Big Game James: James Neal gives Penguins 3-1 series lead with double OT winner against Lightning

Penguins fans have been hurting to see James Neal struggle so much of late with Pittsburgh. Before tonight’s Game 4 against Tampa Bay, the last time Neal scored a goal was March 8 against Buffalo. Since then he’s epitomized the term “snake bitten” when it comes to generating offense. They often say the one way to cure your ills as a goal scorer is to just throw anything at the net.

Neal took that advice at 3:38 of the second overtime and ripped a shot from the half boards that somehow found a way to get by Dwayne Roloson to give the Penguins a 3-2 win in the game and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The goal was Neal’s first career playoff goal.

For Roloson, the goal was a cruel twist of fate after making 50 saves in a losing effort. A goalie can’t do much more than that to help his team win a game but you have to get more out of your teammates and Roloson didn’t have that. The Penguins did their damage in regulation with grinders Tyler Kennedy and Arron Asham scoring to put the Pens up 2-0 but the Lightning whittled away. Martin St. Louis scored in the second period while Sean Bergenheim tied the game up late in the third to send it to overtime.

For Pittsburgh the win sends them back home with a chance to end the series and put the Penguins into the conference semifinals. It’s a highly enviable position for them to be in and unless the Lightning can find a way to get through the Penguins defense and generate more offense, they’re in big trouble. Marc-Andre Fleury only had to make 29 saves tonight through 83 minutes worth of game. That kind of offense won’t cut it.

The Penguins just need to keep being tough and keep doing what they do to slow down the Lightning’s best players. With their ability to sustain defensive pressure for a full game, things aren’t shaping up very well for Tampa Bay in Game 5 on Saturday afternoon at 12 noon.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.