Jason Brough

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Parise feels ‘reassured’ after testing his back in World Cup exhibitions

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Good news for the Minnesota Wild — the back injury that caused Zach Parise to sit out the playoffs is showing no signs of flaring up during the World Cup.

“I knew that I was OK, but I was still a little nervous for the first game,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “But after taking some hits and getting into some contact and not having any problem at all, it reassured me that everything is OK.”

The 32-year-old even managed to open the scoring in Team USA’s exhibition win over Team Canada Friday in Columbus, shaking off defenseman Jake Muzzin to tip home a point shot.

“I know it’s exhibition, but still mentally in my own mind, it was big to get one after what I went through,” he told the newspaper.

Parise opted to rehabilitate his back injury (a herniated disc) without surgery.

Even with the same defense, Neely expects improvement from Bruins

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When the Boston Bruins began their offseason, team president Cam Neely made it a priority to upgrade the blue line.

“We know that it’s an area that we need to improve upon,” he said. “That’s probably at the top of the list.”

A month before the regular season, however, and the Bruins’ back end has not changed whatsoever, save for the deletion of Dennis Seidenberg via buyout.

So how does Neely explain it?

“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-4 defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know [GM Don Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” he said, per CSN New England. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.

“I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.”

Granted, there’s still time for Sweeney to land a defenseman in a trade. The problem is the price. An established puck-mover like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk, will not be cheap to get. And in Shattenkirk’s case, nor will he be cheap to re-sign.

Up front, the B’s did land David Backes in free agency, but they also lost 30-goal man Loui Eriksson.

The Bruins open the regular season on Oct. 13 in Columbus.

Related: Blues might just keep Shattenkirk

Karlsson thinks Sweden’s blue line is ‘better’ than two years ago at the Olympics

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Erik Karlsson thinks Team Sweden’s World Cup blue line is even better than the one that propelled it to the gold-medal game at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

“I just think we have a little bit more experience,” Karlsson said, per the Associated Press. “Most of the guys that are here played in the Olympics and that was two years ago, and everybody since then has gotten more mature and more experience and become better players, so I think that’s why we have a better blue line now than we did two years ago.”

Indeed, Sweden may have the best defense of all the teams at the World Cup. Yes, that includes Team Canada, which is without injured workhorse Duncan Keith and finds itself increasingly under the microscope after leaving the likes of P.K. Subban and Kris Letang off its roster.

In addition to Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy-winner, the Swedes boast Victor Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Mattias Ekholm, Anton Stralman, and Hampus Lindholm. Those who failed to make the cut include John Klingberg, Adam Larsson, and Alex Edler.

“When they selected the team, I was absolutely disappointed,” Edler, a member of the Sochi squad, told The Province newspaper. “I obviously wanted to make the team, but at the same time if you look at the defense corps Sweden has right now, there are a lot of very good players, and even though there have been some injuries, there are still a few players that are not on there that could be on there.”

Related: Lindholm replaces injured Kronwall

Zetterberg admits he ‘ran out of gas’ the last couple of seasons

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Henrik Zetterberg turns 36 next month. The Red Wings’ captain has played over 1,000 games in the NHL, including the playoffs. Today in Detroit, he admitted it’s become a challenge to stay “fresh” for an entire season.

“That’s what’s gotten me the last two years, I ran out of gas,” he said, per the Free Press. “You can’t play hockey in this level when you run out of gas. So that’s one thing we’re going to play around with.”

One solution, according to Zetterberg, could be to play more wing, which takes less work than center. Another could be to play fewer minutes, or even take the odd night off and sit in the press box.

But that’s easier said than done, especially now without Pavel Datsyuk. Zetterberg led the Wings in scoring last year with 50 points in 82 games. Datysuk was second with 49 points, followed by Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar, each with 45.

Zetterberg, who’s sitting out the World Cup with a tweaked knee, expects to “be back 100 percent for the season starting.”

He also said he’s “thrilled” that Frans Nielsen decided to sign with the Wings, calling the 32-year-old center “one of the most underrated players in the league.”

Toews is looking to produce more offense, regardless of linemates

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Jonathan Toews, one of the best two-way centers in the game, is so much more than a scorer. But after registering just 58 points in 80 games last season, make no mistake, he’s aiming for more production in 2016-17.

“I think I have to just look at myself and take responsibility for that,” he said Friday, per The Athletic. “I think this year, regardless of who I’m playing with, whether it’s [Marian Hossa] or anybody else, I think the two of us will definitely want to have a comeback year and just have fun and play with some excitement and play loose and let that offense come to us the way it didn’t quite last year. I think we were fighting it a little bit for a while there.”

It’s arguably the biggest question the Blackhawks are facing this season — who will play with Toews? One has to assume that head coach Joel Quenneville will keep Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin together. And 37-year-old Hossa may be best-suited for a third-line role now.

Richard Panik is a candidate for the left side; the ‘Hawks are very high on him. As for the right, if it’s not Hossa, a youngster like Nick Schmaltz or Vince Hinostroza could get a shot.

It will be worth watching, because if nothing clicks then GM Stan Bowman may be forced to act before the trade deadline.

In 2015-16, Toews spent most of his time at five-on-five with Hossa. His next three most common linemates were Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrew Ladd, all no longer with the ‘Hawks.

Related: Opportunity is knocking for Blackhawks prospects