Jason Brough

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Sullivan says game plan won’t change without Crosby

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It remains to be seen how the Penguins will roll out their lines tonight. It could be that Jake Guentzel, the talented 22-year-old rookie, shifts from wing to center to replace Sidney Crosby (concussion).

“Every possibility is on the table in this type of a circumstance,” head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters this morning.

Pittsburgh will also be without Conor Sheary (concussion) for Game 4 against the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena. Carter Rowney and Scott Wilson are the favorites to enter the lineup.

Obviously, Rowney and Wilson aren’t Crosby and Sheary, but Sullivan insisted that it doesn’t matter who plays, that the Penguins’ game plan won’t change.

“I don’t think we’re going to change our game plan because someone is in or out of our lineup,” he said. “We’re going to play the type of game that plays to our strengths and gives us the best chance to win.

“I think we have capable guys. We’re going to put a lineup on the ice we know we can win a game with. And we’re just going to go out and we’re going to try and be committed and make sure we have a readiness to us and we’re focused on playing the game the right way.”

Still, there will be added pressure on Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to lead the offense. The Penguins are also without their best defenseman in Kris Letang. A loss tonight and the series will shift back to Washington tied 2-2.

“I’m just going to go out there and do the same thing I do all the time and hopefully it works out,” said Kessel, who has four goals and eight assists in these playoffs.

Malkin leads the NHL’s postseason scoring race with 15 points, including 11 assists.

So there’s still some scoring punch in the defending champs’ lineup.

But without Crosby, make no mistake, Pittsburgh is a very different team. When the Penguins’ stars are all healthy, they present a matchup nightmare for their opponents.

Just ask the San Jose Sharks.

“When you have Kessel, Crosby and Malkin on three different lines, I mean, all three of those guys make more than anybody on our team,” said coach Pete DeBoer during last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Tonight, the Penguins will look decidedly different than the team that rolled through last year’s playoffs. They’re still capable of winning, but it’ll be tough.

“Regardless of who’s in our lineup, I believe this group of players has a chance to win any game against any opponent,” said Sullivan. “That’s our approach. We’re focused on winning one hockey game and that’s tonight.”

What will the Sabres do with Evander Kane?

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First the Buffalo Sabres have to hire a general manager.

But once they do, the clock on an Evander Kane decision will be ticking.

Is this a guy the Sabres want to sign long term? Or is he best deployed as a trade chip to bolster their roster elsewhere?

Kane is eligible to ink an extension on July 1. The 25-year-old winger can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and the Sabres definitely can’t afford to let him walk away for nothing. They either have to sign him or trade him.

Keeping him is certainly one option, because it’s not easy to find players like Kane. He’s big. He can move. Most importantly, he can score.

But coming off a 28-goal season, and with the charges from last summer’s bar incident having been dropped, Kane’s trade value may be higher than it’s been in a while.

It’s hard to say exactly what he’s worth, what with all the off-ice incidents in his past. But the Sabres are desperate to upgrade their back end, and trading Kane could be one way to achieve that. (Days before he was fired, Tim Murray said he’d explore “any avenue” to fix the defense.)

There’s also the possibility that Kane doesn’t want to sign long term in Buffalo. He didn’t choose to get traded there, just like he didn’t choose to get drafted by Atlanta and move to Winnipeg. Perhaps he’d like another change of scenery.

Next summer, he could have the right to pursue a contract with any team in the league.

Related: About those Evander Kane trade rumors…

After locking up Zaitsev, Leafs hoping to ‘add’ to defense

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Add the Toronto Maple Leafs to the list of teams that would like to bolster their defense this offseason.

Yesterday, the Leafs locked up Nikita Zaitsev on a seven-year deal. They’ve also got Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner back there.

Another top-four d-man would help.

“We certainly have three individuals under contract — in Gardiner, Rielly and Zaitsev right now — that bring a certain style and certain dimension, and we have a couple of younger players, and we have a couple of free agents that we have to make decisions on,” GM Lou Lamoriello said, per NHL.com. “But I think we have to add to that group, and not make decisions just for simply adding. They have to be people who come in and help.”

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, there are newspaper columns encouraging the Canucks to shop Chris Tanev.

Or perhaps Carolina would be a good place for the Leafs to look. There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin.

Or maybe the expansion draft will shake something loose on another team.

But for a legitimate top-four defenseman, preferably a right shot, the Leafs will have to pay up. They’ll likely be asked to part with William Nylander. Assuming that’s a non-starter, they could always counter with Kasperi Kapanen or Carl Grundstrom, but they’d probably have to sweeten it with something else.

Again, Toronto isn’t alone in wanting to bolster its back end. Buffalo and Colorado are even more desperate to do so.

And we all know the price the Oilers paid to get Adam Larsson last summer.

Related: Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

Bruins owner says decision to fire Julien was ‘overdue’

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BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs acknowledged Tuesday that he might have held up the coaching change that helped the team turn its season around and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons.

But in his first public comments on the team since the fall, Jacobs expressed appreciation for general manager Don Sweeney’s decision to hire Bruce Cassidy as coach and the job Cassidy did after taking over for Claude Julien on an interim basis on Feb. 7.

The Bruins were 26-23-6 when they made the switch and went 18-8-1 under Cassidy. Sweeney removed the interim tag for Cassidy and made him the full-time coach last week.

“The decision was very much made here in Boston and the leadership here,” Jacobs said during a news conference at TD Garden. “My own impression was it was overdue, we were a little late. Maybe I precipitated part of that in having misplaced loyalty in that sense. But it was the right move. …

“It was a very prudent move and it was a prudent hire. Under those circumstances I would say that Don did a terrific job in selecting him and motivating him and motivating the team.”

Read more: Neely defends David Backes contract

The Bruins lost their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Ottawa Senators, their first playoff appearance since 2014, in six games. All six games were decided by one goal, including four overtime games. The Bruins gained postseason experience and several younger players took strides in their development.

It’s been two seasons since the Bruins made the change from Peter Chiarelli to Sweeney in the GM’s chair, and Jacobs believes that the results of 2016-17 and the influx of younger talent has proven that the move was the right one.

“I think we had a successful season because of what evolved, the changing of the guard … in our coaching ranks and I think our leadership showed itself very well,” Jacobs said. “I think hope springs eternal. … I think the direction is good and I think we did a tremendous job once we had Butch in place. So I’m happy with where we are and I’m happy looking at the next generation of players coming into this organization.”

In some regards, this season resembled 2008, when the Bruins under first-year coach Julien went to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons and pushed the Montreal Canadiens to seven games before succumbing. Three years later, the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

“It remains to be seen, but I think it’s beneficial,” Bruins president Cam Neely said. “For players that hadn’t played in the playoffs before to really get an understanding of what playoff hockey’s all about is what you want for your team.

“Now we’re not satisfied with losing out in the first round and winning two games. But it was a series we felt could’ve went either way.”

If competing for the Stanley Cup, or winning it, again takes three years, Jacobs intends to be around for the run. Jacobs, who passed the role of CEO to son Charlie Jacobs in January 2015, just completed his 42nd season of ownership. He doesn’t expect to relinquish his current role in the near future.

“This is a wonderful property that my whole family has enjoyed and it should be preserved for the next generation,” the elder Jacobs said. “I’m hopeful that that’s the way it goes. It’s obviously out of my hands at some point. But I think the next couple of years is predictable for me. Beyond that I don’t know.”

In Manhattan, Sens aim to rebuild ‘Kanata Wall’

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Some people call it the trap.

Others the 1-3-1.

The Ottawa Senators call it the “Kanata Wall,” after the suburb they call home.

Whatever it’s called, it’s working. The Sens are up, 2-0, in their second-round series with the New York Rangers, two wins away from a spot in the Eastern Conference Final.

In the first round, Ottawa suffocated the Boston Bruins, taking three games in overtime, and all four by a single goal. In six games, not once did the B’s score more than three goals.

Saturday’s Game 2 against the Rangers featured a rare breach of coach Guy Boucher’s trademark system. The Sens won it in overtime, but only after surrendering five goals in regulation.

Tonight in New York, they’ll try to get back to clogging up the middle of the ice and frustrating their opponent. It may not be pretty to watch, and perhaps the Sens’ style is a factor in their attendance woes.

But for the players, it sure beats losing.

“If we’re playing well, we’re going to have three guys back all the time and a fourth guy coming,” said Clarke MacArthur, per Sportsnet. “It’s tough to create anything off the rush. That’s what’s worked all year.”

Related: The Sens are feeling good about their system