Mike Halford

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game One

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

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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

NHL Awards staying in Vegas, but moving to Hard Rock

The annual NHL Awards gala is moving to its fourth different Vegas-based location.

On Monday, the Review Journal confirmed the league will host this year’s ceremony at The Joint, a 4,000-seat venue within the Hard Rock Hotel.


The Palms hosted the Awards Show from 2009 to 2011. Wynn Las Vegas hosted from 2012 to 2014. Last year’s event was held at the MGM Grand Garden.

The NHL was looking to return to the MGM. But there were scheduling conflicts with both the Grand Garden and T-Mobile Arena, so the league explored the Hard Rock, which has The Joint, a 4,000-seat venue.

The show will be held on June 22, which is just days prior to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo. The draft, of course, holds special significance for Las Vegas, as the Bill Foley-led expansion group is expected to hear whether its bid has been accepted or not.

At the NHL’s GM meetings in March, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will make its decision on expansion by the time of the draft, which will begin on June 24.

Related: Foley is ‘9.5’ out of 10 confident that NHL will expand to Vegas