Nazem Kadri

Leafs need Kadri to take another step

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The optimists will say Nazem Kadri finally proved he belonged in the NHL last year. They’ll point out the 18 goals and 26 assists he scored in 48 games, his 44 points ranking him second on the Maple Leafs behind Phil Kessel’s 52. And they’ll conclude that former general manager Brian Burke was wise to make Kadri the seventh overall pick in 2009.

The skeptics, on the other hand, won’t be so sure. They’ll note that Kadri’s shooting percentage of 16.8 percent was abnormally high compared to the league average. They’ll say he was lucky. And they’ll argue the 22-year-old will be hard-pressed to match last year’s rate of production in 2013-14.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? At this point, who knows?

But this is what happens to high draft picks in hockey-mad markets like Toronto. Everything they achieve, or fail to achieve — right down to the appropriate percentage of body fat — is pored over by fans and media.

“It was tough on me for a little bit,” Kadri admitted in February, per the Globe and Mail. “I really don’t think a lot of other people could have been under the scrutiny and under the pressure and have that mental toughness to prevail.”

Plenty of scrutiny and pressure remains in his future though. Early speculation has him centering a line between Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson, a pair of wingers to which the club has committed a total of $63 million in new contracts. It’s a great opportunity for Kadri, but like they say, to whom much is given, much is expected.

First things first — Kadri, a restricted free agent, needs a new contract for himself.

“We’re in conversation and there’s still some work to be done, but we’re talking and that’s the most important thing,” he said on July 12.

Chances are, a deal will be struck in time for training camp. But getting that done will be the easy part. The hard part will be proving the skeptics wrong.

More Leafs day on PHT:

Bozak, Clarkson contracts were big gambles for Nonis

Reimer vs Bernier — Who ya got?

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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NBCSN screen
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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.