Dwayne Roloson steals spotlight, shuts out Penguins in Game 7

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Going into this series, the story was that the Tampa Bay Lightning held a big advantage in the “star players” category, so Marc-Andre Fleury would need to save the day for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As it turns out, the hockey world should have focused on the other goalie in this series: Dwayne Roloson.

Roloson ended up being one of – if not the – biggest difference makers in Tampa Bay’s comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, underscoring his perfect record in elimination games with a 36-save shutout. (Roloson is now 6-0 in elimination games.)

Tampa Bay 1, Pittsburgh 0; Lightning win series 4-3

This year’s first round seemed to favor road teams, but that trend ended in Game 7s. The Lightning were actually the only away team to win in Game 7, as the Flyers, Canucks and Bruins all took care of business in their buildings when it mattered the most.

In a way, they also beat the Penguins at their own game. The Lightning beat the Penguins by scores of 4-2, 8-2 and 5-0 in their other wins while two of Pittsburgh’s three wins came by one goal. The thing is, anyone who followed the Lightning know that the team has been committed to defense, at least schematically. Just ask Patrick Roy about the defensive-minded tendencies of Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher.

The game’s only goal might be one of the weirdest of the playoffs because Sean Bergenheim scored nearly the same exact way in Game 6. Compare the two goals for yourself.

Bergenheim’s Game 7 goal:

Bergenheim’s Game 6 goal:

Weird, huh?

Ultimately, the Penguins couldn’t overcome Roloson’s outstanding goaltending, Tampa Bay’s superior offensive talent and the Lightning’s passable overall defense.

The outlook for both teams

The Lightning should feel great about themselves, although they face a much more balanced team in the top-ranked Washington Capitals. Obviously, these two teams know each other well after facing each other six times and battling it out for the Southeast Division title. Washington will be well rested and holds home ice advantage, but Tampa Bay should be much looser since the Caps will be under far greater pressure to succeed. Washington won’t see a huge advantage in star power, either, especially with Martin St. Louis remaining perhaps the league’s least-discussed superstar (four goals and four assists for eight points against Pittsburgh). Something tells me that if Steven Stamkos is even close to healthy, he’ll gladly try to one-up Alex Ovechkin.

That series will also feature an interesting goalie duel between 41-year-old Roloson and Michal Neuvirth/whichever early 20’s goalie the Capitals trot out.

Meanwhile, the Penguins must cope with mixed feelings. On the negative side, they failed to make it past the first round for the first time since the Ottawa Senators clobbered them in 2007. It hurts that much more because they used their guile to build a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay. Obviously, Pittsburgh will look back on their 1-for-35 mess of a power play and wonder “What if?”

I don’t think I’m alone in giving Pittsburgh a partial pass, to some extent, though. The team stayed relevant during the second half of the 2010-11 season because of hard work (and a decent sampling of charity points, by the way) but clearly missed the firepower of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

If Crosby and Malkin can eventually be healthy during the 2011-12 season, they’ll join a team that is among the NHL’s leaders in elbow grease. Once the pain of coughing up that series lead subsides, Penguins fans can daydream about Crosby/Malkin setting up James Neal for one-timers next season.

Those visions might look a lot like the feeds St. Louis sends to Stamkos, actually.

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.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.