Blue Jackets gain first-ever playoff win, tie series with Penguins 1-1

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The Columbus Blue Jackets accomplished a lot of playoff firsts, but the most important came when Matt Calvert scored his second goal of Game 2. His overtime-winner early in the second OT gave Columbus a 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, tying the series at 1-1.

The Penguins seemed like they were going to run away with the game on Saturday after taking a 3-1 first period lead and enjoying a 15-4 shot disparity, but Columbus showed its rat-like resiliency to come back. The Blue Jackets generated a 27-15 shot advantage in the second and third periods to send the game to OT, feeding into their scrappy reputation while bringing Pittsburgh’s focus into at least some question.

There’s something oddly fitting about Calvert’s game-winner coming pretty soon after the Blue Jackets killed a Penguins power play. In a way, it was the moment that one team finally scored a big goal at even strength.

Special indeed

As much as the Blue Jackets spoke about making things come down to 5-on-5 play, both games have revolved around special teams work. That was especially true in Game 2.

Before that overtime tally, only one goal (Brian Gibbons’ first of two tallies) came at even strength. Only two of the Blue Jackets’ seven goals have come at even strength while three of Pittsburgh’s seven tallies were outside of special teams. The Jack Johnson goal that sent Game 2 into OT came on the man advantage, for instance:

In other words, both teams have been living and dying by the power play.

Stars factor in

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Through one period, it seemed like Sergei Bobrovsky’s naysayers might be emboldened as he allowed three goals on 15 shots.

The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner really turned things around after that, however, stopping a game’s worth of Penguins scoring attempts (being that the contest went into a second overtime and he didn’t allow a goal since the first period). Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 41 out of 45 shots and often kept the Penguins in the game, although some will still place a lot of blame on Fleury.

As far as the Penguins’ star players go, Sidney Crosby had two assists but Evgeni Malkin couldn’t get on the board despite five shots on goal. While Calvert will garner his fair share of praise, this series might really be a moment for Ryan Johansen to gain some more mainstream attention; the rising star had a goal and an assist in Game 2.

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Ultimately, the Blue Jackets can stop rolling their eyes at most “first” stats and focus on a more legitimate one: their first-ever playoff series win. From Pittsburgh’s perspective, there might be a feeling of deja vu; they saw the upstart New York Islanders tie their first-round series after their long absence from playoff play last year.

Report: Canucks meet with pending UFAs Gagner, Weal

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The Vancouver Canucks reportedly met with a pair of pending unrestricted free agent centers on Wednesday, as Sam Gagner and Jordan Weal were said to be in town.

That is according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli and Darren Dreger.

Vancouver’s top three centers for the 2017-18 campaign appear to be in place, with Henrik Sedin, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter. However, center is an area the Canucks especially need to improve going into next season and for the future.

Horvat’s development the past three years has provided hope he can eventually take over as the No. 1 center, and, as a pending restricted free agent, the Canucks need to get him under contract. Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is 37 in September and in the final year of his contract, along with brother Daniel, following a difficult year for the brothers. Sutter has four more years remaining on his deal, but his time in Vancouver has been disrupted by injury.

Gagner and Weal could provide interesting options for the Canucks.

Playing this season on a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner ended up having his most productive campaign with 18 goals and 50 points, despite the fact he averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, and barely over 11 minutes at even strength under John Tortorella.

Read more: Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for surprising Blue Jackets

Where he made his mark was on the power play, with 18 points. That number would’ve led the Canucks, who were dismal on the power play with a 14.1 per cent efficiency rating, good enough for 29th overall. At 27 years of age, and nearing 700 career games played, almost 30 per cent of Gagner’s career points have come on the power play, so perhaps Canucks’ management may look to him as a possible remedy for that ailment when next season begins.

But after giving big money and term — and a no-movement clause — to Loui Eriksson last summer, it would be wise for the Canucks to be a little more sensible in their spending, especially during a rebuilding phase.

Weal is from the Vancouver area, and is hoping to turn a productive two-month stretch (12 points in 23 games) with the Flyers into a raise from the $650,000 he made at the NHL level last season. At last check, Weal and the Flyers appeared good on term but weren’t on the same page when it came to compensation, leading the 25-year-old forward to check out other possible opportunities across the league.

He’s had no problem putting up big numbers in the AHL, reaching 70 points in 76 games three years ago. And the Canucks could desperately use more offensively gifted players in their lineup, particularly if they have age and time on their side.

When it comes to the Canucks, there is another free agent forward with apparent interest. That would be former No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov.

NHL teams can now talk to pending unrestricted free agents to gauge potential interest, however no contracts can be signed until July 1.

Ducks add Konowalchuk, Morrison to Carlyle’s staff

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Anaheim has added two assistants to Randy Carlyle’s coaching staff — longtime NHLer Steve Konowalchuk, and AHL Manitoba assistant Mark Morrison.

Konowalchuk, 44, comes over after a successful stint as the bench boss in WHL Seattle. Last year, he led the Thunderbirds to a league title and a spot in the Memorial Cup. He has history with Carlyle from their days together in Washington — Konowalchuk as a player, Carlyle as an assistant coach.

Konowalchuk also has NHL experience, having served two years as an assistant in Colorado.

Morrison, 54, has spent the last six years with the Moose/IceCaps, Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate. Prior to that, he was the head coach of ECHL Victoria.

Today’s moves after the Ducks parted ways with Paul MacLean. He’d been with the organization for two seasons, serving under both Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau.

Report: Senators plan to keep Phaneuf, after asking him to waive NMC

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It’s been an interesting few weeks to say the least for the Ottawa Senators and Dion Phaneuf.

He was asked to waive his no-movement clause ahead of the expansion draft, which would’ve left him unprotected had he agreed to that request. There were also reports of trade interest in Phaneuf, who is 32 years old and with four years remaining on a pricey seven-year, $49 million contract.

Phaneuf denied Ottawa’s request to waive, and the Senators ended up losing Marc Methot to Vegas, which then flipped him to Dallas in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick and prospect goalie Dylan Ferguson.

Now, it’s been reported, the Senators plan to keep Phaneuf.

What has transpired over the past few weeks likely makes for some awkward conversations down the road.

“They’re not easy conversations when you ask someone (to waive a no-move clause), but he understood,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion told Sportsnet.

“It was a man-to-man conversation. There was no bulls**t. When we talked to him I explained to him: ‘I said it’s not that you’re the fourth-best defenceman on this team, Dion.’ It’s ‘we want to try to top keep our top-four intact.’”

Phaneuf played in 81 regular season games for Ottawa in 2016-17, scoring nine goals and 30 points. He scored one goal and five points in 19 playoff games.

The Senators currently have six defensemen under contract for next season, with their star Erik Karlsson facing a four-month recovery from offseason foot surgery. With Methot gone, prospect blue liner Thomas Chabot should also have quite an opportunity to crack the Senators’ lineup next season.

Preds’ Ellis says he underwent ‘minor procedure’ after Stanley Cup Final

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Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis made an appearance on a Hamilton, Ont., television station Wednesday, sporting a large brace running almost the full length of his right leg.

Ellis left Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with an undisclosed injury and didn’t return in what was a blowout loss to the Penguins. He did, however, return to the lineup for Game 6, but Nashville’s playoff run came to an end on home ice with a stunning 2-0 loss.

During his appearance on CHCH, Ellis said he had a “minor procedure” done on his right leg.

“It looks worse than it probably is,” he continued. “Hopefully be back on the ice in no time.”

Predators general manager David Poile had acknowledged in the days following the Stanley Cup Final loss to Pittsburgh that Ellis undergoing surgery was a possibility.

From The Tennessean:

Ellis played in each of Nashville’s 22 playoff games, but coach Peter Laviolette said following the team’s season-ending loss Sunday that Ellis’ ailment was “pretty serious.” Poile said that more should be known next week.

The Predators made the playoffs as the second wild card team in the West, but swept Chicago in the first round and surged all the way to the final. Their top-four defensemen, including Ellis, played such a pivotal role in the team’s historic postseason. Ellis finished third on the Predators in playoff scoring, with 13 points in 22 games.