PHT Morning Skate: Sharks go for the sweep

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If you missed it, there was plenty of drama last night.

The Blue Jackets and Stars overcame big deficits to tie their respective series against Columbus and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Chicago and St. Louis went to overtime for the third time in four games and this time it was the defending champion Blackhawks that came out on top.

As a result we now have three series that stand at 2-2. We might have two more series tied before the end of the night…

Game 4: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings [Boston leads series 2-1] (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Detroit won the first game thanks to a strong performance by goaltender Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk’s — as San Jose’s Logan Couture put it — filthy move late in the contest. Since then though, it’s been all Boston.

The Bruins outscored Detroit 7-1 over Games 2 and 3. The Red Wings have been to the playoffs for 23 straight campaigns, but they were led there this season by a young and largely inexperienced core, and lately that’s shined through in a bad way. Conversely the Bruins have played like they belong.

Henrik Zetterberg might return for Game 4 and that would certainly be a huge boost to the Red Wings. Either way though, Detroit needs more out of its young core before time runs out.

Game 4: Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild [Colorado leads series 2-1] (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The Avalanche absolutely overwhelmed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in the first two games, but they haven’t figured out his replacement, Darcy Kuemper, yet. That resulted in Colorado losing Game 3 because the Wild were given the time to bombard Semyon Varlamov until they finally beat him on their 46th shot on goal.

Colorado has a strong offense and Minnesota can’t count on Kuemper posting another shutout. At the same time, the Avalanche are in a tough spot after the Wild’s Matt Cooke took out defenseman Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit. Both players have now been taken out of the series — Barrie because of a MCL injury; Cooke due to a suspension — but Colorado’s loss will likely sting more.

Cooke was serving as a third line forward while Barrie logged over 20 minutes in each of the Avalanche’s first two playoff games. Barrie was also a key contributor offensively during the regular season with 38 points in 64 games.

The loss has forced the Avalanche to make adjustments, but one surprise change was the call up of 2010 first-rounder Joey Hishon, who will make his NHL debut tonight.

Game 4: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings [San Jose leads series 3-0] (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

San Jose didn’t dominate Game 3 like it did in the first two contests of this series, but the Sharks still came away with an overtime win. Kings coach Darryl Sutter pledged that his squad “won’t go away quietly,” but can they really hope to come back?

Only three teams have ever bounced back from a 3-0 deficit, but it helps that Los Angeles has two players — Mike Richards and Jeff Carter — that previously pulled it off when they were members of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. The two are living reminders for the Kings that this series is still winnable.

Meanwhile, the Sharks will go for the sweep. They have four chances obviously, but they’re worried about what might happen if they let the Kings retake any ground.

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.