Stanley Cup Final is nastiest since 2011

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PITTSBURGH — Over the first four games you could sense a simmer. A slow boil, if you will.

Tonight, the lid popped off.

The Penguins and Predators didn’t like each other heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. But that dislike became official tonight, in a blowout win for Pittsburgh that had fireworks throughout.

Sidney Crosby continued his rivalry with P.K. Subban by dropping a series of punches on Subban’s head. Chris Kunitz landed huge bodychecks on Matt Irwin and Mattias Ekholm. Viktor Arvidsson fought Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin fought Roman Josi, and Kunitz fought Yannick Weber.

More: Tempers flare as Preds and Pens duke it out

Colton Sissons received a match penalty for crosschecking Olli Maatta in the face. All told, the two teams combined for 100 PIM.

It’s the kind of hate we haven’t seen from a Cup Final in quite some time.

In fact, you’d have to go back six years to the now-infamous Canucks-Bruins battle of 2011. That series had a slew of nasty incidents, from Alex Burrows biting Patrice Bergeron to Aaron Rome knocking out Nathan Horton — and receiving the longest suspension in Stanley Cup Final history as a result:

There are parallels between that series and this one.

Crosby punching Subban wasn’t unlike Brad Marchand landing a series of jabs on Daniel Sedin. Pekka Rinne‘s struggles in Pittsburgh are eerily similar to the ones Roberto Luongo suffered in Boston.

And just like in 2011, the off-ice temperatures are rising. Everybody’s weighing in.

Prior to tonight’s game, Predators CEO Sean Henry blasted a claim made by Pittsburgh radio personality Dan Kingerski, which alleged Nashville was pumping artificial sound into Bridgestone Arena.

“I just don’t understand that moron that keeps talking about how bad Nashville is or how we pipe in music,” Henry said. “He’s a schmuck, to say what it is.”

You never know when a series will pop off. It never really happened between the Kings and Devils, or Blackhawks and Bruins, or Kings and Rangers, or Blackhawks and Lightning. It certainly didn’t happen between the Penguins and Sharks last year, which ended up as one of the least feverish Cup Finals in recent memory.

And so, it will be interesting to see how things evolve from here.

The series is going back to Bridgestone, where the Preds have been virtually unbeatable this spring, thanks in large part to the energy their frenzied fans provide. This is also the first time Nashville’s faced elimination this postseason, so the desperation level will be high.

And what about supplemental discipline? Sissons could be facing some for the aforementioned crosscheck, though Laviolette argued against it during his postgame remarks.

“I watched it play out,” Laviolette said. “Saw Maatta crosscheck him, Colton crosschecked him back, Maatta crosschecked him again, and they were doing that somewhere in the midsection.

“On the last one, Maatta, seemed to slip and his head dropped. I don’t think there was any intention there whatsoever, so I don’t think [it deserves supplemental discipline.]”

Given what’s at stake in Game 6, it’s hard to see a suspension coming.

It’s also hard to see this series calming down.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).

Luongo pushes through ‘mental, physical grind’ in comeback from hip injury

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Roberto Luongo is back, taking part in the preseason for the Florida Panthers, in preparation for when the games begin to count in the standings.

However, his latest comments suggest he didn’t know if that would indeed be the case, after suffering a hip injury that resulted in surgery following the 2015-16 season and then shut him down in March last season.

“For a good two- to three-month period it was a battle mentally to just figure out if I could be able to ever come back,” Luongo told NHL.com. “I didn’t feel like I was getting better and it was constantly bothering me, so it was as much a mental grind as a physical grind from March until almost June if I could ever fully recover and feel good on the ice.”

Luongo is now 38 years old and the rigorous demands of playing that position for more than 960 career regular season games — not to mention playoffs or international duty — can surely take a toll on the body. The Panthers have a good tandem in net with Luongo and James Reimer, but what will be intriguing as the season progresses is how head coach Bob Boughner divvies up playing time between the two, with Luongo appearing to be healthier and as Florida looks to get back into the postseason.

The past several weeks, though, have been encouraging for Luongo. He returned to the ice well ahead of training camp and gave an optimistic report, saying there weren’t “any issues.” That was just over a month ago. He stopped all eight shots he faced during 31:26 of ice time in his preseason debut last week, which was a good start.

Auston Matthews puts on a show in preseason tilt vs. Habs

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Auston Matthews and William Nylander are showing no signs of any sophomore slump so far through the pre-season.

Matthews had a hat trick and an assist and Nylander had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in an NHL preseason game on Monday night.

Matthews scored his first goal of the game 47 seconds into the first period. His wrist shot from just inside the blue line went over the right shoulder of Canadiens goaltender Al Montoya.

Matthews made it 2-0 at 4:56. Nylander’s initial shot went high, and Matthews batted down the rebound and into an open side of the net.

He scored his third goal in the third period. While on a breakaway, Matthews shot the puck between the legs of Montoya at 3:46.

Matthews has four goals and two assists in three preseason games.

Jeff Petry scored for Montreal while on the power play at 11:37 of the second period.

Nylander scored at 6:03 of the third period to give Toronto a 5-1 lead.

Patrick Marleau also had a goal for Toronto while Frederik Andersen made 20 saves.