Minnesota columnist believes Wild improved by adding ‘attitude’

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If you were to draw up a list of the “easiest” series from the 2013 postseason, Chicago’s five-game stroll against Minnesota would probably finish close to the top. To make matters worse for the Wild, some might say the team took a step back by shedding salary this summer, yet the Pioneer Press’ Tim Powers believes that they improved in a bigger picture way.

More specifically, he thinks that the Wild added some edge and attitude via Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard.

Enter Ballard and Cooke. With luck, they’ll growl and prod and, as a result, motivate. Not when things are going well. Not when the Wild have put together a nice streak. But when things are headed south. Because no team can turn a couple of bad bounces into a four-game losing streak as quickly as the mentally fragile Wild.

(Now imagine a low-budget promo video of Cooke and Ballard dramatically removing their sunglasses.)

One can easily question this concept – especially since hit machine Cal Clutterbuck is out of town – but the two players do bring some snarl to the table.

We all know the story Cooke, as the 34-year-old’s past is so checkered that the common refrain is that he’s a changed man. (Perhaps there’s a small group of Wild fans who want the “old” Cooke, then?)

Ballard, 30, isn’t a pushover either. For those who look past his formerly problematic contract and scratches, Ballard showed that he wasn’t shy to throw his body around. That was especially true when it came to his old-school hip checks:

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It’s anyone’s guess if two supporting cast members like Cooke and Ballard will really make that much of a difference, but maybe the team will be “tougher to play against,” as hockey people like to say.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Monday, May 29

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After going three full days without any NHL hockey, we’ll finally get to see some action, as Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final goes tonight in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins will look to become the first team in the salary cap era to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, while the Predators will try to land the first championship in team history.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network NBCSN (Stream online here)

Related:

For Pittsburgh’s defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

Pens can become first repeat in salary cap era

Minus Johansen, Preds have “some big shoes to fill”

On the big stage, Subban can’t espace “The Trade”

PHT Morning Skate: Goalie throws stick at cameraman after losing Memorial Cup

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–Heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Pekka Rinne has the best odds of winning the Conn Smythe trophy at 3.75-1. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray round out the top four. (The Score)

–The Ottawa Senators made a run to the Eastern Conference Final this spring, but that doesn’t mean they won’t face challenges this off-season. Sportsnet looks at six issues they’ll have to deal with over the summer. It starts with re-signing key players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau. (Sportsnet)

–Everyone knows that the Penguins have a huge advantage over the Predators at the center position, especially with the injury to Ryan Johansen. The Hockey News evaluates whether or not Nashville can overcome such a disadvantage. (The Hockey News)

–NHL legends Wayne Gretzky, Nicklas Lidstrom and others explain why the Stanley Cup is “The People’s Cup”. From adult clubs, to Russia, Hollywood, the cup has seen it all. (Top)

–After losing the memorial cup to the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday night, Erie Otters goalie Troy Timpano threw his stick at a cameraman that was filming the Otters bench, while the Spitfires were celebrating. (BarDown)

Timpano later apologized for his actions.

P.K. Subban played the role of reporter during media day at the Stanley Cup Final. The Preds defenseman asked his teammates some pretty interesting questions to say the least. (Sportsnet)

 

Stanley Cup experience ‘doesn’t guarantee anything’ for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The dynasty that once appeared so certain is again in the offing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Four victories against the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final would make Pittsburgh the first franchise to win back-to-back championships in nearly 20 years and the first in the parity-driven salary cap era. It would give stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin their third Cup, one more than their boss – owner Mario Lemieux – earned during his Hall of Fame career and check off whatever boxes remain unchecked for a duo that is becoming one of the most accomplished in NHL history.

Yet for all the resiliency the Penguins have shown during their injury-marred title defense, they are taking nothing for granted heading into Game 1 on Monday night.

Not their home-ice advantage. Not their massive edge in Stanley Cup Final experience (156 games vs. just five for the Predators, all by captain Mike Fisher while playing for Ottawa a decade ago). Not their ability under coach Mike Sullivan to thrive under the pressure that once seemed to crush them.

“I think the fact that a lot of guys went through it last year and they can draw from that experience is good,” Crosby said. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Certainly not against the swaggering and well-rested Predators.

One of the last teams to qualify for the playoffs is now the last one standing between the Penguins and another parade in downtown Pittsburgh. Just don’t call Nashville the underdog. The Predators have hardly played like one while beating Chicago in a lopsided four-game sweep then outrunning St. Louis and outlasting Anaheim to reach the Cup final for the first time.

“I know we were the eighth seed but we didn’t feel like a group that we were,” Fisher said.

Now the guys from the place that calls itself “Smashville” have a chance to become the first franchise to win the Cup in its first try since Carolina did 11 years ago. That team, like this one, is based in a place hardly considered hockey hotbed a generation ago. This team, like that one, was led by coach Peter Laviolette. This team, like that one, has nothing to lose.

“This year we were kind of mediocre in the standings and maybe that’s what we needed just to come into the playoffs not really caring about home ice or who we were playing but just knowing comfortably and confidently as a team we could be in this position,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.

Read more: Early struggles, injuries made Predators ‘stronger as a team’

A position the Penguins have become increasingly comfortable in under Sullivan.

The core that Crosby and Malkin led to the Cup in 2009 went through seven frustrating and fruitless springs before returning to the top in 2016. Now they’re here again, aware of the stakes but hardly caught up in the hype.

“I think that it’s a tough road no matter how you get here,” Crosby said.

“We found ways all season long and in the playoffs we’ve found ways. We’ve had that same mentality and that’s helped us. I think that’s kind of been our biggest strength.”

Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco leads Windsor Spitfires to Memorial Cup title

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Just over two months after signing his entry level deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, 20-year-old forward Jeremy Bracco left his mark on the Memorial Cup championship game.

Selected by the Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Bracco had a dominant finale on Sunday, with a goal and two assists as the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Erie Otters by a final score of 4-3.

To cap it off, Bracco assisted on the winning goal from Aaron Luchuk early in the third period.

That ends a great season for Bracco, who is listed at five-foot-nine-inches tall, but has produced impressive offensive numbers since coming to the Ontario Hockey League. He had 83 points in 57 games split between the Spitfires and Kitchener Rangers, the team he began this season with.

The Memorial Cup is always a great showcase for NHL prospects. Logan Brown, the towering center and 2016 first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, also had a pair of assists.

A pair of draft eligible players also had a big day for Windsor.

Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 4-ranked North American skater heading into next month’s draft and a potential top-five pick, had a pair of assists. Michael DiPietro, the No. 4-ranked North American goalie in Central Scouting’s final rankings, made 32 saves. He also had some luck, courtesy his goal posts, which denied Blackhawks high-scoring prospect Alex DeBrincat, among others from Erie’s talented team.

The Spitfires were defeated in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, but made it to the Memorial Cup tournament as the host team.