Eric Staal discusses falling short of playoffs, Erik Cole’s departure and Canes’ changes

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Considering the NHL’s lengthy 82-game seasons, it’s a bit surprising how often a playoff berth can come down to a team’s final contest. The Carolina Hurricanes stared that situation straight in the eyes in April – and ultimately blinked – as the Tampa Bay Lightning handed them an embarrassing 6-2 defeat.

When you get walloped like the Canes did in such a big game, the loss probably lingers for everyone involved with the team. That being said, the heaviest burden might have fallen on the shoulders of the team’s best player and captain, Eric Staal. Staal assisted on one of Carolina’s two goals while registering a -4 rating in that decisive game, a performance that must have left a bitter taste in the former Stanley Cup champion’s mouth. Whether it’s fair or not, that pressure comes with the territory when you’re a four-time All-Star making $7.5 million (with an $8.25 million annual cap hit).

Staal admits that he will allow that feeling to linger a bit for motivational purposes, but also noted that there will be some new faces in Carolina next season. While the Hurricanes will probably maintain their image of being an attacking offense with a shaky defense that leans heavily on the underrated work of goalie Cam Ward, there’s no denying that the team will be a little different.

The Charlotte Observer’s Chip Alexander caught up with Staal to discuss the departure of his successful linemate Erik Cole along with some of the team’s off-season additions including forwards Anthony Stewart and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

“He’s been a good friend and a guy I got to know real well, coming in at a young age in this league,” Staal said of Cole. “It was a lot of fun. But that’s the way this business works. He’s gotten a great opportunity in Montreal and great security for his family. I’m excited for him.”

(snip)

Then there were the free-agent acquisitions: Stewart, Ponikarovsky, center Tim Brent and goalie Brian Boucher. Finally, there was defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who helped the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup last season after being traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We picked up some good players, including some who might have been a little under the radar like Anthony Stewart,” Staal said. “Obviously, Ponikarovsky has had a lot of good seasons under his belt although he was injured last season. Brent had a good strong season with the (Maple) Leafs as a fourth-line center and played his role to a T, which is what we’re looking for. And Boucher is a quality goaltender and quality guy.”

The Canes are investing $12.75 million over three years in Kaberle. Staal called him a proven player who “has a great presence on the blue line” and should help improve the power play.

Skeptics will point to Kaberle’s ineffectiveness when it came to improving the Boston Bruins’ power play, but the former Toronto Maple Leafs PP quarterback might benefit from having more time to build chemistry with his teammates (rather than learning on the fly after being traded at the deadline). If recent trends continue, an improved power play could make a significant difference for Carolina; they’ve received more man advantage opportunities than any team in the NHL since the lockout.

An improved power play would be wonderful, but it’s hard to argue against the notion that the Canes took a step back during the summer. It’s understandable that they balked at matching Montreal’s hefty contract for Cole, but they’re essentially swapping that rejuvenated power forward and Cory Stillman for Stewart and Ponikarovsky. It’s hard to picture that being anything but a downgrade and there’s also the worry that Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner might have trouble matching his fantastic first season.

Staal scored 76 points last season, which is about what you can expect from the big and talented center since he hasn’t come very close to his breakthrough 100-point campaign in 05-06. Carolina will probably need quite a bit more than that from their captain if they hope to make the playoffs in 2011-12, though.

The Buzzer: Barkov gets first-career hat trick; MacKinnon and Co. dominate

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Three stars

1. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

It takes something special these days to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. They simply can score at will when they want to.

Barkov’s hat trick, then, was that special moment. He helped the Panthers get out to a 1-0 lead, put them ahead 3-2 in the third and then when Toronto forced overtime, it was Barkov once again to save the day, scoring on an incredible backhand deke for the win.

Not bad for a first-career hatty.

2. Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks

Sprong scored to tie the game 1-1 in the first and then scored 1:19 into overtime to help the Ducks down the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1.

Sprong now has three goals in five games with the Ducks since joining Anaheim in a trade from the Penguins earlier this month. The Ducks have won three straight.

3. Nathan MacKinnon (and Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog), Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon had a four-point night (one goal, three assists). Rantanen had two goals and a helper and Landeskog had two tallies of his own. That’s nine points for that line.

MacKinnon and Rantanen now have 50-plus points apiece and they led the Avs to a 6-4 win against the stubborn Dallas Stars.

The best line in hockey does it again.

Other notable performances: 

  • Alex Ovechkin scored again (and notched the shootout winner). He’s now got a 14-game point streak (extending a career high) and a six-game goal-scoring streak (one shy of a career high set in 2005-06). He’s got 29 goals in 32 games.
  • Claude Julien earned his 600th career win as a bench boss in the NHL as the Canadiens won 5-2 against the Ottawa Senators.
  • Tyler Seguin did his best to try and help the Stars, scoring twice an adding an assist against the Avs.
  • John Gibson kept his Vezina-caliber season going with 36 saves for the Ducks. He’s won three straight and has a .927 save percentage this season.
  • Keith Kinkaid (27 saves) and Juuse Saros (33 saves) had a nice little goaltending duel going. Saros ended up winning in the sixth round of the shootout.
  • 13 Vancouver Canucks had a point in their romp of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Highlights of the night

Barkov’s OT winner and hat-trick goal:

Obliteration:

Barzal breaking ankles:

Nice release:

Factoids

Scores

Flames 2, Wild 1

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Panthers 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)

Islanders 4, Red Wings 3 (SO)

Penguins 4, Kings 3 (OT)

Capitals 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

Ducks 2, Blue Jackets (OT)

Predators 2, Devils 1 (SO)

Avalanche 6, Stars 4

Canucks 5, Flyers 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers’ Weegar gets misconduct penalty after abuse of officials

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Here’s in a lesson in not swinging your stick around when there’s a linesman escorting you to the penalty box.

Florida Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was on the receiving end of a 10-minute misconduct for abuse of an official after his frustrations boiled over against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Weegar was incensed that a penalty wasn’t called after he was boarded by Maple Leafs forward Tyler Ennis. Weegar was slow to get up and when he did, he began spamming cross-checks to anyone within striking distance, including several to Ennis, one of which appeared to catch Ennis in the neck.

As he was getting taken to the box on a four-minute double minor for the cross-checking, Weegar slammed his stick against the glass near the penalty box. The stick appeared to catch the linesman Jonny Murray in the helmet.

The whole ordeal can be seen here:

Weegar got a stern talking to by referee Chris Rooney before he was sent to the locker room to serve out his misconduct.

Toronto, who were down 2-0 at that point, was unable to score on the extended power play.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk involved in fan altercation

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It appears as if one Chicago Blackhawks fan took a double loss on Friday night.

A video that has popped up on social media shows Blackhawks mascot Tommy Hawk taking down a fan at United Center.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago police said the man in the video allegedly punched and put the mascot in a headlock. What happens in the video, then, appears to be the aftermath of that.

In the 24-second video, Tommy Hawk pulls off the body-to-body suplex to get his alleged attacker to the ground before landing some ground-and-pound. He’s then able to get some sort of body lock on him and push him away.

Here’s the video:

Tommy Hawk certainly held his own here.

The Blackhawks lost 4-3 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets. According to the Sun-Times story, police were notified about the disturbance around 11:15 p.m. The game, which started at 7:30 was over at that point.

The Sun-Times reported that no one was in custody as of Saturday evening. The Blackhawks said they were looking into the incident.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Flames, Wild continue bad blood with three early fights

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When the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames met this past week all hell broke loose, resulting in a pair of suspensions to Flames teammates Mark Giordano and Ryan Lomberg.

Giordano was hit with a two-game suspension for kneeing Mikko Koivu, while Lomberg was suspended two games of his own for leaving the bench during a line change to start a fight with Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba. That fight was in response to a big hit by Dumba that injured Mikael Backlund.

A lot of that bad blood spilled over into Saturday’s 2-1 Flames win that featured three fights early in the first period.

Those fights started just 40 seconds into the game when Dumba found himself in a fight with Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk.

Dumba ended up exiting the game after the first period and did not return. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had no update on his status after the game except to say they would know more on Monday.

The fisticuffs did not stop there. Later in the period Giordano fought Minnesota’s Matt Hendricks.

But there was more! The most unexpected fight of the three featured Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, who has not been involved in a fight since the 2009 season, dropping the gloves with Sam Bennett

All of that happened in the first 18 minutes of the game.

But Giordano and Tkachuk did not just impact the game with their fists — they also scored goals.

Giordano continued what has been a  career year (and maybe even a Norris Trophy worthy season) by scoring a shorthanded goal mid-way through the first period to give the Flames an early 1-0 lead, while Tkachuk scored his 14th goal of the season in the third period to help give the Flames the win.

David Rittich also continued his surprising play in the Flames’ net by stopping 34 of the 35 shots he faced.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.