Henrik Lundqvist

Sweden defeats Canada in the shootout to win 2017 World Championship

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Sweden halted Team Canada’s bid for a third straight World Championship title thanks to a 2-1 shootout victory on Sunday.

Nicklas Backstrom and Oliver Ekman-Larsson both scored on Calvin Pickard in the shootout, while Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 42 of 43 shots he faced during regulation and overtime, and then turned aside all four Canadian attempts in the shootout.

Time to celebrate for Sweden.

Is that William Nylander with the hit of the tournament?

In seriousness, that’s a great moment for the 35-year-old Lundqvist, who passionately stated his reasons for joining Team Sweden after the New York Rangers were ousted from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round.

“My brother [Joel] is the captain there and I haven’t played with him for 12 years,” said Lundqvist earlier this month. “Also the fact that we’re not part of the Olympics. I see this as an opportunity to play for my country one more time and with my brother. I’m going to go there and try and finish really strong this season and I’m going to reflect.”

Nylander, only 21 years of age, added to his impressive first full NHL season by being named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Hurricanes, Stars get early jump on NHL goalie carousel

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When the Carolina Hurricanes traded a third-round pick to Chicago for the rights to Scott Darling, the NHL’s goaltender carousel started spinning.

After Carolina signed Darling to a $16.6 million, four-year deal, the Dallas Stars sent a fourth-round pick to Los Angeles for the rights to Ben Bishop and signed the 6-foot-7 former Lightning starter for $29.5 million over six years. Carolina and Dallas were willing to give up picks to get the jump on what Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis called an interesting offseason to shop for a goalie.

“There’s two different paths you can look at: One is certainly who’s going to be available on July 1 and what it may take to get them in terms of years and in terms of salary, and then the other option is you’re looking at who might be available in terms of teams not wanting to lose a goaltender in expansion and willing to make a trade and what it costs you to get that player,” Francis said. “When we looked at everything and studied things, we thought this was the best viable option for us.”

It looks brilliant now ahead of a goalie shuffle that expected to happen over the next several weeks leading up to the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft June 21, the actual draft a few days later and the start of free agency July 1. The Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps even the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche are in the market, with Pittsburgh veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, Washington backup Philipp Grubauer and a handful of others in the mix to fill vacancies.

Fleury led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference final but could still be traded with Matt Murray entrenched as the goalie of the future, and his value has never been higher. Fleury wields power with his no-movement clause that could let him choose his destination.

Read more: Fleury could be good option for Flames … or even Flyers

Grubauer said he has no choice where he goes, but as a restricted free agent he does have some control and could be headed to Vegas. The Golden Knights will get 48 hours to negotiate with any unrestricted or restricted free agents left unprotected for the expansion draft, and the 25-year-old German had a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 24 games this season and is widely considered ready to be a starter.

“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Capitals starter Braden Holtby said. “What I think I’ve seen from him the last year especially, his talent is NHL talent, but a lot of guys have that. His mental game, his mental prep – every game he was in he was never out of it mentally. He was always sharp and that shows.”

Grubauer and Darling could follow the path of understudies-turned-starters blazed by Edmonton’s Cam Talbot, who has thrived since backing up Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers, and San Jose’s Martin Jones, who took the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after being Jonathan Quick‘s No. 2 in Los Angeles. Much like Grubauer, the 28-year-old Darling has improved the mental side of his game as Corey Crawford‘s backup with the Blackhawks and believes he has the stuff to start.

“I’m confident because I’m excited about it and I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” said Darling, who’s 6-foot-6 and had a .924 save percentage last season. “I have a good network of goalie friends that I’m going to be picking their brains and asking for help and just trying to do everything that I can do to be successful in that role.”

Current Rangers backup Antti Raanta, who has a year left on his deal at a bargain-basement $1 million salary-cap hit, has shown evidence he can be successful too and has been speculated as a Vegas option. So have Grubauer and Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth because of close ties to GM George McPhee and goalie coach Dave Prior.

“There’s a lot of other guys on the market too that could possibly go out there, so it’s not just me,” Grubauer said. “George drafted me, so they know what they probably get and with other guys they probably not know as much. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Vegas’ decisions in goal could have as much of a domino effect as Carolina getting Darling and Dallas locking up Bishop. The Flames made the playoffs with the tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, now pending free agents, and could go young with prospect Jon Gilles, look at Fleury or move in another direction to improve on their 19th-ranked save percentage.

Winnipeg has youngsters Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson and Colorado has Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard but could shake things up in net to speed up the process of returning to playoff contention. The Flyers will likely move on from the Neuvirth-Steve Mason combo, but former goaltender and now GM Ron Hextall seems fine patching things up until one of Philadelphia’s top prospects (Carter Hart, Alex Lyon or Felix Sandstrom) is ready for the NHL.

“We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it,” Hextall said.

 

Related: Nill thinks Niemi or Lehtonen could be ‘intriguing’ for some teams

Henrik Lundqvist explains why playing for Sweden at worlds is a big deal

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Without knowing details, you might think that representing Sweden at the World Hockey Championship would be fairly mundane for Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist has enjoyed plenty of international glory, and at 35, you’d think he might want a break after another roller coaster season with the New York Rangers.

As it turns out … nope, playing for Sweden is actually a pretty big deal for Hank, as he told the Rangers website.

“My brother [Joel] is the captain there and I haven’t played with him for 12 years,” Lundqvist said. “Also the fact that we’re not part of the Olympics. I see this as an opportunity to play for my country one more time and with my brother. I’m going to go there and try and finish really strong this season and I’m going to reflect.”

Let’s ignore the (technically unsettled?) 2018 Olympics talk and focus on the fact that, yes, it’s really cool that Henrik will get to play with Joel Lundqvist again.

As a reminder, Henrik’s twin was selected in third round (68th overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft, four rounds before Henrik was almost “Mr. Irrelevant” as the 205th pick by the Rangers. Joel played 134 regular-season games for the Dallas Stars and is now suiting up for Frolunda HC in Sweden.

We may see Henrik again in a variety of international settings, but it’s plausible that he might not get another chance to play at a high level with his twin brother again.

So, yeah, that stands as pretty good motivation to delay a summer vacation.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals matchups

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Who could’ve predicted this?

The matchups for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals have been set and the schedule released. It’s hard to imagine, when the playoffs began, too many people calling for the Nashville Predators to meet the Anaheim Ducks, and the Ottawa Senators to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final four. But … here we are.

Let’s have a look at the matchups:

Eastern Conference Final

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Senators were the Comeback Kids at times in the second round versus the New York Rangers, getting the best of Henrik Lundqvist in a six-game series. Ottawa does boast a talented lineup, of course led by stud defenseman — and one of the top players in the game — in Erik Karlsson.

In the final two games of the second round versus New York, Karlsson played out of this world with five points. However, there has to be concern for him as well, given he played injured in the first round and was reportedly seen limping after Game 6 vs. the Rangers.

The Penguins, defending Stanley Cup champions, are coming off an emotional series win versus the Capitals, and they achieved that without Kris Letang — another stud defenseman. The play of Marc-Andre Fleury in these playoffs, and Game 7 versus Washington in particular, has been a big reason for Pittsburgh’s success through two rounds.

And don’t forget that whole incident between Sidney Crosby and Marc Methot from the regular season.

Western Conference Final

Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks

This is a rematch from the opening round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Predators won that series in seven games before losing in the second round. This year, however, the Predators have rolled through the first two rounds, sweeping Chicago and dispatching St. Louis in six games, making the third round for the first time in franchise history.

Pekka Rinne has an astounding .951 save percentage in net for the Predators. Another big factor in their success has been the play — and production — from their blue line, led by Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban.

The Ducks had lost five consecutive Game 7s prior to their victory over the Oilers on Wednesday, advancing to the Western Conference Final. After getting pulled in Game 6, John Gibson had arguably his best performance of these playoffs in the deciding contest against Edmonton. Perhaps that is a good sign for the Ducks, especially given how well Rinne has played.

Ryan Getzlaf, having celebrated his 32nd birthday on Wednesday, is enjoying another strong post-season. He had eight points over a three-game stretch against Edmonton and ended the series with 10 points.

Changes needed for Rangers, but which ones to choose?

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The New York Rangers think they should’ve beaten the Ottawa Senators.

And when you look back at the series, they’re probably right, given the leads they blew in Kanata.

But another offseason has begun, regardless. The Blueshirts have made the playoffs seven straight years, and they’ve done so with many of the same players. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014. They’ve been been a very good team.

But they haven’t been good enough, and now they’ve got some big decisions to make.

Do they pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency? The Rangers’ power play was terrible in the playoffs. Just three goals in 12 games. They could use a true quarterback.

Do they buy out Dan Girardi or Marc Staal? That would at least provide some cap space, and those two have a lot of hard miles on their bodies.

Do they trade Rick Nash? He turns 33 next month and only has one year left on his contract. He takes up a lot of cap space with his $7.8 million hit, and he’s not the goal-scorer he used to be.

Though some significant changes could occur this summer, do not expect GM Jeff Gorton to tear this roster down. Not while Henrik Lundqvist is still there. Not with Ryan McDonagh still in his prime. And not with all those good young forwards, including Mika Zibanejad, who just turned 24.

Heck, Derek Stepan may have had a rough postseason, but he only turns 27 in June.

To retool on the fly, Gorton could always pursue another trade like the one he pulled off last summer, when he sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Zibanejad. The Senators, desperate to make the playoffs, felt Brassard was the better player at the time, so they gave up the younger Zibanejad.

Perhaps Gorton could pull off something similar with Nash. Or if not Nash, Mats Zuccarello, who turns 30 in September and only has two more years before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Or maybe even Stepan could be moved.

At this point, nothing should be off the table. The Rangers have had a good run, and they nearly made it to another conference final this year. But they need to make some changes.

The only question is which changes they choose.