Brandon Saad

Second-line center spot up for grabs in Chicago

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There wasn’t a lot to dislike about the Chicago Blackhawks when they entered the 2013 playoffs. This was, after all, a team that had gone 36-7-5 in the regular season, easily winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

But if one had to nitpick, it might’ve been about the team’s second-line center, which at the time appeared to be veteran Michal Handzus.

The ‘Hawks had recently given up a fourth-round draft pick to get Handzus from San Jose, where the 36-year-old had scored just two points in 28 games. He was a bit more productive in 11 games with the Blackhawks, but productive enough to be a second-line center on a Stanley Cup contender? There were doubters.

Handzus ended up proving those doubters wrong, finishing with 11 points in 23 playoff games as the ‘Hawks went on to win their second championship in four years. He then re-signed for one more season in Chicago, at a modest salary of $1 million. Plus, he had a couple of surgeries.

Despite his surprisingly strong playoff performance, Handzus isn’t really the player the Blackhawks want playing second-line center next season. Nor will it be Dave Bolland, who was traded to Toronto.

Ahead of training camp, it’s young Brandon Saad who seems to have the inside edge.

“Saader is probably the guy we’re thinking maybe grab that spot, would be an option,” head coach Joel Quenneville said in late July. “It’s something we talked about as a staff late in the year. It’s something going into the season we could be exploring.”

Saad, 20, is coming off an outstanding rookie season, but that was playing on the wing. At center, there are additional responsibilities, particularly in the defensive end.

“Defensively, I think we can get him up to speed,” said Quenneville.

“At the end of the day, I mean I don’t really care who’s going to grab it, but it’s a nice spot for somebody.”

Other options include Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Handzus, Brandon Pirri and Drew LeBlanc.

Video: On Hockey Day in America, Auston Matthews did this . . .

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11:  Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Born in Scottsdale, AZ., Auston Matthews has taken the NHL by storm in his rookie season as an elite talent headlining an impressive freshman class.

Taken first overall last June, Matthews made history with four goals in his debut, surely a dizzying experience for Maple Leafs fans accustomed to heartbreak and frustration. And he really hasn’t slowed down since.

On Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes — and on Hockey Day in America — the 19-year-old Matthews once again put on a show, scoring his 28th goal of the season. That gave Toronto a two-goal lead.

As he’s often done in his brief time in the NHL, this goal was of the spectacular variety, as he broke in off the left wing and, as he was getting hauled down to the ice, slid the puck five-hole on Cam Ward.

Related: Auston Matthews is having a rookie season for the ages

Video: After a slow start, Evander Kane is on a roll for the Sabres

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For about a month now, Evander Kane has enjoyed a particularly productive stretch for the Buffalo Sabres.

Kane scored with 5.6 seconds remaining in the first period of Sunday’s game versus the Chicago Blackhawks, converting on a nifty pass from Jack Eichel and going top shelf on Scott Darling.

He now has goals in three straight games, and 15 points in 14 games as the Sabres have fought their way back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, this latest run comes just before the trade deadline, and Kane’s name has consistently been in speculation about a possible move — in addition to off-ice issues. While GM Tim Murray has said earlier this month that he’s not actively shopping Kane, he also didn’t absolutely rule out trading the 25-year-old left winger, now into his second season in Buffalo.

(Murray: “Is there a crazy deal that somebody could throw at me that would force me to do it? I guess there is.”)

Most impressive about Kane’s numbers — remember he missed time earlier this season with a rib injury and then had a slow start, which drew the ire of the coach — is that he’s done the vast majority of his scoring, 20 of 21 goals, at five-on-five.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Sharks

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Dominic Moore #28 of the Boston Bruins defends Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks during the first period at TD Garden on February 9, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins are back from their bye week, looking to continue a three-game winning streak since Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach from Claude Julien.

The Bruins can extend their streak Sunday, when they visit the San Jose Sharks (8:30 p.m. ET). You can check out the game on NBCSN or online with NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

Pre-game reading: Are the Bruins and Avalanche on verge of trade?

Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

Video: Trouba called for a hit to the head on Stone

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Jacob Trouba could be getting a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit to the head of Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone.

The incident occurred during the third period of Sunday’s game, as Stone was passing the puck after he entered the zone. Trouba stepped up and delivered a high hit, resulting in only a minor penalty for an illegal check to the head.

Stone, who dealt with a concussion that was reported in September, remained down on the ice before eventually going to the dressing room.

As you can see from the video, Senators coach Guy Boucher was furious officials on the ice decided this was only worth a minor for Trouba.