Mike Halford

On eve of playoffs, Blues 100 percent healthy for ‘first time all year’


Blues captain David Backes was back at practice today.

So too was Troy Brouwer, Jake Allen and Steve Ott.

What did that mean? Well, something quite remarkable, per the Post-Dispatch:

[It] meant that every Blue was in uniform and accounted for Tuesday. That’s a total of 26 players, including 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies. That borders on a miracle for a roster that has lost 288 man games to injury this season.

“It was good, first time all year,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Nice to see, got some choices now. See how it goes tomorrow.”

Asked if every player was available for Game 1, Hitchcock replied: “Yeah, 100 percent, we’re to go … so let’s play. Thanks.”

To say the Blues have been besieged by injuries this season is an understatement. Only one player — Brouwer — appeared in all 82 contests while key contributors like Ott, Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz each played in 50 or fewer.

With all these healthy bodies, Hitchcock does have some legitimate lineup decisions to make. One of the byproducts of St. Louis’ health issues is that several depth players saw quality minutes and playing time this year.

For example, Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm were the extra defensemen at Tuesday’s practice. The two combined to play 50 games this year.

Up front, there’s a surplus of experience as well. Ott, who suffered a major hamstrings injury and then diagnosed with colitis, hasn’t appeared in a game since December but has 46 career playoff contests on his resume. Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin, played 48 and 65 games this season, respectively.

The Blues will open their playoff campaign against Chicago tomorrow night.

Johnson (upper body) returns to Bolts practice, game-time decision for playoff opener

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One
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With Anton Stralman and captain Steve Stamkos already sidelined, Tampa Bay can ill afford to have any more regulars missing for its opening-round playoff series against Detroit.

Which is why Tuesday was a good day for the Bolts.

Tyler Johnson, out since getting hurt against the Habs over the weekend, returned to practice on and took rushes centering the club’s top line, between Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov.

This has been a tough year for Johnson, limited to just 68 games while dealing with a myriad of injuries. There is hope, at least among the Lightning players, that the diminutive forward can rediscover the success he found in last year’s playoffs, when he led all skaters with 13 goals and 23 points in 26 games.

Tampa Bay opens up its series against the Red Wings tomorrow, to kick off the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Isles rule out Halak for first round series versus Panthers

Jaroslav Halak

Thomas Greiss is now locked into the biggest moment of his professional career.

On Tuesday, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano ruled out No. 1 netminder Jaroslav Halak for his club’s opening-round playoff series against the Panthers, per the New York Daily News.

That means — barring a dramatic turn of events — Greiss, who’s held the starting gig since Halak got hurt in early March, will start a playoff series for the first time since breaking into the NHL eight years ago.

Greiss, 30, is coming off his finest campaign, in which he went 23-11-4 with a .925 save percentage and 2.36 GAA. But it was also the biggest workload of his career — his 41 appearances nearly doubles his previous high of 25 — and the first time he’s ever carried a full-fledged starting gig.

Which is why this series against Florida will be pretty compelling.

Related: Five playoff goalie dramas to watch


Despite ‘tough season for all of us to watch,’ Sabres won’t buy out Moulson

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Matt Moulson‘s struggles this season were well-documented.

There was a career-worst goalscoring slump, a healthy scratch and prodding from Sabres GM Tim Murray for Moulson to get in better shape.

All this led to an inevitable discussion — with three years left on his five-year, $25 million deal, would Moulson be bought out?

On Monday, Murray said no.

“I had a long talk with him,” Murray explained, per the Buffalo News. “He knows that he has to work hard this offseason. He’s very disappointed in himself, his own season. It was a tough season for him.

“It was a tough season for all of us to watch. Hopefully, he can regroup and come back next year and be better. That’s up to him.”

A three-time 30-goal scorer, Moulson finished this season with just eight in 81 games. That low output looks even worse when you consider the 32-year-old actually started the year reasonably well — three goals and five points in his first 10 games — before literally falling off a cliff, production-wise.

Buffalo’s logic for keeping Moulson around is probably twofold. One, the organization can use this season — and Murray’s remarks — as a motivational tool (and a no-so-subtle suggestion this could be Moulson’s last chance).

Two, the club likely values the mentoring of rookie sensation Jack Eichel. Eichel lived with Moulson this season, and said he valued the opportunity to “pick [Moulson’s] brain” about life as an NHL player.

‘Extraordinary prospect’ Matthews tops final draft rankings

Pavel Zacha, Auston Matthews

There’s no shortage of talent available at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft but, according to Central Scouting, one prospect stands out from the rest.

“Auston Matthews is an extraordinary prospect with NHL size, speed and smarts combined with an exceptional work ethic and a relentless compete level,” said Dan Marr of Central Scouting, who on Tuesday named Matthews the top draft-eligible skater for the draft. “The other players in the mix for the top five selections have all improved their stock, but Matthews is our clear choice as the top prospect available.”

The news comes as little surprise. Matthews, who had 46 points in 36 games playing professionally in Switzerland this season, has long been considered the cream of this draft class. The Arizona native will almost assuredly become the first U.S.-born player to go first overall since Chicago took Patrick Kane in 2007.

After Matthews, the dynamic Finnish duo of Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi went Nos. 2 and 3 on the Central Scouting list. Laine is currently plying his trade with Tappara of the Finnish League, while Puljujarvi skated with Karpat. The two were the driving forces behind Finland’s gold medal-winning team at the 2016 World Juniors.

As for other rankings of significance:

Top Five North American Skaters
(Note: Matthews is listed among European skaters because he played in Switzerland)

  1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, QMJHL Cape Breton
  2. Matthew Tkachuk, OHL London
  3. Alexander Nylander, OHL Mississauga
  4. Jakob Chychrun, OHL Sarnia
  5. Olli Juolevi, OHL London

Top Five European Skaters

  1. Matthews
  2. Laine
  3. Puljujarvi
  4. Rasmus Asplund, SHL Farjestad
  5. German Rubstov, Russia

Related: Matthews first played named to USA’s World Championships roster