Keith Ballard

Burns effect? Canucks d-man Ballard ‘loves’ playing wing

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Could the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks be onto something?

Just a short while after the Sharks moved defenseman Brent Burns up front, the Canucks began skating blueliner Keith Ballard as a winger after injuries sapped their forward depth.

Much like the Burns move, it’s working.

“I love it,” Ballard told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s fun, it’s just different, right. It’s a different challenge. You’ve got a bit different responsibility. I don’t know how long it’s for, but I am fine with it.”

What was supposed to be a one-time thing — Ballard debuted at forward against Phoenix on Thursday before returning to play D against LA on Saturday — might turn into something much more.

Sunday’s game in Colorado marked Ballard’s second game as a winger and he responded with arguably his finest performance of the season, registering an assist, four shots on goal and a team-high three hits in 12:48 of ice time.

Ballard skated with Alex Burrows and Andrew Ebbett against the Avs (Burrows scored the game-winner, Ebbett and Ballard assisted) and provided a spark, much like Burns has in San Jose.

Since making the move up front on Mar. 12, Burns has scored six points in six games for the Sharks and, even when not scoring, has managed to be an effective player.

He’s been pointless over the last two games, but still recorded nine shots on goal and three hits.

As for Ballard, the biggest plus from this experiment might be earned praise from Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault, who hasn’t always been the biggest Ballard fan.

Vigneault offered a rave review following Sunday’s win.

“That line with Burr, Andrew and Keith was real good all night,” Vigneault said. “[Ballard’s] a team guy, being versatile is a big plus for a player and he is able to play left wing.

“He did it two games and he did it real well for us in real tough environments and we’re really pleased with what he brought to the table.”

Note: Ballard’s time up front could be extended, as reports out of Vancouver say checking winger Dale Weise could be out for a while with a shoulder injury.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champions this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, three off his college career high set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, bumping the number of players from that program’s junior class to turn pro to four since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, a 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.

 

Video: Roussel opens the scoring for Dallas and Elliott wasn’t happy about it

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The Dallas Stars grabbed the all-important first goal in Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues on Friday. And it was agitating forward Antoine Roussel who capitalized in the second period.

Roussel buried a rebound at the end of a pretty passing play from the Stars. Blues goalie Brian Elliott was furious, as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester slid into the crease in an attempt to block the shot.