Jason Brough

What if the Blues lose tonight?


Three years ago, they had a 2-0 lead over the Kings, then lost four straight and were eliminated.

Two years ago, they had a 2-0 lead over the Blackhawks, then lost four straight and were eliminated.

One year ago, they never had a 2-0 lead, but they did get eliminated by Minnesota, a good team, but not great.

Now consider what the St. Louis Blues are facing tonight at Scottrade Center. Not only the specter of a fourth consecutive first-round exit, but also another blown series lead.

This time, the Blues had the Blackhawks down 3-1, plus they had Game 5 at home. Then, after losing Game 5 in overtime, they had a two-goal lead in Game 6. They lost that, too.

Lose tonight and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be significant consequences for this franchise.

Certainly, the consequences will be more significant than last year, when GM Doug Armstrong decided to “live to fight another day” and come back with essentially the same core, minus T.J. Oshie and Barret Jackman.

Most notably, Armstrong retained head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“This is unfinished business for me,” Hitchcock said. “This is a really good team trying to become a great team. I think I have the tools and the expertise to help them along the way.”

Lose tonight and the Blues will have a new bench boss in 2016-17. That’s pretty much for sure.

“Hitch, this is it, man,” wrote the Post-Dispatch’s Benjamin Hochman. “For Kenneth Sanford Hitchcock, his legacy in St. Louis comes down to Monday night. … Lose Game 7 and you’re the coach who infamously had four consecutive first-round-series losses. Lose Game 7 and you’re the ex-coach.”

Lose Game 7 and there will be some ex-players, too.

David Backes is a 31-year-old pending unrestricted free agent; he could be allowed to walk this summer, regardless of what happens tonight.

Kevin Shattenkirk has one year left on his deal; a loss tonight will only intensify the speculation that he’ll be traded.

What of 31-year-old Brian Elliott? He’s only got a year left on his contract before he can go UFA. He was brilliant in Games 1-4, but less so in 5 and 6. What if it goes badly tonight? The Blues don’t exactly have a long, happy history of playoff goaltending.

Now, granted, there is another way all this could go.

The Blues could actually win.

They could exorcise the demons and catapult themselves into the second round, with the knowledge they just knocked off the defending champs, in a Game 7 that everyone was watching for them to lose, with all that pressure on their shoulders.

So, that’s what’s at stake tonight.

Whatever happens, it’s sure going to be something.

Hats, but not rats: NHL commish on what fans can throw on ice

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 15: The ice crew collects hundreds of plastic rats after the Florida Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BankAtlantic Center on April 15, 2012  in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Devils 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) Attention, Florida Panthers fans: Throwing those toy rats on the ice during a game means drawing the ire of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Days after fans in Philadelphia threw light-up wristbands onto the ice during a Flyers playoff loss, Bettman said the league strongly discourages throwing anything onto the ice except for hats to celebrate a hat trick.

That includes playoff traditions of faux rats in Florida and real octopi in Detroit.

“Putting aside the hat trick, we don’t think it’s a good idea for fans to be throwing things on the ice for a whole host of reasons.” Bettman said Friday at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. “We don’t think it’s appropriate, other than the case of the hat trick, to throw things on the ice. Not only is it disruptive to the game, it’s potentially dangerous.”

Bettman was at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Monday when fans threw hundreds of wristbands on the ice during the third period of a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. The commissioner called it an unfortunate incident, especially considering the wristbands were part of a pregame tribute to late founder Ed Snider.

When Panthers fans threw rats onto the ice during a March 31 game against the New Jersey Devils, the team was given two minor penalties for delay of game, a rule the NHL put in to cut down on such events. Bettman said he spoke to the team’s executive chairman, Peter Luukko, immediately to express his concern about a tradition that dates to Florida’s Stanley Cup Final run in 1996.

Detroit’s octopus tradition goes back much further, but that doesn’t mean it’s league-approved.

“An occasional octopus, I’m not justifying it, is certainly different than 10,000 rats,” Bettman said. “They do a good job at Joe Louis (Arena) of getting the octopi off the ice as quickly as possible. And they don’t swing it around anymore because you can get octopus goop on the ice or on a player’s jersey.”

That won’t be a problem until at least next spring, as the Red Wings were eliminated Thursday night. The NHL told the Panthers that fans can throw toy rats on the ice only after a game.


Trocheck might play tonight (but don’t bet the farm on it)

at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

The Florida Panthers could — repeat: could — have forward Vincent Trocheck (foot) back in the lineup tonight at home versus the Islanders.

Trocheck will be a game-time decision, according to Florida coach Gerard Gallant.

“He’s a big part of our hockey team,” Gallant told the Sun-Sentinel. “He was playing great hockey before he got injured. He’ll be a big help to our lineup. He’s missed four weeks now, so it’ll be tough. We’re going to get him back soon, so whether it’s tonight or Sunday or Game 7, we’ll see.”

For what it’s worth, the Panthers’ beat writer for the Miami Herald, George Richards, does not believe Trocheck will play tonight.

Trocheck was Florida’s fifth-leading scorer during the regular season, finishing with 25 goals and 28 assists in 76 games. He was especially productive down the stretch, racking up 26 points in his last 27 games.

The Panthers and Islanders are tied 2-2 in their first-round series.

Video: Cam Neely is sick of the Boston media ‘stirring the pot’


Cam Neely is fed up with the way his team is covered by the local media.

The Bruins’ president said so yesterday on the “Felger and Massarotti” show on WBZ-FM in Boston.

And to drive home his point, he dropped an f-bomb.

“First of all, I hate missing playoff hockey, and obviously I bear some responsibility for that,” Neely told co-host Michael Felger.

“I understand that you guys all have a job to do, but the questions sometimes are aggravating because it’s more about stirring the pot than really finding out [expletive] information.”

At which point co-host Tony Massarotti reacted like so:


After a second consecutive playoff miss, Neely conceded that his job would “probably” be on the line in 2016-17. Earlier in the week, he outlined three specific areas where the Bruins’ roster needed to be improved this offseason.

At the same time, Neely wants to build a team that can have “success for a longer window,” meaning he has to balance the desire to fix things in the short term with what’s best for the long-term future of the organization.

And that’s not easy, especially in a market that’s become pretty used to winning titles.

“If things are going well, it’s a little bit more comfortable all the way around,” Neely said. “It’s our job to make sure things are going well, and the last couple of years they haven’t gone well.”

The Red Wings — good enough to make the playoffs, but ‘nothing more’

The Detroit Red Wings bench reacts after the team's 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game 5 in a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. The Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

They say that once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.

But let’s be real here — if the Detroit Red Wings had won the Stanley Cup this year, it would’ve been a massive surprise.

It’s been like that for a few years now in Detroit. The Wings have had some decent teams, good enough to keep their playoff streak alive. But ever since Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012, nobody’s given them much of a shot, and rightly so.

Last night in Tampa, they were bounced after just five games, by a Lightning squad that was missing two of its best players. For the Wings, it was their third straight first-round defeat. They haven’t been past the second round since 2009, the year they lost to Pittsburgh in the finals.

“It gets tougher and tougher to go all the way,” captain Henrik Zetterberg told NHL.com. “The first step is making the playoffs. We keep doing that. But then it’s nothing more. That gets frustrating.”

On top of that, the Wings are now facing a future without Pavel Datsyuk. Even if Datsyuk were to return for one more season, he turns 38 in July and isn’t the player he used to be. For that matter, neither are Zetterberg or Niklas Kronwall, both 35.

Granted, it’s not all dire. Dylan Larkin, 19, has “face of the franchise” potential. Petr Mrazek, 24, is an excellent young goalie. Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Danny DeKeyser are all nice players in their mid-20s, while prospects Anthony Mantha and Evgeny Svechnikov have a chance to be good, as do a few others in the system.

But because they’ve made the playoffs 25 straight times, the Wings haven’t had access to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos or Victor Hedman. The last time Detroit got to pick in the top 10 was 1991, the year Eric Lindros went first overall.

It’s like Mike Babcock said before he left, “In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

In a related story, it wasn’t just the money that convinced Babcock to take the job in Toronto. It was the prospect of piling up tons of blue-chip talent in the draft, then seeing what he can do with it.

The Wings found Lidstrom in the third round, Datsyuk in the sixth, and Zetterberg in the seventh. A Hall of Fame defensemen and two Hall of Fame centers.

It was those three players that kept the Wings competitive for so long.

And next year, only one of them could be left.