Mike Halford

Tampa Bay Lightning's Anton Stralman (6), of Sweden, avoids the check of Detroit Red Wings' Joakim Andersson, also of Sweden, during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 20, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Bolts hoping Stralman ‘will make an appearance’ in second round


Weird dynamic at play ahead of the Lighting-Islanders second-round series.

Back on Mar. 25, Bolts blueliner Anton Stralman suffered a broken fibula after getting tied up with Isles forward Anders Lee — an injury that forced Stralman to miss the end of the regular season and all of Tampa’s opening-round win against Detroit.

Now, there’s hope Stralman will be back to face the Isles… while Lee remains out with a broken fibula of his own.

“He’s not skating right now,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said of Stralman, per the Tampa Tribune. “But we are hopeful that he will make an appearance this series.”

A 22-minutes-per-night guy that’s among the Bolts’ best possession d-men, Stralman is a valuable right-handed shot, on a blueline that doesn’t have many.

It’s why the club has been anxious to get him back in the mix, though it should be noted neither the club nor Stralman put a timeline on his return.

Traditionally, the recovery window is 4-6 weeks. Stralman’s in Week 5.

As for the other injured Bolts?

Captain Steve Stamkos remains out after undergoing vascular surgery in March. His recovery window was pretty large — 1-3 months — so it’s unclear when he’ll be back this spring, if at all.

J.T. Brown, who suffered a series-ending injury in Game 2 versus Detroit, remains out indefinitely. According to the Tribune, Copper sounded “less optimistic” that Brown would be able to play in the Isles series.

Wild say Zucker ‘has to have a way better year next year’


It was a tough year for Jason Zucker in Minnesota, and it ended about as badly as one can imagine.

Which is why his head coach didn’t mince words about what the team needs out of Zucker moving forward.

“He has to have a way better year next year,” John Torchetti said after the Wild’s season-ending loss to Dallas on Sunday, per the Morning-News. “That’s the bottom line.”

After a quality ’14-15 campaign — 21 goals in 51 games — Zucker struggled this season, finding the back of the net just 13 times while sitting as a healthy scratch on a few occasions, under both Torchetti and ex-bench boss Mike Yeo.

The diminutive forward also suffered a concussion on a huge hit from ‘Hawks d-man Michal Rozsival in late February.

In Sunday’s loss, Zucker missed a gifted opportunity from Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, and was on the ice for three goals against.

A pending RFA, Zucker now heads into an offseason of what figures to be tense negotiations.

The Wild are invested in him — a second-round pick in 2010, he’s spent his entire pro career with the organization — but GM Chuck Fletcher won’t have a ton of cap room this summer, and has other key RFAs (Matt Dumba, Darcy Kuemper) to sign as well.

Regardless, Zucker remains firmly in the Wild’s future plans.

At least according to Torchetti.

“We know [Zucker will] bounce back for us next year, that’s the number one thing,” he explained. “He’s still a great player.”

One-year contract in Boston ‘would be ideal,’ says Connolly

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning
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Brett Connolly‘s time with the Bruins hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been terrible either.

Which sort of sums up his NHL career to this point.

Connolly, the sixth overall pick in 2010, posted career highs across the board this year in Boston — 71 games played, nine goals, 25 points — but has yet to make the leap to full-time, top-six forward status.

The leap may never come.

But Connolly, a pending RFA, wants to try and make it in Boston.

“You’re not really too sure what’s going to happen. But [a one-year contract] would be ideal, to have another crack it to prove yourself,” Connolly said, per the Boston Herald. “There were some good times for me and some rough patches. It’s just a matter of being consistent. I still want to prove to this organization that I could be a good player and a consistent player.”

Connolly, who turns 24 in May, will have his one-year, $1.025 million deal expire in July. He had some good auditions this season for the aforementioned top-six role — receiving several looks on Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron line — but seemed more effective in a fourth-line capacity.

(As the Herald notes, the Connolly-Noel AcciariLandon Ferraro trio was one of Boston’s more effective checking lines this season.)

Considering he’s an RFA and given what the club gave up to acquire him — two second-round picks — it’s likely Boston sticks with Connolly for another year.

But that hardly means he’s safe.

In his year-end remarks, Bruins president Cam Neely said getting “heavier” at right wing — Connolly’s natural position — was one of three areas of improvement he and GM Don Sweeney would tackle this offseason.

Related: Neely’s sick of Boston media ‘stirring the pot’

Your Chicago-St. Louis Game 7 officials are…

UNIONDALE, NY - OCTOBER 08:  Referee Wes McCauley #4 handles the game between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 2011 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The first Game 7 of this year’s playoffs will be worked by referees Wes McCauley and Francis Charron — those two zebras have been chosen to officiate tonight’s highly-anticipated series finale between the Blackhawks and Blues.

(Assignments courtesy the NHL’s media site and Scouting the Refs. All assignments are subject to change.)

McCauley, perhaps best known for his dramatic chipmunk goal call, is the veteran of the two — he’s been refereeing games since 2003, Charron since 2010.

The two have worked in tandem on several occasions this postseason, doing games in the Panthers-Islanders, Penguins-Rangers and Capitals-Flyers series.

On the lines, Scott “Wild” Cherrey and Jay “I Have Been Doing This Forever” Sharrers get the plum gig. Sharrers, 48, has been in the league for 26 years and has over 1,500 games on his resume.

To say officiating has been a story in the St. Louis-Chicago series would be an understatement.

Game 2 featured a pair of coach’s challenges — including Joel Quenneville’s successful overturn of Vladimir Tarasenko’s go-ahead marker — and, in Game 4, a late penalty call on Andrew Shaw led to Shaw losing his cool, which resulted in his one-game suspension for using a homophobic slur, and $5,000 fine for “directing an inappropriate gesture at the on-ice officials.”

Tonight’s game is at 8:30 p.m. ET from Scottrade. You can catch the game on NBCSN, or stream it live using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here are the Kraft Hockeyville Top 2

The ballots have been cast, the votes are in — and it’s Lakeview Arena (Marquette, MI) and the Rushmore Thunderdome (Rapid City, SD) that’ve emerged from the East and West to make the Kraft Hockeyville Top 2.

To check out both rinks, click the video above.

To vote on who will emerge as the Kraft Hockeyville winner for 2016, visit the website.