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Report: Sabres waiting to interview Housley for head coaching gig

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Phil Housley still has work left to do with the Nashville Predators.

Win on Sunday, and the Predators extend the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Game 7 on Wednesday, which will apparently extend the wait of the Buffalo Sabres to interview Housley for their head coaching vacancy.

Housley is currently an assistant coach with the Predators, but has garnered plenty of attention for a potential bench boss gig, given his work with Nashville’s vaunted defense.

The latter two names in that report are interesting, as well.

Tocchet’s coaching career has mostly been as an assistant, a title he currently holds in Pittsburgh. But he does have 148 games of NHL head coaching experience with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, Jacques Martin’s head coaching experience in the NHL dates all the way back to 1986, and includes a pair of Eastern Conference Final appearances with Ottawa and then Montreal.

Both Tocchet and Martin also have a connection and familiarity with recently hired Sabres general manager Jason Botterill, who came to Buffalo after 10 years in the Penguins front office, including time as an associate GM.

Tocchet has made it known he would like another shot at an NHL head coaching job.

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Report: Panthers closing in on Boughner as next head coach

Report: Sabres interviewed Boughner for head coaching gig

Report: Flames, Jets contact Rangers about Raanta

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Goaltending is an issue both the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets need to address this offseason.

The New York Rangers have one goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, signed to a long-term deal with a no-movement clause, which protects him from the Las Vegas expansion draft, and another, Antti Raanta, who had a very strong regular season in an expanded No. 2 role and has one year left on a very affordable two-year, $2 million contract.

So, it should come as no surprise that these three clubs, as well as Raanta, are the subject of the latest trade speculation.

From the New York Post:

The Flames and the Jets are believed to be among the clubs who have contacted the Rangers regarding a pre-expansion draft trade for Raanta, but management has not yet committed to dealing him or has not yet received an offer pushing them to that conclusion.

The Flames made moves to address their goaltending situation last summer, bringing in Brian Elliott in a trade and signing Chad Johnson as an unrestricted free agent. But Elliott struggled early and then struggled again in the playoffs, with an .880 save percentage as the Flames were swept in the opening round. Both Elliott and Johnson are pending unrestricted free agents.

Since then, it’s been suggested the Flames could go after Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the offseason. Fleury’s mind is a little preoccupied right now, as Pittsburgh looks to capture the Stanley Cup tonight in Game 6 versus Nashville.

The Jets have been able to stockpile a crop of talented young forwards through the draft, but goaltending has been pointed at as a weakness of this club. They do have a promising prospect, Eric Comrie, in the minors. But he’s still 21 years old and may need more time developing his game in the AHL before he’s ready to step into the NHL full-time. Meanwhile, Ondrej Pavelec is a pending unrestricted free agent, Connor Hellebuyck is a pending restricted free agent and Michael Hutchinson has one year left on his current deal before he’s a pending UFA.

It’s been reported that the Jets plan to protect Hellebuyck in the upcoming expansion draft.

Raanta has never played more than 30 games in a single season since breaking into the NHL with Chicago in 2013. But he does have a career save percentage of .917 over 94 career games, and a .922 save percentage last season with the Rangers. He also posted four shutouts, as coach Alain Vigneault decided to ride the hot hand with Lundqvist struggling at one point in the season.

Crosby driving Penguins ‘in every facet that he can’ during Stanley Cup Final

Sidney Crosby turns 30 years old in August.

He has the chance Sunday to win the third Stanley Cup of his career — in his fourth final, which included a loss to Detroit in 2008 — and second in as many years. He may also repeat as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, which would further add to his illustrious time in the NHL since entering the league as a teenage phenom is 2005.

Sitting second in Stanley Cup playoff scoring this spring behind teammate Evgeni Malkin, Crosby turned in one of those classic, dominant performances in Game 5 against the Predators. It started on his first shift, splitting the Nashville defense and ringing the puck off the post. He drew a penalty on the play, and then set up Justin Schultz on the ensuing power play to start what turned into a rout for the Penguins.

“He’s one of those unique players. He has that sense when it’s time to raise his level, and he’s one of the very few that can raise his level that high,” Penguins forward Matt Cullen told Postmedia. “Seeing the way he started the game, took the team on his shoulders and he said, follow me. It’s fun to see, fun to be a part of.”

Read more: Crosby, Penguins rack up some historic playoff numbers

His performance had its controversial moments, too. He had a well-documented dust-up with P.K. Subban. He threw a water bottle onto the ice, though he contended afterward that he didn’t try to throw the bottle.

But in the end, what the Penguins will care about the most is he had three assists in a lopsided win, giving him seven points in this series. That leads all players in the Stanley Cup Final, which began with Predators goalie Pekka Rinne as the favorite for the Conn Smythe and Crosby second on that list.

The latter has taken his play to another level in the past two games, ever since being held without a shot on goal in Game 3. Keep in mind that Crosby has played 208 games — NHL regular season, Stanley Cup playoffs, and World Cup combined — since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign. (And remember, he was the best player at the World Cup only a few months removed from last year’s playoffs.)

That is a lot of hockey. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Crosby.

“I think being with him that he’s always had the motivation to be — maybe the best working hockey player out there,” said Chris Kunitz on Saturday. “Somebody who’s going out there to drive your team in any way, in every facet that he can.”

Penguins on the cusp of another Stanley Cup — despite missing Kris Letang for the postseason

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The journey back to the Stanley Cup Final hasn’t been easy for the Penguins.

Injuries plague every team during the two-month tournament. But for the Penguins to make it back to this point is truly a wonder considering they’ve been without their No. 1 defenseman for the entire postseason.

Kris Letang hasn’t played a game since Feb. 21 versus Carolina. Neck surgery in April put him out for four to six months, and although there were rumblings of a very, very small chance he may return in the final, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan quickly quashed those.

Letang scored three goals and 15 points in last year’s playoffs, but also led the team by averaging close to 29 minutes of ice time per game. He was the power play quarterback. He played on the penalty kill. No one else on last year’s team even came close his ice time mark, with Trevor Daley second in that category at more than six minutes fewer than Letang.

That is a huge loss for the 2016-17 Penguins.

Missing a top defenseman for the entire playoffs would be a huge loss for any team. It ultimately might even mark the beginning of the end of a team’s chances.

Pittsburgh’s cast of forwards is, of course, impressive. They’re led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, but they’ve also seen a breakout performance from rookie Jake Guentzel. Having great goaltending — a distinction shared by Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray throughout these playoffs — has been a key factor, as well.

Yet, the Penguins have made it by Columbus in the opening round, before outlasting both the Capitals and Senators in grueling seven-game series with Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey — he’s playing in his first postseason at the age of 36 — now leading the way in ice time at 21:49 and 21:06, respectively, and a group that includes Daley, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel.

Those are the defensemen Sullivan has called upon throughout these playoffs. It hasn’t been an easy go. The Predators forecheck had given Pittsburgh’s defense plenty of problems moving the puck out of their own end. But they also managed their best game of this series — and, it can be argued, of the entire playoffs — in the blowout Game 5 victory that put the Penguins on the brink of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

A great deal of attention has been placed on the production Nashville has received from its vaunted blue line in these playoffs, and for good reason. On Thursday, it was the Penguins ‘D’ that contributed in a big way.

It started with a power play goal from Justin Schultz and ended with Hainsey finishing off a great rush up the ice on a pass from Malkin. In the end, the Penguins received five points total from their defensemen in the win.

“I’ve said on a number of occasions throughout the course of this playoffs that our defense group is, in a lot of ways, the unsung heroes of this team,” said Sullivan on Friday.

“I think they fly under the radar, for obvious reasons. You know, we have a lot of dynamic forwards that make a lot of great plays through the course of games, that a lot of times on a lot of nights become the story line. But this team doesn’t have success if that group of defensemen doesn’t play the way that they’ve played throughout the course of this playoffs.”

Now, they’re on the cusp of winning another title. No team in the salary cap era has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. To repeat as champion without a true No. 1 defenseman would be an even greater feat for the Penguins.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Sunday, June 11

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The Stanley Cup will be in Nashville tonight, as the Penguins and Predators play in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

The Penguins lead the series 3-2 and can win it all tonight, becoming the first repeat Stanley Cup champions of the salary cap era and the first to win back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Meanwhile, following a blowout loss on Thursday, the Predators will look to force a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The home team has so far dominated this series, going 5-0. For the Penguins, this would be the absolute ideal time to buck that trend, which won’t be easy considering the Predators are 9-1 on home ice in these playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Related:

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Mike Fisher admits the obvious: Predators, Penguins don’t really like each other

Penguins defense finally played fast in Game 5

To stay alive, Preds must reestablish their forecheck

Health of Predators’ Ellis still in question