Maple Leafs overcome late collapse, win thrilling Centennial Classic

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If the Toronto Maple Leafs current rebuild results in a contending team in the near future Auston Matthews, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, is going to be one of the biggest players responsible for the turnaround.

He is every bit as good as advertised, and has already proven to be a game-changing player. On Sunday, the Maple Leafs needed him to be as he was one of the biggest reasons they were able to avoid what could have been a crushing defeat in the Centennial Classic against the Detroit Red Wings.

He scored his second goal of the game — and already his 20th of the season in only 36 games — in overtime to lift the Maple Leafs to a 5-4 win in what might have been one of the best and most exciting outdoor games since the league started playing them nearly 10 years ago.

Thanks to a four-goal outburst early in the third period the Maple Leafs looked to be on their way to an easy win with less than seven minutes to play in regulation.

But they did not make it that easy on themselves.

Jonathan Ericsson‘s goal at the 13:54 mark of the third period helped spark a Red Wings rally that saw them score three goals in the final six minutes of regulation, including a controversial buzzer beater from Anthony Mantha with 1.1 seconds to play to send the game to overtime.

The play not only had to be reviewed to make sure there was enough time remaining on the clock, but also for potential goaltender interference as Maple Leafs goalie Frederick Andersen was bumped into by Thomas Vanek. But after review the on-ice officials determined that there was no interference and allowed the goal to stand.

Here is a look at the play that forced overtime.

It was during the 3-on-3 overtime that Matthews ended up scoring the winner when he beat Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau with a backhander just under the crossbar to give the Maple Leafs two massive points in the standings and continue their push for a playoff spot.

The win extends the Maple Leafs’ winning streak to five games.

With wins in six of their past seven games are now just three points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division with still three games in hand on the Boston Bruins.

The late rally helped the Red Wings at least gain a point in the standings but they remain seven points out of a playoff spot with several teams ahead of them, putting their run of consecutive postseason appearances in jeopardy.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins