Hitchcock attributes Stewart’s down year to lack of fitness

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One of the big mysteries out of St. Louis this year was the poor play of Chris Stewart.

The 24-year-old saw his offensive production plummet and ended up a healthy scratch twice in the postseason, a stunning development from a guy that was — as recently as last season — considered one of the league’s best young power forwards.

Now, we’re starting to learn more about Stewart’s struggles.

Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock spoke with Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Stewart’s major issue this year — a lack of fitness.

“He’s got to play with a high level of physicality for seven months, nine months. That’s a long time,” Hitchcock explained. “You can’t do it unless you’re in optimum shape. His season was a roller-coaster. He was up, he was down, he was up, he was down.

“In order to play the type of game he needs to play, it requires an unbelievable level of fitness. It’s not a game of skill. It’s a game of grit and skill. In order to play that game, you’ve got to be in unbelievable shape. Otherwise, you break down.”

One wonders if this is related to Stewart’s playing weight. He’s listed at 232 pounds — the heaviest player on St. Louis roster — and stands 6-foot-2, which is a pretty solid frame.

(I’m not saying this is the case, because some guys play better when they’re heavier. But it’s definitely worth mentioning.)

Regardless, Stewart has made amends for his down year by joining Team Biosteel, a professional sports training and nutrition group that counts Boston’s Tyler Seguin and Montreal’s Carey Price among its clients.

Stewart’s new dedication to fitness has already impressed Hitchcock.

“Stewy’s figured out that he wants to have a long career,” he said. “It’s not like he’s suddenly found a trainer. What he’s found is that he can only get so far himself doing the training.

“Now he’s got somebody pushing him really hard everyday. I’m really proud of him.”

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.