NHL on NBCSN: Wild’s Pominville returns to Buffalo amid Sabres’ descent

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Buffalo Sabres host the Minnesota Wild at the First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

It wasn’t long ago that Jason Pominville was the Sabres’ captain. That ended when Buffalo dealt him to the Minnesota Wild in April as part of its efforts to kick start the rebuilding process.

Now Pominville will return to Buffalo for the first time since the trade. Early on in his 578-game stint in Buffalo, the Sabres made it all the way to the Conference Finals in back-to-back campaigns. Now they are dead last in NHL after scoring just six goals in six games.

If Buffalo continues its current descent, then it might not be long before Pominville’s friend, Thomas Vanek, and goaltender Ryan Miller follow in his footsteps. Both are in the final campaign of their respective contracts and have been two of the bright spots in Buffalo’s otherwise dreary start.

“[Miller’s] basically at this point one of the best players in the league in terms of influence on their hockey team,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston told the Buffalo News. That should underscore just how bad things have gotten when even Miller can’t buy a win despite his 2.29 GAA and .941 save percentage in four starts.

When Buffalo has scored, Thomas Vanek has usually played a hand in it. He has two goals and two assists, making him one of just three Sabres players to have multiple points so far this season.

While the Sabres try and put their nasty beginning behind them and show that it’s not a sign of things to come, the Wild will compete for their third straight win.

Expectations have increased in Minnesota since signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter in the summer of 2012. The Wild ended their playoff slump in 2013, but didn’t get past the first round. The pressure is on for them to do better this season, but first they’ll need to secure a spot in the tough Central Division.

So far they have a respectable 2-1-2 record and have gotten some needed production out of their younger forwards. They’ve also been the best team on the draw while the Sabres are among the worst.

Just another one of the hills the Sabres will need to climb as they get things ready for the return of their former captain.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.