Florida Panthers

Panthers leading goalscorer Bjugstad (back surgery) ‘feeling 100 percent’

3 Comments

For the most part, this was a tremendous year for Nick Bjugstad, who scored a career-high 24 goals and inked a six-year, $24.6 million extension.

The only downer was the way it ended.

In late March, Bjugstad underwent season-ending back surgery, a procedure that kept him out of Florida’s playoff push and from representing Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.

Thankfully for Bjugstad and the Panthers, recovery is going well.

“Basically, I’m feeling 100 percent,” Bjugstad said this week, per the Panthers website. “I don’t feel any tingling or soreness in my back. They just have to remind me all the time that you can’t rush it, you can’t overdo it right now.

“Just trying to get back into shape which is nice. I feel like I could play a game right now, but obviously they’re not letting me get to that extent.”

The club’s first-round pick (19th overall) at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Bjugstad has been rock solid for the Panthers sign becoming a regular last season, in what was his rookie campaign; the University of Minnesota product led the Panthers in points, with 38, and finished 13th in Calder voting.

This year, Bjugstad proved a quality scorer at even strength — his 17 goals put him on par with the likes of Ryan Johansen, Jeff Carter and Phil Kessel — and averaged a career-high 16:35 TOI under new head coach Gerard Gallant, while gaining invaluable experience from playing alongside veterans like captain Willie Mitchell and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, who joined the team at the trade deadline.

“Obviously a big help from the older guys, the team was a whole different dynamic, as far as leadership,” Bjugstad explained. “Who we had playing, we had a lot of winners, Stanley Cup winners on the team. It changed the whole morale and attitude of the team.

“It was good learning a lot from those older guys, they’re all really good with the younger guys. It did nothing but help me this year.”

All eyes on Lundqvist

11 Comments

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, Henrik Lundqvist “would be the first to say that six goals against is very uncharacteristic.”

So how uncharacteristic would it be if that happened two games in a row?

That’s why all eyes will be on Lundqvist tonight in Tampa Bay, as the Rangers try to even the Eastern Conference Final at two games apiece.

Vigneault was even asked if Lundqvist would, indeed, be his starter.

The coach laughed.

Of course The King would be the starter.

“Hank is very accountable and very demanding on himself,” said Vigneault. “He is going to do what any good goaltender does. He is going to put [Wednesday’s] game behind him.”

The thing about being one of the best goalies in the world is that you end up playing in a lot of big games, with everyone watching. Lundqvist leads all active goalies with 107 playoff appearances, most of which he’s played very well in.

But you play enough big games, you’re going to have some stinkers. Marc-Andre Fleury has appeared in the second-most playoff games among active netminders, followed by Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford and Roberto Luongo.

All five have been at least as far as the Stanley Cup Final, if not won it. But each has also had a few nightmares under the spotlight.

“Sometimes stuff happens,” Vigneault said after Game 3, when asked about the long-range shot that beat his franchise goalie in overtime.

Lundqvist still has a .926 save percentage in these playoffs. He could still end up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the Rangers know the size of tonight’s game.

“It’s absolutely a huge game, you know,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “Being tied 2-2, going back to MSG or being down 3-1 is quite a hole.”

So they’ll need The King to play like one.

Sharks sign Finnish scorer Donskoi

3 Comments

The San Jose Sharks have agreed to terms with Finnish forward Joonas Donskoi, per Sports Consulting Group agent Scott Bartlett.

It’s a two-year pact, with Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat reporting an average annual value of $925,000.

Donskoi, 23, is coming off a banner 2014-15 campaign in which he scored 49 points in 58 games for SM-liiga club Karpat, then captured the Jari Kurri Trophy as playoff MVP.

A former Florida draftee (99th overall, 2010), Donskoi followed up his successful season with Karpat by scoring eight points in eight games for Finland at the World Hockey Championships. Donskoi finished third on the team in scoring, three back of Florida’s Jussi Jokinen.

This is the second young veteran San Jose has scooped out of Europe in as many years. Last summer, the club did very well in getting Swedish forward Melker Karlsson out of SHL club side Skelleftea; Karlsson went on to have a solid freshman campaign for the Sharks, scoring 13 goals and 24 points in 53 games.

Hasek says NHL should ‘embrace’ Olympics

8 Comments

As the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF look to work out a deal, which would see NHL players participate in the 2018 Olympics, one former NHLer believes the league should send its players.

Dominik Hasek, who was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame on the weekend, says the NHL should “embrace” the idea of going to PyeongChang, South Korea.

“To win it all for your country is to win for everyone and everything that is at the heart of who you are,” said Hasek. “To bring back the gold medal from Nagano was indescribable. I encourage the NHL to embrace it and give players like Jaromir Jagr one more shot at a party in the Old Town Square.”

There is currently no deal in place between the IIHF, NHL and NHLPA for players to participate at the 2018 Olympics.

Hasek participated in four Olympic games winning gold at Nagano in 1998.

Canada creams Russia for WHC gold, Crosby joins ‘Triple Gold Club’

25 Comments

Once again, Canada put together the best bunch of world-class players it could manage and overwhelmed the rest of the world.

This time around, their gold medal came at the 2015 World Hockey Championship, as they absolutely throttled Russia by a score of 6-1. The finish was fittingly lopsided, too, as the shot count was 37-12 in Canada’s favor.

Sidney Crosby factored into the win – including a goal assisted by best buddy in the world Claude Giroux – and now joins the “Triple Gold Club.”

HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman lists some other members of this made-up but impressive group:

It had to be a refreshing period for frustrated NHL players on Team Canada, particularly guys like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.

Russia finishes up with the silver medal while the U.S. edged the Czech Republic earlier on Sunday for a hard-fought bronze. There were obviously some missed feelings for Russia after such a drubbing in the gold-medal game.

In other tournament news, Jaromir Jagr took home the tournament MVP.