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

WATCH LIVE: Arizona Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 07:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates with the puck against the Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period at Jobing.com Arena on February 7, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Winners of seven of their past eight, the Chicago Blackhawks are back home on Thursday night to take on the Arizona Coyotes.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll lately, especially offensively, scoring 34 goals in their past eight games. They have scored at least four goals in seven of those games. Captain Jonathan Toews has been doing a lot of the work offensively lately and is having a huge second half after a disappointing start to the season offensively.

On Thursday they host a Coyotes team that has shown a lot of improvement in recent weeks, putting together an 8-4-1 record since Jan. 20.

Puck drop for Thursday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and you can catch all off the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

Click here for the Live Stream

Preview: Jonathan Toews looks to stay hot against Coyotes

Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pad save on a shot from the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

“I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

That all very well could be true.

Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.

Ducks prospect Max Jones suspended 10 games in OHL for cross-check

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones celebrates with the Anaheim Ducks after being selected 24th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Jones is in some trouble in the OHL once again.

The league announced on Thursday that Jones, selected by the Ducks in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 2016 NHL draft, has been suspended 10 games for a cross-checking incident that occurred during Friday’s London Knights-Owen Sound Attack game.

He has already served two games of the suspension.

The incident happened in the third period of the the Knights’ 6-1 loss just after the Attack’s Jonah Gadjovich scored his third goal of the game. Jones ended up getting ejected from the game along with a five-minute major for cross-checking.

Here is a look at the incident.

This is not the first time Jones has been hammered with a double-digit game suspension in the OHL. He was also suspended for 12 games during last year’s playoffs for a nasty head shot on Justin Brack in a game that was also against Owen Sound.

Jones is a talented player that has averaged close to a point per game the past two years in the OHL (including 32 points in 29 games this season) but he has also shown a tendency to cross the line when it comes to physical play. Along with these two suspensions that have totaled 22 games the past two years he has also been assessed 166 penalty minutes. During the 2014-15 season when he was a member of the U.S. National Under-17 team he picked up 112 penalty minutes … in 21 games.

Pre-game reading: Clayton Keller tops a good list to top

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie explains how the bye week is going to work next season, and why it’s going to be changed.

— Who are the best prospects who have yet to graduate to their NHL teams? TSN’s Craig Button has put together his list of the top 50, and it’s headed by Coyotes draft pick Clayton Keller. Writes Button: “Keller’s sleight of hand is matched by a creative mind that allows him to be dangerous every time he’s on the ice. The Arizona Coyotes prospect is an electrifying player who is highly productive.” (TSN)

— In which Mike Babcock admits he’s “said lots of dumb things and handled situations fairly poorly at times.” The Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach also shares his philosophy on the job, and talks about how to handle the pressures of being a bench boss. (Sportsnet)

— What is the market for Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar? At first glance, it doesn’t seem all that strong. The 22-year-old former 17th overall draft pick has no goals and just one assist in 32 games for the Senators this season. Hence, all the trade rumors. But as noted by TSN’s Travis Yost, Nino Niederreiter went through a similar year with the Islanders, and he’s turned out pretty well since being dealt to the Wild. (TSN)

— Why the Vancouver Canucks need to be sellers at the trade deadline, by Postmedia’s Jason Botchford, who writes: “For another season, the retool has been exposed a fraud, and there aren’t any options left this week. The Canucks have to rebuild their player base, and the next step in doing it has to be trading veterans for assets — preferably draft picks.” (National Post)

— What’s it like to be a general manager on deadline day? Here’s how Flames GM Brad Treliving puts it: “The trade deadline is like five lanes merging into one. … With each hour that goes by there’s an excitement level building, but you have to block all of that out and be methodical in your approach and then have a sense of when it’s the right time to strike.”  (Yahoo Sports)

Enjoy the games!