NHL on NBCSN: Lightning’s Stamkos continues scoring race vs Penguins

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NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Tampa Bay Times Forum at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Perhaps the scariest part about the Pittsburgh Penguins this season is that they’re still a threat to win even with some of their big names injured. James Neal and Sidney Crosby are out, but the Penguins still have Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla.

They played their previous five contests without defensemen Paul Martin or Kris Letang and they still won three of those matches.

At this point, Pittsburgh has already locked up its division and the only question is if it can claim the first seed.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean this game is pointless. This will be a key test for goaltender Ben Bishop as the Lightning see if he can be just as successful with them as he was with Ottawa.

The Lightning traded away Calder Trophy candidate Cory Conacher to get Bishop and so far the move has paid off. However, Pittsburgh will arguably be his greatest challenge yet.

Bishop has only played against the Penguins once before and he was yanked halfway through that contest after allowing three goals on 20 shots.

This is also another key game in the Rocket Richard Trophy race. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is tied with Alex Ovechkin at 26 goals each. Stamkos has played in one less game, but given how hot Ovechkin has been lately, he needs every advantage he can get.

With 50 points, Stamkos is also attempting to surpass the injured Crosby and potentially win his first Art Ross Trophy. His teammate Martin St. Louis is also a candidate for the Art Ross Trophy with 49 points. St. Louis hasn’t won the award since 2003–04, so it would be special to see the 37-year-old reclaim it after that long of a gap.

Beyond that, the Penguins are going to battle hard in this game. Even if they don’t have much left to compete for from a seeding perspective, they want to avoid a third consecutive first-round exit. They can help prevent that by building momentum that they can carry into the playoffs.

At that point, they might have all their big-name players back and the Penguins will look even more dangerous…

Probable goaltenders: PIT – Marc-Andre Fleury (20-6-0, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%) | TBL – Bishop (10-7-0, 2.35 GAA, .928 SV%)

Top scorers: PIT – Crosby (15-41-56, 36 GP) | TBL – Stamkos (26-24-50, 39 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Pittsburgh – Forwards: Neal (concussion), Crosby (jaw) Defensemen: Martin (hand), Letang (toe/groin – might return tonight)
Tampa Bay – Defensemen: Victor Hedman (lower body), Mattias Ohlund (knee) Goaltenders: Anders Lindback (ankle)

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.