Predators win Game 5, push Ducks to brink of elimination

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The Nashville Predators are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite missing centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher due to injuries and having to shuffle their lineup accordingly, the Predators got a third-period go-ahead goal from Pontus Aberg and then held on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in Game 5 on Saturday.

Nashville takes a 3-2 series lead.

Talk about a timely goal from Aberg, Nashville’s second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. That’s his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal and just his second career goal in the NHL.

The biggest story of this series over the last day has been the injury to Johansen, the Predators’ leading point producer in these playoffs prior to Saturday, and how his absence is a huge blow to their Stanley Cup hopes.

Well, the Predators were able to respond with a huge win on the road.

“Well, I mean, that’s a factor, sure, that we’re without Ryan. I think there’s no question about that. With regard to our players’ heads, they’ve been in the right place, I think, through the entire playoffs and they remain in the right place,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 5.

“We’ve got a job to do tonight. We wish Ryan was here with us, but he’s not. We’ve got to move forward. And there’s a lot of trust and belief inside of our room that we can be successful.”

Without Johansen, it was mentioned yesterday the need for other members of the Predators to step up and fill the void offensively.

Aberg did his part, converting on a rebound after Filip Forsberg was stopped on the initial shot. Colin Wilson also scored for Nashville. In the previous two playoffs, Wilson had been producing at just below a point per game pace. So far this year, he had only three points in 10 games, but he buried a power play goal in the second period to tie it a goal apiece.

That tying goal came just after Josh Manson was called for a cross check on Forsberg. Prior to that, officials missed a Forsberg high stick on Manson, who was bleeding as a result. More controversy later on, as Predators goalie Pekka Rinne appeared to play the puck outside of the trapezoid, however there was no call.

While the Predators received timely scoring, Rinne was spectacular making 32 saves.

The Ducks began this game without Rickard Rakell, who did not play because of a lower-body injury. The drama continued later on, as goalie John Gibson was replaced by Jonathan Bernier at the beginning of the second period.

The Ducks later announced that Gibson suffered a lower-body injury and was questionable to return.

Game 6 goes Monday in Nashville.

Agent: Schultz likes Pittsburgh, but wants to be ‘rewarded’

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Justin Schultz took a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

He doesn’t begrudge the deal he signed, as the Penguins have been a big part of turning his career around.

One assumes winning a couple of Stanley Cups has been pretty fun, too.

That being said, the 26-year-old defenseman wants a raise.

“We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did,” Schultz’s agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.”

Schultz, a restricted free agent, had a career-high 51 points in 78 games last season. Those 51 points were the seventh most among NHL defensemen — just five fewer than this summer’s biggest UFA, Kevin Shattenkirk, managed.

Schultz then added 13 more points in the playoffs, as the Penguins managed to win it all without Kris Letang.

For the record, Schultz wants to stay in Pittsburgh. The question is whether the Pens can afford to keep him, or if they’d be better off selling high in a trade.

“We’ll probably have some more direction here this week with where we’re going with [a possible extension],” Arnott said. “But we’ve had some good discussions.”

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.