Henrik Lundqvist

Lundqvist reigns supreme in Game 7 once again

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PITTSBURGH – On a night when the New York Rangers needed Henrik Lundqvist to be at his best, they got it and more.

Lundqvist stopped 35 shots to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 and send them to the Eastern Conference Final.

For Lundqvist, success like this in a Game 7 has become almost routine. After losing his first Game 7 in 2009 to the Washington Capitals, he’s won five in a row. Four of the five wins came by a 2-1 score. You might say the Rangers feel confident with him in goal.

“We thrive on the opportunity,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “You get into those type of games, Game 7, you just get excited for it. You play well, you win the game. You don’t, you’re going home. As much pressure as people might think is on Game 7, I think it’s the opposite. It’s so much fun because it’s going either way.

“And we’ve got Hank – that helps.”

Lundqvist’s effort in sending the Rangers to the next round was well recognized by his teammates, in particular his play in the third period.

“Where they took their game to another level in the third period, our goaltender obviously took his game to another level,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He was just able to stop a barrage of opportunities and he was the difference in tonight’s game.”

Lundqvist stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period to help hold down the game for New York.

“That’s an impressive third period,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. “It’s so tough, especially in a Game 7, when you’re leading by a goal and not trying to play safe. You know they’re going to come with a lot of stuff. It’s great to have him back there. It’s great to be in two Conference Finals in three years with him. It’s a great feeling.”

Lundqvist wasn’t just strong in the final period, he made some saves that left the Penguins hoping for some puck luck. One flurry of stops came with five minutes remaining and found Lundqvist trying to stop the Penguins without his goal stick.

Like most of Pittsburgh’s shots on the night, the puck found its way to the King.

“They were coming hard,” Lundqvist said. “I tried just not to think about the result, not think about the consequences – just see it as a challenge for me to just stay in there and focus on the right thing. It was hard because you know it’s getting closer and closer. You need some bounces, for sure, but we earned them tonight by working really hard.

“I was so tired in the end but it was a great feeling when you know it’s a done deal. We did it, we came back from a 3-1. We did really well, we stayed in the moment. We just took it period by period and it helped us get back into this.”

The biggest part of the Rangers coming back from that series deficit was Lundqvist’s incredible play throughout the series. He finished the series with a .940 save percentage and allowed three total goals in the final three games.

With a few days to rest before the Conference Finals, he’s thinking of unplugging from hockey until it’s time to prepare.

“I don’t know I might take a break from hockey and not watch anything and not listen to anything,” Lundqvist said. “We’ll see. It’s been so intense the last couple of days and it’s really important to reload physically and mentally. We’ll see if I’ll watch. I’ve been watching a couple games so I know how they play and I faced them in the regular season so I know what’s coming.”

Safe to say the King has earned a bit of rest.

With Peters re-signed, ‘Canes ready to snap playoff drought

Bill Peters
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It’s been an exciting offseason in Carolina.

Now the team is equally excited about the season at hand, and the prospect of making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“We think we’re right there,” GM Ron Francis said on Tuesday, in announcing head coach Bill Peters’ contract extension through 2019. “We want to get in the playoffs, and we want to have success around here.”

Hired with little fanfare two years ago, there’s a sense Peters has finished unglamorous dirty work in shaping the team, and teaching players how he wants the game to be played.

Now is the time to see the fruits of his labor.

In his first season behind the bench, the former Mike Babcock assistant was working with an expensive, older, mediocre group that included the likes of Alex Semin, Eric Staal, Tim Gleason and John-Michael Liles. The group wasn’t especially inspiring, and all the guys mentioned are now gone.

Next season, the ‘Canes project to be a different lot.

They’ll boast a young, dynamic group of players aged 24 or younger: Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Teuvo Teravainen, Noah Hanifin and Sebastian Aho, to name a few.

These are all a positive changes for Peters, who is clearly a coach on the rise. He was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the world championships, and led the country to gold. This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why optimism in Carolina is so high. Though the roster will be young next year, it’s absolutely loaded with talent and there’s good reason to believe they’ve got the right coach to lead the group.

If there is one thing that could dampen enthusiasm, though, it’s the club’s goalie situation.

Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

Peters was extremely patient and protective of his netminders during that spell, but with expectations raised, that tone might change.

Yzerman knows Bolts have ‘to be under the cap at some point,’ so Callahan (hip) could open on LTIR

Steve Yzerman
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It might feel complex, but the financial situation in Tampa Bay is actually straightforward — GM Steve Yzerman has roughly $5-$6 million in cap space, with forward Nikita Kucherov and d-man Nikita Nesterov still to sign.

And Yzerman thinks he has a way to get ’em done.

“We’ve got to be under the cap at some point,” Yzerman said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Depending on the health of players, Ryan Callahan had surgery and if he’s not ready to to start the season, that buys us some time.

“We can do that (long-term injured reserve) if we need to. At some point, we’re going to have to be cap compliant to start the season, there’s no way around it.”

Callahan underwent major hip surgery in late June, and was expected to miss the next five months of action. He’s already been ruled out of competing for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey, and now it sure sounds like his absence will extend into the regular season.

Which could suit the Bolts just fine.

While they’ll miss Callahan’s presence, the temporary relief of his $5.8 million cap hit could allow Yzerman to take care of Kucherov and Nesterov now, and figure out the finances later.

Trades at the end of the preseason/start of the regular season are commonplace, especially with teams looking to get cap compliant. Last year, in a mid-September deal, Chicago was forced to flip Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom to Carolina in order to sign Marcus Kruger.

Of course, Kucherov is going to demand significantly more money than Kruger did from the ‘Hawks.

The Times floated the idea of Filip Forsberg‘s new contract in Nashville — six year, $36 million — as a potential comparable, which could mean Yzerman will be forced to trade a fairly noteworthy contributor, not just a couple of spare parts.

Names that have been floated include veteran centers Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle. Yesterday’s signing of promising pivot Vladislav Namestnikov suggests the team thinks Namestnikov is ready to assume a larger role down the middle, making Filppula and/or Boyle expendable.

Preds sign veteran d-man Matt Carle for one year

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 15:  Matthew Carle #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning stretches in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 15, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Lightning defeated the Leafs 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Matt Carle has landed in Nashville on a one-year deal worth $700,000.

The Predators announced the signing today. Carle, 31, will join what’s considered one of the best blue lines in the NHL, led by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi.

Carle played 64 games for the Lightning last season, plus 14 more in the playoffs. But his ice time fell dramatically, to the point he logged under 10 minutes in each of the Bolts’ final three postseason games.

In Nashville, Carle will bring over 700 games of NHL experience, plus two trips to the Stanley Cup Final, to a team that just traded its captain, Shea Weber, and also bought out veteran defenseman Barret Jackman.

In fact, of the eight Preds d-men under contract, only Carle is over 30. The next oldest is Subban, who’s 27.

Canucks president doesn’t rule out acquiring a player with Evander Kane’s type of history

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 01: Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up to play the Edmonton Oilers at First Niagara Center on March 1, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Trevor Linden didn’t mention Evander Kane by name, because, well, you know…

But yesterday on the radio, the Vancouver Canucks’ president of hockey operations sure didn’t close the door on acquiring a player with Kane’s type of history.

You can listen to the audio of Linden’s interview with TSN 1040 here. (The Kane discussion starts at around the 3:10 mark.)

The main takeaway is that Linden refused to say that a player with a history of getting into trouble with the police would absolutely not be welcome on the Canucks.

“I think with any situation, they’re all unique to themselves,” Linden said, before warning against the temptation to jump to conclusions prior to knowing all the facts.

“Ultimately we’d prefer not to have that situation arise, certainly with our own players,” he added. “It’s a big world out there. Obviously, the challenges are significant for young guys who make a lot of money and get themselves into spots that they make mistakes.”

The Kane speculation has been kicked into overdrive in Vancouver (where Kane was born and raised and played his junior hockey), despite the absence of any hard evidence that the Canucks are talking seriously with Buffalo about a deal.

It’s been reported that the Sabres’ ability to sign Jimmy Vesey could impact their willingness to trade Kane. Vesey can’t make his decision until Aug. 15, so perhaps we’ll have to wait until then.

But according to Canucks beat writer Jason Botchford (The Province), Kane is definitely on Vancouver’s radar.

“There’s no doubt about it, the Vancouver Canucks are going to be in on Evander Kane,” Botchford told TSN 1040 radio. “Ownership loves Kane. Jim Benning really likes Kane. Trevor? He’s maybe a little bit ambivalent, but he could be won over. They’re going to be in on Evander Kane.”

Related: Canucks made Jets ‘fair offer’ for Kane