And then there were 9: Avs eliminated

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The Colorado Avalanche are likely suffering from a crushing feeling after dropping Game 7 to the Minnesota Wild 5-4 in overtime on Wednesday. Depending upon whom you ask, they might feel a lot like the Dallas Stars did when their season ended with a painful loss; blowing a lead in an elimination game hurts, yet many feel like the future is exceedingly bright for the Avalanche.

  • Change was in the air in a wide variety of ways for the Avalanche … and it seems like those changes came up in Colorado’s favor in just about every way.
  • Patrick Roy’s first season as an NHL head coach was a smash success. The Avs went from cellar dwellers to the second-best team in the West and won the brutal Central Division under his tutelage. There was rarely a dull moment, either, whether he was clashing with Bruce Boudreau or inspiring other head coaches (including Boudreau) to empty their nets early in desperate playoff situations. It’s no surprise to see that he’s in the running for the Jack Adams Award.
  • New executive Joe Sakic seemed to press all the right buttons. Hiring Roy was maybe more obvious, but he made the tough choice of drafting Nathan MacKinnon first overall over fantastic choices such as Seth Jones. The Nashville Predators defenseman looks promising, but MacKinnon looks primed to run away with the Calder Trophy and capped that fantastic regular season with playoff performances that left the likes of Jeremy Roenick highly impressed.
  • The future is bright beyond MacKinnon’s obvious presence: they have other budding stars under 23 including including Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly.
  • They do need to make decisions about re-signing the likes of O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, but Semyon Varlamov looks primed to be their franchise goalie after a turbulent season. Varlamov put together a Vezina-caliber campaign even as legal issues cropped up (and then charges were dropped).

Things won’t be easy for the Avalanche. Many believe that the team got a lot of lucky bounces and rode a goaltending run that Varlamov will struggle to match in 2014-15. Then again, if Sakic and Roy continue to push the right buttons while this team’s enviable group of young stars continues to improve, this could easily just be a tough learning experience for a future NHL power.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.