James O'Brien

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Chicago’s Sharp on Game 7 confidence (and Mario Kart)

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Relatively speaking, big elimination games probably feel like something close to “old hat” for the Chicago Blackhawks. Perhaps that’s why Patrick Sharp seems pretty confident heading into Game 7 against the (once?) “Nervous Nelly” Anaheim Ducks.

Of course, it helps when you’re on a team that seems comfortable in just about every situation you can see in the postseason.

“I think we’re good. We’re healthy,” Sharp said. “We have a defense core that wants to be on the ice, that they’re fighting to jump over the boards, want to play the heavy minutes. ”

“Up front I think we’re feeling pretty good. Whether it’s a physical game or a wide-open game, we like that style of play. We’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.”

It’s funny that Sharp uses the phrasing “whatever they throw at us,” as he also revealed the key to Blackhawks tranquility: Mario Kart. That quote almost seems to imply that the Blachawks are ready for the blue shell.

(You know, the blue shell is almost like a metaphor for the wild bounces in the playoffs, isn’t it? No? OK, fair enough …)

Sharp also might have ruffled a feather or two by revealing the team-wide Mario Kart standings:

“I got the standings in my back pocket,” Sharp said to laughter from the media. “[Niklas Hjalmarsson] is number one, [Andrew Shaw] is two, and this is going to cause some problems, but I’m number three.”

That’s video game bulletin board material, right?

Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Blackhawks seem confident about Saturday’s contest, and not just because they have an extra day off to heal up Nintendo thumb.

Bolts shrug off talk of Madison Square Garden ‘mystique’

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Five
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It’s not just about playing a huge game at “the world’s most famous arena.”

Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers have put up gaudy stats in elimination games and Game 7 situations at Madison Square Garden, as you’ve likely seen or heard. Most obviously, they’re 7-0 in Game 7’s at MSG.

On paper, it seems like an intimidating challenge: beat the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners (employing hockey’s biggest goaltending star) in New York City for a chance to advance to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. It’s the sort of scenario that practically breeds “Nervous Nellies.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t taking the bait, though. At least not publicly.

Former Ranger Brian Boyle had some amusing comments about giving in to the MSG “mystique.”

“Do you think I buy it? What am I doing here if I buy it? Why would I fly up from Florida if I bought it?,” Boyle said. “They’ve obviously had success in Game 7. It’s a new year. Obviously, we’re expecting their best and they’ve been good. It’s a fun place to play.”

“They’re going to have the crowd support. We’re going to try to take it away from them as quick as we can, and hopefully it’s going to be a really fun, memorable game.”

Victor Hedman’s mindset is simple enough: he said “we’re prepared for this.”

Alex Killorn provided the sort of clever take you’d kind of expect from an Ivy League grad.

All veteran-type responses, even if most of the Lightning’s roster has never been in this spot before. Steven Stamkos was in a Game 7, and it stung for reasons that went beyond the puck he took to the face.

(Remember that?)

“Yeah, well, I remember not winning that one, so that’s tough. Don’t really remember taking the puck to the face as much as you remember losing,” Stamkos said. “That was a tough one. That was my first experience in the playoffs, and it was a great run. We’re right back in the same position right now, so I’m excited about the opportunity of having a little different result this time around. ”

source: AP
Via AP

Jon Cooper made a good point: yes, the Rangers are dominant in these situations, but none of those Game 7 wins came against the Lightning.

“We haven’t been a part of that history, so it doesn’t affect us,” Cooper said, via the Canadian Press. “I guess you look back and it’s an impressive feat to see what they’ve done. But they haven’t done it against our group and our team, and we’ve got a pretty young, confident group.”

Winning and not taking a puck to the mush would be quite the improvement for Stamkos & Co. (Hey, you need to set goals, right?)

Devils’ Shero: No decision yet regarding Clowe’s future

Ryane Clowe
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The New Jersey Devils have a new GM* in Ray Shero, but it doesn’t sound like Ryane Clowe’s murky future is any clearer.

Shero essentially said that it’s a status quo situation for Clowe, which basically means that he’s unsure if the power forward will be forced (or will flat-out choose) to retire. He told the Newark Star-Ledger that it’s not so much a good or a bad thing to say this, then.

“I don’t have that answer for you at this point,” Shero said. “That’s not negative or positive. I don’t know what the immediate future holds for Ryane. Certainly Lou has the background and file and knows everything about Ryane and where he is, so we’ll see where it goes. No decision as of today.”

Earlier this offseason, Clowe said the decision is “not in my hands right now,” but Shero said he believes the choice will come down to “a combination of the player, the organization and doctors.”

The elephant in the room might be style, though.

Even a “finesse” player must cope with the risks involved with playing despite a history of concussions, but Clowe is the hard-nosed type who may struggle to make a difference if he can’t really go all-out.

By Yahoo’s count, he delivered 621 hits from 2009-10 to 2014-15 (more than one per game). Even if you ignore hits absorbed, that’s a lot of collisions. He drops the gloves with frequency, as well, with peak years of 12 fights in 2010-11 and 11 in 2009-10, as well as five in each of 2012-13 and 2013-14.

That amounts to a ton of physical play, and that’s style is obviously Clowe’s calling card. He’d obviously have to play that gritty game to even be worthy of dressing in the Devils’ lineup.

Does this mean that the 32-year-old should quit right now? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t seem overly promising.

Clowe has three seasons remaining on his contract which brings an annual cap hit and salary of $4.85 million.

* – That’s still kind of weird, right?

Schmaltz to Schwartz? Blues sign 2012 first-rounder

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits
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Copy-editors and announcers beware: the St. Louis Blues signed 2012 first-round pick Jordan Schmaltz to a three-year, entry-level contract on Thursday.

If the potential for humor didn’t sink in already, considering the fact that the Blues have a high-profile forward named Jaden Schwartz.

/Brain explodes

On the bright side for the potentially confused, Schmaltz is a defenseman, so at least that cuts down on slip ups.

It’s unclear how close the 21-year-old might be to making a jump to the big time. He spend the last three seasons with the University of North Dakota, generating similar numbers in 2013-14 (24 points in 41 games) and 2014-15 (28 in 42 contests).

Question: could they pull a prank on people if they switched jerseys at some point? You be the judge:

Chicago Blackhawks v St Louis Blues
Schwartz via Getty
2011 NHL Research And Development Camp
Schmaltz via Getty

Hmm, that could get tricky.

All of that aside, the Blues probably wouldn’t mind if that ended up being a source of confusion for the rest of us, especially if they’re assisting on each others’ goals.

Ward’s agent makes it (very) clear that Washington is his first choice

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals - Game Six
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In a strange way, hearing a player’s agent say that his client would prefer returning to a team (rather than testing the free agent waters) is almost a bigger deal than the player saying so himself.

After all, there might be some temptation for said player to “say the right thing,” especially right after the emotional tug-of-war of a playoff series. So, yes, Joel Ward said that he’d like to return to the Washington Capitals a couple weeks ago, yet it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser that his agent Peter Cooney confirmed it so forcefully to the Washington Post on Tuesday.

“Washington is his first choice over going to unrestricted free agency,” Cooney said. “We would like to re-sign with Washington and come back. Our door is open for the Capitals, absolutely first and foremost.”

Cooney also said that “we’re not committed to going to unrestricted free agency,” another clear sign that they’d love to hear some offers from Washington between today and July 1.

Of course, after the sort of postseason the 34-year-old enjoyed, a plausible stream of offers could return any leverage lost – perceived or otherwise – from these comments. In some ways, this could put a little pressure on Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, too.

It’s not the simplest situation due to Ward’s age and the Capitals’ branching free agent paths, as the Post considers:

Coming off a starring postseason role in which he tied for the team lead with nine points, facing the end of a four-year deal annually worth $3 million, Ward figures to receive a raise, regardless of his destination. At 34 years old, this could be Ward’s last deal structured longer than two years, and MacLellan already predicted that term length would “be an issue,” provided Ward for asks for a three- or four-year contract, which seems all but certain.

(The article delves into more detail and is worth a read.)

On one hand, the Capitals head into the summer with a lot of cap space – somewhere around $20 million – yet they also have some key players needing new deals. Even beyond UFAs, Braden Holtby is likely to get a beefy raise, even with his restricted status. That pile of cash starts evaporate when you consider the questions MacLellan must eventually answer.

That’s the thing, though: Ward and his agent have made it perfectly clear that the ball is Washington’s court/puck is in their rink.

Related: Ward says he would love to stay in Washington.