Mike Halford

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 29:  Radek Faksa #12 of the Dallas Stars celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues in the third period in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 29, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Rain keeps falling on Dallas as Czechs rule out Faksa (upper body)

Stars GM Jim Nill can’t be loving life right now.

Last week, he — in conjunction with Team Canada — announced that star forward Tyler Seguin had been ruled out of the World Cup with an ankle injury, later revealed to be a hairline fracture.

Earlier today, reports claimed that still-unsigned RFA Valeri Nichushkin was close to signing in Russia.

And now?

Radek Faksa, the 13th overall pick in 2012, suffered an upper-body injury in the Czech Republic’s blowout loss to Canada on Saturday, and has been ruled out of tonight’s game against Team Europe.

Faksa, 22, had been a key contributor for the Czechs prior to getting hurt. He played nearly 17 minutes in the opening exhibition against Russia, nearly 18 in the rematch two days later, and scored a goal in a surprising 3-2 win over Team North America in the exhibition finale.

Faksa figures to be a key contributor for Dallas this year, too.

He made his NHL debut in last season and fared well, with 12 points in 45 games, but really came into his own in the playoffs, scoring five points — including two game-winning goals — while bumping his TOI up to 16:08 per night.

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he has good size — vitally important for playing center in the loaded Western Conference. If he’s out for any length of time, it’s a fairly significant loss.

Russia will ‘fight like it’s our last battle’ against high-flying North Americans

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Rikard Gronborg  talks with Team Russia while playing Team Sweden during the World Cup of Hockey at the Air Canada Center on September 18, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Team Sweden won the game 2-1. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Team Russia has almost everything to play for when it takes on Team North America tonight in its second — and most important — World Cup of Hockey tilt (8 p.m. ET, Air Canada Centre).

The Russians lost their opener 2-1 to Sweden, which put an incredible amount of weight on Monday’s contest. The World Cup group stage is of the round-robin variety, meaning that — given each group only features four teams — losing twice is a virtual death knell.

“It’s the most important day,” Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said of tonight’s game, per the Russian Hockey Federation. “We will fight like it’s our last battle.”

If Sunday night was any indication, the Russians will need to fight.

North America absolutely overwhelmed Finland in the second of yesterday’s games, cruising to a 4-1 victory on goals from Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon.

Comprised of players aged 23 or younger, “TNA” raced out to a commanding 4-0 lead before Valterri Filppula spoiled Matt Murray‘s shutout bid with less than five minutes remaining.

North America dominated nearly every facet of the game and ended up out-shooting the Finns by a whopping 43-25 margin.

“They won every battle,” Finnish coach Lauri Marjamaki said in his postgame presser. “They skate hard. They’re so impressive. All the credit’s to them.

“They’re such a great team, and that’s it.”

Shot disparity will be something to watch tonight, especially from a Russian perspective. Head coach Oleg Znarok felt his club needed to put far more pucks on goal against Sweden — The Russians finished with 28 — and one has to think he was probably referring to the likes of Evgeny Kuznetsov (no shots on goal), Artemi Panarin (one) and Pavel Datsyuk (one).

Vladimir Tarasenko said the Russians were guilty of over-passing.

“We wanted to play beautiful hockey, but that wasn’t the right decision,” he said. “We need to do what the coach says, and take more shots.”

Given the stakes for tonight’s game, it’s expected the spotlight will once again be on Alexander Ovechkin.

The club’s captain — and, too often, the face of disappointments on the biggest stages — Ovechkin had a rough time on Sunday, taking two bad penalties while finishing with just 16:25 TOI.

He did, however, score Russia’s only goal on the night and nearly had the equalizer with less than 10 seconds remaining — only to have it waved off.

Following the game, he critiqued Russia’s style of play against the Swedes.

“We just didn’t have speed through the neutral zone,” Ovechkin said, per NHL.com. “If we had speed, we didn’t have support, so we’re trying to be one on one and we see it’s not going to work.”

Ovi and Team Russia will need to change their approach tonight.

If they don’t, their World Cup could be over.

‘Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,’ says Vanek

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)

Two years ago, Thomas Vanek said signing for his hometown Wild was “beyond my wildest dreams.”


Slightly different tune.

“For me the biggest thing was Minnesota just wasn’t a good fit,” Vanek told the Buffalo News over the weekend. “It is what it is. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. It didn’t work out.”

Though this assessment was pretty obvious — the Wild certainly agreed, buying Vanek out of the last year of his contract in June — it’s still interesting to see Vanek sum up his time in Minnesota so succinctly.

A former star with the Golden Gophers that helped the school capture the 2003 NCAA championship, Vanek scored 21 goals in his first year with the Wild, only to disappear in the playoffs (no goals in 10 games).

Then there was the distraction of his ties to an illegal gambling ring.

This year, things went further south. He scored a career low 18 goals and 41 points. 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, while dealing with an upper-body injury.

To be fair, Vanek had danced around the notion of Minnesota being a bad fit before. There was that time he sort of complained about the Wild’s centers, saying “If I wanted points and goals, I would have signed with the Islanders and had a center like Johnny [Tavares] and a winger like Kyle [Okposo].”

Vanek then doubled down by saying “we don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”

Now on a one-year deal with Detroit, the 32-year-old figures he’s in a much better situation. Vanek told the News he should benefit from the fact the Red Wings play “with smaller skilled guys,” adding a return to the Eastern Conference “is going to help me.”

Ottawa signs Bartkowski to PTO

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 10: Matt Bartkowski #44 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during the pre-game warm up prior to NHL action against the Calgary Flames on October 10, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, we passed along a report that Ottawa had “kicked tires” on veteran d-men Kris Russell and Dennis Seidenberg, with GM Pierre Dorion adding the club might bring in a blueliner on a PTO.

On Friday, Dorion pulled the trigger.

The Sens announced that Matt Bartkowski would attend training camp on a tryout basis. Bartkowski, 28, spent last year in Vancouver and was a lineup regular, appearing in 80 games while recording 16 points.

A good skater, Bartkowski’s downfall has been his defensive awareness — the lack of it, primarily. It landed him in Claude Julien’s doghouse in Boston and played a big part in Vancouver cutting ties after just one year.

In Ottawa, Bartkowski should push for a bottom-pairing or seventh defenseman spot. Prized prospect Thomas Chabot got torched after an unimpressive development camp, so this could be a move to push him.

The Sens aren’t exactly loaded on defense, either. Their projected bottom two, Chris Wideman and Fredrik Claesson, are pretty green — Wideman, a quality producer at the AHL level, is just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds with only 64 games of NHL experience.

Claesson, 23, has even less experience, having only appeared in 16 career contests.

Former Oilers d-man Nikitin signs in KHL

Nikita Nikitin
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Nikita Nikitin, whose name is fun to sing to the tune of Hakuna Matata, has rejoined the club of his youth.

Oh Friday, KHL side Avangard Omsk announced it signed Nikitin, reuniting him with the club he played for from 2003-10.

Nikitin, 30, split last season between Edmonton and its AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Saddled with a two-year, $9 million contract that the Oilers eventually saw as an albatross — yes, even though they negotiated it — Nikitin was the subject of trade rumors last year, none of them coming to fruition.

So the Oilers tried to find other ways to salvage the situation. Nikitin was waived ahead of the start of the regular season, but recalled twice during the year.

In his prime, Nikitin was a fairly useful defenseman, and netted a career-best 32 points in just 54 games with Columbus during the ’11-12 campaign. His play steadily declined over the last few seasons, though, and there were questions about his fitness level in Edmonton.