Final berth after a Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
The 21-year-old Drouin, recalled from the AHL when Steven Stamkos was taken out of the lineup with a blood clot, scored five goals and 14 points in 17 playoff games. And, based on the comments of general manager Steve Yzerman to reporters, he’ll be a regular on this team when the 2016-17 season begins in the fall.
Drouin has one more year remaining on his entry-level contract before he’s a restricted free agent, as per General Fanager.
Funny how some things can change.
The Drouin trade request was one of the more contentious — not to mention ongoing — storylines this season. But it could be that both sides have since resolved their differences.
“I definitely want to be here,” said Drouin, as per the Tampa Bay Times. “I love the way this ended, I guess with this different and weird year. But the way this finished and it’s definitely somewhere I want to play.”
In this case, the best deal was the one Yzerman never made. Even as speculation and reports and rumor circulated the situation for weeks leading up to the trade deadline.
“He makes us a better team. Simple as that,” Yzerman told reporters. “He can do things — a talented young player that’s only going to get better.
“I think the best thing for this team is Jonathan Drouin being on it.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, were last in the Stanley Cup Final in 2009, when they hoisted hockey’s silver chalice.
The San Jose Sharks are in uncharted waters, having never been here before, and that includes Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both veterans of more than 1,000 regular season games played.
Perhaps that’s why the Penguins, one of the marquee NHL teams given their generational super star Crosby, are -135 favorites to win the Stanley Cup, according to online bookmaker Bovada on Friday. The Sharks were listed as +115 underdogs.
The Penguins, a force in the NHL since a coaching change in mid-December, became the betting favorites to win it all following their series win over Alex Ovechkin and the rival Washington Capitals in the second round.
Game 1 of the final goes Monday in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins will start with home ice advantage.
So far in these playoffs, the Penguins have gone 7-3 at Consol Energy Center. The Sharks are 5-4 on the road, where they actually started 3-0 following the first round against the L.A. Kings.
Right now, the Sharks possess the top three point producers in these playoffs in Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski (the leading goal scorer with 13) and Brent Burns, while Phil Kessel — as part of that dynamic HBK Line — is fifth in the league and leads the Penguins with 18 points in 18 games.