Mike Halford

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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GM Fletcher ‘not on any hot seat’ with Wild owner

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Under-fire Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher will be back for another season.

That’s what Wild owner Craig Leipold said on Thursday, telling the Star-Tribune there’s “absolutely no way Chuck is not going to be here next year.”

“He is our guy,” Leipold added. “I continue to have a high level of confidence in Chuck and his staff and we’re already talking about next year.”

Leipold might have confidence in Fletcher, but there are those in Minnesota that don’t.

The Wild found themselves in a precarious position this year, fighting for a playoff spot after advancing to the second round in each of the last two seasons. The team isn’t young — Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are all on the wrong side of 30 — and Fletcher’s twice fired coaches in the last five years: Todd Richards was dismissed in favor of Mike Yeo, and Yeo was sacked midway through this season in favor of current (and interim) bench boss John Torchetti.

The NHL’s seventh longest-tenured GM, Fletcher — to his credit — has made some nice moves over his seven years in charge. Acquiring Devan Dubnyk from Arizona all but saved the Wild last season, and his ability to land Parise and Suter during the summer of 2012 was a franchise-altering moment.

Looking ahead, though, it’ll be interesting to see how Fletcher alters what many see as an aging, expensive roster.

Pominville, who scored a career-low 11 goals this season, is pulling down $5.6M annually until 2019. The Suter and Parise contracts, which carry $7.5 million hits, run through 2025 (not a typo).

If Fletcher can integrate some of the club’s young draft prospects and win a trade or two — Matthew Dumba‘s name has come up as a potential chip on numerous occasions — he could turn this thing around.

It won’t be easy. But Fletcher, if nothing else, has the backing of his owner to get it sorted.

“Chuck knows he is not on any hot seat with me,” Leipold said. “So if there are rumors – and I haven’t seen them – then they aren’t something Chuck or anyone else should be worried about.”

Pens torch Lundqvist with three goals on first 12 shots (Update: And now he’s done)

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Not the start Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers were looking for on Thursday night.

To put it mildly.

The Rangers, already down 2-1 in their opening-round series to Pittsburgh, fell behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 4 thanks to tallies from Eric Fehr, Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary.

The goals against came early and often for Lundqvist.

He was beaten just 69 seconds into the contest by Fehr, then again six minutes later when Hornqvist connected on the power play — Pittsburgh’s fifth PPG of the series.

At the 16:12 mark, Sheary made it 3-0, converting a short-side shot after stealing the puck from Kevin Klein in Pittsburgh’s defensive zone.

The Pens nearly made it 4-0 moments after the Sheary goal, but Evgeni Malkin‘s would-be score was wiped out as Chris Kunitz was deemed to have interfered with Lundqvist.

But even with that disallowed goal, Pittsburgh still took major wind out of the Rangers’ sails in the opening 20 minutes — to the point where the MSG faithful booed the Blueshirts off the ice to end the period.

UPDATE: After Malkin scored to make it 4-0 just four minutes into the second, Lundqvist was parked in favor of Antti Raanta.

WATCH LIVE: Tonight’s Stanley Cup playoff action

Stanley Cup

Detroit at Tampa Bay (7:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 5 will be on NBCSN, with John Forslund and Brian Boucher on the call. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at NY Rangers (7:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on CNBC, with Chris Cuthbert and Pierre McGuire handling play-by-play and color duties. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Anaheim at Nashville (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 4 will be on NHL Network. John Ahlers and Brian Hayward have the call. There’s no live stream available for this game.

Chicago at St. Louis (9:30 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 5 will be on NBCSN, with Pat Foley and Ed Olczyk from the booth. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:

Reunited with Toews on Chicago’s top line, Kane hoping for some ‘instant chemistry’

Stalberg says he ‘hasn’t heard’ from Letang, who said yesterday that he apologized for high stick

‘Timely goal-scoring’ and ‘great goaltending’ have been the keys for St. Louis

Red Wings aiming for some ‘ugly ones’ on the power play

‘He must be held accountable’ — NHL suspends Shaw for homophobic slur

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The NHL hit Andrew Shaw with a pretty telling punishment on Wednesday, suspending him one game for yelling a homophobic slur near the end of Chicago’s 4-3 loss to St. Louis last night.

Shaw was also fined $5,000 for his actions towards the officials — raising what appeared to be both middle fingers while arguing a penalty call.

“While Mr. Shaw was apologetic and remorseful for both the offensive comments and the inappropriate gesture directed at the on-ice officials, he must be held accountable for his actions,” NHL senior VP Colin Campbell said in a release. “The emotion of the moment cannot and will not be a mitigating factor for the conduct that is expected of an NHL player.”

Shaw initially said he didn’t know what he said to referees while in the penalty box, but in today’s statement admitted that — after going home and watching the video — “it was evident what I did was wrong.”

The 24-year-old said he was “sincerely sorry for the insensitive remarks that I made,” before apologizing to the gay and lesbian community, the Blackhawks organization and fans.

“I know my words were hurtful,” Shaw said in closing. “I will learn from my mistakes.”

The Blackhawks, in a separate statement, said they were “extremely disappointed” in Shaw’s actions, noting his remarks “do not reflect what we stand for as an organization.”

The club went on to cite its support of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association and You Can Play Project — the latter of which took immediate issue with Shaw’s actions last night.

As for Shaw’s future, Tuesday’s actions could write a very unfortunate end to his season, and perhaps his time with the organization.

The Blackhawks head into Game 5 down 3-1 in the series and on the brink of elimination — and Shaw is a pending RFA this season, with no guarantees the cap-strapped club can bring him back.

UPDATE: The You Can Play Project has since issued the following statement.

YCP

Dallas likely to sit Lehtonen, give Niemi series debut

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP
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Detroit’s done it, and so has Philly.

Anaheim, too.

So why not Dallas?

The Stars will be the latest to make a starting goalie change this postseason — tonight, they’re set to give Antti Niemi the Game 4 nod against Minnesota, after Kari Lehtonen started the first three.

More, from the Morning-News:

Dallas has tried to continue its daily routine to a tee from the regular season, and during the regular season goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen shared the load. So it should be no surprise that Niemi will jump into the net for Game 4 on Wednesday against the Minnesota Wild.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff does not announce his goalies before a game, but Niemi was off the ice first at morning skate and Lehtonen stayed out to work with the scratches. Niemi talked to the media and said he is ready to go.

Lehtonen started the series strong, posting a 22-save shutout in the opener, and followed that up with 25 saves on 26 shots in a Game 2 victory.

Game 3, however, wasn’t as good.

Lehtonen allowed four goals on 24 shots in the loss — Dallas’ first of the series — but it sounds like the decision to go to Niemi tonight isn’t so much about Lehtonen’s performance.

It’s about keeping the rotation going.

Dallas GM Jim Nill identified goalie depth as one of his major offseason initiatives, and he set about addressing it by acquiring Niemi from San Jose at the draft, then inking him to a three-year, $13.5M deal. The plan was to have two No. 1 goalies, and let them share the workload.

Between Niemi’s and Lehtonen’s cap hits, the Stars allotted more than $10 million on goaltending this season.

While neither Finn was terrific, both did enough to pace Dallas to top spot in the Western Conference. What’s more, both have said all the right things about playing in and maintaining a goalie timeshare — yes, even in the playoffs.

“I think it can work,” Lehtonen said, per the Morning-News. “If we get to go all the way, I’m sure there will be a series that one goalie plays a more dominant role and kind of takes over.

“But the thing with our situation is it can change quickly, too. You just have to be ready to go.”