Buffalo Sabres v Toronto Maple Leafs

Looking to make the leap: Peter Holland

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Is this the year for Peter Holland to finally establish himself as a full-time NHLer?

Probably. But it won’t be easy.

Holland, the 15th overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, should benefit from Toronto’s thinned-out center position. Two middle men from last season — Jay McClement and Dave Bolland — have signed elsewhere, and the offseason additions of Mike Santorelli (coming off major shoulder surgery) and Petri Kontiola (hasn’t played an NHL game in six years) aren’t exactly sure things.

According to Steve Spott — head coach of the AHL Marlies — Holland is.

“He’s an NHL centerman,” Spott said during the Calder Cup playoffs, per the National Post. “I firmly believe that. His skill set, his vision, is elite for this level. We’ll enjoy him for as long as we have him.”

How long the Marlies have Holland remains to be seen. After coming over from Anaheim last November, he bounced back and forth between the minors and NHL, scoring five goals and 10 points in a career-high 39 games for the Leafs before falling out of favor late in the season — following a rough three-game stretch in mid-March where his ice time dipped below 10 minutes a night, Holland played just once more for the Leafs down the stretch (a 1-0 loss to Ottawa on Apr. 12) and spent most of his time suiting up for the Marlies.

Now, he’s looking to stay in the bigs all season long.

Holland has a few things working in his favor on that front. The first is his contractual status, per the Toronto Sun:

Holland is almost assured of starting the season with the Leafs. The reason? Leafs are convinced they’d lose him on waivers if they tried to send him to the minors and they aren’t willing to lose Holland at this time.

Holland inked a two-year, $1.55 million extension with the Leafs in July, the first one-way contract of his career. That should give him a leg up on the competition, though it remains to be seen how he’ll fare in the wake of heavy competition up front.

While Toronto’s depth at center isn’t all that great, there are a slew of forwards on NHL deals (15, per CapGeek) and competition will be stiff at camp. Holland will also need to establish himself in the eyes of head coach Randy Carlyle — who, lest we forget, was the one that ultimately dropped Holland out of the lineup last year — and prove that he’s capable of being an every-night player.

The opportunity to make the leap is there, but there’s still work to be done.

Video: Pavelski gives Sharks the lead as they look to clinch berth in Stanley Cup Final

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Perseverance paid off for the San Jose Sharks.

Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, pushing home a loose puck on Brian Elliott after Joe Thornton was unable to convert on the breakaway seconds before.

For Pavelski, that’s his league-leading 13th goal of these playoffs.

The Sharks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight.

San Jose increased its lead to two goals, as Joel Ward capitalized early in the second period.

Canucks trade Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Jared McCann #91 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have made a trade — and it’s a big one.

As per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the two main components are forward Jared McCann, who just completed his rookie season with the Canucks, and 24-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has played five seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Here are the details:

McCann is the second draft selection of the Jim Benning-Trevor Linden era, taken 24th overall in 2014. As a 19-year-old rookie armed with a big-league wrist shot, he scored nine goals and 18 points while averaging 12:31 of ice time per game in 69 games.

The Canucks had the option of sending McCann back to junior last season and not burning a year of his entry-level deal, but they chose to keep him in Vancouver for the entire year.

One particular aspect of his development, particularly this off-season, was a need to get physically stronger, which was something that could be exposed at times in the defensive end against bigger forwards.

Gudbranson, selected third overall in 2010 and signed to a one-year, $3.5 million extension earlier this month, certainly gives the Canucks size on the back end at six-foot-five-inches tall, a physical presence and a right shot on the blue line, but he has managed only 13 points as a single-season career best and that was in 2014-15.

The Canucks also gave up two picks in this year’s draft.

 

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

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It has been an Eastern Conference Final full of twists and turns in the plot.

Exhibit A: The goaltending situation for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. 

That began right away, in the first period of Game 1 when Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with a lower-body injury. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been The Guy for the Lightning, which will face the Penguins in a Game 7, winner-take-all contest, in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Of the many storylines heading into this contest, one that stands out is it’s expected to be a goaltending duel between the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy and the Matt Murray, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.

(Remember when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan went with Marc-Andre Fleury to start over Murray in Game 5, only to switch back to Murray for a must-win Game 6? Another plot twist.)

Bolts head coach Jon Cooper had previously left the door open to the possibility that Bishop could return in this series. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters he’ll meet with his staff but does not anticipate Bishop being in for Game 7.

“I think Andrei is the big reason we’re in Game 7,” said Cooper.

“He’s made big save after big save for us. The one thing that I do like that’s happened to him finally in this series is, you know, he finally started a playoff game and won, whereas his other playoff wins were always in relief, and he’s won in Pittsburgh. So you’ve got to like the kid feels pretty comfortable playing there, and we like that.”

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Sharks – Game 6

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues, Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks, and Joe Thornton #19 argue with a referee during the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.

You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday