GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 07: (L-R) Ryan Suter #20 and Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators skate up a face off circle in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 7, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

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For just the second time in their franchise’s history, the Nashville Predators advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games, which is no small accomplishment, but they wanted more.

It was fair for their fans to expect more too after they made this season a priority by trading for Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, and Paul Gaustad. They also got Alexander Radulov back, who skipped town to play in the KHL after the 2007-08 campaign.

Still, despite all those additions, the Predators didn’t get any further than they did a year ago, so let’s begin the dissection…

What happened?

Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith certainly deserves a fair amount of credit for limiting the Predators to just one goal in their final two games. However, Phoenix’s best players never rose to the occasion in this series.

It’s also worth noting that Nashville was the best team in the NHL with the man advantage during the regular season, but they only managed three power-play goals in the second round.

Who takes the blame?

Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will take the lion’s share of the blame. They were suspended for Game 3 over a team rule violation, which incidentally was the only contest Nashville actually won in this series.

Even when Radulov played in the second round, he wasn’t the star that they needed him to be. In fact, he might have actually done more harm then good. Kostitsyn got two goals in the second round, but his off-ice activities were a distraction.

What will they do about it?

The Predators have some tough decisions to make. Andrei Kostitsyn is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and do they really want to re-sign him after what happened? What about Alexander Radulov, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent?

Who knows if Radulov even wants to stay in the NHL, but it wouldn’t be shocking if neither of them are wearing Predators’ uniforms at the start of the 2012-13 campaign.

Of course, we’re sidestepping the elephant in the room because the truth is Kostitsyn and Radulov will not be the big summer stories in Nashville. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will be.

Weber is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, but the Predators will probably want to sign him to a long-term contract. The only question is if he’ll agree to be tied down to Nashville. His decision might depend largely on what happens with Suter.

If Nashville can’t re-sign him, Suter will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Their decision to go out and acquire players for a playoff push was probably largely motivated by a desire to show Suter that they’re serious about competing.

However the trades didn’t produce the desired results. They may have in fact only hurt the Predators in the long-term seeing as Kostitsyn, Gill, and Gaustad might all walk as free agents. So will Suter factor that into his decision this summer?

For that matter, is it really the beginning of the end for Nashville if Suter leaves? They have two very talented young blueliners in Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum. Maybe the Suter/Weber era is drawing to it’s close in Nashville, but all hope is not lost for the Predators.

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

And then there were 8: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.