In Sochi, even star players must know their roles

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SOCHI, Russia — Steve Yzerman was asked Monday what the biggest adjustment his collection of star players would have to make to have success at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Not surprisingly, given he just got off a long flight from North America, Team’s Canada’s architect called the time change “a huge difference, number one.” And as countless others had already done, he referenced the larger ice surface, too.

But the “biggest difference” for the players? According to Yzerman, that was going to be “playing a lesser role” compared to what they were used to with their NHL clubs.

“You’ve got forwards that are used to playing 21, 22 minutes a game that are going to play 10 and 11, and defensemen that are used to playing 27 playing 18,” he said. “That’s a huge adjustment for them.”

Take Jamie Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars who’s used to hopping over the boards for 25 shifts a night and being out there for every power play.

On Team Canada, his role is going to be dramatically different.

“I think I’m going to see a lot more of a PK role, checking line,” the first-time Olympian said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

In fact, he agrees his role may be similar to what the last Stars captain before him, Brenden Morrow, had with Team Canada in Vancouver – get in on the forecheck and “make things happen.”

Said Mike Babcock of Morrow in 2010: “He’s one of those guys that’s got real good hockey sense, but he’s satisfied to be a grinder on this team. He’s added energy.”

Adjusting to “lesser” roles isn’t just an issue for star-studded Canada, as United States coach Dan Byslma made clear Tuesday.

“Look at the defensemen that we have here,” said Bylsma. “Most of them are accustomed to playing 23-plus minutes, 24-, 25-plus minutes for their own respective teams.

“When you’re putting seven defensemen on your bench and onto the ice, I can’t do the math really quick, not everybody can play 23 minutes and [Ryan Suter] play 30, 33, 34 minutes that he sometimes does for his NHL team.”

Byslma still expects Suter to play upwards of 25 minutes a game in Sochi, so it may not be a huge adjustment for him. But it will for at least a few of the other guys.

Of the eight defensemen on the U.S. roster, Kevin Shattenkirk has the lowest average ice time, logging 20:24 per game for the Blues.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

Video will be added to give you better context for the goal, but until then, check out this GIF of the key moments:

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.