Jason Brough

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos asjusts his helmet strap during NHL hockey practice in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Stamkos, who broke his leg in November, hopes that he will be able to play with the Lightning and then participate in the Sochi winter Olympic games next month for Canada. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)
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The Lightning are ‘playing like a fragile team that’s scared to lose,’ says Stamkos

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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s up-and-down season has entered another dip.

The Bolts dropped their second straight last night in Dallas, blowing a 3-2 lead and falling 4-3 to the Stars. They’re now 1-4-1 since winning nine in a row.

“We’re playing like a fragile team that’s scared to lose and not hungry to close out a game,” said captain Steven Stamkos, per the Tampa Bay Times. “We can’t let that fear of losing creep in at this time of year.”

Added coach Jon Cooper, “Got to start winning or we won’t play much longer.”

The Lightning were outshot 33-20 by the Stars. If it were just one game, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Dallas is a pretty good team, and Tampa Bay was on the road.

But in the past six games, the Bolts have also been outplayed and beaten by the Maple Leafs, and they were outplayed and beaten twice by the Flyers. Their only win came over the Blue Jackets.

As it stands right now, the Lightning’s most likely first-round opponent is Boston. If that happens, it would be a rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final that the Bruins won in seven.

The Lightning’s next game is Saturday night in Arizona

Related: Yzerman calls Drouin’s return to Bolts ‘very realistic’

Badgers fire coach Eaves after 14 seasons

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves talks with his team during practice Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Cincinnati. North Dakota plays Wisconsin on Friday night in an NCAA regional hockey game. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
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Not pro hockey news, but big hockey news nonetheless — the University of Wisconsin Badgers have fired head coach Mike Eaves after 14 seasons, which included a national title in 2006.

From uwbadgers.com:

Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez made the decision after the six-time national champion Badgers labored through consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1995-97 and saw fan support at the Kohl Center dwindle.

“I told Mike I appreciated the work he’s done here,” Alvarez said. “I also told him that we have great tradition and standards here in hockey. He’s the gate-keeper of hockey. I’m the gate-keeper of the department. We both have a responsibility.

“After last season, because of the success we’ve had in the past, we felt that Mike had earned a chance to get the ship righted. But now, after back-to-back seasons like the last two we’ve had, I feel we need a change.”

The Badgers went 8-19-8 this season, after finishing 4-26-5 last season.

The 2006 championship team was led by future NHLers Joe Pavelski, Adam Burish, Tom Gilbert, and Brian Elliott.

Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Derek Stepan, Brendan Smith, Craig Smith, Rene Bourque, Jake Gardiner, Justin Schultz and Kyle Turris also played under Eaves at Wisconsin.

Caps hoping for more starts like Tuesday’s against Carolina

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WASHINGTON (AP) As the Washington Capitals clanked shots off the post against Carolina, forward Jay Beagle said players didn’t let frustration seep in.

Slow starts have dogged the Capitals, but this wasn’t one of them.

“I think it was a great start,” captain Alex Ovechkin said of Tuesday night’s win. “So far it was the best in maybe 10 or 15 games. Just hit crossbar, post, lots of good chances. That’s how we have to play.”

That game against the Hurricanes, which clinched a playoff berth for Washington, represented a divergence from the lingering trend. The Capitals had allowed the first goal in the previous five games and in 13 out of the last 15.

The Capitals are 10-5-1 in their past 16 games, but in the first period, they have led only 2:16, been tied 106:41 and trailed for 210:53.

“I’m kind of sick of talking about it, but it’s a stat, it’s there and it’s ugly,” forward Justin Williams said. “I think sometimes if you just keep talking about it, talking about it and talking about, then it becomes a problem. They you can get it in your head and all sorts of other things.”

It has been in players’ heads because it’s not an isolated issue. Opponents have outscored the Capitals 17-4 over this 16-game span, and yet the top team in the NHL has shown an uncanny ability to roar back in the third period.

Yet with just over three weeks left in the regular season, it’s not about victories or points for the Capitals as much as preparing for the playoffs, a process that continues Friday when they host the Nashville Predators. That’s why the start against Carolina was so encouraging.

“We showed what we can do to start the game and set up our game,” goaltender Braden Holtby said of the 2-1 win. “You look at it as we only scored two goals with the overtime goal, but we could’ve had quite a few more – just the posts and the tough shots we threw on net in traffic. Just didn’t go our way, but we stuck with it and that shows that we played a committed game.”

Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll take that start on most nights. Holtby cited the energy with which the Capitals played as a reason it’s a foundation to build from.

Falling behind in the playoffs, where games are tighter and goals are harder to come by, especially on the power play, isn’t a recipe for success for a team trying to win its first Stanley Cup. If the Capitals can replicate their start against Carolina in April and May, it could pay big dividends.

We “didn’t wait for them to kind of see how the game was going to play out,” Beagle said. “We went after them and tried to dictate the pace and game in our barn, and that’s the way we got to play.”

 

Baertschi’s been a bright spot for Vancouver

Vancouver Canucks left wing Sven Baertschi (47) gets ahead of Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) on his way to scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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In Vancouver, it’s all about finding the bright spots now.

That’s because the Canucks are on pace to finish with their worst record since 1998-99. Barring a miracle, they’ll miss the playoffs for the second time in three years.

But while GM Jim Benning has faced criticism for many of his moves — or, in the case of the most recent trade deadline, his complete lack of moves — it’s hard to say he screwed up by surrendering a second-round draft pick to get Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames.

Since joining the Canucks organization a year ago, the 23-year-old winger has slowly but surely become one of the team’s most reliable forwards.

“He’s not really the same player. He competes way harder now,” coach Willie Desjardins said last night.

“I always believed in him because I thought he liked the game and he had passion for the game. I think that’s really important. But now his passion’s even more. He wants the puck, he wants to make things happen, and he’s trying to make things happen every shift.”

Baertschi only has 14 goals in 61 games, so he still has a ways to go. But most of his goals have come in the second half of the season, as his ice time has gone up and he’s become a fixture on the power play. And, hey, on the offensively challenged Canucks, 14 goals is actually the third most on the team. 

“There was a time when we were wondering if he was a fit for this team,” Desjardins said. “I think there’s some people who believed in him in the organization. It was a good thing they did.”

Related: Burke rips Baertschi

Crosby: I’ve ‘never been approached’ about taking PEDs

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates during the first day of NHL hockey training camp, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has long maintained that performance-enhancing drugs are not a problem for the league, going so far as to say that the “alleged benefits of steroid use — significant large muscle development — are not consistent with playing hockey at the highest level of the sport.”

Bettman’s claims have been disputed, and many have called for a tougher testing program.

But unlike baseball, hockey doesn’t have raging debates about whether certain players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame because they took steroids when everyone was taking steroids.

And no NHLer, to our knowledge, has ever been accused of needing a way bigger helmet compared to when he was a rookie.

According to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, he’s never even been approached about taking PEDs.

“You hear stories about the odd guy who tests positive,” Crosby told ESPN.com. “Seriously, I have never been approached. Not once [have I been] in a situation where somebody’s asked me if I wanted to use a certain substance or anything like that.”

He added that the biggest issue for NHLers is supplements.

“There are so many supplements out there, so many different countries,” he said. “What’s approved, what’s not. What’s accepted at the Olympics is different than [NHL guidelines], so you really have to stay on that.”

Ignorance was what Jarred Tinordi claimed for his recent 20-game suspension for PEDs.

“I did not knowingly take a banned substance,” the Coyotes defenseman said. “I understand, however, that I am responsible for what enters my body as a professional athlete and I accept the suspension.”

Shawn Horcoff, Carter Ashton, Zenon Konopka and Sean Hill made similar claims when they were suspended. Some believed them; some didn’t.

Regardless, the NHL will be happy to hear what Crosby said.

“There is no issue to battle,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly insisted to Postmedia earlier this year. “We’ve never had an issue with performance-enhancing drugs. And we continue not to have an issue with performance-enhancing drugs.

“Am I satisfied with our program? I don’t think any program is perfect. I think there were weak pursuits in our first program that were meaningfully addressed in the most recent collective bargaining agreement negotiation where the program is better than it was when we first implemented it. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Doesn’t mean it can’t get better. But it’s a very adequate program.”