Mike Halford

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Minor-league team involved in rollover bus crash

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The Columbus Cottonmouths, a Georgia-based team in the Southern Professional Hockey League, was involved in a rollover crash on Thursday afternoon while traveling to an away game in Peoria.

Per the Peoria Journal-Star, the charter bus carrying the team crashed on Interstate 74 and all 24 passengers — players, coaching and traveling staff — were transported to hospital.

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Two had to be extricated from the vehicle and were transported immediately to the hospital, while the others followed later in another bus. Morton Fire Chief Joe Kelley said his firefighters had to cut out holes in the top of the bus to remove the two. The rest were able to get out on their own.

Twenty-three of the bus’s occupants were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Three were considered trauma patients and listed in serious condition, though OSF media relations coordinator Shelli Dankoff described their injuries as non-life threatening. The remaining 20 patients were not seriously injured. Some had already been treated at release shortly after 3 p.m. and were waiting for transport to their hotel.

The Cottonmouths have since followed up with a release, confirming all players have been accounted for and that there are no life-threatening injures to players, staff or personnel.

Goalie nods: Preds turn to streaking Saros

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Juuse Saros will get another shot at cutting into Pekka Rinne‘s playing time.

Saros, who has been excellent as Rinne’s backup since being recalled from AHL Milwaukee, will get the nod tonight when the Preds take on the Flames in Calgary. The decision comes after Rinne played well in a 1-0 loss in Vancouver on Tuesday, but the veteran Finn was no doubt displeased on the one goal he surrendered.

(FF to 3:36)

Tonight’s start will be Saros’ ninth of the season. He’s gone 4-3-1 with a 1.25 GAA and .957 save percentage in his previous eight — including his last one, when he stopped 35 of 36 shots in a win over Boston — and could make the case for even more starts with another solid effort tonight.

Nashville heads into Calgary just one point back of the Kings for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, and needs all the points it can get.

For the Flames, Chad Johnson starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— No rest for Mike Condon, as he’ll make yet another start when the Sens travel to Columbus. He’ll be up against Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 24 saves on 25 shots in a win over the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Kari Lehtonen, who made 12 saves in relief of Antti Niemi in Tuesday’s 7-6 win over the Rangers, gets the start for Dallas in Brooklyn. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who posted a 32-save shutout of Boston earlier this week.

We wrote about Henrik Lundqvist’s struggles earlier, and he’ll look to change his fortunes around in Toronto. The Leafs, as per usual, are going to Frederik Andersen in goal.

Jake Allen gets back in for the Blues after Carter Hutton started three in a row. The Caps will counter with Braden Holtby.

Mike Smith gets a rare night off for the Coyotes, who will give Louis Domingue just his third start of the month. Domingue will go up against Devan Dubnyk, who saw his four-game winning streak snapped with a loss against the Devils on Tuesday.

Semyon Varlamov is hurt again, so Calvin Pickard goes for the Avs in Anaheim. John Gibson‘s in for the Ducks.

Ben Bishop played on Monday and Tuesday, so Andrei Vasilevskiy gives him a breather as the Bolts take on the Sharks in San Jose. No word yet on who’s in goal for the home team.

Fiery Lehner won’t apologize for being fiery

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Robin Lehner‘s trademark intensity was on display — again — two nights ago, when he responded quite angrily to getting hooked in a 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.

He smashed his goalie mask, and stared daggers at head coach Dan Bylsma. Given the game was in Toronto, there were more than a few media outlets that made note of the outburst — and quickly, the incident went viral.

On Thursday, Lehner addressed the situation. He took responsibility for the outburst — “I’m not helping the team by showing my emotions and I’ve got to learn from it” — but also said he wasn’t going to change who he is.

“It’s hypocritical to apologize for who you are,” Lehner said, per the Buffalo News. “I’m a competitive guy who doesn’t want to get out of the net. I don’t want to leave the net.

“I want to sink with the ship or be able to stand in there and come back.”

This isn’t the first time Lehner’s, uh, passion has gone viral. Last season he had a lengthy stare down with then-Habs goalie Ben Scrivens, and unleashed the crazy eyes on Columbus.

Essentially, it’s part of the package. If you like Lehner and want him as your goalie, you’re going to accept such intensity — even if it boils over from time to time. That’s what Bylsma said in the aftermath, anyway.

“He should be upset with getting pulled,” Bylsma said on Tuesday, per the News. “That’s part of Robin’s game, that emotion. I have no problem with that.”

Flames healthy scratch slumping Bennett

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The tough times just got tougher for Sam Bennett.

Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, will be a healthy scratch tonight when the Flames host the Preds at the Saddledome, head coach Glen Gulutzan announced.

The 20-year-old is in the midst of an awful slump. Bennett hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 27 and is pointless in his last 10 games — not the kind of production the team was anticipating, especially after he scored 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie campaign last season.

“It’s frustrating when you’re not producing,” Bennett said earlier this week, per the Calgary Sun. “I want to contribute offensively. But just playing the right way is my main focus. Hopefully, I keep getting chances and eventually one has gotta go in.”

Micheal Ferland will move into the lineup to replace Bennett, and veteran Matt Stajan will be bumped up to the third-line center spot as a result.

Given his pedigree and draft position, expectations for Bennett are pretty high. Calgary anticipated he’d be part of the young, talented forward group that carries the load offensively, alongside the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.

And to be fair, Bennett did have a decent start to the year, with 12 points through his first 24 games.

But it’s been tough sledding ever since.

‘No doubt…a confidence issue’ with Lundqvist

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These are rough times for the King.

Henrik Lundqvist, who for the better part of a decade has been a brick wall for the Rangers, is going through arguably the toughest stretch of his career. He allowed seven goals on 27 shots in a loss to the Stars on Tuesday, and 12 on 49 shots in his last four periods played.

If you go back over his last four games, it’s a staggering 20 goals on 113 shots.

His head coach knows something is wrong.

“There’s no doubt that there is a confidence issue with Hank,” Alain Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “Hank has had some moments in the past, probably never to this degree.

“So he’s in new territory, we’re in new territory to some extent.”

As Vigneault said, Lundqvist’s had some struggles before. The end of last year wasn’t very good — he struggled in late in the year, and was torched in an opening-round playoff loss to the Penguins.

Thing is, both Lundqvist and the Rangers conceded a large part of those struggles were due to the guys playing in front of him, and all the glorious scoring opportunities they allowed.

So it’s telling that Vigneault and Lundqvist aren’t using that theory this time around. In fact, AV went to far as to suggest the opposite — that Lundqvist’s poor play is actually affecting the guys in front of him.

“Sometimes that can trickle down a little bit with the other guys when something happens on the ice,” he explained.

The other big difference with this particular stretch of struggle is that there’s no safety valve. Lundqvist’s traditionally had good backups — Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, most notably — but Raanta is now sidelined with injury, leaving untested Magnus Hellberg as the club’s No. 2.

(Even during his World Cup struggles, Lundqvist had a capable backup in Jacob Markstrom to lighten the load.)

As such, it’s solely on King Henrik to turn this around. And he knows it.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level.

“It’s not good enough.”