Totonto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers

Leafs’ Gardiner approves of Carlyle’s approach

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In a fairly short amount of time, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner went from someone who needed to be “freed” to someone who can freely spend a heaping amount of cash.

Whether you opt to take his comments at face value or attribute it to the happy glow of that $20.25 million extension, Gardiner told the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran on Wednesday that he’s just fine with the way head coach Randy Carlyle treats him.

“He is a coach that likes to push his players and get the most out of them,” Gardiner said. “I think that was what he was doing with me.

“I have a lot more potential than what I’ve been doing. I think (Carlyle’s approach was) good for me. It will help me down the road.”

Of course, it might also help that new assistant Steve Spott might be able to play “good cop” to Carlyle’s gruffer “bad cop” with players like Gardiner. (Meanwhile, Peter Horachek would put the 5 in “Five-Oh.”)

“He’s a really positive guy and a good guy to have around the locker room,” Gardiner said of Spott on Wednesday.

For many, seeing Gardiner at his best might come down to a possible paradigm shift in the Maple Leafs organization rather than the blueliner merely adapting to Carlyle’s ways. The Score’s Thomas Drance argues that Gardiner could be a key piece to a more possession-conscious style in Toronto … at least if he’s allowed to do so:

Gardiner’s skating ability and overall hockey sense make him an excellent spatial problem solver, which allows the Maple Leafs to be outshot and outscored less dramatically when he’s on the ice.

The problem, of course, is that the Leafs are still outshot and outscored dramatically, but it doesn’t have to be that way, not with a handful of talented forwards, excellent goaltending, and quality puck-possession defenders like Gardiner and – the Leafs hope – eventually Morgan Rielly. Gardiner and Rielly could be – and probably should be – the engine for a club with lots of speed up front.

In other words, Gardiner’s been paid, but it’s the system that still needs to “free” him up.

Despite tough fight, Stars hand Wild their sixth straight loss

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The Minnesota Wild put together the kind of effort that would beat a lot of NHL teams on Tuesday. Unfortunately for that beleaguered group, it wasn’t enough to edge the Dallas Stars.

Despite generating 40 shots on goal and generating 1-0 and 2-1 leads, the Wild lost to the Stars 4-3 in overtime. With that, they’ve lost six straight games.

(The view doesn’t get much prettier if you pull away a little further, either, as Minnesota’s only won once in the last month, going 1-9-2 in their last 12.)

Ultimately, the Stars’ big guns were too powerful. Tyler Seguin generated two assists and so did Jamie Benn, who set up John Klingberg‘s overtime game-winning goal.

Again, the effort sure seemed to be there for the Wild, even if they’re far beyond the point of accepting moral victories.

As frustrating as this must be, Minnesota’s not that far from a playoff spot. Still, it has to sting to see “Close, but not good enough” as a prevailing theme as of late.

Royal beating: Lucic, Kings crush Bruins 9-2

As Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (37) looks on Los Angeles Kings' Milan Lucic waves to the crowd after a tribute to him was played on the screen during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Boston Bruins welcomed Milan Lucic back on Tuesday. Maybe they shouldn’t have extended such a warm welcome to the Los Angeles Kings overall, however.

You won’t see many games as lopsided as this one, at least in 2015-16, as the Kings walloped the Bruins by a humbling score of 9-2.

Lucic wasn’t just there, either, as he scored a goal and an assist in his quite triumphant return to Boston.

Tuukka Rask had a short night in Boston’s net, yet it wasn’t as if Jonas Gustavsson enjoyed his time. It was a pretty sound beating by all accounts.

This dominant win is a heck of a way for the Kings to begin an imposing seven-game road trip, which continues against the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Bruins probably want to burn the tape on this one themselves, as they’re about to head on a six-game road trip.

Video: Evander Kane believes he won his fights vs. Alex Petrovic

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The Florida Panthers are beating up the Buffalo Sabres where it counts – on the scoreboard – but Evander Kane was happy to highlight his perceived victories in a couple bouts.

Buffalo’s power forward fought Alex Petrovic twice on Tuesday, and Kane wasn’t shy about holding up a “2-0.”

You can watch the second fight above, and the first one below, via Hockey Fights by way of MSG:

This GIF might just say it all, really:

Update: Apparently they fought again moments after this post went up.

Probably safe to call it a rivalry between the two, right?

The Panthers ultimately won 7-4.

Fight video: Yes, a visor-breaking punch

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Some hockey players resist the urge to wear a visor, at least if they’re given that choice.

Perhaps a few will say “Hey, Nathan Beaulieu will just punch it off anyway.”

Maybe not, but Beaulieu provided a rather unique moment in his fight with Cedric Paquette during the Montreal Canadiens – Tampa Bay Lightning game. You can watch that bout in the video above, and see a cut on the Lightning pest’s face from that blow.

Want it in GIF form? OK then: