PHT’s Frozen Four preview

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This year’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh offers up one of the great storylines for all the teams involved. One way or another, someone is going to win their first national championship in hockey.

For three out of the four schools (UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State), it’s their first trip to the Frozen Four. Yale hasn’t made the national semifinals since 1952.

Thursday’s first semifinal matchup provides quite the contrast in styles. Hockey East champions UMass-Lowell bank on dogged defending and the play of budding superstar freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck to lead them to glory. They’ve got some scorers in Scott Wilson, a Penguins prospect, as well as Joseph Pendenza, Derek Arnold, and Riley Wetmore. Make no mistake, if Lowell is going to win it all, it’ll be because of Hellebuyck.

Yale, on the other hand, loves to push play and use their speed to their advantage. Newly acquired Flames prospect Kenny Agostino (part of the Jarome Iginla deal) leads the way for them in scoring and has great support in a pair of seniors, Andrew Miller and Antoine Laganiere. Coach Keith Allain has helped Yale to become a consistent tournament team, but he’ll need senior goalie Jeff Malcolm to bring his “A” game to take out Lowell, something he’s done already in helping the Bulldogs upset Minnesota and North Dakota.

In the late game, Quinnipiac facing St. Cloud shows off a pair of regular season champions looking to prove that winning over the long haul of the season pays dividends.

source:  Quinnipiac has done their business all year thanks to a lineup that features 11 seniors. Making a run at the title is a heck of a way to go out with style. Goalie Eric Hartzell is a Hobey Baker finalist and the key to their season. The Bobcats have a host of talent up front in Lightning prospect Matthew Peca (not related to former Sabres/Islanders center Michael), Jets prospect Jordan Samuels-Thomas, senior Jeremy Langlois (pictured), and the super-twins Connor and Kellen Jones (the latter an Oilers prospect).

St. Cloud does things a bit differently. The bulk of their talent is made up of underclassmen with the lone exception being Hobey Baker finalist Drew LeBlanc. Junior and Kings prospect Nic Dowd has been a big time tournament player for them, but it’s a crew of freshmen that help steal the show. Jonny Brodzinski, Kalle Kossila, and Joey Benik have been big in the postseason. Senior and Flames prospect Ben Hanowski has stepped up big himself since being part of the Iginla deal.

If sophomore Ryan Farragher can keep holding things down in goal and silence the Quinnipiac attack, things are looking up for the Huskies.

Predictions: It’s impossible to pick against Connor Hellebuyck at this point. He and Lowell have been too strong. I like Lowell to take down Yale and then St. Cloud in the finals to win their first national championship.

Stars re-sign Janmark, who they ‘missed as much as anyone last season’

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Mattias Janmark, the Stars forward that missed all of this season with a major knee injury, has been given a one-year, $700,000 extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Mattias is a played that we missed as much as anyone last season with the unfortunate injury he suffered,” Dallas GM Jim Nill said in a release. “We look forward to him returning to our group and getting him back for training camp.”

Losing Janmark’s services this year was, as mentioned, a fairly big blow. After surprising onlookers by making the Stars out of camp in ’15-16 — a “great story,” according to Nill — Janmark had a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news all but alleviates concerns the 24-year-old’s knee problems might extend into next season, something former head coach Lindy Ruff alluded to last month.

“I think there’s a question mark (about next season), but we don’t know to what degree yet,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “He’s progressing nicely. He still has a ways to go, but I think the fact he is practicing now and has gone this far always gives a guy like that a better chance for next year.”

Janmark’s original injury occurred during the preseason, when he knee locked up in a game against Colorado.

“He had a small segment, approximately 21 millimeters by 11 millimeters, that became displaced and is locked in his knee,” Nill said at the time. “It’s the bone and the cartilage, they both came off together.”

Janmark underwent surgery to correct the issue, but his recovery was plagued by a preexisting congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans. Nill said the likelihood of a full recovery was 80 percent.

Leafs to sign Grundstrom, whose ‘competitive level is through the roof’

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Another talented, young forward is on his way to Toronto.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Maple Leafs are soon expected to sign winger Carl Grundstrom to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Grundstrom, 19, was the 57th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He impressed at the 2017 World Juniors, scoring three goals and four assists in seven games for Sweden.

“He works hard and his competitive level is through the roof,” Sweden head coach Tomas Monten said, via Postmedia. “I think the Maple Leafs have a guy who in the future will work hard for them. He likes to score goals and go to the net, but he can score off power and skill. I think they have a pretty good prospect.”

Related: Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

Caps hoping roster improvements can get them past Pittsburgh

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins arrive at their latest showdown looking very much like they did a year ago.

It’s the little things that might matter most this time around.

The Capitals added center Lars Eller and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk as a direct response to losing their second-round series last season, hoping the depth will help against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Penguins have a different goaltender with Marc-Andre Fleury replacing injured Matt Murray and are without injured defenseman Kris Letang.

Aside from those changes and a few other tweaks, the teams that take the ice Thursday night for Game 1 in Washington are strikingly similar to those who played for six games last spring.

“This is a unique situation — both teams have a lot of guys back,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “It’s not often with the salary cap and everything that you bring a similar team back. It makes for an interesting matchup.”

The stars are again aligned for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and the Capitals to face off against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and the Penguins. Familiarity should breed quick contempt, but Washington’s changes are what players think will flip the script.

“I feel better about our team going into it this year than I did last year, that’s for sure,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “We can attack from different ways, and we can find ways to score throughout the lineup. I just think a lot of guys are playing better than they did last year.”

That’s a shout out to second-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who struggled after March last year but played an essential part of the first-round series this season against the Toronto Maple Leafs by defending Auston Matthews. Defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are also much improved after being scratched during the 2016 playoffs.

The Penguins are rolling again after eliminating Columbus, but the absence of Letang is significant after he logged 31:36 of ice time per game last year.

“Obviously they lost key player, Letang,” Ovechkin said. “It’s good for us, bad for them … (but) it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup. We just have to pressure them, and we don’t have to give them any chances to get success.”

Pittsburgh exposed Washington’s lack of speed a year ago and has the potential to do so again even if winger Carl Hagelin isn’t ready to start the series. The Maple Leafs’ up-tempo style challenged the Capitals, something coach Barry Trotz called “a good warmup” for the Penguins, but it remains to be seen how his team will play faster this time.

Who’s better off after a year of no change? Watch and find out.

“I think I guess the series will show that more than anything,” Crosby said.

FLOWER POWER

Fleury went 4-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .933 save percentage against the Blue Jackets in the first round after replacing Murray because of a warmup injury prior to Game 1. The Capitals didn’t see him last year because Murray didn’t cede the net, but the Fleury has been so good there has been no drop-off.

OSHIE, PENGUINS KILLER

T.J. Oshie had five goals and an assist in last year’s series and three goals and seven assists in four games against the Penguins this season. Facing Pittsburgh’s top competition seems to get Oshie clicking.

“Typically we’re going against Crosby’s line and that’s a tough task, he’s a great player,” Oshie said. “You can get motivation from that and kind of the game within the game. Last few years, the puck found the net for me and hopefully it will be the same.”

PUT IT IN PENCIL

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan shifted his lines, putting Patric Hornqvist on right wing with Crosby and playoffs leading goal-scorer Jake Guentzel and dropping Conor Sheary down to skate with Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson. Pittsburgh again has four scoring lines with Malkin, Kessel and Bryan Rust together and Cullen centering Chris Kunitz and Tom Kuhnhackl.

“Sometimes when certain line combos have history of success together, we tend to give those lines a little bit more time to work through the challenges,” Sullivan said. “That’s something we have daily discussions about, (a) question I always ask, which combinations are going to give us the best chance to win.”

STOP, ELLER TIME

The Capitals sent two second-round picks to the Montreal Canadiens for Eller specifically for this kind of series. Pittsburgh got five goals at even strength from its third line of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel and two more from Cullen and his fourth-line mates last year, while Washington’s bottom six combined for two goals.

Enter Eller, who is a good penalty killer and should be an offensive upgrade over Mike Richards.

“I can’t wait for that challenge,” Eller said. “I think a lot of guys in here have pictured that this is a spot we could end up being in, facing this team sometime in the playoffs and now is that time.”

Related: A rebuild third line has been key for Caps

Preds announce Fiala done for year with fractured femur

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Most knew that, based on the visuals and stretchering off, the injury Kevin Fiala suffered during Nashville’s series-opening win over St. Louis last night was pretty bad.

Today, the Preds confirmed it.

Fiala suffered a fractured left femur on the play, one that will sideline him for the remainder of the year. The club went onto explain that the 20-year-old underwent successful surgery last night, and would soon be returned to Nashville.

It’s an incredibly unfortunate end to what was a promising campaign.

The 11th overall pick in 2014, Fiala scored 11 goals in 54 games for the Preds this year, and famously scored the OT winner in Game 3 of the opening round against Chicago.