Bryan Murray

Ottawa GM Murray: ‘It’s Matt Cooke. What else should I say?’

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Early reports indicate the NHL won’t suspend Matt Cooke for the hit that possibly ended Erik Karlsson’s season, but the Ottawa Senators aren’t happy.

Chris Neil was penalized for roughing Cooke in the third period* of Wednesday’s 4-2 win for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most interestingly, Senators GM Bryan Murray didn’t give Cooke the benefit of the doubt, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe reports.

“It’s Matt Cooke. What else should I say?” Murray said. “Watch the replay.”

Here’s the replay:

Murray’s response comes after hearing that his 22-year-old star defenseman could miss the rest of the season and his team has been hit hard by injuries already. It’s possible Murray might back off his comments once emotions die down a bit.

That said, the comment is also based on Cooke’s long history of questionable hits.

The 34-year-old vowed to change his ways after he received a significant suspension late in 2010-11, reforming to the point that he became Pittsburgh’s Masterton candidate last season. Even so, his rugged style prompts little trust and the occasional question about whether he really changed his ways.

In other words, many assume the worst when it comes to Cooke, including some members of the Senators organization.

* – Both were also ejected from the contest.

Update: Keith Jones and Mike Milbury provide an interesting take on the situation. Milbury predicted Murray’s reaction quite well, by the way:

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Karlsson could be out for the season

Video of the injury

Milan Michalek out, too

NHL on NBCSN: Wild look to go into their bye week with a win against ‘Hawks

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 15: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild battle for position in front of the net
at the United Center on January 15, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Like most teams, the Blackhawks found out just how tough it was to win your first game back from the bye week, as they dropped a 3-1 decision to Edmonton on Saturday.

But they were able to put that loss behind them the following night by taking down an improved Sabres team, 5-1.

Coming into tonight’s game, Chicago trails Minnesota by seven points in the race for top spot in the Central Division (the Wild have a game in hand). So this is obviously a crucial matchup for both teams.

“They’ve had an amazing run. Give them credit,” ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of the Wild, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we played pretty well last time and we’re going to have to be even better going into this game. … Hopefully we can try to close the gap.”

That “last time” Quenneville is referring to came on Feb. 8, when his team won a 4-3 decision in Minnesota thanks to an overtime goal by captain Jonathan Toews (he also had two assists in that one).

Toews has finally found his offensive game, as he’s recorded 15 points in his last 11 contests, which puts him at 37 points in 50 games.

Including that win in Minnesota, Chicago has rattled off six consecutive victories away from the United Center, but the Wild are no slouches at home.

Tonight’s game will be seventh of an eight-game homestand that has seen them go 4-1-1 so far. As was mentioned before, the OT loss came to the ‘Hawks, while their only loss in regulation was a 1-0 decision against Anaheim.

One of the reasons the Wild have been able to maintain their strong play is because of their ability to get offensive production from multiple lines. But of all the lines they’ve assembled, none has been better than the trio of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, who have combined for 43 goals, 110 points and a plus-84 rating since being put together on Nov. 25.

“We feed off each other pretty well,” Zucker said, per the StarTribune. “And I think we make sure we hold each other accountable when we have a bad shift, a bad play or a bad game. Whatever it is, we make sure we know what we did wrong, and we fix it.”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild come out for tonight’s game. As bad as some teams have been coming out of the bye week, there are a few others that have also been equally terrible in the game before the time off. With such a condensed schedule, it’s normal that a few players could already have their sights set on their vacation time.

This should be a good one!

PHT Morning Skate: Tarasenko gives young fan an unforgettable birthday gift

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Vladimir Tarasenko gave 11-year-old fan Arianna Dougan the birthday gift of a lifetime. Dougan, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when she was three, was given a trip for two on the team’s charter flight to Arizona and Colorado for her 11th birthday. “I was crying in the background,” said Arianna’s mom, Lorie Zucker. “She’s so over the moon she doesn’t realize what she’s got yet. It won’t hit home until she gets in the car. This has been the best birthday ever.” (NHL.com/Blues)

–To many, Mike Babcock or Joel Quenneville being the best coaches in hockey is a foregone conclusion. But what if they’re not? Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert makes a case for Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau. “Boudreau didn’t inherit a sleeping giant of any sort when he took this job. The Wild were decent. He turned them into a team that’s not quite among the elites of the league, but is certainly a very good team that could do some damage in the playoffs.” (Yahoo)

–At one point, it looked like the Carolina Hurricanes were going to make a serious push for a playoff spot, but they quickly faded and went back to being a non-contending team. If the Oilers make the playoffs this year, the Hurricanes would own the longest playoff drought in the NHL. Sportsnet’s Luke Fox explains that the ‘Canes need to sacrifice some of their depth on defense so they can acquire an offensive weapon up front. (Sportsnet)

–Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are making a serious run at a playoff spot. The team turned the corner once they got injured forward Jonathan Huberdeau back into their lineup and they haven’t looked back. In the 51 games he missed, the Panthers scored just 2.33 goals per game. Since he’s been back, they’re averaging over four goals per game. (The Hockey News)

–Former NHLer Jeremy Roenick knows what it feels like to be traded. Roenick told SI.com that the first trade he experienced was “horrifying”. He also described just how tough it is to go to battle with a team one day and be on a different squad the next. (Sports Illustrated)

–On Monday, the Calgary Flames acquired Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes. A few hours after the deal, Flames forward Mikael Backlund posted this funny tweet about Stone running him over when they were in junior:

Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.