Ice Hockey - Day 8 - Czech Republic v Latvia

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Will the Czechs regret their snubs?

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The Czech Republic won gold at the 1998 Olympics, which marked the first time NHL players participated in the men’s hockey event.

As the Czechs look to get back to the top of the podium in Sochi — following a quarter-final loss to Finland four years ago in Vancouver — hockey pundits were curious, then skeptical about some of the decisions when the roster was announced last month.

Say, for instance, 42-year-old Petr Nedved making the team. He last played in the 1994 Olympics — but for silver-medal winning Canada, after previously defecting from the former Czechoslovakia as a teenager.

Nedved hasn’t played in the NHL since 2006-07 when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. He’s spent the last seven seasons playing professionally in the Czech Republic.

“My life has been a strange journey,” Nedved said recently. “I knew that you guys didn’t think I was still playing … Here I am.”

As for other elder statesmen, it’s not a surprise 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr is on the team – he’s second among all Czech players in the NHL with 49 points in 59 games this season with New Jersey. It seems age isn’t holding him back.

But in comparing top Czech players in the NHL this season, at least in terms of points, we should discuss the decision to leave Calgary’s Jiri Hudler off the roster. It was a move that raised many eyebrows — in fact, it seemed chief among the omissions from the Czech squad.

“No Hudler on that team? The Czechs must be favored to win the gold medal because they must be awfully talented,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley told the Calgary Herald when the Czech roster was announced.

Hudler, a center, is third amongst Czech players in points with 43. Yet he was snubbed from the initial roster and omitted again when Vladimir Sobotka was removed from the competition due to injury.

“Disappointing. But there is nothing I can do about it. Just disappointed. A little sad,” Hudler, who has never represented the Czech Republic at an Olympics, told the Calgary Herald last month.

Instead of Hudler, the Czech team named Martin Erat of the Washington Capitals as the replacement.

Already a two-time Olympian, Erat, 32, isn’t exactly having a breakout season with the Capitals. He has one goal in 51 games. He was a healthy scratch last month, and in November he requested to be traded.

Erat made the Czech team not just over Hudler, but also the likes of Phoenix’s Radim Vrbata, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann and Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty.

So there are snubs, and there are veterans. It appears the Czech team won’t rely too much on youth, but instead players getting fairly long in the tooth: Patrik Elias (37), Marek Zidlicky (37) Michal Rozsival (35) and Tomas Kaberle (35) to name a few.

As pointed out here on PHT, the Czechs have 12 players that are at least 30 years of age. Will they be able to keep up to younger legs on the larger international ice surface?

“I don’t think it really matters,” Jagr recently said. “All the players who play there, we play the same kind of minutes like everybody else in the NHL. You shouldn’t get tired because you play three games there. We are used to it.”

Video: Drouin equalizes, but Rust strikes again 30 seconds later

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Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.

After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.

Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:

Now, back to Rust.

With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.

Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?

Video: Rust opens scoring in Game 7

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What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.

Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.

After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.

Shock of Lightning: Stamkos will play

Steven Stamkos
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He’s in.

As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.

Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.

More:

Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.

That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.

Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.

It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.

To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.

 

Drama builds as Stamkos takes Game 7 warmup

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 26, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Lightning shutout the Devils 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.

In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.

And then Stamkos took the warmup.

As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.

“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”

No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.

Stay tuned…