Jason Brough

Letang to have neck surgery, out for the playoffs

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The Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances of becoming the first back-to-back champs in the salary-cap era took a huge hit today with the news that defenseman Kris Letang‘s season is over.

The Pens announced Wednesday that Letang will undergo surgery for a herniated disc in his neck. His recovery period is expected to be 4-6 months.

“Kris underwent an MRI in February that revealed a herniated disc in his neck,” GM Jim Rutherford said in a release. “Our neurosurgeons examined him and recommended conservative treatment in an attempt to correct the condition without surgery. Kris had been making progress and was hopeful of returning for the playoffs until about a week ago, when the progress plateaued. He underwent another MRI, and, at that point it was determined that surgery was needed.”

Letang played arguably the best hockey of his career in helping the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup. He had three goals and 12 assists in 23 playoff games while averaging a team-high 28:53 of ice time.

Analysis: No way to sugarcoat loss of Letang

‘Hawks recall Forsling from AHL

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The Chicago Blackhawks, with two games left in their regular season and first place in the Western Conference already wrapped up, have recalled defenseman Gustav Forsling from the AHL.

The ‘Hawks finish off their 82-game schedule in California. They play the Ducks Thursday and the Kings Saturday.

Recalling Forsling should allow some of Chicago’s veteran defensemen to get a game or two off before the playoffs.

Duncan Keith got the night off last night in Denver, where the ‘Hawks blew a 3-0 lead and lost, 4-3, in overtime to the Avalanche.

Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t play either. He was back in Chicago to be with his expectant wife.

Okposo (illness) ruled out for Buffalo’s final three games

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Buffalo forward Kyle Okposo will miss the rest of the season with a mysterious illness that the Sabres aren’t saying much publicly about.

From yesterday’s Buffalo News, with a quote from head coach Dan Byslma:

“Kyle’s still dealing with sickness and illness,” Bylsma said. “He has gone through some testing with our docs just trying to get more information about it.”

Bylsma had no further information. He said earlier in the week it’s not mumps, which has hit several NHL players.

And now from today:

The Sabres only have three games left in the regular season. And given they’re not going to the playoffs, ruling Okposo out for the remainder of the schedule isn’t all that significant by itself.

Still, there’s naturally concern for the 28-year-old’s health.

Okposo will finish his first year in Buffalo with 19 goals and 26 assists in 65 games.

Senator surprise: Clarke MacArthur to play tonight

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Clarke MacArthur was supposed to miss the rest of the season with a concussion.

There was even talk his career, littered by concussions, may be over.

But in a surprise announcement, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion said this afternoon that MacArthur will play tonight against the Red Wings at Canadian Tire Centre.

Per TSN 1200’s Dean Brown, MacArthur has been medically cleared for a week, and medically cleared by multiple doctors. The 31-year-old winger has been taking contact in practice to get ready.

MacArthur has not played an NHL game since Oct. 14, 2015. This past September, he suffered a concussion during training camp. In January, it was announced that he’d been shut down for the season.

Pre-game reading: In wake of Olympics decision, Toews hints at another lockout

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— Up top, Alex Ovechkin addressed the Olympics issue today in Toronto. He thinks the NHL might be bluffing about not participating in 2018. Of course, he also said he’s going to South Korea, “no matter what.”

Jonathan Toews has likewise voiced his displeasure with the league. He even hinted that the NHL’s announcement yesterday may lead to another lockout. “It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next CBA negotiation rolls around. It’s not about the long-term goals of our game and growing it and the bigger picture.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur sums up the situation nicely: “You know who really loses? Hockey. The first edition of the World Cup wasn’t a replacement, for the players or anyone else. These Olympics will be broadcast in China. The union and league just completed a joint trip there to drum up business and announced games in China. The Olympics are the biggest global stage there is.” (Toronto Star)

Phil Kessel‘s sister, Amanda, is back playing hockey again. And that’s great news. Because not long ago, she was still dealing with a concussion, and she wondered if her career was done. “I tried to tell myself that I would be back, but I definitely doubted it at points. When it got closer to a year and a half, two years, I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking, ‘I want to play in the next Olympics, but am I going to be there?’ As the days went on, it seemed less and less likely.” (Postmedia)

— All-around nice guy Ryan Miller took Nikolay Goldobin aside yesterday at Canucks practice to offer the 21-year-old forward some encouragement.  “I just thought he looked good today and he looked like he needed somebody to tell him he was good,” said the veteran goalie. “He’s got a lot of good things going. Like a lot of guys, he’s young. He’ll get it figured out.” Goldobin, after getting called out by head coach Willie Desjardins, will be back in Vancouver’s lineup tonight in San Jose, and he’s expected to start on a line with the Sedins. (The Province)

Enjoy the games!