Torts: Plenty of blame to go around in playoff collapse

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Blue Jackets played one more playoff game this season than last, but it’s all the same to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and coach John Tortorella. Not good enough.

And apparently there’s plenty of blame to go around.

“Everybody has to give skin here, from the coaches right on through, as far as what happened,” Tortorella said in his exit interview with reporters Thursday.

The Blue Jackets promising season fizzled out in the end. They overcame injuries to key players and finished the regular season strong, making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second season in a row. They won the first two in the first-round playoff series on the road against the Washington Capitals, only to drop the next four straight.

It ended with a thud in a 6-3 loss in Game 6 on home ice Monday night.

Despite how all that sounds, the team didn’t implode, Tortorella said.

“We were a good enough team to beat Washington this year,” he said. “We just did not make that big play and or get that big save at key times, and they did.

“I like our team, I like our personnel,” he said. “The biggest thing is we need to change our mindset here, (so) that we feel we belong in the playoffs. We need to think stronger in how to find a way. I want us to be more aggressive in our thinking and expect some more.”

The Blue Jackets undoubtedly will have some different faces next season. Just how many remains to be seen. Kekalainen was coy when asked if the team needs more talented players to get deeper into the playoffs.

“We’re always looking to upgrade, one way or another,” he said. “I think we’re going to get better again from inside. It’s going to be the same approach.”

Kekalainen cited the surprise trade last summer that brought star winger Artemi Panarin to town and the swift emergence of rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois. But he won’t talk strategy.

One the goals likely will be to sign Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky – the team’s biggest stars – to contract extensions. Both will be unrestricted free agents in 2019, and the team would like to lock them up before that.

Defenseman Jack Johnson and forward Matt Calvert will be unrestricted free agents on July 1, so the Blue Jackets will have to make a decision on whether to sign them to new contracts. The 28-year-old Calvert, the longest tenured Blue Jacket at eight seasons but never more than a bottom six player, tied his career-high season point total with 24 and had three playoff goals.

The Blue Jackets also will have to decide whether to re-sign forwards Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu and defensemen Ian Cole, all of whom were added at the trade deadline.

Columbus finished with 97 points, second most in franchise history after last season’s 108, and qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard. The team punctuated a furious comeback down the stretch with a 10-game winning streak in March.

But the playoffs were a bust. Again.

“We expected more out of ourselves this year,” defenseman Zach Werenski said on his way out this week. “Go up 2-0 on the road, come back home we don’t get a win. I just think we have higher expectations, and we should. We are a good hockey team and we fell short of our goals this year. At the end of the day, if you are not holding the Stanley Cup, it’s kind of a failed season. This one definitely stings.”

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

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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.