Mike Halford

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 01:  John-Michael Liles #26 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on March 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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More bad news: B’s say Liles (lower body) won’t travel to start crucial road trip

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Losers of five straight — failing to notch a single point over that stretch — the Boston Bruins are desperate for wins as they begin a four-game road swing that begins in Toronto on Saturday.

But they’ll have to start that trip without trade deadline pickup John-Michael Liles.

Liles, who’s averaged over 19 minutes a game since joining the B’s in early March, suffered a lower-body injury in last night’s loss to Florida and won’t travel to Toronto with the club.

The veteran blueliner was injured in a collision near the end of the second period. He didn’t return to start the third, and the Bruins were quick to rule him out for the remainder of the contest.

Should Liles miss extended time with this ailment, Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman would be the two likely candidates to replace him in the lineup.

Boston is still sitting third in the Atlantic Division, but is just one point up on Detroit — and the Red Wings head into Friday night’s action on the outside of the playoff picture entirely.

Slumping Niemi doesn’t ‘want to be too emotional’ about recent struggles

Dallas Stars' Antti Niemi, middle, of Finland, stays on the ice after giving up a goal to Arizona Coyotes' Max Domi (16) as Coyotes' Anthony Duclair (10) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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Antti Niemi‘s play has been sub-par since the calendar turned to 2016 and now, with just a handful of games left in the regular season, there’s a real chance he heads into the playoffs as Dallas’ No. 2 netminder.

But he’s not about to lose his cool over it. From the Dallas Morning-News:

Niemi has been struggling since Jan. 1. He has a 3.53 GAA and. 874 save percentage, among the worst numbers in the league in that span. Compare that to his career numbers of 2.43 and .914, and you can see the cause for alarm.

But Niemi said he won’t panic.

“You don’t want to be too emotional about it,” he said. “I don’t think I have played bad. I know I am giving up three or four goals, and that’s too much. But I watch the film and I don’t think it looks bad. I don’t think I’m making obvious mistakes.”

Niemi’s saying all the right things publicly, but it’s hard to imagine he’s not concerned about the situation at hand. He’s started just once in Dallas’ last 10 games and, with only seven left before the playoffs, the signs point to Kari Lehtonen being the Stars’ starter when the postseason opens.

Which would make for an interesting dynamic.

Should Niemi go in as the No. 2, Lehtonen will probably be looking over his shoulder. Niemi’s won a Stanley Cup, been to another Western Conference final and has 62 total games of playoff experience on his resume.

Lehtonen? Just eight games. And he’s never been out of the first round.

While this probably isn’t the “1a-1b” scenario GM Jim Nill envisioned when he acquired Niemi this summer, it is the reality of the situation. And it means goaltending will be a story for Dallas at a crucial stage of the year.

Again.

Kissing fish, drinking rum: John Scott enjoying life as an AHL celeb

Pacific Division forward John Scott (28) is lifted up by teammates Mark Giordano (5), of the Calgary Flames, Joe Pavelski (8), and Brent Burns (88), of the San Jose Sharks after they defeated the Atlantic Division team 1-0 at an NHL hockey All-Star championship game, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Pacific Division won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) There were still some nine minutes remaining in the third period when the excited mob of youngsters began gathering outside the St. John’s IceCaps locker-room door.

John Scott had just skated off after picking up a 10-minute misconduct for playing a minor role in a scuffle, and the antsy kids were tripping over themselves in hopes to catch a glimpse of the NHL’s unlikeliest All-Star Game MVP.

“I think I saw him!” someone gasped, peering through the dimly lit maze of iron supports beneath the dusty stands of Syracuse’s War Memorial Arena before a security person shooed them away. The scene was no different the night before, when extra security personnel were called in for crowd control.

This is what Scott’s life has become in the aftermath of the hand-wringing controversy over whether the bit-playing journeyman enforcer was worthy of being deemed an all-star after being voted in by fans. The 6-foot-8 gentle giant instead emerged as an overnight sensation, earning admiration from fans and fellow players alike for standing his ground in the face of doubters and critics.

“It’s almost like a movie,” a smiling Scott said, reflecting back on the past two months. “Honestly, no one could ever script this would happen.”

And yet, there is a movie in the works, which is also something Scott could never have envisioned.

“I’m a super lucky guy with all that’s happened,” he said.

If that sounds odd, it should: One moment in January, Scott was trying on his personalized pair of All-Star gloves in Arizona. The next, the Coyotes traded Scott to Montreal, where he was immediately shipped to the American Hockey League’s remotest outpost in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. That’s 1,000 miles from Montreal and more than, 3,000 from Phoenix.

A few weeks later, the 33-year-old Scott was being hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders amid fans chanting “M-V-P!” after he captained the NHL’s Pacific Division team to an all-star title in Nashville, Tennessee.

All of this began as the most difficult time in Scott’s career, in which the defining moment occurred when he said an NHL official questioned whether his daughters would be proud of him playing in the game. And it ended with Scott winning over everyone’s hearts, because, after all, who doesn’t love an underdog story?

“I get letters from people, and it really touches you, and sometimes it chokes me up,” Scott said. “It’s like (they write): `I watched you in the All-Star game and you were an inspiration, and I just want to thank you for turning my life around.”‘

Scott hasn’t missed a beat in St. John’s, a quaint fishing community that’s as close to Ireland as it is to Minnesota, where Scott broke into the NHL with the Wild in 2008-09

“As soon as I got there, everybody was super friendly,” he said. “I walk down the street and it’s, `Hey, John. Congrats. Hey, we’ll meet you for a beer later.’ It’s so fun. I love that city.”

And yes, Scott has been, as the locals put it, “screeched in.”

It’s a long-held rite of passage for newcomers to kiss a fish (usually a cod), drink a shot of rum (known as screech) and recite a saying that ends with “long may your big jib draw,” which translates to: “May your sails always catch wind.”

He’s also quickly adapted to his new team.

The big forward, who has two goals and two assists in 21 games through last weekend, plays a regular shift, including a role on the power play. He can also double as a defenseman, as happened Sunday when St. John’s Brett Lernout was ejected in the first period.

“It’s not an easy situation for him, but he’s making the most of it,” IceCaps coach Sylvain Lefebvre said. “He’s a big brother, as he should be in the locker room. And the guys enjoy being around him. That’s a big tribute to him.”

Scott is a physical player, but doesn’t go out of his way to get into a fight. He won’t, however, hesitate to get in the middle of scuffles if it means protecting a teammate.

The most amusing moment on Sunday came shortly before he picked up his 10-minute major. With a scuffle erupting next to him, Scott skated over and matched up with the only Syracuse player without a partner. It happened to be 5-foot-9 defenseman Matt Taormina.

At one point, Taormina looked up and made a joke, to which Scott responded by hugging him. Then, Taormina reached up and playfully gave Scott a face wash with his glove, which prompted a smile from Scott, and cheer from the crowd.

“Everybody wants me to be this bad guy,” Scott said. “It’s like, `There’s John, this mean guy. He’s like a goon. He’s not smart.’ And that’s just not who I am. I’m a nice guy.”

Scott has never pretended to be anything more than being a role player. He’s earned a professional paycheck because he poses a big, intimidating on-ice presence. He has just five goals and 11 points to go along with 542 penalty minutes in 285 NHL games.

What many don’t know about him is that he earned an engineering degree at Michigan Tech, and many of his current and former teammates regard him to be one of the game’s funniest characters.

The St. John’s road trip through central New York allowed Scott to reunite with his wife, Danielle, who made the drive from Michigan with their kids, including newborn twins, Sofia and Estelle. She was amazed to see how fans are drawn to her husband.

“We were down at breakfast, and some guy was talking to him,” she said. “I was like, `Was that one of your coaches?’ And he said, `No, it’s just everybody recognizes me where ever I go.”‘

“It’s just funny,” she added. “What ended up being one of our hardest moments turns into the greatest beyond what we ever could have expected.”

Though he’d love to continue playing, Scott isn’t sure what comes next once his contract expires after this season.

At the very least, he will always be known as an NHL All-Star.

“Yeah, an MVP All-Star,” he said, correcting someone.

And there’s the SUV he was awarded for it, and his share of $1 million prize that went with being on the winning team.

“I haven’t gotten it yet,” Scott said, referring to the money.

“That’s actually a good question. I’ve got to follow up with them on that one,” he added, with a carefree shrug before ducking back into the locker room.

With the game over, a crowd once again gathered outside the IceCaps’ door. Still in his T-shirt and shorts, Scott made a quick detour by heading into the now-empty stands. Using his long legs, he climbed over row after row of seats to be with his family.

They eventually ducked into a hallway, where Scott’s two oldest daughters, dressed in IceCaps jerseys, danced around, tightly holding their proud and happy father’s hands.

“You know what, even if the whole thing didn’t go down the way it did, I’m not going to complain,” Scott said. “I was super lucky before all this stuff. But after this, it’s like, holy. I must have six or seven angels looking out for me. I’m so blessed.”

Panthers captain Mitchell (concussion) ‘has to decide whether he can play’

Florida Panthers v Calgary Flames
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Heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, there’s no denying Florida would love to have its captain in the mix.

But there’s no denying his return is loaded with issues.

Willie Mitchell, who’s again dealing with concussion problems that have occurred throughout his lengthy career, hasn’t played since mid-January — and on Thursday, GM Dale Tallon said Mitchell’s return is up in the air.

“Willie has to decide whether he can play or not,” Talon said, per the Miami Herald. “We want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, we want to make sure there is no permanent damage.”

Mitchell, who turns 39 in April, has been a fairly key cog for Florida since signing on two years ago. He played 66 games last season while averaging nearly 22 minutes a night, and appeared in 46 this year — with his ice time dipping to under 20 minutes per — before being sidelined.

Among other things, he was instrumental in helping prized d-man Aaron Ekblad adjust to NHL life. Ekblad lived with Mitchell during his rookie campaign, which culminated with Ekblad capturing last year’s Calder Trophy.

With Mitchell out of the lineup, Florida has a lack of experience on the back end — he’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion with nearly 90 postseason games to his credit.

In Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Rangers, the six defensemen that dressed — Ekblad, Steve Kampfer, Alex Petrovic, Dmitry Kulikov, Jakub Kindl and Brian Campbell — have a grand total of 123 playoff games.

Campbell accounts for most of that, with 97. Another injured defenseman, Erik Gudbranson, has seven.

So it’s obvious the Panthers would love to have Mitchell back. But they’re not willing to risk further damage in order to do so.

“This is up to Willie. We want to do what is best for him. That’s the bottom line,” Tallon said. “The doctors have said they’re concerned with his long-term health.”

Auston Matthews first player named to USA’s World Championships roster

United States' Auston Matthews reacts to his team's loss to Russia during semifinal hockey action at the IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)  MANDATORY CREDIT
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Well, here’s one way to make some noise.

In something of an unprecedented move, USA Hockey started its World Hockey Championships roster announcement with a bang, by naming 18-year-old Auston Matthews as the first — and, right now, only — player on the team.

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Last year, Matthews skated in an exhibition game with the U.S. Men’s National Team prior to the 2015 IIHF Men’s World Championship, becoming the first player to play at that level before entering their draft-eligible season.

This will be the fifth time Matthews has represented the United States in IIHF competition. A two-time gold medalist with the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Teams (2014, 2015), Matthews most recently, helped the U.S. capture the bronze medal in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.

In his first professional season in Zurich, Matthews collected 46 points (24-22) in 36 games to earn the league’s Rising Star Award.

The consensus No. 1 overall pick at this year’s draft, Matthews is following in the footsteps of Buffalo rookie Jack Eichel, who — as an 18-year-old — helped the U.S. capture bronze at last year’s Worlds.

Eichel used the tournament to further cement his draft status, finishing with seven points in 10 games. That led to the Sabres taking him with the No. 2 overall pick, one spot behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

The U.S. and Matthews begin this year’s Worlds on May 6, with a date against defending champion Canada.

Related: Agent: ‘No truth’ to rumor Matthews re-signs in Switzerland if he dislikes draft lottery winner