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Penguins top jets in chaotic, brutally physical game

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Probably the wildest game of the NHL schedule on Thursday took place in Pittsburgh where the Penguins were 4-3 winners over the Winnipeg Jets in what turned out to be a brutally physical and deliriously entertaining game.

Sidney Crosby recorded three points, including his 1,000th career point in the NHL, as well as the winning goal in overtime, to help lead the Penguins to what could end up being a costly win.

A few things that stood out in all of the madness.

— The Penguins ended up losing two defensemen during the game when Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta both left in the second period to injuries.

Schultz exited when he was hit from behind by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and hit his head into the glass.

Maatta had to exit the game following a big open ice hit from Adam Lowry (watch it here).

With Schultz and Maatta out, the Penguins (who were already playing without Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust at forward) had to play the final half of the game with only four defensemen. It clearly started to wear on them a bit as the Jets rallied from a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the third period.

— Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, who scored a goal and assisted on Crosby’s winning goal thanks to an incredible individual effort, added to the physicality on more than one occasion, and especially in the third period when he rocked Blake Wheeler with this high hit in the slot in front of the Jets’ net.

Malkin ended up receiving a minor for interference and a minor for roughing as a result of that sequence. Given that he appeared to leave his feet prior to contact, and that it was a high hit, you can be certain the NHL’s department of player safety is going to be taking an extra look at that play.

Wheeler briefly exited to the Jets’ locker room but returned to the game later in the third period.

— With the NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away there was a belief that this could have been Marc-Andre Fleury‘s final start in Pittsburgh as a member of the Penguins. If it was, he went out in style playing a vintage Fleury game that included some highlight reel saves, a terrible goal against, poke checks, and a season-high 44 saves.

— After Fleury gave up a horrendous goal to Byfuglien to allow the Jets to take a 3-2 lead, erasing what had been a two-goal deficit, Crosby drew a penalty in the offensive zone to set up a Phil Kessel power play goal to send the game to overtime. The overtime period was nearly five full minutes of back-and-forth hockey that featured Fleury making a huge save on a breakaway, the Jets having a couple more near misses, and then Crosby eventually scoring the winner on this tap-in in front.

— With his three points, Crosby is now up to 64 points on the season and — for the time being — regained the lead in the NHL scoring race.

The Penguins are back in action on Friday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a huge game in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins lead the Blue Jackets by two points in the standings for the No. 2 spot.

Coach Mike Sullivan had no update on the status of Schultz or Maatta for that game.

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.

 

 

Online bookmaker: Caps are Stanley Cup favorites

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The Washington Capitals got a bit of a scare in the first round, but they’ll go into the second round as the Stanley Cup favorites.

Per online bookmaker Bovada, here is the full list of Stanley Cup odds for the eight remaining teams:

Washington Capitals   7/2
Pittsburgh Penguins    17/4
Anaheim Ducks             11/2
Edmonton Oilers          11/2
St. Louis Blues              13/2
Nashville Predators     7/1
New York Rangers       8/1
Ottawa Senators           10/1

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the postseason as 4/1 Cup favorites at Bovada. Of course, the ‘Hawks were then swept by the Preds, who’ve gone from 25/1 long shots to 7/1 heading into their series with the Blues.

The Caps’ odds actually dropped to 13/2 after they fell behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. But three straight wins, two in overtime, clinched them a spot against the Penguins in the second round.

The Ottawa Senators are the long shots of the bunch now, despite having home-ice advantage over the Rangers in the second round.