Game 7 on the way: Detroit roars back in third, beats San Jose 3-1

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Another year, another team fumbling a 3-0 series lead and having to face the music with a spot in the conference finals on the line in a Game 7 at home. That’s the position the San Jose Sharks find themselves in after falling to the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 in Game 6 from Joe Louis Arena.

A wild and exciting affair saw the teams head to the third period knotted up at 0-0 after seeing stellar goaltending performances from both Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, the third period is where business picked up in a big way.

The Sharks were first to strike as Logan Couture was able to squeeze one through Jimmy Howard’s legs just 3:54 into the period. The goal gave the Sharks a lift as they struggled keeping up with the Red Wings all game long, a game that saw them get outshot 42-24 in the end. The Wings, much like they’ve shown all playoffs long, came right back.

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At 10:38 of the period, Niklas Kronwall would rip a shot from the point that Henrik Zetterberg would get a tip on in front of Niemi to make the puck dive past the goalie and into the net to tie the game at 1-1. Just under two minutes later, the Wings would push action again back up the ice and with the defense flowing to Pavel Datsyuk, he hit a streaking Valtteri Filppula who beat a scrambling Niemi to put the Wings ahead  2-1.

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Unlike in past Sharks games, however, the push back after the Wings’ goals wasn’t immediate and suffocating. Instead the Red Wings still found ways to control play. Another late penalty by Justin Abdelkader with 6:36 to play would give the Sharks an opportunity to even things up, but they couldn’t cash in. Darren Helm added an empty net goal to provide the series with its first two goal victory.

Detroit’s play in this game without Johan Franzen and Kris Draper as Mike Modano and Jiri Hudler in their stead was their first truly dominant effort of the series. Having it come in Game 6 should be a very disturbing development for the Sharks. The Sharks have had every reason to end this series immediately. Not finishing off a veteran and playoff-tested team like Detroit means trouble and now the Sharks have it in bunches because Detroit is firing on all cylinders.

Game 7 is like Thunderdome. Throw out anything that’s happened already and just sit back and enjoy the mayhem. We’re not about to go playing sports psychologist here and trying to figure out what the Sharks glitches might be. The point here is that they’re being outplayed by the Wings and badly. As good as the Sharks were earlier in this series the Wings are just as good now and they’re getting great play from everyone.  Datsyuk continues to amaze, Zetterberg is playing great, Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi are playing well on their wings, and most of all, Jimmy Howard is playing out of his mind.

Things are lining up against the Sharks right now but Game 7 can erase all of the bad memories fast. A lucky bounce, a good break, a key penalty, anything can swing one game. Expect that both teams will come out on fire as the Sharks want to avoid the most embarrassing collapse in their team’s playoff history while the Red Wings would love to make some positive memories of their own against the Sharks in historic manner.

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Modano returns to NHL roots in Minnesota, as Wild adviser

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Mike Modano has decided to return to his NHL roots in Minnesota.

The Hall of Fame center was named Thursday as the executive adviser to Wild owner Craig Leipold and president Matt Majka, a newly created position that Modano will assume on Sept. 1. Leipold and Modano often communicated by text message during Wild games this past season, sowing seeds for his hire.

Modano, who played the first four of his 21 NHL seasons with the North Stars before the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993, will focus on sales, corporate partnerships and community relations. Modano held a similar role from 2013-15 with the Stars, for whom he played 16 years and won the Stanley Cup with in 1999.

”I’m excited about it. I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for a while,” Modano said. ”I needed a little space to get away. But the time has come. I’ve been itching to get back into it.”

Modano, a seven-time All-Star, had 561 goals and 813 assists in 1,499 career NHL games. He’s a native of Livonia, Michigan. He currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and four children, but the family is planning to move to the Twin Cities area.

Though Modano’s assignment with the Wild will be on the business side, Leipold said he’d be available to consult with general manager Paul Fenton as needed on hockey-related matters.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites entering Stanley Cup Final

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Now that we are through the first three rounds of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs the race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is really starting to sort itself out.

It is down to just two teams and both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have several worthy contenders that have stood out as potential postseason MVPs.

Some of them have been dominant from the start, while others have started to make their presence known over the past couple of weeks.

It is time once again to check in on the top contenders in the PHT Power Rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. It is not a stretch to suggest that this is the best hockey Rask has ever played in the NHL. After allowing just five goals in the Bruins’ four game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, he now has a .942 save percentage in the playoffs and is helping to make what was an already great team a downright dominant team. He is one of just six goalies in NHL history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through their first 17 games in a single postseason, joining a list that includes only Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2002-03), Jonathan Quick (2011-12), Olaf Kolzig (1997-98), Henrik Lundqvist (2013-14) and … Rask himself once before (2013).

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Simply one of the most impactful skaters in the NHL. Love him or hate him, he is a total force on the ice in all three zones and he is putting together another tremendous postseason performance for the Bruins. His 18 points are second only to San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture (he finished the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games; Marchand’s per-game average is still higher) and he has already recorded six multi-point games (tied with Tomas Hertl for the most). That includes three games with at least three points, also tops in the league.

3. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. Schwartz has followed up what was one of the worst regular season performances of his career with a postseason that could be worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Blues end up winning the Stanley Cup. After scoring just 11 goals in 69 regular season games, Schwartz enters the Cup Final having already eclipsed that mark (12 goals) in the Blues’ first 19 playoff games. That includes a league-leading 10 even-strength goals, two game-winning goals, and two hat tricks. Yes, a lot of that goal-scoring spike is due to a 22 percent shooting percentage that certainly will not continue forever, but his underlying numbers are outstanding across the board. When he is on the ice the Blues are attempting more than 57 percent of the total shot attempts and generating more than 55 percent of the scoring chances. He is playing extremely well and when combined with a positive change in his shooting luck it has produced a huge postseason.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. After a somewhat slow start to the playoffs, at least as it related to his point production, Tarasenko went on a tear at the absolute perfect time by recording at least one point in all six games of the Western Conference Final, finishing the series with eight total points, including three goals. He remains one of the most productive postseason goal-scorers in league history and is currently in the top-25 all-time in goals per game (among players with at least 40 postseason games). Is it a case of recency bias to have him so high at this point? Maybe, but that is how the Conn Smythe voting tends to go. He is the Blues’ best player and when he gets on a roll he can be nearly impossible to stop. Right now he is on a roll.

5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins. It has been business as usual for Bergeron this postseason as he plays big minutes, dominates possession, shuts down other team’s top scorers, and chips in some offense of his own. Maybe the only surprise from him in the playoffs is that six of his eight goals have come on the power play. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in 112 postseason games.

6. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues. His overall numbers for the playoffs are not great, and are definitely lower than what he did during the regular season, but that does not mean he has not played extremely well at times. Like Tarasenko, he is doing so at just the right time to get noticed in the Conn Smythe race. He is 6-2 with a .925 save percentage in his past eight starts and has allowed just five goals in the four knockout games he has played (three games where the Blues could eliminate a team; one game where the Blues faced elimination).

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better special teams?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders sign Brock Nelson to six-year contract

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After a stunning 2018-19 NHL season that saw them reach Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Islanders have some big work ahead of them this summer as they not only work to add some firepower to their lineup, but also keep some of their most important players in place.

Forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson — three of the team’s top-five scorers this season — as well as Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner are all eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. That is a lot of big names to keep while also maintaining enough flexibility under the salary cap to build around them.

On Thursday, they made sure at least one of those players will remain with the team when they announced a six-year contract extension for Nelson.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Islanders, but it is reportedly worth $6 million per season according to The Athletic’s Arthur Staple.

The 27-year-old Nelson is coming off of a career-year that saw him score 25 goals (second best on the team) and finish with 53 total points (third on the team).

Originally a first-round pick (No. 30 overall) by the Islanders in 2010, Nelson’s career has been about as steady and consistent as a player can be. He has missed just 12 games since entering the NHL during the 2013-14 season (with 10 of those coming during his rookie season) and has been a lock for at least 20 goals and 40 points every season. You know he is going to be in the lineup and you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get from him offensively.

Is that level of production worth $6 million per year? It might be pushing it and it might be a slight overpay from a team standpoint, but the Islanders didn’t really have many other options here. If they had let Nelson walk they would have needed someone to replace him and there weren’t many (if any) realistic options on the free agent market that are going to outperform Nelson for a better price, and they only have five draft picks in their 2019 class to use as trade chips.

With Nelson’s contract now completed, the Islanders have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season at a total salary cap hit of $53.7 million. Assuming an $83 million salary cap that still leaves them with more than $29 million in cap space to fill out the remainder of their roster.

That should be more than enough to re-sign Lee, Eberle and Lehner if they choose, while also working out new deals for restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle.

Mathew Barzal, who has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract, will also be eligible to sign a new contract on July 1.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Backes ready to face former team in Stanley Cup Final

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The friendships that David Backes still has with members of the St. Louis Blues — three years after he left to sign with the Boston Bruins — will be on hold for the next few weeks as the 35-year-old forward seeks his first Stanley Cup title.

“It would have been fine to make the Final in different years and then you could have each had a shot at it, maybe, but now it’s all about what’s in this room,” Backes said. “One of my best friends [Alex Pietrangelo] is on that team, he’s the captain of their team. I told him I love him now, I’m going to love him afterwards, but I’m going to hate him for the next three weeks here. I think that’s a mutual decision.”

Backes has played with a number of current Blues players, so there is some familiarity, but as he said on Wednesday, he doesn’t necessarily own the “secret sauce” that will figure them out over the course of a seven-game series.

While most of the focus during the NHL conference finals was on the potential of Joe Thornton facing off against the team that drafted him in the Cup Final, the Backes vs. Blues storyline mostly flew under-the-radar, except in the veteran forward’s house. He tried not to think about the possibility, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the television as the Western Conference Final played out.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now that the matchup is set, it’s a simple situation.

“There’s going to be heightened emotions,” said Backes, who captained the Blues from 2011-2016. “It’s a binary decision now: It’s us or them. There’s no third party. No ties, none of that stuff. One of us is going to win the Cup. Either the St. Louis Blues or the Boston Bruins.”

After 10 seasons and 928 games in St. Louis, Backes signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency in 2016. But in those three seasons since his production and ice time have dwindled as he’s battled through injuries. This past season, he found himself a healthy scratch on multiple occasions and sought out a new role within Bruce Cassidy’s lineup.

Backes has sat for six games this postseason, but has played the entirety of the Bruins’ current seven-game winning streak. He’s scored twice, including the Game 6 goal that sealed their Round 2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and added two assists over that stretch.

“Where he is at this stage of his career — and anybody’s, really — but particularly him who’s been through it, he doesn’t know when he’s going to get another kick at the cat here,” Cassidy said. “I think that’ll be the biggest motivating factor for him, get his name on the Stanley Cup.”

Backes will get that opportunity in the storyline-filled matchup.

“I didn’t make it [to the Cup Final] in my 10 years there or my first two years here, and my first opportunity in Year 13 in the league is their next opportunity after the ’70s,” he said.

“The stars have aligned for this to be one heck of an event. We’re just going to embrace it and throw what we have out there in every shift and every moment of every game. I love this group. I wouldn’t want to be in the Finals with any other group.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.