Cedric Paquette

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Cedric Paquette to have date with player safety department

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Cedric Paquette will have to try to explain his actions to the NHL’s player safety department on Thursday.

Paquette is having a hearing to determine his reprimand after hitting Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug from behind in the second period of a 3-2 win for the Bruins over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.

Krug wasn’t injured and stayed in the game, despite taking a moment to get back on his skates.

Krug would score what became the game-winning goal later in the period.

Paquette was assessed a two-minute minor for boarding on the play. He has not been suspended in the past.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stamkos extension ‘No. 1 priority’ this offseason, says Yzerman

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Less than 48 hours after losing the Stanley Cup Final, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman was already back at work.

During Wednesday’s end-of-year media availability, Yzerman told reporters he’d identified his top offseason priority — signing captain Steve Stamkos to an extension, which can be done by July 1 at the earliest.

The news doesn’t come as a huge surprise, given the Lightning don’t have many free agents to deal with. But it is the official start of what promises to be an intriguing negotiation.

Stamkos is heading into the last of a five-year, $37.5 million deal with a $7.5M average annual cap hit. Given he’s one of the NHL’s elite snipers and only turned 25 in February, it’s assumed he’s in line for a raise, with some suggesting he’ll be in conversation to become NHL’s next $10M cap hit, joining Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (their extensions kick in next season.)

But is Yzerman ready to commit that much money to one player?

If this postseason showed anything, it’s that Tampa has a slew of talented youngsters on the verge of becoming stars. Chief among them was Tyler Johnson, the leading playoff scorer — and while both he and Ondrej Palat are locked in through 2017 at $3.3M per, they’ll almost certainly be getting raises on their next deals.

And they’re not alone.

Nikita Kucherov, a bargain at $711,666 annually, is a RFA after next year. So too are Alex Killorn ($2,5M), Cedric Paquette ($633,333) and J.T. Brown ($950,000). Once Victor Hedman’s $4-million-per-season deal is up, he’ll almost certainly top Matthew Carle ($5.5M annually) as the team’s highest-paid defenseman.

Oh yeah, almost forgot — when Hedman’s deal is up in two year’s time, so too is Ben Bishop’s.

Any potential cap crunch could, of course, be mitigated by how badly Stamkos wants to stay in Tampa. It’s clear the team has the foundation to contend for years to come, meaning his decision could come down to the age-old question:

What’s more important, winning or money?

Do consider what Stamkos said today.

“This was one of, if not the best teams I’ve played on,” he said. “Not just skill wise, but how we got along.

“This was the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game.”

No doubt about it: Duncan Keith wins the Conn Smythe Trophy

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CHICAGO — No debate necessary. Duncan Keith has been awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 2015 NHL playoffs.

Keith scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal Monday at the United Center, capping a spectacular postseason run for the 31-year-old defenseman, who finished the playoffs with three goals and 18 assists.

Keith’s 21 points were by far the most of any defenseman, seven more than Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.

But it was the time he logged on a depleted Blackhawks blue line that drew the most acclaim. In 23 games, he never played less than 24:05. In total, he spent over 700 minutes on the ice, almost 100 more minutes than second-place Hedman, who played in three more games.

Keith’s goal tonight perfectly illustrated his offensive abilities. Jumping into the rush as he does so effectively, he took a perfect pass from Patrick Kane at the Lightning blue line, wristed a shot that was saved but not controlled by Ben Bishop, then swooped around Cedric Paquette to snap the rebound high past the sprawled Lightning goalie.

A defenseman has received the Conn Smythe Trophy on just 10 occasions since it was first awarded in 1965. Keith is the first defenseman to be recognized since Scott Niedermayer was for the Ducks in 2007.

Timonen to make series debut tonight for ‘Hawks

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CHICAGO — Kimmo Timonen will play for the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“He gives us some predictability,” head coach Joel Quennville said of Timonen on Wednesday, confirming the veteran d-man would play tonight. “I think his coverage in the D zone, strength in the puck area. He’s smart, experienced.

“I think he did a good job for us throughout the playoffs. Gives him a chance to get in here in an good moment, a big moment. His reads and his position awareness and coverage in his own end will help him.”

So we know Timonen’s in, but the rest is uncertain. There’s been no firm update on the health of Johnny Oduya, who was injured during Game 3 and played just 9:10 over the final two periods.

If Oduya plays (and per Quenneville, it sounds like he will), it’s probable that Kyle Cumiskey — who, like Timonen, is a left-handed shot — will be the odd man out on defense. Cumiskey took some serious heat for losing Cedric Paquette on the game-deciding goal in Game 3, and finished with just 7:38 TOI.

Should things play out this way, Trevor van Riemsdyk would stay in on defense over David Rundblad for the second straight game.

As for the 40-year-old Timonen, he’s set to make his series debut and will play for the first time since Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Ducks — which was 16 days ago. That contest, a 5-4 Anaheim win in overtime, was one of Timonen’s roughest outings in what’s been a forgettable playoff; the veteran Finn was minus-2 in just 8:06 of ice time, and received just three shifts in the third period and OT.

“Coaches make the decisions, they put the best lineup on the ice and that’s it,” Timonen explained. “I’m just the one piece of the team here.

“I decided I’m going to work hard at the practice and stay positive and make sure if that chance comes I’m ready to go, and it looks like it’s here.

Frustration mounts as ‘Hawks suffer ‘two tough losses in a row’

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CHICAGO — Yes, the Blackhawks have been here before.

But no, it isn’t making things any easier.

Numerologists would likely be intrigued by the fact that, in their third Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2010, the Blackhawks have now lost Game 3 all three times: in 2010, they fell at home to Philly; in 2013, they lost at TD Garden in Boston and this year, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Bolts at the United Center.

But this time, there’s a bit of a different feeling at play.

“Two games we had the lead, but short-lived both times,” ‘Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said following Monday’s defeat. “Two tough losses in a row.”

Blown leads have become a staple of this series. The Lightning have frittered away first-period leads (they’ve had one in all three games), while Chicago blows leads quickly. In Game 2, the ‘Hawks had a 2-1 lead that lasted all of 1:32 and tonight, their advantage held up for exactly 13 seconds before Ondrej Palat canceled Brandon Saad’s third-period tally.

Palat’s gut-punch was the first of two absorbed by Chicago in the final frame. The second came courtesy Cedric Paquette’s late marker with just over three minutes remaining.

“It’s frustrating,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews explained. “A lot of things we did today gave us the feeling we were going to come out on top with the effort we gave. It was just a couple of little bad habits that ended up hurting us.

“We are responsible for that, but I think this game could have been similar to the way we stole Game 1 from them. I feel like we had a lot of chances, especially early in the game. Late in the game, we gave up those odd-man rushes. We’ve been talking about that and they ended up in the back of the net.”

For Toews, his frustration likely extends beyond the result. He’s now gone three straight game without scoring a goal — this after scoring five over the last four games of the Western Conference Final — and has just one point to show through 180 minutes against the Bolts.

For Corey Crawford, the frustration stems from the same thing Quenneville lamented — dropping consecutive games the ‘Hawks felt they could’ve won.

“Tough loss,” he said. “I thought we played well. Frustrating, for sure.”