Alex Burrows

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Two fewer defensemen means Canucks less likely to trade Tanev

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CHICAGO — Three months ago, Jim Benning might’ve considered trading defenseman Chris Tanev.

But after the Vancouver Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin to the KHL and Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, their general manager no longer enjoys the depth on defense that he used to trumpet.

“I’m going to look at all our options, but for us to move [Tanev] off our blue line, we’d have to get a good defenseman back,” Benning said Thursday.

Among Vancouver d-men, only Alex Edler logged more ice time than Sbisa in 2016-17.

“He provided physicality on the back end,” Benning said of Sbisa. “He was a good penalty killer for us. I thought last year, on a game-to-game basis, he was one of our better defensemen. So we’re sorry to see him go. It’s going to be a new opportunity for him and it gives us a chance to kind of reshape our blue line.”

Of course, Benning’s reluctance to deal the 27-year-old Tanev is bound to make people wonder if the Canucks are truly committed to a long-term rebuild. When they traded veterans Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, that appeared to be the direction they were finally headed.

Shouldn’t a rebuilding team be less concerned about next year, and more concerned about four or five years down the line?

“That’s a good point,” Benning said, “but I think we’re going to have a lot of young players in our lineup next year, and we want to be competitive in the games. Chris Tanev is still a relatively young player for a defenseman. We’re going to have him for the next seven or eight years. But like I said, if something makes sense and we can get a player back that can play on our blue line, we’ll look at it.”

The Canucks will draft fifth overall tomorrow at United Center, and most expect them to select a center like Cody Glass, Gabriel Vilardi, or Casey Mittelstadt.

But don’t be shocked if they go for a power-play defenseman like Cale Makar or Timothy Liljegren.

“Anytime you can get a high-end offensive defenseman in today’s game, that drives the play for your team, I think that’s something we’re going to look at,” said Benning.

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.

Talks continue with pending UFA Miller, but Markstrom is Canucks No. 1 goalie … eventually

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The Canucks finally made the definitive statement last month that they are, in fact, rebuilding.

On Tuesday, another proclamation, this time from general manager Jim Benning: Jacob Markstrom will be the team’s starting goaltender.

Benning, in conversation with Pierre LeBrun of TSN, again admitted that he continues to talk with Ryan Miller‘s camp. Miller turns 37 years of age on July 17, and is a pending unrestricted free agent, having spent the last three seasons in Vancouver. The last two have certainly been difficult, with the team plummeting near the bottom of the NHL’s overall standings.

“We’re in conversations with [Miller’s] agent and with him,” Benning told TSN.

“Jacob Markstrom’s going to be our No. 1 goalie going forward. We feel like Ryan — he had a really good year last year, and he can help Jacob in that transition to being the No. 1 guy. We feel with where we’re at, we need good goaltending every night to be competitive with these young players up front.”

Oh, wait a minute. . .

This past season, Miller was actually pretty good considering how bad the team in front of him was, as they went through a rapid fall that culminated in the Canucks trading away veterans Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen for talented forward prospects Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen.

In a bid to keep the Canucks — as they further the transition of younger players into their roster — “competitive,” Benning has expressed his interest in keeping Miller in Vancouver. However, that same transition will continue in goal. Markstrom, who is about to enter the first year of his three-year, $11 million extension, played only 26 games last season, with a .910 save percentage, and eventually had to undergo knee surgery.

Goalie prospect Thatcher Demko saw improvements as his rookie AHL season continued, and he could be the future in net for Vancouver. At 27, the need to get Markstrom more playing time was a hot topic of conversation during the season in Vancouver.

It appears the Canucks are finally going to allow him that opportunity.

At some point.

The Senators have a very, very, very long list of injuries from the playoffs

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Every year, NHL teams deal with injuries during the Stanley Cup playoffs, as players fight through the pain of broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains and cuts.

On Monday, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion went through a laundry list of players dealing with injuries, following his team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. The detail he went into shows the price some players paid, as the Senators pushed the Penguins to double overtime of Game 7 in the third round.

It starts with Erik Karlsson, who was dealing with more than hairline fractures in his foot.

— Karlsson: In addition to dealing with the fractures, Dorion said his star defenseman had muscle issues with his foot.

Mark Borowiecki: High-ankle sprain. “He would’ve been ready for Game 1 if we got to the Stanley Cup Final.”

Alex Burrows: High-ankle sprain.

Cody Ceci: Broken finger. “I think Cody had his finger broken 17 times. I’m not sure exactly how many times. It got broken during the year, it got broken in the playoffs (versus the Rangers). It was put back into place and it broke again. He needed to freeze it before every game.”

Zack Smith: Pulled rib and abdominal muscles.

Viktor Stalberg: Rib injury.

Chris Neil: “Significant” sprained hand.

Dion Phaneuf: Wrist injury.

Craig Anderson: Back injury. His back “was in terrible shape during the Rangers series, which we managed to win, so that says a lot about his character playing through the pain.”

Tom Pyatt: Ankle injury.

Derick Brassard: Should injury.

Fredrik Claesson: Back injury.

Marc Methot: Finger injury. Methot suffered the injury on a Sidney Crosby slash in the regular season. “It never healed to 100 per cent through the playoffs.”

Mark Stone: Knee injury.

Ryan Dzingel: Wrist injury.

The good news for the Senators out of all this? Dorion added that, as of now anyway, none of the aforementioned players require surgery for their injuries.

Same lineup expected for Pens, but Sens will have changes

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Plenty of injuries on both sides ahead of tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

We’ll start with the Penguins, who seem likely to ice the same lineup they did Sunday. Head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed today that Justin Schultz, Chad Ruhwedel, Patric Hornqvist, and Tom Kuhnhackl remain out.

“Kuhnhackl, Ruhwedel and Hornqvist stayed back in Pittsburgh. They’re rehabbing back there,” said Sullivan. “Schultz is here in Ottawa with us. He is rehabbing as well, but he will not play tonight.”

As for the Senators, head coach Guy Boucher has some “warmup decisions” to make. Forward Ryan Dzingel will be back in. Forwards Chris Kelly and Colin White could be in, too, because Tommy Wingels and Alex Burrows are both out.

The question is whether the Sens go with seven defensemen again, or back to six. If it’s the latter, White could draw in.

White, 20, has not played in these playoffs, and he only played two NHL games in the regular season.  A Boston College product, he was the 21st overall pick in the 2015 draft. He only recently signed his entry-level contract with the Sens.

“I mean, he’s a guy who’s a really smart player,” said Boucher. “He’s got speed, lots of speed, a guy that drives the net, and he’s very reliable on both ends of the ice. That’s why we’re considering him.”

The Senators need to win tonight. If they don’t, the Penguins will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.