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Panthers coach Tom Rowe wishes he didn’t play Aaron Ekblad this week

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A miserable season for the Florida Panthers got a little bit worse earlier this month when defenseman Aaron Ekblad was sidelined with another concussion on what coach and general manager Tom Rowe called “a real cheap shot from behind.”

After missing a few games, he was cleared to play by the team’s medical staff and returned to the lineup on Tuesday, 10 days after the injury, and played 18 minutes in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on what happened in the aftermath of that game, it seems pretty obvious he may not have been completely ready to return to the ice.

Ekblad will not play in Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks and will not accompany the team on its upcoming road trip after he complained of a sore neck following Tuesday’s game. He was also dealing with headaches on Friday that were attributed to a neck injury and not the concussion.

On Saturday, Rowe was asked if he regretted playing Ekblad earlier this week and he was quite honest in his assessment.

“I’m not going to lie, I wish we didn’t,” Said Rowe, via George Richards of the Miami Herald. “That’s on me. The doctors cleared him, our medical staff cleared him but I had some reservations and I wish I stayed with my gut. That’s no one’s fault but my own.

Ekblad wanted to play in Tuesday’s game but Rowe insisted he should have used his experience to hold his top defenseman out of the lineup.

“I’ve have a lot more experience in this business than he does,” said Rowe, again via the Herald. “I have had a ton of experience with those types of injuries. I usually give those guys two or three days of practice and I wish I had done that. It’s no one’s fault but my own.”

Ekblad has had some significant head and neck injuries over the past couple of years. This is the second time in the past two seasons he has missed time due to a concussion, and he was also sent home from the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year with what was said to be “whiplash.”

The 21-year-old Ekblad, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, has 10 goals and 11 assists in 68 games for the Panthers this season. With only four games remaining following the team’s upcoming four-game road trip it is not out of the question to think that Ekblad’s season could be over.

The Panthers are only 4-10-1 in their past 15 games and have pretty  much fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Video: Predators’ Fiddler ejected for knee-to-knee on Blues’ Parayko

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Hey, remember when Vernon Fiddler was a feel-good story in scoring an unlikely, lucky goal to seal Game 1 for the Nashville Predators?

That feel-good story didn’t extend very far into Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues.

With about 90 seconds remaining in the first period, Fiddler delivered a knee-to-knee hit on the Blues’ rising star defenseman Colton Parayko, who left the ice after getting some help. The officials responded accordingly, handing Fiddler a game misconduct and five-minute major for kneeing.

Vladimir Tarasenko made the Predators pay with a 1-1 power-play goal as the opening frame was nearing an end, and being that it was a major penalty, the damage may continue. The Blues will begin the second with about 3:30 in man-advantage time.

You can see video of the hit above this post’s headline. PHT will monitor updates regarding Parayko’s condition.

All things considered, the Predators are probably lucky that Game 2 is currently locked up at 1-1.

Video: Did Ovechkin miss opportunity to land big hit on Crosby?

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There are a lot of ways to describe Alex Ovechkin‘s on-ice style. One that probably never comes up is “shy.”

He’s one of the most hard-hitting high-scorers in recent memory, but Keith Jones and Mike Milbury noticed a moment where he passed up a potentially huge hit on Sidney Crosby in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ eventual Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals.

Both Jones and Milbury admit that Ovechkin probably made the right choice in the moment, as he a) scored a goal soon after and b) would have been whistled for interference (at minimum?).

Even so, they still wonder if it was really the right choice. Watch that interesting discussion in the video above.

And, in the clip below, something most can agree on: Crosby’s on a roll.

Game 2 is on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Predators admit Fiala ‘will be missed’ but must move on

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ST. LOUIS — The Nashville Predators faced the reality Thursday that they will have to play the rest of the playoffs without left winger Kevin Fiala, who sustained a broken left leg on Wednesday night in their series opener against the St. Louis Blues.

“Kev was playing so well for us,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis told NHL.com. “He became a dominant player on the ice, and it’s a big loss for our team. It hurts right now, hurts for Kev, too, but we have to move forward. He’s going to be missed for sure, but we have to find a way to get past it.”

The Predators will try to do that starting Friday night, when they take on the Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference second-round series, trying to stay undefeated in this year’s postseason.

After sweeping the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the eighth-seeded Predators won Game 1 against the Blues 4-3 on Wednesday. Nashville got a goal and two assists from P.K. Subban and the game-winning goal from Vernon Fiddler with 5:05 left in the third period.

Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators in his first game of the postseason, having missed the Chicago series because of a lower-body injury, and he likely must play a major role if the team is going to overcome the loss of Fiala.

Wilson led the Predators in playoff points a year ago, when they lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks. They are trying to advance to the first Western Conference finals in franchise history.

“He’s awesome in the playoffs,” Ellis said of Wilson. “He’s been good for us all year, so he’s adapted to his role on the team, and he’s one of the guys we lean heavily on. Now losing Kev, we’re going to rely on him even more than ever.”

Wilson does not believe he will be able to carry the load alone.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent, but when we played our game, we were always unstoppable,” Wilson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth. Watching them was fun, but being a part of it is a lot better.”

The Blues saw ways they can be better after the Game 1 loss, primarily by avoiding penalties that helped put them in a 3-1 hole in the second period. Two of the Predators’ goals came on power plays.

“They put us on our heels, put us behind, created a lot of momentum,” St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said. “When we didn’t have to kill any penalties, it changed the game. I thought we played really well five-on-five.”

That performance did not result in a win, however, which is becoming a problem on home ice for the Blues. They are now 1-2 at home this season, compared to a 3-0 record on the road.

“We have to be better at home,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We put ourselves in a tough position by not coming out and putting our best game in front of us (in Game 1). We have to be a little more focus and committed to playing a 60-minute game. For me, this time of year, you should definitely feel some momentum and energy from your crowd.

“There were some things (Wednesday) we can build off, things we certainly learned about their team and things we need to do to be successful.”

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Hurricanes get Scott Darling from Blackhawks for third-rounder

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If you’re looking at that headline regarding the Carolina Hurricanes nabbing Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in a state of awe, don’t feel too badly.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that even Darling’s representatives didn’t see it coming.

But it did indeed happen, as the Hurricanes sent a third-round pick in 2017 to Chicago for Darling. It sounds like the Blackhawks were going to part ways with Darling one way or another, so they get a decent pick for their trouble.

Darling is scheduled to be a UFA this summer, so the Hurricanes must believe that they can sign a goalie Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman described as “always reliable.”

The Hurricanes could have chosen to keep Darling in their organization, but apparently he didn’t make a huge first impression during this opportunity:

“Reliable” might honestly be selling Darling, 28, a little short. In 75 regular season games, he generated a fantastic .923 save percentage and even excelled when called upon in the playoffs.

With the Hurricanes’ mess in net in mind, you have to credit GM Ron Francis & Co. for being proactive … assuming they can sign Darling to a reasonable deal.

Carolina and Chicago seem comfortable as trade partners, as the two teams also made the Teuvo Teravainen/Bryan Bickell deal fairly recently.