Minus Johansen, the Preds have ‘some big shoes’ to fill

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PITTSBURGH — It was Jan. 6, 2016, when the Nashville Predators took on the look of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

That was the day the Preds acquired Ryan Johansen from Columbus, giving them that true No. 1 center that every Cup champ seems to have.

It was the one, big piece the Preds had been lacking. To get him, it cost them an excellent, young defenseman in Seth Jones.

Alas, Johansen has now been lost for the playoffs. To their credit, the Preds managed to eliminate Anaheim without him, taking Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Final after he was diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome.

But in the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Final, the Preds will have to take on the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, a team with two of the best centers in the game.

Suffice to say, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are tough to handle at full strength, let alone without such an important player as Johansen.

“Certainly you’re talking about a couple good centermen that we have to face,” said Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette. “We had a couple good centermen (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) last round that we had to face.”

Preds winger Filip Forsberg didn’t try to sugarcoat the loss of Johansen.

“Obviously he’s one of the best players in the league,” said Forsberg. “It’s tough to play without him. But at the same time, other guys stepped up. I think that’s been the case all year. We’ve been dealing with injuries all year. I don’t know how many players we’ve used, but every player that’s come up has made a huge impact on the team.”

Colton Sissons stepped up big time against the Ducks, notching a hat trick in Game 6. The 23-year-old is expected to center Nashville’s top line, flanked by Forsberg and possibly Pontus Aberg, when the final starts Monday in Pittsburgh.

“It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking,” Sissons said. “We lost a lot of offense and a big, heavy, strong centerman in Johansen. There’s gonna be some big shoes for us to fill.”

Sissons, 23, has spent most of his professional career in the AHL. With the Preds, he’s mostly been in the bottom six. But his new linemate is a big fan.

“He can do it all,” said Forsberg. “He’s been playing mostly on the third and fourth lines this year, and been playing really well. Solid, two-way player. But we played together in Milwaukee and I saw the offensive upside that he had.”

It’s quite the matchup this series offers. One team without its No. 1 center, but a great group of defensemen. The other team without its No. 1 defenseman, but a pair of elite centers.

“Certainly we’ll miss Ryan,” said Laviolette. “I don’t think anybody can argue that. He was a big horse for us down the middle that was able to match up against anybody. We had to go a couple of games without Ryan. Our guys responded OK.”

David Poile finally rewarded with first trip to Stanley Cup Final in 35 years as a GM

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) David Poile thought he could squeeze in a quick day off after the exhilarating run by the Nashville Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final.

Wrong.

At least 200 texts and emails congratulating him on the Western Conference title greeted him. Then Predators’ only general manager had to deal with logistics, tickets, hotel rooms and talk with league officials to prepare them for the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday night in Pittsburgh.

It’s Poile’s first Stanley Cup Final after 15 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals and nearly 20 years of building the Predators from scratch as an expansion franchise.

“After all these years I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it’s different and it’s a challenge,” Poile said with a big smile. “But I’m ready for it.”

No general manager has been with his current team longer than Poile, whose father, Bud, won the Stanley Cup playing for Toronto in 1947 and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Next season, Poile will pass Jack Adams and Glen Sather as the NHL’s longest serving general manager, and only Sather has more games and wins (2,700 and 1,319) than Poile (2,622 and 1,280).

Read more:

The Predators built the NHL’s best defense, and it’s going to be around for a while

NHL GM of the Year finalists: Oilers’ Chiarelli, Sens’ Dorion, Preds’ Poile

Poile also was general manager of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. But he never made it to Sochi after being struck by a puck in the right eye at a Predators’ morning skate, breaking his nose and costing him his vision.

Now, all across hockey, people are rooting for Poile to finally win a championship.

“The hockey community in general is elated for him,” said Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. “He has performed at such a high level for so long in this league and not been rewarded like this. He’s got lots of people pulling for him to go all the way.”

New Jersey general manager Ray Shero, who was an assistant GM in Nashville, said his own wife was in tears so happy for Poile and his wife, Elizabeth.

“I was saying to David, ‘Yeah everybody’s saying it’s so great for David, patient David Poile,”‘ Shero said. “I’m like, ‘David, you’re the most impatient guy know.’ He used to boo the team from our box in Nashville like, ‘David, you’re so impatient.’ He’d boo the team and say, ‘He’s brutal, he’s brutal.”‘

Poile just missed Washington’ run to the Stanley Cup in 1998 after his contract wasn’t renewed in May 1997. He had gotten the Caps to the Eastern Conference finals only once – 1990. Offered the Toronto GM job, Poile turned down the franchise with 13 titles to put together his own franchise in Nashville like his father had in Philadelphia and Vancouver.

“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Poile said. “I’ve never regretted it. There’s certainly been some ups and downs in this franchise whether it be on the ice or off the ice. But that’s never deterred me to want to go somewhere else or to do something different. Everybody’s treated me very, very well. I’m very comfortable, and it’s a legacy for David Poile.”

Poile and the Predators had to teach their fans hockey and grow the sport in a region dominated by college football and NASCAR.

In 2007, the Predators finished third in the NHL with 110 points. Poile’s big trade for Peter Forsberg netted only a first-round loss in the playoffs. Craig Leipold, who now owns the Minnesota Wild, put the Preds up for sale. Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie’s purchase might have gone through if not for news he already was taking season-ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario.

Fans rallied to keep their team, and local businessmen stepped up to keep the Predators in Nashville.

During the turmoil, Poile couldn’t re-sign Forsberg or Paul Kariya and unloaded defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell.

The man who loves to plan triggered this playoff run with a handful of trades. He swapped defensemen Seth Jones and captain Shea Weber for center Ryan Johansen and All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, while bringing back veteran forward Vern Fiddler during the season along with trading for Cody McLeod.

“He’s made some of the biggest trades in the history of the league, which is just so contradictory to his personality,” Burke said. “He’s this cautious guy. I joke with him that I’d hate to watch him get dressed in the morning, trying to decide which tie and which pants. But when it comes time to make these deals, this guy, he’ll shove all the chips in and stand up and yell at you. He’s fearless.”

Poile took his wife outside the arena before Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night. He saw thousands of fans bringing lawn chairs just to sit outside the arena and watch on big-screen TVs and marveled.

“It’s fantastic, the whole thing, the whole experience,” Poile said. “I can’t think of anything that’s ever happened better to me in all my years in hockey.”

Well, maybe one more thing.

Price’s agent, Canadiens’ GM expected to meet next week

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It seems the two big orders of business for the Montreal Canadiens this offseason will be finding a way to re-sign Alexander Radulov, and come to terms on a new contract extension with franchise goaltender Carey Price.

According to multiple reports, including Pierre LeBrun and RDS, Price’s agent, Gerry Johansson, and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are expected to meet next week to potentially begin talking about a new deal.

Price, who has one year remaining on his current contract, will be eligible to sign a new extension on July 1 and it would be reasonable to assume that is going to be one of the larger contracts among the league’s goaltenders.

Price’s current contract will pay him $6.5 million next season, a figure that places him among the top-five goalies in the league.

Given what Price has meant to the Canadiens over the past four years he should expect to make something closer to the $7.5-$8 million figure that Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky are currently making.

The 29-year-old Price has been one of the NHL’s best goalies for four years now and has a massive impact on the success of the Canadiens. When he is healthy, they win. When he is not (as he was not a year ago), they do not.

Of the 46 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games since the start of the 2012-13 season, Price currently ranks in the top-three in save percentage (first), even-strength save percentage (first) goals against average (second), and shutouts (third). He has also taken home a Hart Trophy as league MVP and a Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie during that stretch.

Brace yourselves, Senators – Penguins Game 7 goes to overtime

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It’s dangerous to assume much of anything in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators seem like they’re taking turns flipping the script.

After the Senators received the only two power-play opportunities through the first two periods, Phil Kessel drew a call on Dion Phaneuf. Justin Schultz almost immediately reminded us of part of the reason why his presence had been so sorely missed, scoring an authoritative 2-1 tally.

Here’s that goal:

There seemed to be a possibility that officiating would be a huge sticking point, as some didn’t like that call and Guy Boucher was incensed when a whistle was blown when Phil Kessel was hit in the ear with a puck. Penguins haters probably felt especially irritated since the Penguins scored while Zack Werenski was down (and bloodied) during a somewhat similar exchange earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Some will bring that up, especially once we find out how this one will end, but Ryan Dzingel shifted the focus to how the Senators just won’t quit as he scored soon after that 2-1 goal to tie it 2-2, the second time Ottawa’s fought back (quickly) from a seemingly huge Penguins goal.

Watch that goal above, then hold your breath as this game goes to overtime.

You can watch Game 7 live on NBCSN. The game can also be viewed online and via the NBC Sports App. Here is the livestream link.

Blue Jackets sign USHL’s goalie of the year

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed goalie Matiss Kivlenieks to a three-year entry-level contract.

Kivlenieks was an undrafted free agent that a number of NHL teams were hoping to sign after his sterling season in the USHL.

The 20-year-old was originally planning to attend Minnesota State University next season, but he’s a professional now so that plan has changed.

From the press release:

Kivlenieks, 20, went 36-7-4-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and five shutouts in 49 games to help the Sioux City Musketeers capture the 2016-17 Anderson Cup as the league’s regular season champions. He was named the USHL’s Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year and to the First All-Star Team after leading the league in wins, GAA, SV%, shutouts (tied) and finishing second in minutes played (2,991).  

Next season, Sergei Bobrovsky will be the starter for Columbus, likely backed up by either Anton Forsberg or Joonas Korpisalo.

But Kivlenieks may get the chance to be other goalie in the AHL, behind either Forsberg or Korpisalo.

The Blue Jackets also have 23-year-old goalie Oscar Dansk in the system; however, he struggled last year (.903) in the Swedish league.

Related: Jackets loan Dansk to Swedish club