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Granlund expects Wild to finally deliver in playoffs

This offseason for the Minnesota Wild was never going to be about making major additions.

This was simply the summer of maintenance and sustenance, with a new contract for Mikael Granlund one of the biggest priorities.

Now that Granlund has agreed to the deal, for $17.25 million over three years, the dynamic Finnish forward has his focus on a much deeper push by the Wild through the playoffs. Performing up to the value of the contract is not his concern.

Even without obvious roster upgrades after a five-game loss in the first round to St. Louis, the strength of the core that fueled a top-five finish in the NHL regular season has not diminished.

“There’s always something to prove, but I think the biggest thing is as a team I really want us to make a deeper playoff run,” Granlund said Wednesday on a conference call. “Obviously we need to make it to playoffs first, but I think we have a really good group of guys and we can do some damage.”

Granlund’s deal was done two days after the new contract was finalized for fellow restricted free agent and right wing Nino Niederreiter, who will get $26.25 million over five years.

The Wild acquired left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Tyler Ennis from Buffalo last month, but they traded right wing Jason Pominville and defenseman Marco Scandella to get them. They lost center Erik Haula in the expansion draft to Vegas and traded former first-round draft pick Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights to keep them away from others. They signed defenseman Kyle Quincey in free agency, but all the other pick-ups were designed for injury protection and AHL depth.

General manager Chuck Fletcher wasn’t going to be able to do much more than that, given the salary cap situation and the requirement to lose a player to the league’s newest team. So the Wild will be banking on good health for their veteran players and continued improvement by their younger teammates, with Granlund squarely in the spotlight after a breakthrough under new coach Bruce Boudreau.

“He was super great last season, and we improved a lot as a team and individually too,” said Granlund, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft. “He gave me a lot of responsibility.”

With a permanent move from center to right wing and the installation of an offense-friendly system, Granlund produced 26 goals, 43 assists and a plus-23 rating, all career highs. His 69 points were tied for the fourth most in franchise history, and he was one of three finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for exceptional sportsmanship and skill.

“People across the league are now surely aware of what our management group has always known: Mikael has a tremendous level of talent and skill,” Fletcher said. “Coupled with his excellent work ethic and tremendous character, we know he’ll play a large role in the future success of our team.”

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    Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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    The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

    The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

    Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

    The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

    Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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    Video: More offside drama had Sabres coach Phil Housley up in arms

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    Just hours after the NHL admitted to an offside challenge error, there was another controversy during the Sabres-Canucks game on Friday.

    Vancouver appeared to take the lead on a Daniel Sedin goal. However, Buffalo coach Phil Housley challenged the play for offside, after replays showed Jake Virtanen may not have had complete control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line.

    The following challenge resulted in a brutally long review. For Buffalo, it was also unsuccessful as, surprisingly, officials deemed Virtanen did have control of the puck as he entered the zone. The goal counted, Vancouver took the lead.

    Housley was not happy about it.

    Not only was the challenge unsuccessful, but the Sabres were penalized for delay of game as a result.

    From the NHL:

    After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, NHL Hockey Operations staff confirmed that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen had possession and control of the puck as he entered the attacking zone prior to the goal. According to Rule 83.1, “a player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered ‘off-side,’ provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.”

    Therefore the original call stands – good goal Vancouver Canucks.

    It took 4:27 to come to a decision, too.

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    Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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    Devils place goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve

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    NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils placed goalie Cory Schneider on injured reserve with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night in a 5-4 overtime victory at Ottawa.

    Schneider left after the second period. Keith Kinkaid replaced him and stopped all nine shots he faced to earn the victory.

    With Schneider sidelined, Kinkaid was expected to start Friday night at home against San Jose.

    The Devils recalled goalie Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

    The Devils catch a scheduling break with a week off until their next game Oct. 27, the first day Schneider is eligible to return.

    Schneider is 4-1-0 in six games this season with a 3.30 goals-against average.

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    Andreas Athanasiou, Red Wings finally settle on one-year deal

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    The contract stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou is finally over.

    On Friday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the two sides struck a deal that will see the 23-year-old forward back in the lineup, at least for this season. It’s a one-year deal worth $1.387 million.

    Due to Detroit’s tight salary cap situation, the deal has not been officially registered with the NHL because general manager Ken Holland needs to free up space in order to fit Athanasiou’s contract.

    Athanasiou, who was a restricted free agent this summer, was seeking a two-year deal worth around $2.5 million per season. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were holding firm on a one- or two-year deal carrying a $1.9 million AAV. As the stalemate dragged on, he began practicing with Swiss side HC Lugano, but did not sign a contract. He had until Dec. 1 to make an NHL return in order to be eligible to play this season. The KHL card was played, but as Torey Krug showed, that move is always a clear bluff.

    The one-year pact is essentially a “show-me” deal for Athanasiou, who scored 18 goals and recorded 29 points last season. He finished second on the Red Wings in even strength goals (17) in 2016-17 and tallied a pair of overtime winners. A good year and with some salary off the books next summer, he can cash in with a longer-term contract. He’ll once again be an RFA next summer, so Detroit will control his rights, but he’ll have arbitration rights.

    According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, along with the contract Athanasiou has been promised a minutes bump from the 13:27 he played last season, as well as regular time on both special teams units.

    Detroit is off to a 4-3-0 start and averaging 3.14 goals per game. Once Athanasiou arrives from Switzerland and gets up to speed — possibly with an AHL conditioning stint — his presence will certainly be a boost to the Red Wings’ lineup.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.: