Mike Halford

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 22: Josh Bailey #12 of the New York Islanders attempts to gain control of th epic as he skates next to Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers during third period action in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BB&T Center on April 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Islanders defeated the Panthers 2-1 in double overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Banged-up Isles rule out Bailey for Game 1

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The New York Islanders have survived a number of key injuries this postseason — which is good, because they’ll need to keep doing it.

On Wednesday, head coach Jack Capuano officially ruled forward Josh Bailey out for Game 1 of the club’s second-round series against Tampa Bay. Bailey, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Florida series, didn’t travel with the Isles and his status remains uncertain.

The loss will sting on two fronts.

One, Bailey was  a regular presence in New York’s lineup this season, playing in a career-high 81 games (scoring 32 points, while averaging just under 16 minutes per night). In Round 1, Bailey’s ice time crept up past the 16 minute mark — thanks in large part to all the OT that was played — though he only managed to muster one assist.

Two, as mentioned above, the Isles were pretty banged up before this happened.

Jaroslav Halak‘s out with a groin problem. Mikhail Grabovski‘s still dealing with concussion issues. Anders Lee has a broken leg, and Ryan Pulock suffered a series-ending upper-body injury against the Panthers.

Given all these health issues, it wasn’t surprising to see Capuano pass on announcing his lineup for tonight’s game.

Vanek knows buyout could happen, but still believes he’s a 30-goal scorer

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19:  Thomas Vanek #26 of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the first period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Wild had their end-of-year media interviews on Wednesday, which meant Thomas Vanek — the oft-criticized winger that missed all of the playoffs with broken ribs — was asked to address his future.

Vanek, heading into the last of a three-year, $19.5 million deal with a $6.5M cap hit, acknowledged he could be bought out the final season of his contract.

But he also made it clear he wants to stay in Minnesota, and vowed to perform better than this year, when he scored a career-low 18 goals.

To call Vanek’s time in Minnesota a disappointment would be an understatement. Expectations were sky high when he inked in the summer of 2014 — Vanek, who lives in Stillwater and played two years at the University of Minnesota, said the homecoming was “beyond my wildest dreams.”

There was hope the return to Minny would spark Vanek after a tumultuous ’13-14 campaign in which he was traded twice — once from the Sabres to the Isles, then from the Isles to the Habs — and struggled through a lackluster postseason with Montreal.

But the spark never happened.

Instead, Vanek looked like a guy that was on the back-nine of his career. He scored 21 goals in his first year with the Wild, only to disappear in the playoffs (no goals in 10 games). There was also the distraction of his ties to an illegal gambling ring.

This year, he was made a healthy scratch on a few occasions — by both Mike Yeo and John Torchetti — and didn’t play at all in the postseason.

If Wild GM Chuck Fletcher intends to shake up a team that got bounced in the first playoff round after consecutive Round 2 appearances, getting rid of Vanek might be a good place to start. It would trim some money from the cap — important, given the Wild are hovering right around the ceiling — and open up a roster spot at forward.

Related: GM Fletcher ‘not on any hot seat’ with Wild owner

Your Nashville-Anaheim Game 7 officials are…

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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The Ducks and Preds will engage in the second Game 7 of these Stanley Cup playoffs tonight — it’s the first Game 7 in Nashville franchise history — and the NHL has put two of its most veteran referees on assignment.

Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland will be on the call, along with linesmen Brian “Dropkick” Murphy and Derek “Give ’em Hell” Amell.

Per Scouting the Refs, this marks the first time O’Halloran and Sutherland have worked together this postseason, though both have experience with this Ducks-Preds series (O’Halloran worked Game 1, Sutherland Game 4).

Of the two, O’Halloran’s had the more eventful postseason — most notably, he was part of the crew (along with Ian Walsh) that called a penalty shot for the Panthers in overtime of Game 5 of their series against the Isles.

‘It’s always been the talk, the matchup the league wants’ — Ovechkin versus Crosby is back

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The two faces most responsible for bringing the NHL full-throttle into the 21st century are inextricably linked. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin get it, even if they’d rather not talk about it.

Their simultaneous arrival following the 2004-05 lockout served as the league’s version of a winning lottery ticket. Yin and yang on skates. Crosby the ever-polite Canadian with the otherworldly skills drafted by Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and brought to Pittsburgh to help rescue a franchise in tatters. Ovechkin all snarling id, a hard-hitting, hard-shooting Russian born in Moscow near the tail end of the Cold War and brought to the U.S. to work a few blocks from the center of the free world.

“Sid and Ovi were perfect for the game to take off and appeal to a younger demographic,” Penguins forward Beau Bennett said.

Yet the rivalry that has simmered around them, the one that will pick up on Thursday when Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals host Crosby and the Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, has been largely relegated to jersey sales and scoring titles. They’ve only met with so much on the line once in 11 seasons: a brilliant showdown in the conference semifinals in 2009, the one that ended with the Penguins shaking hands and moving on after a Game 7 blowout in Washington on their way to the Stanley Cup.

At the time, it seemed as if seeing Crosby’s blurring No. 87 across the ice from Ovechkin’s bullish No. 8 would become an annual rite of spring, a patchy playoff bearded version of Brady vs. Manning. Crosby was 21 back then. Ovechkin only 23, their primes still in the offing.

It didn’t quite work out that way. When the puck drops Thursday night, it will be 2,542 days since Crosby’s first-period goal ignited a 6-2 rout in the decider that provided an oddly anticlimactic end to an electrifying 12-day stretch that included hockey’s biggest stars trading hat tricks in Game 2 and a trio of overtime finishes. The memory still resonates in Pittsburgh nearly as much as the Penguins’ eventual triumph over Detroit in the Cup finals.

In Washington, not so much.

“It’s history,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t like to look back. I’m looking forward. What was the past, it’s over. Right now, it’s a new challenge and a new moment in our life.”

Even though maybe it’s only fitting that they meet now rather than at some other point in the interim, with both back at the peak of their considerable powers.

Crosby spent the better part of two seasons recovering from concussion-like symptoms that began with a blindside hit from Washington’s David Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic, which drew 68,000 to Heinz Field and the largest TV audience (4.57 million) to watch an NHL regular-season game in 36 years.

Ovechkin’s path has been healthier but no less pockmarked after clashes with a string of coaches while developing a reputation for petulance that former Washington teammate Chris Clark – the captain on the 2009 team – feels is no longer deserved.

“He’s been a lot more accountable,” Clark said. “I think he gets a bum rap that way. He plays so much, but I think his defense and his accountability and his leadership I think has been the biggest change.”

Having a supporting cast and head coaches who have found a way to empower their occasionally mercurial leaders certainly helps. Crosby took off around the time Mike Sullivan arrived in mid-December. Freed by Sullivan to go and do his thing, Crosby averaged 1.31 points over Pittsburgh’s final 44 games, a surge that coincided with the Penguins returning to their usual perch as one of the league’s most explosive teams.

It’s much the same for Ovechkin, who clashed with Dale Hunter and couldn’t seem to find any sort of real rhythm under Adam Oates even as the goals continued to pile up. Barry Trotz, however, seems to have broken through. Ovechkin’s 50 goals led the league for the fourth straight year but also came in a season in which the Capitals posted the league’s best record and he posted his best plus/minus ratio (plus-21) in five years.

The “C” on Ovechkin’s jersey no longer seems ceremonial. Ditto Crosby. Though he never shied away from the obligation, “Sid the Kid” has become something decidedly more grown up. Crosby took aside Bennett recently and talked about the need to not be affected by the way the game is being called, a marked departure from earlier in his career. When Crosby took issue with the officials early in a Game 5 win over the New York Rangers last Saturday, he politely pleaded his case to the crew while skating off the ice at the end of the first period rather show them up.

“He said that he was just crazy when he was younger, just screaming about every call,” Bennett said. “He’s pretty mild out there, never too high, never too low.”

While Ovechkin remains more of an open book both on and off the ice – providing peeks into his private life via his Instagram and Twitter accounts, social media outlets the more guarded Crosby may never embrace – he’s comfortable doing his share of backchecking and speaking up when something needs to be said.

It’s one of the few ways Ovechkin and Crosby may be alike. It’s their differences, however, that make them so compelling. While they may downplay the importance of their roles, their teammates understand the presence of two opposite but equal forces give the series juice unlike any other.

“It’s always been the talk, the matchup the league wants,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said. “Sid against Ovi.”

Again. Finally.

“I think it brings out the best in both of us,” Crosby said. “I feel like in the past that’s been the case. I think there’s a lot made of it but I think at the same time we want to be at our best for our respective teams. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Neither does hockey.

AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

Pens sign coveted Swedish d-man Bengtsson

Jim Rutherford
AP
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Pittsburgh has agreed to terms with undrafted Swedish blueliner Lukas Bengtsson on a two-year deal, per ESPN.

Bengtsson, 22, is a smallish d-man (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) with quality skating ability and good offensive instincts. He had seven goals and 14 points in 30 games for SHL outfit Frolunda this season, and another seven poits in 12 playoff games.

Bengtsson was believed to be in high demand, with reports of various NHL teams interested in bringing him aboard. The Rangers had him at their prospect development camp last summer.

This is a nice get for the Penguins, who don’t have a ton of quality defensive prospects in their system. Since taking Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Pittsburgh hasn’t chosen a defenseman higher than the fourth round.