Jason Brough

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 03:  Colin Wilson #33 celebrates with fans as referee Dan O'Halloran #13 signals goal against of the San Jose Sharks during the third period of Game Three of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 3, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Preds are ‘definitely heading in the right direction’: Poile


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) General manager David Poile believes patience might be the remaining ingredient needed for the Nashville Predators to take that “next step.”

The Predators are coming off the longest playoff run in their history and Poile noted Wednesday that they have gone through a myriad of changes the past couple of seasons. They won three of four elimination games before finally losing to San Jose in Game 7 in the second round, and Poile said what Nashville needs more than anything is just a little time.

Nashville’s roster featured five rookies, and Poile made it clear he expects improvement from them along with center Ryan Johansen and a breakthrough from Colin Wilson playing during the regular season like he did during the postseason. Mix with some consistency, Poile likes what he has.

“We are definitely heading in the right direction,” Poile said.

Poile and coach Peter Laviolette summed up the season that ended May 12 with that 5-0 loss to San Jose. Poile noted the Predators were one of only two NHL teams with six players posting at least 50 points along with Florida, and their defense tied with Calgary for most points scored during the regular season thanks to Roman Josi and captain Shea Weber.

Nashville also filled its arena to 99.2 percent of capacity during the regular season and set a single-season franchise attendance record with 35 sellouts. Laviolette thanked fans for bringing an energy to the arena that he hasn’t seen in other buildings. Poile said he’s not calling Nashville a non-traditional hockey market again after what he called a “tremendous ride.”

“This is a hockey city,” Poile said.

To build on this season, the Predators face a busy offseason.

Filip Forsberg, who tied the franchise record with 33 goals, is at the top of the to-do list as a pending restricted free agent. But Forsberg said last weekend he wants to stay in Nashville. Poile said he has no deadline for a new deal and isn’t sure yet if that deal will be for a couple seasons or a longer contract up to six years.

“The goal is to get him signed,” Poile said. “The intention is there on both sides. Filip is very happy here, his agent’s happy he’s here, and we’ve just got to get to work on it.”

A new deal for forward Calle Jarnkrok, another restricted free agent, is another priority after his scoring jumped to 30 points. The Predators also have been talking with the agent for backup goalie Carter Hutton, who went 7-5-4 with a .918 save percentage. Poile said it was too early to know if Juuse Saros or Marek Mazanec currently in the AHL would be options if they don’t sign Hutton to a new deal.

Neither veteran forward Paul Gaustad nor forward Eric Nystrom, due $3 million next season, will be back.

Both Poile and Laviolette want much more from veteran Mike Ribeiro, who was scratched in Games 3 and 4 against San Jose. Laviolette noted Ribeiro, who finished with 50 points in the regular season, played a key role in helping Nashville go from a bubble team into a playoff berth. But the Predators want Ribeiro, who will turn 37 in February and is due $3.5 million next season, to improve his conditioning to be stronger in the postseason.

“Mike really needs to have the summer of his life to regain his position back on the top two lines,” Poile said.

Appreciate Burns, but don’t forget about Vlasic


A guy like Brent Burns is naturally going to get a lot of attention.

I mean, just look at him.

That hair, that beard, all those tattoos — not to mention that shot of his. He’s a unique, enjoyable athlete and person, and that’s why he gets the big spread in Sports Illustrated.

But just remember, only one Sharks defenseman has already been named to Team Canada’s World Cup squad, and it’s not Burns.

In case you were searching for the name, it’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

“I think the fact he’s one of the first four defensemen named to Team Canada should scream to everybody how good this guy is, but for some reason, it doesn’t,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said, per Postmedia.

“He’s just one of those guys … he can go through a whole game without making a mistake. We re-watch the video after every game and it’s amazing how many nights I’ll walk out after a second viewing of a game and realize that the guy touched the puck 50 times and didn’t make a mistake. That’s so rare.”

They used to call Nick Lidstrom “The Perfect Human” for his ability to make the right play time and time again. Not to suggest Vlasic is in Lidstrom’s class — who is? — but you get the point. Vlasic may not be flashy, but when he’s out there, the coaching staff knows exactly what it’s gonna get, and that’s a big reason he cracked Team Canada’s Olympic squad in 2010.

“What I know about [Mike Babcock] from the Olympics is he likes predictability,” Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong said back in March. “He likes to know that he can play a player in any situation.”

That’s Vlasic.

“You really have to watch him to appreciate how good night-in and night-out he is,” said DeBoer.

Suffice to say, there aren’t many teams with two defensemen that are good enough to crack Canada’s blue line. In 2010, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook made the cut from Chicago. In 2014, it was Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo from St. Louis.

We’ll find out later this month if Burns makes it. His main competition is Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, and Kris Letang.

It’ll be a tough call. Canada has a lot of good defensemen.

Just don’t forget about Vlasic, because he’s pretty good, too.

Related: Subban has competition to make Team Canada

Bolts have ‘more in the tank than what we’ve showed’: Cooper

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Lightning are back home after splitting the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, feeling good about themselves, though hardly satisfied.

“We’ve got to play better to win this series, there’s no doubt,” coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday, adding the team has yet to “put our best foot forward” against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I think now that we’ve played them two times, we know a little bit more what to expect,” Cooper added. “But I know we’ve got more in the tank than what we’ve showed.”

Game 3 is Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.

“By no means am I sitting here saying: ‘Oh gosh we’re a way better team.’ Not at all. They have a lot to do with it as well,” Cooper said. “You don’t get to the conference final by fluke. They’ve got a really good team. There’s a reason they’ve had the best record since February, whatever it is, and they’re playing well.”

The Lightning have been one of the NHL’s most resilient teams during the playoffs, so they’re confident they have the resolve to bounce back from a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2 to regain the edge in the best-of-seven matchup.

Cooper is more concerned with eliminating mistakes that have contributed to a lack of scoring opportunities, as well as playing better defense in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s filling in for injured starter Ben Bishop.

Bishop left Game 1 with a lower left leg injury and is day to day. And, although Cooper said he’s optimistic the Vezina Trophy finalist will be able to return at some point in the series, it doesn’t seem likely Wednesday.

Not that the Lightning lack confidence in Vasilevskiy, who had 38 saves in Game 2 on Monday night.

“I feel bad for Vasilevskiy. That kid just plays lights out for us every time, and we just haven’t played very well in front of him. We seem to hang him out to dry at times during games,” Cooper said.

“We limited a lot of chances in the second period, but the first and the third were just way too many chances against,” Cooper added. ” Clearly, he was the reason the game was so close.”

The young goaltender settled after allowing two early goals, giving Tampa Bay a chance to dump the Penguins into a 2-0 series hole until Sidney Crosby scored the first overtime playoff winner of his career just 40 seconds into the extra period.

“He was unreal … obviously the guy who kept us in it,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s been phenomenal.”

Crosby couldn’t have picked a better moment to snap a personal scoring drought.

The goal was his first since Game 4 of the opening round against the New York Rangers, a puzzling eight-game slump the Penguins hope is behind their star.

“To be in the playoffs … it’s a great opportunity, and to score and contribute, it feels good,” Crosby said. “But it’s one game, and whether you win 5-1 or 3-2 in overtime, it’s one win. So you’ve got to keep that in mind.”

Although Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said he didn’t detect any growing frustration within Crosby, he conceded it was good to see him finally find the back of the net.

“I think it’s a big boost for Sid,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s a big boost for our team.”

While Cooper stressed that Tampa Bay can play better, he doesn’t want anyone to get the impression that he’s disappointed in the way his team – who’s been without injured star Steven Stamkos the entire playoffs – has performed.

The Lightning, trying to reach the Stanley Cup final for the second straight year, advanced in five games in each of the first two rounds. And, they have yet to lose consecutive games this postseason.

“We’ve played our hearts out,” Cooper said. “We sit here today and we’re 9-3 in the playoffs. That’s as good a run as we’ve had in regular season. so it’s pretty tough to be hard on our guys. But in saying that, we have to have a better response (Wednesday night).”

Center Tyler Johnson agreed.

“Coming back 1-1, if you told us we were going to do that before (the series began), most of us would have taken that,” Johnson said. “It’s a good thing. But at the same time, we know we have to be better.”

Related: Vasilevskiy was ‘outstanding’ in Game 2— not bad for the youngest goalie in the NHL

Sullivan praises Rutherford for ‘retooling’ Penguins’ roster

Jim Rutherford takes questions after he was introduced as the new general manager for the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL hockey team  during a news conference on Friday, June 6, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

When Mike Sullivan took over as Pittsburgh’s head coach in December, one of the areas he really focused on was the breakout.

“I think it’s important that you have to try to come out of your end zone as clean as you can, and as efficient as you can,” Sullivan said. “Preferably, you’d like to come out with the puck and so, we’re going to try to implement some schemes to help us try to do that. We’re going to work on that a lot, and that’s going to be a point of emphasis.”

It’s a fairly important thing in hockey, moving the puck from one end of the ice to the other. And especially for the Penguins, with all the firepower they boast up front, the last thing they want is to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get on the attack.

To illustrate, that’s exactly what happened to the Blues last night in St. Louis, where they got smoked, 4-0, by the Sharks.

“We turned it over, fed their engine, had it stuck in our zone,” said Ken Hitchcock. “We had a lot of clean exits we could have gone with, we went the other way, got hemmed in quite a bit.”

Anyway, when Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston, GM Jim Rutherford admitted that he was partly to blame for the Penguins’ struggles, “because I didn’t get the defensemen that were necessary to have more movement from the back end.”

So, what did Rutherford do? He traded Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley, and later he picked up Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers.

With Kris Letang, Daley, and Schultz, the Penguins now have a puck-moving defenseman on each pairing.

“I think he’s done a terrific job as far as retooling the roster and giving the coaching staff the means to play the way we want to play,” Sullivan said today of Rutherford.

“I think, when you look at the guys that Jim’s acquired over the last nine or ten months, they’re all guys that, I think, have allowed us to establish the identity that we have to this day. They can skate. They’re puck movers. They’re guys that like to play with the puck. They allow us to play that speed game that, I think, really suits the core players that are here.”

Sullivan concluded: “I think that’s a big reason why we’re where we are today.”

Related: Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin line has been quite the accidental discovery for the Penguins

Habs sign Reway, a ‘young forward with tremendous offensive skills’

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 4:  Martin Reway #10 of Team Slovakia fires a shot against Team Canada during a semi-final game at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 4, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Team Canada defeated Team Slovakia 5-1 to advance to the gold medal final. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Montreal Canadiens have agreed to terms on a three-year, two-way contract with forward Martin Reway.

“A young forward with tremendous offensive skills, Martin has the potential to become a very good player,” said GM Marc Bergevin in a release. “He enjoyed success during his two seasons in North America with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques before turning professional in Europe and playing in the Czech Republic and Switzerland the past two years. Our scouting personnel had the opportunity to see him play several times, including at the international level during the World Juniors and the World Hockey Championships, and we are glad to have him join a group of young prospects who will be competing for a spot with our team at training camp in September.”

Reway, 21, impressed Canadiens fans at the 2015 World Juniors in Montreal when he scored a hat trick for Slovakia in a game against Germany.

“I want my next hat trick at the Bell Centre to be in a Canadiens jersey,” he told reporters afterwards.

Reway was drafted 116th overall in 2013 by the Habs.