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Halak shuts out Hurricanes, Islanders stay alive in playoff race

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The New York Islanders’ last four games have been must-wins – and Jaroslav Halak has won them all.

Halak stopped 29 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the fast-starting Islanders beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 on Thursday night.

Brock Nelson and Scott Mayfield scored early goals 3 minutes, 12 seconds apart, and Andrew Ladd added a power-play goal to help the Islanders earn their fourth straight victory and preserve their long-shot playoff hopes for a little while longer.

“Obviously, we’re in a tough situation where we have to rely on other things to happen outside of our games, but we’re a resilient group and we’ve fought out of a lot of stuff this year, and we’re not going to go down easy,” left winger Anders Lee said. “We’re going to give it our all and make sure we win these last (few) games. We were in a situation where we had to win out with six left. So we’re four wins into it.”

Related: The wait continues — Maple Leafs fail to clinch playoff berth after loss to Bolts

Eddie Lack stopped 20 shots for the Hurricanes, who lost their fourth straight overall, a slide that coincides with their mathematical elimination from the playoff race for the eighth straight year – the longest active postseason drought in the NHL. They’ve also been shut out in their last two home games.

“That’s hard to watch, right?” Carolina coach Bill Peters asked rhetorically.

Halak won his fourth straight start since his recall from Bridgeport of the AHL, and his first shutout since blanking Washington on Dec. 1 – and 41st of his career – came in a must-win scenario for his team.

“I think the biggest factor, honestly, has been Jaro – Jaro’s been a rock back there for us,” Ladd said. “He’s been solid ever since he’s got back. … He gives us confidence in front of him to do the right things.”

A loss to Carolina, and the Islanders would have been assured of missing the playoffs – just like the Hurricanes, who were eliminated two nights earlier.

Right from the opening drop of the puck, the Islanders played like a team that had something to play for, while Carolina was noticeably less crisp.

“I thought we were flat,” Peters said, “and stayed flat.”

Nelson scored the game’s first goal 87 seconds in when he pushed the puck off a skate past Lack, and Mayfield made it 2-0 at 4:39 when he backhanded a rebound past the Carolina goalie.

Ladd then effectively ended it 39 seconds into the second, when – with Victor Rask serving a double-minor for whacking Nelson in the face with his stick – he beat Lack with a snap shot from the circle to make it a three-goal game.

“Any time you pop a couple really quick, it really sets a tone for the game and it puts them in a hole,” Lee said. “We just kind of stuck with our game plan, played a simple game and didn’t let them back in.”

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.

Isles bring back Seidenberg — one year, $1.25 million

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The Islanders saw enough from Dennis Seidenberg this season to bring him back for another.

On Monday, the club announced it had signed the veteran defenseman to a one-year deal. Per Newsday, it’s for $1.25 million — a slight raise from the $1M he earned this season.

Seidenberg, 35, caught on with the Isles in late September, parlaying a good showing with Team Europe at the World Cup into a contract after going the entire summer unsigned.

For New York, it worked out very well.

Seidenberg was a regular lineup fixture, averaging 19:26 TOI over 73 games. He also provided some good production from the back end, scoring five goals and 22 points — his highest offensive output in five years.

Today’s deal also gives the Isles some flexibility when it comes to the upcoming expansion draft. The club now has six blueliners under contract for next season — Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield — and a seventh, pending RFA Calvin de Haan, will (presumably) be locked in as well. The same might be said of fellow RFA Adam Pelech.

Young d-man Ryan Pulock, who only appeared in one game this year, locked in through 2018.

Cassidy ‘absolutely’ wants to return as Bruins’ head coach

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To nobody’s surprise, Bruce Cassidy is on board with shedding his interim tag and becoming Boston’s full-time bench boss.

“Absolutely,” Cassidy said of coming back, following the Bruins’ opening-round playoff loss to Ottawa (per CBS Boston). “One hundred percent.”

One would think the 51-year-old did enough to warrant a longer look. After replacing Claude Julien in early February, Cassidy led a team on the fringes of the playoff picture to an 18-8-1 record down the stretch, and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division.

Yes, the B’s fell short against the Sens, but were hamstrung by a depleted lineup missing the likes of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. Top center David Krejci was also extremely limited, missing three of six games to injury.

When further asked about his future, Cassidy tapped the brakes on predicting what will happen, or what changes the team needed for next season.

“Well, now we’re making a lot of assumptions,” he said. “That will be determined going forward by management. It’s a tough question to answer.”

Cassidy’s time with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence, and his history working with young players, may certainly help his cause. A few of his guys — Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano, Tommy Cross, Noel Acciari — forged out roles with the big club this season, while other youngsters certainly made an impact in the playoffs.

Prized d-man prospect Charlie McAvoy was a central figure on defense, and one of Cassidy’s more notable lineup moves — putting Sean Kuraly in for Games 5 and 6 — gave the club a boost of energy.

That said, the B’s do have options on the coaching front.

There are a number of experienced bench bosses available. Lindy Ruff, Darryl Sutter and Jack Capuano — a former teammate of Sweeney’s, it should be mentioned — are just a few of the higher profile free agents out there. It’s unclear if Boston is interested in going this route, however. Cassidy has been with the organization a long time, going on eight seasons, and has certainly paid his dues.