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Penguins say all the right things ahead of potential Columbus sweep

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — One more win and the Pittsburgh Penguins sweep their way to the next round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One more loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the best season in franchise history comes to an abrupt end.

The Penguins enter Game 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena with a comfortable 3-0 lead. But as much as they would like a sweep, the Penguins know it’s dangerous to bring out the brooms too early.

“I think it’s going to be the toughest game of the series,” Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel said.

Stream Game 4 online here

Pittsburgh knows it will be facing a team fighting for survival in its home rink. Columbus missed a breakthrough opportunity on Sunday night, letting go of a 3-1 lead and losing 5-4 in overtime on Guentzel’s third goal of the game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is taking his usual cautious approach to Game 4 in what so far has been a competitive series despite Pittsburgh’s three wins.

“We haven’t done anything to this point,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve got to make sure we approach (Tuesday’s) game just like we approached the first three.

“We’ve got to be ready to play. We’ve got to be ready to win a hockey game. We can’t dwell on the past. We can’t live in the future. We’ve got to stay in the moment.”

The Penguins expect the Blue Jackets’ best shot. And Columbus hopes to give it to them now that its two options are win to send the series back to Pittsburgh or start summer vacation in April.

“There really is no special recipe,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “It’s just do or die right now. We’ve played good hockey. It’s unfortunate we’ve put ourselves in this situation.

“We have a chance to go out and play for all that we need to. I think that might bode well for us where we really have nothing to lose and I think it’s going to allow us to let our game go.

We have a chance to go there and try to make a series of it.”

Foligno and his teammates have to be kicking themselves for letting a win get away on Sunday. After the Blue Jackets roared out to a 3-1 lead after one period, the Penguins seized the momentum in the second and came back to tie, then take the lead in the third and eventually win in overtime.

“It’s the stomping on the throat, as graphic as that may sound, to finish the game,” Foligno said. “Really, that’s what we got away from. In the second period, we let them crawl back. In this series or in the playoffs, when you’re up 3-1, you’ve got to find a way to shut the door and lock it down, and we just didn’t do that.”

The Blue Jackets will welcome back forward Matt Calvert from a one-game suspension, but they will be without standout rookie defenseman Zach Werenski.

Werenski took a puck to the face in the second period on Sunday, left the ice bleeding profusely and then returned for several shifts in the third until he could no longer see well enough to play. The gruesome facial injury will sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs.

That makes the Blue Jackets’ uphill climb even steeper against the defending Stanley Cup champions, but veteran forward Scott Hartnell reminded his teammates Monday that the deficit is not insurmountable.

In 2010, Hartnell played a role in the Philadelphia Flyers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins to win a first-round series.

“We’re still in this thing,” Hartnell said. “We’ve still got another game to play. I don’t think any of us envisioned this. I thought we deserved a better fate. We’re playing good enough to win. There is a belief in (the locker room). There were good vibes that were positive. We’ll still here and putting on our skates.”

Related: Sedlak to replace Hartnell

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Report: Markov wants $12 million over two years from Montreal

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At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.

Now he knows the cost of filling one.

Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.

Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.

His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.

(Unless he’s traded.)

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.

Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.

Alzner wants long-term deal, says he’s interested in Habs

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You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.

Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.

He wants some security, too.

“I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”

Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.

Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency