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And then there were 8: Panthers go out swinging

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The Florida Panthers came one goal short of their first playoff series win in ages, but for the first time in more than a decade, they can enter the summer with their heads held high. They showed a lot of heart in a seven-game series with the New Jersey Devils, overcoming a 2-0 third period deficit to push the game to double overtime before Adam Henrique ended their surprisingly successful season 3-2.

What happened?

It seemed as if the Devils were the better team when they absolutely had to be. They generated a 42-16 shot disparity in a 3-2 OT win in Game 6 and while they almost coughed up the lead in Game 7, New Jersey still prevailed.

Who takes the blame?

Sure there was instability in net, but the Panthers got pretty good to great goaltending for most of the series. In fact, it’s kind of tough to truly blame anyone, although Florida’s depth scorers didn’t come through – which pretty much matches their regular season. Players like Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss were productive, but the drop-off was steep.

What will they do about it?

Depending upon whom you ask, Florida wasn’t really supposed to get this far so soon. The Panthers have an increasingly rich pool of prospects, particularly goalie of the future Jacob Markstrom and 2011 first-rounder Jonathan Huberdeau.

The biggest areas of change will come in those prospects taking the spots of marginal players such as Wojtek Wolski. Scott Clemmensen is likely to leave but with Jose Theodore under contract for one more season, Florida doesn’t have to add a free agent goalie.

Consider the 2011-12 season laying down the foundation for what the Panthers hope will be bigger things in the not-too-distant future.

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were 9: Senators out, but future’s bright

NHL on NBCSN: Pens look to push winning streak to five games against slumping Blues

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 24:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates during the game against the St. Louis Blues at Consol Energy Center on March 24, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Things are going well for the Penguins right now. They’ve rattled off four straight wins over Washington, Montreal, Carolina and Boston and in each of those victories, they managed to score at least four goals.

Everyone knows Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang have been terrific when healthy, but others, like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz have also been key contributors for their team.

Sheary in particular had a terrific week, as he was named the NHL’s First Star for his performance last week. The 24-year-old has played a good chunk of the season on a line with Crosby, and he’s already up to 17 goals and 17 assists in 39 games in 2016-17.

“It’s going better than I expected at this point,” Sheary said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think it’s a mixture of a lot of things, the way we’re playing as a team and the way our line’s playing. I think it’s just been clicking right now. These streaks usually don’t last, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s here.”

Sheary managed to put up six goals and three assists in just four contests last week, and on Sunday, the line of Crosby, Rust and Sheary combined to score nine points in a 5-1 win over the Bruins.

“I think his game is just growing by the day,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He obviously has some nice chemistry with the line he’s on right now. He’s got pretty good chemistry with Sid in particular. That line has been really good for us. I think his confidence might be at an all-time high, which is helping him.”

If the Penguins are riding high, the Blues are on the other end of the spectrum.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue for them. They’ve scored three goals or more in four of their last five contests, but keeping the puck out of their net has been the big problem.

St. Louis comes into this game having dropped three games in a row. Although goaltending hasn’t been their only issue, Jake Allen‘s struggles are a big reason why they’ve been slumping of late.

“I take a lot of blame, I deserve it, no excuses,” the Blues goalie said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have no problem with taking the heat. You get more of the brunt of it as a goalie, the last line of defense, but in this situation I have no problem with it. I should be the backbone of this team and I haven’t been. A lot of it falls on my shoulders, letting the guys down in many situations, not giving them a chance to win.”

After Allen allowed four goals on 10 shots in a loss to Washington, the team decided he needed to stay behind while they traveled to Winnipeg (they lost 5-3 with Pheonix Copley in net) and Pittsburgh.

Tonight, the Blues will start Carter Hutton, but they’ll go back to Allen for Thursday’s game against Minnesota before they head off for the All-Star break.

PHT Morning Skate: How to define a ‘bad’ goal in 2017

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–The game of hockey has changed significantly over the last decade and so has our definition of a “bad” goal. Former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette explains what should and shouldn’t be considered a soft goal in 2017. Valiquette says if it has a 10 percent (or less) chance of going in, it’s a bad goal.  (MSG Network)

–The Ottawa Senators were able to collect seven of a possible eight points last week, which is good for their push for a playoff spot, but they also found out that Clarke MacArthur‘s concussion would keep him out for the rest of the season. Because of that, the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren believes the Sens should be all-in for Avalanche forward Matt Duchene. (Ottawa Citizen)

–Last night, the Colorado Avalanche found out (the hard way) that Patrick Marleau‘s still got game. The veteran forward scored four goals in San Jose’s 5-2 win over the Avs. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–The Montreal Canadiens are currently without Alex Galchenyuk (knee), David Desharnais (knee), Andrei Markov (groin), Greg Pateryn (foot), so you can just imagine how much Michel Therrien is looking forward to his team’s upcoming bye week. (Sportsnet)

–TSN came out with their annual Mid-Season Coaches’ Poll, which includes responses from 25 of the league’s 30 head coaches. Interestingly enough, 10 of the coaches feel like the Washington Capitals will come away with the Stanley Cup, 16 said Sidney Crosby is the best player this season and 19 think Brent Burns is the top defenseman. (TSN)

–Jarret Stoll doesn’t have an NHL contract, but he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s not officially retired. According to Stoll, there’s at least one team interested in his services. “If something happens with a certain team injury-wise and they need a guy like me I would definitely want to continue to play. There’s no question there. I think I can still play and I’d like to still play but I understand the situation and it’s tough out there.” (Yahoo)

–The St. Louis Blues decided to leave Jake Allen behind when they took off for a recent road trip because he was struggling badly. Blues assistant GM Martin Brodeur knows a thing or two about being a goalie, and he insists he isn’t concerned about Allen’s struggles. “It’s just a matter of a lot of different little things that kind of compounded at the same time for him. He’s played some incredible games this year. I think he just hasn’t been as consistent as we would like. You look last year, the way I saw it, we had a clear-cut No. 1 goalie.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?