Edmonton Oilers v Carolina Hurricanes

Eric Staal feels good after first skating session since surgery

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About a month ago, Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal underwent vaguely described “core muscle” surgery that may or may not be somewhat like getting a sports hernia treated. He participated in his first informal skate with the team on Friday, and from what he told the Raleigh News & Observer, it sounds like he’s off to a good start.

“I feel good,” he said. “I just want to continue to take steps before (training) camp opens and then look forward to the start of the year.”

The 30-year-old forward explained that the issue resulted from training and wasn’t a nagging issue that plagued his disappointing 2013-14 season. Staal stated that he was believed he was in the best shape of his life* before that ailment came up, but perhaps he was pushing too hard?

This Hurricanes team is tough to peg this season because of players like Staal; one could easily see them crash and burn yet again, yet there’s always the possibility that key core figures will rebound and/or enjoy better health in 2014-15.

(Speaking of which, Chip Alexander reports that Jeff Skinner was also involved in that informal skate.)

There’s also the possibility that new head coach Bill Peters might get more out of this team than former bench boss Kirk Muller did. Staal said that he engaged in a “productive” 45-minute discussion with the new coach back in July, so at least there’s been some dialogue between the two.

Staal’s 61 point output last season was a big disappointment considering that he didn’t really blow away his work from the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 campaign (61 points in 79 games versus 53 in 48 contests). Staal never dipped below 70 points in a normal campaign aside from his rookie season back in 2003-04, and with his $8.25 million cap hit and his $9.25 million salary for each of the next two seasons, there’s a lot of pressure for Staal to turn things around.

Being close to 100 percent certainly wouldn’t hurt his chances, so this positive update at least prompts some optimism.

* – Please don’t take a shot any time you read that phrase this summer, especially as training camps approach.

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.