James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Victor Hedman suffered a nasty cut near eye (and it could have been worse)

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It’s weird to say that Victor Hedman was “lucky” to bleed profusely and need four stitches for a wound on Friday, but … yes, Hedman was probably lucky.

Sweden dominated Italy 8-1 today at the World Hockey Championship, as you’d likely expect. The hockey world gasped more at Hedman’s wound – caused thanks to a check that broke his visor but somehow spared his eye – rather than the lopsided score.

Inside Tre Kronor has some great photos from the scene, where Hedman looks like he’s getting stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster or something. Here’s the moment when he was initially cut:

And here’s a couple gruesome shots of him getting stitched together.

Once the ewwws and gasps subside, the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman and his team likely breathed a sigh of relief. It could have been more than just a scare and a stinging wound.

What reportedly caused Sabres’ Kyle Okposo to be hospitalized

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About a month ago, word surfaced that Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo had been released from hospitalization. Now there are reports detailing what might have been ailing him.

Teammate William Carrier revealed that Okposo’s initial issue was a concussion, according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News by way of RDS.

Vogl also cites Sabres Prospects’ Kris Baker, who reports that Okposo was hospitalized because of an adverse reaction to medication he was taking to treat that concussion.

These aren’t official details from the Sabres, who haven’t provided a lot of information regarding Okposo’s condition.

If this is all true, it seems like mostly good news. A concussion is never something to take lightly – some can threaten a career – but Okposo was placed in intensive care, so there were even greater concerns regarding the 29-year-old’s health.

There’s no indication yet regarding when he might return to NHL competition. On the bright side, he has plenty of time to heal up during the summer, though considering the situation overall, he also might need to miss some time in 2017-18.

Ducks discuss low rest, getting revenge against Predators

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Among the numerous hurdles and obstacles that have blocked the Anaheim Ducks’ path to a Stanley Cup title this decade, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne might be the biggest – and not just because he’s 6-foot-5.

After beating Anaheim in two previous playoff series, the fantastic Finn and his Predators are looming again in front of the Ducks in the Western Conference finals. Game 1 is Friday night in Anaheim.

The Ducks and the Predators were the class of the first two rounds, taking just five combined losses and earning a rematch of last season’s first-round series for considerably higher stakes.

Rinne and the wild-card Predators won that series in seven games, prompting coach Randy Carlyle’s return to Anaheim and a renewed focus on playoff mental strength. The Ducks are in the conference finals for the second time in three years after winning five straight Pacific Division titles, but they still haven’t made a Stanley Cup Final since 2007.

In the rematch, the Ducks hope to show the Predators what they learned last spring.

“Obviously it’s a new year, new teams, (but) for some of us, it means a little bit more,” Anaheim center Ryan Kesler said. “But we’re all playing for the same thing, and right now it’s about getting four wins before they do. It’s going to be a tough road, but we’re up to it.”

Rinne and the Predators also beat the Ducks in 2011 for the first playoff series victory in franchise history. Heading into the franchise’s first conference finals appearance , Nashville is putting little reliance on its previous successes against the Ducks.

“Whoever wins the series gets to play for the Cup,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “So that’s probably the only motivation you need.”

Here are some more things to watch when the clubs meet for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final:

DUELING D

The Predators have advanced largely on the strength of their stellar corps of defensemen in front of Rinne. Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm form one of the NHL’s best top-four groups, even contributing a combined 27 points in these playoffs – just one point fewer than the Predators’ four highest-scoring forwards.

The Ducks have excelled with youth on the blue line. With veterans Kevin Bieksa and Clayton Stoner sidelined for the final six games against Edmonton, Anaheim used a six-man group with nobody over 26 and averaging just 23.6 years old – the youngest group among the NHL’s 16 playoff teams.

QUICK TURNAROUND

Thanks to their seven-game series in the second round, the Ducks will be back on the Honda Center ice two days after finishing off Edmonton in Game 7 . At least the Ducks didn’t have to travel, but the Predators have been off since their clincher over St. Louis last Sunday. Carlyle would have preferred an extra day off, but Honda Center is booked for the Stars on Ice touring show on Saturday night.

“Having the clinching game last night and then being – I don’t know if it’s called forced – to play the next game in less than 48 hours is kind of a surprise,” Carlyle said. “From a scheduling standpoint, that we’re playing on Friday night and we just finished on Wednesday, you don’t get a lot of time.”

SURVIVING RINNE

Rinne is huge, but his mobility and puck-handling skills make him even more daunting. Carlyle has warned his players to think of Rinne as a third defenseman on the ice capable of starting a rush with a breakout pass. The Predators also know what they’ve got in Rinne, who leads the postseason with a .951 save percentage and a 1.37 goals-against average while allowing only 14 goals in 10 games.

“He gives us that confidence,” Josi said. “I think every game, he’s been our best player. He’s so confident back there. He’s confident in making saves, he’s confident in passing the puck, and he’s been unbelievable for us.”

GIBBY IN GOAL

While Rinne appears to be at the peak of his skills again, his counterpart in Anaheim’s net has work to do. With one of the playoffs’ worst save percentages and goals-against averages, John Gibson hadn’t really distinguished himself this spring until Game 7 against Edmonton, when he was outstanding in a 2-1 win He’ll likely have to maintain that level to keep the Ducks competitive against Nashville’s aggressive offense.

CHECKING LINE

Kesler and linemates Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano did a standout defensive job against Connor McDavid in the second round. The Selke Trophy finalist’s next shutdown assignment is likely to be Ryan Johansen , Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators’ dynamic top line.

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Vigneault is at least saying the right things about Rangers defense

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Different Rangers fans want different things. Some want to keep Alain Vigneault, while plenty of (very vocal) others are calling for his ouster. Plenty of people – biased or neutral – agree that their defense needs a lot of work.

For a considerable subset of Rangers fans, one of the greatest frustrations comes from seeing big minutes go to aging, declining defensemen, especially polarizing blueliners Marc Staal and especially Dan Girardi.

Well, Vigneault seemed to sing to that choir quite a bit as the Rangers assessed their 2016-17 season, to the point where you almost expect him to share an anti-Tanner Glass stance.

Take, for instance, a Trotzian no-comment on Girardi and Staal:

(That sound you heard might have been analytics-minded Rangers fans salivating.)

Then again, the coaching version of “actions speak louder than words” typically boils down to how they deploy players. So, if Vigneault isn’t sold on Staal and Girardi and wants to add youth to the blueline (as he said), then why are they averaging a minute-and-half more than Brady Skjei?

Well, Vigneault indicates that he might feature Skjei more often in 2017-18.

The Rangers face some big questions in the off-season. There’s also the perceived likelihood that Kevin Shattenkirk might be added to the mix, not to mention the fact that they’ve already signed Neal Pionk and Alexei Bereglazov.

It remains to be seen if all of these positive vibes carry over into next season. We’re readying for a summer where players and front office members will fill the time with optimism, with some of that inevitably looking silly in hindsight.

Still, if you have to choose, wouldn’t a fan want the Rangers to at least try to go in the right direction?

Praise for Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Penguins looked like they needed a day off. Maybe more than one.

And yet there the defending Stanley Cup champions were on Tuesday morning, dressed and skating barely 12 hours removed from a listless Game 6 loss to Washington that put Pittsburgh’s bid for a repeat in serious peril.

The Penguins weren’t there to get loose. They weren’t there as punishment. Mike Sullivan had a point to make. Several actually. And the coach owner Mario Lemieux hired nearly 18 months ago to be the voice that cut through the noise figured it was time to remind his players of a few things.

Namely, to stop being passive bystanders while the Capitals attacked and attacked some more. So for more than half an hour Sullivan zipped around the ice at the rink named after his boss, whistle at the ready. Intermittently he’d head to the whiteboard hanging against the glass then call his players over to join him so he could loudly – and repeatedly – make a point, his thick Boston accent ping-ponging off the walls and over the din.

“There’s times where you need rest, there’s time where you’ve got to work on some things and try and get better,” forward Bryan Rust said. “And that was our goal (Tuesday) and we accomplished it.”

The proof came in Game 7 on Wednesday night, a clinical 2-0 victory over the Capitals that sent Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa. While Sullivan deflected any praise in the aftermath – preferring instead to pepper his answers with words like “leadership” and “character” and noting the spectacular play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury – the Penguins understand their ability to summon their best when they absolutely need it is due in no small part to the guy with the immaculate suits, blunt demeanor and knack for saying the right thing at the right time.

“Xs and Os, he’s one of the very best coaches I’ve played for,” said 40-year-old forward Matt Cullen, who has bounced between seven teams during his 19-year career. “(As for) motivation, he does a heck of a job. He’s got a real feel for the pulse of our group.”

One that was visible at his first practice after taking over for Mike Johnston in December 2015. The Penguins and their star-powered lineup led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were treading water. Sullivan wanted them to play faster. He wanted them to play smarter. He wanted them to be more accountable to each other. While general manager Jim Rutherford went about getting Sullivan the pieces he needed to – as Sullivan is so fond of saying – “play the right way,” the coach turned the focus from the big picture to a smaller one.

Just worry about today. Not about winning the Cup that won’t be determined in six months. Not about their place in the standings. Not about the outside pressures that come when you happen to have two of the best players in the league on your roster. Just today.

It’s a message he hasn’t wavered from. Not after Pittsburgh brilliantly sprinted to the franchise’s fourth Cup last June. Not during what could have been a difficult regular season as injuries devastated the blue line. Not after a 3-1 series lead against Washington fell apart amid a smattering of boos inside PPG Paints Arena.

Sullivan didn’t panic. It’s not his thing. While Washington took Tuesday off after its win, Sullivan put his players back to work.

“His ability to stay calm and refocus us is something I think our team feeds off of,” defenseman Ian Cole said.

There were noticeable adjustments before Game 7. Carter Rowney and Scott Wilson in the lineup in place of Carl Hagelin and Tom Kuhnhackl. It was more than that, however. After spending the better part of six games letting Washington dictate the terms, Sullivan challenged the Penguins to get back to what made them nearly unstoppable last summer. Put the puck in deep. Forecheck. Take educated gambles.

“It wasn’t one big thing,” Cole said. “It’s little things all over the ice. It’s chipping bodies. It’s being physical and being tough to play against. Taking away their ice.”

Pittsburgh did more than that. The Penguins sapped Washington’s will. Rust’s goal near the midway point gave the Penguins the lead. Hornqvist’s backhand flip by Braden Holtby following a sloppy play by Capitals star Alex Ovechkin pushed the advantage to two. And Pittsburgh kept on coming, outshooting the Capitals over the final 20 minutes, playing with desperation and precision while Washington watched the clock tick away one last time.

“It’s about compete level, a mindset,” Sullivan said. “It’s about heart and soul.”

And the steady hand behind the bench, too.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey