Pre-game reading: On Torts and the ‘amazing’ turnaround in Columbus

— Up top, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman talks about the biggest challenge facing the Maple Leafs as they look to emerge out of their rebuild. The Leafs have a ton of talent up front, but what about the back end? The cost to acquire top defensemen has maybe never been higher, as evidenced by the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson. And that’s what the Leafs could really use now: a top d-man.

— Here’s Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on the job John Tortorella has done in Columbus: “We had hit rock-bottom mentally and it was a big challenge for him to turn us around. It’s actually amazing how quickly he did it.” Tortorella received the Jack Adams Award in 2004, but not many predicted he’d be in the coach-of-the-year conversation this season. He deserves a lot of credit for helping the Jackets believe again, while adapting himself to a changing league. (Hockey News)

— The Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, but they’ve never hosted the NHL Entry Draft, nor have they hosted an outdoor game. That could change soon, with NHL executive VP Steve Mayer telling the Tampa Bay Times, “There’s no question we are absolutely, strongly considering Tampa in the mix. The city can house a world-class event.” The 2017 All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and the 2017 draft is in Chicago. But the league’s schedule is open after that. We wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for an outdoor game in Florida, but then, if Dodger Stadium can host one, it can’t be ruled out completely. (Tampa Bay Times)

— Mattias Ohlund will be inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour tonight prior to Vancouver’s game with Tampa Bay. Ohlund, 40, might be the best defenseman in Canucks history, but unfortunately injuries shortened his career. “I pushed myself and my body as far as I could. And then one day, after speaking to numerous doctors and trying everything I could, it was just impossible for me to practice and play and travel. My left knee is worse, but both are bad. … I can have a decent, normal life, but I don’t run, don’t ski. Certainly my body’s not perfect, but I’m well enough to enjoy a comfortable life.” (Vancouver Province)

— Whatever the NHL decides about the Olympics, TSN’s Gary Lawless wants there to be a true best-on-best tournament. If that’s the World Cup, then so be it. As long as it’s best-on-best. No Team North America or Team Europe or anything like that. “The World Cup of Hockey has a long way to go before it measures up to the Games. The kind of history and tradition that builds emotion for spectators can’t be manufactured overnight. But the World Cup has no chance in its current incarnation. It must revert to best-on-best and take advantage of the surge in talent in the U.S. as well as the current excellence in Canada.” (TSN)

Matt Duchene is happy to be back playing center for the Colorado Avalanche. ““I love it. It’s my natural position. I enjoy playing right wing, depending on the situation, but at center it’s consistent, I always feel in the game. I like having that responsibility defensively that you have more as a centerman than as a winger. I just like being in the middle of the ice and distributing.” The other side of the coin? Center Carl Soderberg logged just 10:08 in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Philly, and that’s not much for a guy with a $4.75 million cap hit through 2019-20. Though to be fair, he’s been fighting a cold. (Denver Post)

Enjoy the games!

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.