Mike Halford

OTTAWA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Head Coach Craig Hartsburg of the Ottawa Senators looks on from the bench area during a game against the New York Rangers on September 20, 2008 at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Canada.  The Ottawa Senators defeated the New York Rangers 3-2.  (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
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Longtime NHL coach Hartsburg announces retirement

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Craig Hartsburg, who coached nearly 500 games with Chicago, Anaheim and Ottawa, announced on Wednesday that his bench boss career had come to a close.

“I’ve been very fortunate to spend the past 30-plus years in the game as a player or coach and have enjoyed every minute of it, but my priority now is to spend more time with my wife, children and grandchildren,” Hartsburg said in a release from Columbus, where he spent the last four years as an associate coach. “I have really enjoyed my time in Columbus, working with both John Tortorella and Todd Richards, and appreciate the opportunity to continue to be part of the organization in a role that will also allow me to devote more time to my family.”

Hartsburg, 56, has been well-traveled since transitioning to coaching after a 10-year playing career — all of it spent with the Minnesota North Stars.

He spent one year in Minnesota as an assistant before moving to Philadelphia, Guelph (OHL), Chicago, Anaheim, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), back to Philadelphia, back to Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Everett (WHL), Calgary and, finally, Columbus.

Wild woe: Parise out indefinitely, will miss first two games against Dallas


Remember when we ran down that huge list of key playoff injuries?

Well, you can add another one.

On Wednesday, the Wild announced that Zach Parise is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, and will miss Games 1 and 2 of their opening-round playoff series against Dallas.

Parise, who hasn’t played since a 3-0 loss to the Sharks on Apr. 5, is reportedly dealing with a lingering back issue.

Per the Star-Tribune, he was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Monday seeing a specialist.

It’s hard to convey just how huge a loss this is for Minnesota.

You can point to his regular-season numbers, his leadership qualities and his innate ability to win board battles, but those don’t really encompass all Parise brings to the table — especially in the postseason.

To wit: Minnesota has played 23 games in each of the last two playoffs combined. Over that time, Parise’s scored 24 points while averaging nearly 20 minutes per night.

With Parise out, the Wild look as though they’ll go with Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker on the wings with center Mikko Koivu.

Rutherford never doubted Pens would be in playoffs

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)

In a lengthy Q&A with the Sporting News — which I implore you to read — Penguins GM Jim Rutherford confirmed that, even when his club was struggling and he was forced to fire his head coach, his confidence in making the postseason never wavered.

“I didn’t doubt it,” Rutherford explained. “The thing that people don’t see is the character and leadership in our room. We have some really, really good character in that room.

“It was obvious that we needed to make some changes to be better, but I didn’t doubt that we would be in.”

OK, so Rutherford didn’t have any doubt.

The same can’t be said for everybody else.

On December 13, Mike Johnston was fired with the club sitting on the fringe of the playoff chase, boasting a slightly-above-average record (15-10-3).

Following the firing, Pittsburgh proceeded to lose four straight under new head coach Mike Sullivan, and there were concerns the club might miss the postseason for the first time in 10 years.

But in the end, they qualified. And the GM had a bit role in that.

Rutherford didn’t limit his tinkering to behind the bench. He orchestrated a number of important trades — getting Trevor Daley in exchange for Rob Scuderi, acquiring Carl Hagelin for David Perron and Adam Clendening — and made a fairly shrewd move by getting beleaguered d-man Justin Schultz out of Edmonton at the deadline.

While Schultz has been playing something of a sheltered role in Pittsburgh — he’s averaging just over 14 minutes a night — he’s racked up eight points in 18 games and, somewhat amazingly, has a plus-7 rating, not bad for a guy that went minus-78 over four years with the Oilers.

(Yeah, yeah, I know about plus-minus.)

To hear Rutherford explain it, the changes made allowed Pittsburgh to play a faster, speedier game.

But there was also another factor in the club’s resurgence: Sidney Crosby, who began racking up the points once the calendar turned to 2016.

While some outside pundits saw this as the Pittsburgh captain “flipping the switch,” Rutherford saw it differently.

“Sid’s production and leadership,” Rutherford said, when asked to identify what got the Pens back on track. “I’m sure you’ve seen where I’ve said this before, I think that Sid played well all year, but in the early part, he didn’t have the production.

“But neither did anyone else.”

Related: Penguins want to exorcise playoff demons against Rangers

Penguins want to exorcise playoff demons against Rangers


PITTSBURGH (AP) Marc Staal noticed the gaudy record, the highlight reel goals, the unrelenting speed and can’t help but be impressed with the way the Pittsburgh Penguins have ripped through the NHL over the last three months.

Yet the veteran New York Rangers defenseman has seen it before. Many times. So he’s not caught up in the narrative about the new and improved Penguins as their best-of-seven first round series begins on Wednesday.

“They’ve been playing really well, as much as the regular season matters,” Staal said. “I feel like once the puck drops in Game 1 in the playoffs, things change. It’s a different game and a different type of hockey.”

One the Rangers have proven adept at, particularly when facing Pittsburgh.

New York rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2014 to beat the Penguins in Game 7, a comeback that led to a full-blown identity crisis in Pittsburgh. The Penguins fired general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma in the aftermath, leading to Mike Johnston’s lethargic and brief tenure that included a well-played but ultimately one-sided loss to the Rangers in the opening round last spring.

The professorial Johnston is gone now, jettisoned in mid-December for the decidedly more dynamic Mike Sullivan. After a sluggish transition, Pittsburgh finished with a 14-2 flourish to rocket up to second place in the competitive Metropolitan Division, invigorated by an emphasis on quick feet, better decision making and spectacular play by captain Sidney Crosby and tireless defenseman Kris Letang.

Now it’s time to find out if that responsibly freewheeling style can translate to the postseason, where referee’s whistles tend to get buried in their pockets and the ice tends to get clogged by the kind of tugging and grabbing that typically goes unpunished.

“The playoffs are always tighter,” said Crosby, limited to three goals by New York during the previous two postseason meetings. “Hopefully we can use our speed to create chances and if not, create power plays.”

If not, Pittsburgh’s promising surge may come to an abrupt halt by the guys in blue sweaters once again. Some other things to look for as the Penguins and Rangers get ready for the next chapter in a showdown that’s becoming a rite of spring:

FLOWER POWER? Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury kept the team afloat through the first three months but is dealing with his second concussion in less than four months. He hasn’t played since March 31, though he did practice in the run-up to Game 1. If Fleury is limited early, the Penguins will turn to lightly used Jeff Zatkoff, relegated to third-string after the rise of rookie Matt Murray, who is recovering from a concussion sustained over the weekend in Philadelphia. Zatkoff has played in just five games since Jan. 1.

LONG LIVE THE KING?: The Rangers earned a sixth straight postseason appearance despite a so-so year by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose 2.48 goals against average was the highest of his remarkable career. He managed to lead the NHL in shots against and saves for the first time, though that’s more a testament to New York’s uneven defense than anything else.

Lundqvist doesn’t exactly enter the run to the Stanley Cup on a hot streak, getting pulled twice in his last five starts. Not that it seems to matter against the Penguins, who have scored more than two goals in a game just once against Lundqvist during their previous two playoff meetings. “Parts of this season he was probably the best goaltender in the league,” New York coach Alain Vigneault said. “His will to win, you can’t measure it.”

ROLLING IN THE DEEP: The Penguins have made it a point to give Crosby and injured center Evgeni Malkin some help last summer, trading for Phil Kessel and bringing in veterans like Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr while fresh young legs from the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The results have been startling over the final six weeks. Pittsburgh averaged more than four goals a game during its closing stretch by playing with the “desperation” Crosby said was missing until Sullivan came along.

MENTAL ADVANTAGE: The Rangers are trying to downplay their recent postseason mastery over the Penguins, insisting that it won’t matter when the puck is dropped on Wednesday.

“They have different players, we have different players,” Staal said. “Things change. You have to find a way to do it in a new way every year … when you get on the ice, you’re not thinking about last year, you’re thinking about winning that shift.”

Tavares knows Isles fans are ‘dying’ for first series win since ’93


SYOSSET, N.Y. (AP) The New York Islanders are starting to get healthy as they prepare for their third playoff appearance in four years.

After dealing with various injuries to key players over the final weeks of the season, the Islanders hope to build on their depth and resilience to accomplish something they haven’t done since 1993 – win a first-round series.

“I know our fan base is dying for it,” captain John Tavares said Tuesday after the team’s practice. “They’ve been itching for us to obviously get past the first round, get over that hump. Even though it’ll be a third year out of four in the playoffs, we know the expectations are higher than where we’ve gotten to.”

New York could have key defenseman Travis Hamonic back for the series opener at Florida on Thursday night after he missed the last six games of the regular season with a lower-body injury. Hamonic has practiced for several days and appears close to returning.

“I felt good,” he said after taking part in the team’s latest workout. “I’ve been skating for a handful of days. It’s (the) coaches’ decision if they feel I’m ready to go. Personally, I feel fine.”

Islanders coach Jack Capuano is being cautious before committing to Hamonic’s return for Game 1.

“You don’t want to rush guys back,” Capuano said. “I want him to go through some agility drills and see how he feels. But he practiced today, so (Wednesday) if he has a good day, it’s something we’ll think about for Thursday.”

Starting goalie Jaroslav Halak could miss the entire opening round and forward Anders Lee is out indefinitely with a broken leg. But other players who missed time down the stretch are good to go, including forwards Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck – who sat out three games in the final week – and defenseman Calvin de Haan.

The Islanders used 32 players, including four goalies, this season, and Capuano is confident the experience gained while some players were out will be a bonus in the playoffs.

“It’s a tough grind,” Capuano said. “The injuries that we’ve had … it’s been ongoing for the last two months. Guys have missed time and other guys have stepped up and played some really solid minutes for us. That’s the impressive thing about this group. They’ve been resilient.”

The Islanders completed a successful first season at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after spending their first 43 years at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale on Long Island. They reached the 100-point mark for the second straight season – something the franchise hadn’t accomplished in consecutive years since 1982. They also earned 55 points at home (25-11-5) – their highest total since also having 55 in 2003-04.

Not every part of the move was smooth. Fans took to social media to vent their frustration at arena management, which handles game-day operations. A lot of the ire was over some obstructed seats in the team’s new home. Some other complaints were appeased, including the easing of restrictions prohibiting fans arriving early to watch warmups up close, and the return of the team’s mascot, Sparky, midseason after being initially scrapped.

New York stumbled late in the season with a 1-4-2 stretch that put their postseason spot in peril before rebounding with seven wins in nine games. Now, the Islanders will be trying to advance to the second round for the first time since reaching the Eastern Conference finals 23 years ago- following that up with one-and-done appearances in 1994, 2002-04, `07, `13 and `15.

“Once you get to the dance, you have to win 16 games (to win the Stanley Cup),” forward Kyle Okposo said. “Gotta start with four here against a pretty good team, and we’re excited for the challenge.”

New York’s chances against the Atlantic Division-champion Panthers could depend on goalie Thomas Greiss, who was 18-6-3 with a 2.20 goals-against average at the time of Halak’s injury, but hasn’t been at his best since. He gave up three or more goals in six of his last 12 starts and finished 23-11-4 with a 2.36 GAA while appearing in a career-high 41 games.

Greiss has made just one playoff start in his career, and Jean-Francois Berube and Christopher Gibson – who had some solid starts down the stretch – have none.

“I’ve been around teams that often enough have made deep playoff runs,” Greiss said. “So I know the atmosphere and that kind of stuff, so it’s not going to be too surprising. … I don’t think you have to overthink it. “