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Just like that, Blue Jackets at risk of continuing trend of squandered leads

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The Columbus Blue Jackets put themselves in a great position to win after the first 20 minutes of Game 4, taking a 2-0 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They even – seemingly – reversed the trend of bad second-period play, fattening their edge to 3-0 early on.

It was really looking like, maybe, possibly, the Blue Jackets would cruise to their first win of the series.

They enter the second intermission in a … far different state of mind, however.

Stream Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on NBC Sports

After a Monday full of heart-stopping comebacks, the Blue Jackets rapidly saw a 3-0 edge degrade to a more tenuous 3-2 lead.

The mini-comeback began with Patric Hornqvist scoring from his office (or is it Wayne Simmonds‘ office now?):

A few jaws dropped (or at least some nail-biting commenced) after Ron Hainsey made it 3-2 with just a handful of minutes remaining in the second:

The Blue Jackets merely need to draw even in the third to get to a Game 5. It should be interesting to see if they go aggressive or try to play “prevent defense.” Either way, they’re dangerously close to being swept after a shockingly successful run in 2016-17.

Hextall gives Giroux a vote of confidence

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Claude Giroux may be nearing his 30th birthday, and he may be coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his NHL career. But his general manager gave him a vote of confidence today.

“He’s not on the decline,” said Ron Hextall, per CSN Philly. “I know this, I’ll be shocked next year if you guys don’t ask me in January how has G turned this around. He’s a very driven athlete, very driven.”

Giroux finished 2016-17 with 14 goals and 44 assists in 82 games. His 58 points were nine fewer than last year, 15 fewer than the year before, 28 fewer than the year before that, and a whopping 35 fewer than 2011-12, when he finished third in NHL scoring.

Giroux is signed for five more years at a cap hit of $8.275 million, so it’s imperative for the Flyers that he does bounce back. His contract includes a no-movement clause, and he says he’s not leaving Philadelphia.

Related: Flyers fire longtime assistant coach Joey Mullen

Flyers parting ways with Del Zotto, Schultz

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It was always likely, but now it’s official — defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz won’t be back in Philadelphia next season.

Del Zotto was informed of the decision by Flyers GM Ron Hextall earlier this week. It marks the end of a three-year run with the Flyers, which included Del Zotto matching a career-high with 10 goals during the ’14-15 campaign.

“It’s unfortunate and a little emotional,” the 26-year-old said, per the Inquirer. “I’ve been here three years and made some great friendships.”

Schultz, 34, knew of his fate earlier. Like Del Zotto, he’s spent the last three years in Philly and, also like Del Zotto, is being allowed to walk in free agency so the club can usher in its prized young defensemen.

This year, the club had 23-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere and 20-year-old Ivan Provorov as blueline mainstays, while giving two bright prospects — Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg — their NHL debuts. It’s expected both Morin (21 years old) and Hagg (22) will be competing for spots next year, along with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Travis Sanheim (who just turned 21 at the end of March).

 

‘Canes axe goalie coach, and there may be more changes in net

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Suffice to say, this was not a good year between the pipes in Carolina.

Cam Ward and Eddie Lack combined to post the NHL’s fourth-worst combined save percentage. Lack missed extensive time with concussion problems — forcing the 33-year-old Ward into a heavy workload — and upon returning, the lanky Swede was lambasted by head coach Bill Peters in a now-infamous rant.

Today, the ‘Canes made the first in what could be a series of moves to improve their goaltending.

GM Ron Francis announced the team was cutting ties with goalie coach David Marcoux. Marcoux had been with the club for the past three seasons, having joined the Carolina organization after a six-year stint in Calgary.

There have been rumblings that Lack and Marcoux never gelled, something that was emphasized when Lack spoke to The Province last season.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Lack explained. “At times, it’s been really hard. Sometimes I catch myself in games looking down to see where I am in the crease because I have no idea where I am.”

Changes in Carolina sound like they’ll go beyond the Marcoux dismissal, however.

Both Lack and Ward are heading into the final years of their respective contracts. Ward will earn $3.3 million, Lack $2.75M, and both are eligible to be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft.

Francis said the tandem didn’t work out this season, in large part because Lack’s injury issue forced the club to “lean extremely heavily” on Ward — too much, Francis said.

The GM also didn’t sound very enthusiastic about Carolina’s prospect pool. He said the club has “throw a lot of darts at the board over the last few years,” to try and find a good young goalie, but the results have been negligible. Francis added he couldn’t honestly say if they have a future No. 1 in the organization.

Luckily for the ‘Canes, this is a good summer to be goalie shopping. The UFA market could feature the likes of Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier and Scott Darling.

Francis said the club will be in a good financial position to add players this offseason, through trades or free agency. As such, he may be given the green light to snag a goalie and deal with the ramifications later — under this scenario, he’d have until early October to figure out a potential three-headed goalie monster.

Yzerman won’t blame injuries for Bolts’ playoff miss

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The Tampa Bay Lightning made a valiant attempt to overcome a number of key injuries this season. Alas, their quest to make the playoffs fell just shy of the mark.

At least, that’s how a lot of people saw it.

But not GM Steve Yzerman.

The way Yzerman saw it, the Lightning blew it early on. They didn’t start the season well enough, and missing the playoffs was what they got.

“We as a team, we got humbled a little bit here,” he told reporters today. “We had injuries, but I don’t think injuries are why we aren’t in the playoffs.”

What was it then?

“For whatever reason, we gave up too many quality scoring chances for the better part of 50 games,” he said.

But the injuries can’t be denied. Steven Stamkos only played 17 games. Also missing significant time: Ryan CallahanTyler Johnson, Jason Garrison, and Anton Stralman.

Even Nikita Kucherov only managed to play 74 games, though that was a lot, relatively speaking. Nobody on the Lightning — not one guy — appeared in all 82 games. And don’t forget, the Bolts traded Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop at the deadline.

For the record, Yzerman was happy with his team down the stretch.

“It was playoff mode for the last month and I thought the team responded well,” he said.

The key will be to start next season in the same mode, taking care of both ends of the ice, not making it so hard on the goalies.

Of course, fewer injuries would help, too.