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And then there was one: Devils’ sweet run goes bitter

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Do you know a New Jersey Devils fan? If so, you should probably give him or her a hug right now. (Yes, even if you root for the New York Rangers.)

The bitter taste of the Devils’ 6-1 Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Kings probably won’t subside for some time – few endings like these dissolve quickly – yet the big picture ended up looking a lot sweeter than most people expected.

Sure, New Jersey was about as good as a sixth seed could be, all things considered. They finished with 102 points this season, which would have placed them right behind the Pittsburgh Penguins (103) and Boston Bruins (102, with more regulation/OT wins) as the fifth seed if it wasn’t based on division titles. Still, they sported plenty of question marks going into the postseason and just about everything worked out.

Until they met the Kings, of course.

What happened?

Whether you attribute it to injuries (Ilya Kovalchuk seemed banged up, for one), the Devils’ shortcomings or the Kings’ dominance, New Jersey just couldn’t score consistently against Los Angeles. A power play that scored 12 goals through the first three rounds was downright befuddled by an outstanding Kings’ PK. Zach Parise struggled just as much as Kovalchuk to put points on the board while Martin Brodeur was surprisingly strong – but not strong enough – to top the Kings.

The Devils scored just eight goals in six games in the series.

Who takes the blame?

As unfair as it might be, many will fit Steve Bernier with the goat horns. His controversial hit earned an ejection and resulted in three Kings power play goals, essentially ending Game 6 – and the series – before the first period was even over.

Of course, that’s an overly simplistic approach. As many pointed out, a five-minute major doesn’t necessarily justify such a porous PK showing. (Overall, the Devils’ penalty kill was strong, but that might make it hurt a little bit more.)

If anything, Bernier takes the heat off of larger concerns. The Devils lost their cool and also lost their offensive touch. Bernier’s the easy scapegoat and most will see it that way, yet an ineffective offense and a dominant Kings team did the Devils in.

What will they do about it?

In case you haven’t noticed the deluge of “Where will Parise go?” articles, the Devils’ biggest off-season question isn’t entirely in “their hands.” That being said, making a deep postseason run had to at least improve New Jersey’s chances of retaining its captain and most important player. GM Lou Lamoriello’s off-season report card likely hinges on Parise’s decision.

That’s far from Lamoriello’s only summer chore, however. He has other noteworthy free agent calls to make, with the most prominent one being Brodeur. This post goes into painstaking detail to cover the many decisions the Devils face in this off-season, as the vast majority of New Jersey’s most valuable players (not named Kovalchuk) either need a new deal this summer or in 2013.

Lamoriello faces a tough bigger picture question among many individual conundrums, then: does this group have more deep runs in them or was this just a (mostly) happy accident?

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 nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

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

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

And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

And then there were four: Capitals fall just short in Game 7

And then there were three: Coyotes’ run falls short

And then there were two: Rangers’ gas tank hits empty

Kronwall out for World Cup, Sweden names Lindholm as replacement

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Appropriate timing for this news, given it’s Red Wings day at PHT — Team Sweden has announced that Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall will miss the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, and has been replaced by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm on the active roster.

Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with a troublesome knee issue all offseason. Shortly after getting eliminated by Tampa Bay, Kronwall acknowledged he had a “rough year” and was seeking options for the knee — but going under the knife wasn’t one of those options, according to Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

That he avoided surgery led some to believe that rest and rehab was the way the club and “Kronner” wanted to fix the injury. If that’s the case, missing the World Cup makes sense — it would give the veteran an additional month to get healthy.

As for Lindholm, scoring this roster spot is a nice feather in his cap. At 22, he’ll be the youngest d-man on the team and got the nod over the likes of Dallas’ John Klingberg, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

Lindholm is still without a contract, however, so his situation will be worth monitoring as the tournament draws close.

Related: Rakell added to Sweden World Cup roster to replace Alex Steen

Rich get richer: Dallas signs Hudler to one-year, $2 million deal

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Florida Panthers looks up at the scoreboard as he skates prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Senators 6-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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One of the NHL’s most dynamic offenses has gotten even better — per the Morning-News, the Dallas Stars have inked veteran winger Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million pact.

The confirmation comes after some loud, heavy rumblings that Dallas was in on the former 30-goal man.

On Tuesday evening, a report from Today’s Slapshot claimed that Hudler’s agent, Petr Svoboda, confirmed a deal with Dallas was done.

That initial report was later corroborated by KTCK Radio Dallas host Bob Sturm who, on Wednesday morning, tweeted out “Hudler is true. Book it.”

Shortly thereafter, longtime Stars beat writer Mike Heika made it official.

Adding Hudler to the lineup is a major boon for Dallas. The 32-year-old is just one year removed from posting career-highs in goals (31) and points (76), capturing the Lady Byng trophy in the process.

Though Hudler had a tough time replicating that success last season, he was still fairly productive, scoring 35 points in 53 games for Calgary, and 11 in 19 games for Florida after being flipped to the Panthers at the deadline.

All told, Hudler finished the year with 46 points.

In Dallas, he’ll join a squad that led the league in offense last season (3.23 goals per game) and compete for top-nine minutes in a forward group that features the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin.

Loaded, to say the least.

The move also reunites Hudler with Stars GM Jim Nill. The two spent considerable time together in Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup together in 2008.

Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha

Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) scores on Montreal Canadiens goalie Ben Scrivens (40) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Anthony Mantha’s been here before.

Two years ago, yours truly wrote a “Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha” piece. At the time, Mantha was a 19-year-old phenom attempting to make the jump from junior hockey to the Red Wings — who were still waiting to hear if Daniel Alfredsson would return for a second season.

Yeah, Daniel Alfredsson.

Yeah, it was a long time ago.

And much has happened since, especially for Mantha.

The 20th overall pick in 2013 broke his leg shortly after that piece went live, an injury that stalled his progression and resulted in a difficult year with AHL Grand Rapids. At the end of the ’14-15 campaign, Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano said Mantha had been “very, very, very disappointing,” and Mantha acknowledged he had to work on “a lot of aspects of my play.”

A two-time 50-goal scorer in the Quebec League, Mantha proceeded to watch his name surface in trade rumblings, then failed to crack the Wings roster out of training camp last September. Mantha’s disappointment was compounded when Detroit’s newer, shinier young phenom — Dylan Larkin — became the first 19-year-old to make the team since Mike Sillinger did it in ’90-91.

Head coach Jeff Blashill admitted expectations for Mantha were probably too high, and the club seemed committed to taking a more patient approach with his development.

Until Mantha started changing people’s minds, that is.

Everything seemed to come together for the 6-foot-5, 204-pounder last year. He scored 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games for the Griffins, and started pushing for a recall by scoring his first professional hat trick in February.

At the time, the Wings were still preaching patience. But that all changed in mid-March, as GM Ken Holland made the decision to bring Mantha up and give him his NHL debut.

The results were a mixed bag. Mantha had two goals and three points in 10 games, but his ice time steadily diminished (he received 14:45 in his first contest, and just 6:27 in his last one.) And as the season came to a close and the Wings were in danger of missing the playoffs, Mantha was dropped from the lineup and returned to Grand Rapids.

Mantha’s pedigree and raw ability should put him in position to make the Wings out of training camp this year, but it’s no slam dunk. Fellow prospects like Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek will push for spots as well, and it’s important to remember that Mantha is waiver eligible — meaning he can go up and down without Holland having to worry about losing him.

But if there was ever a time for Mantha to really make the leap, this is it. He’ll be 22 by the time the season starts, and has had a good taste of NHL hockey.

Now all he needs to do is stick around.

It’s Detroit Red Wings day at PHT

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The Detroit Red Wings continued their streak of playoff appearances earlier this spring, making it to the Stanley Cup tournament for a 25th consecutive season.

That’s great.

But their appearance was short, as they were once again bounced in the first round — for the third straight year, so consider that a streak of its own — by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With another early post-season exit, attention turned to the offseason. The big story was the future of Pavel Datsyuk, who is 38 years old and had one more year left on his contract, which came with a cap hit of $7.5 million. Speculation started with a report that the long-time Red Wing could leave that organization for his homeland, Russia, at the end of the NHL season and continued from there.

His contract — and cap hit — was eventually dealt to the Arizona Coyotes at the NHL Draft, officially ending Datsyuk’s time in Detroit. He won two Stanley Cups there, and scored 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games with the Red Wings.

Datsyuk has since signed a two-year contract in the KHL.

In hopes of replacing Datsyuk, the Red Wings signed free agent center Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.25 million.

The Red Wings also brought back goalie Petr Mrazek and defenseman Danny DeKeyser with no arbitration hearing necessary in both cases. Luke Glendening was signed to a four-year contract extension and Darren Helm avoided free agency, signing a five-year, $19.25 million deal.

Brad Richards also retired after 15 NHL seasons.

The Red Wings and the hockey world also lost the legendary Gordie Howe, who passed away at the age of 88.

So many from the hockey and sports world paid tribute to Howe, famously known as Mr. Hockey, including one from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said Howe defined hockey “for a life time.”