Confidence carrying Stamkos as scoring touch returns (Puck Daddy)

NEW YORK — Steven Stamkos stood at the podium after Game 5 with a relaxed look on his face. Gone are the days when speculation was rife that he was injured, contributing to his goal drought in Tampa’s first eight games of the postseason. Stamkos wasn’t hurt, as he contended during Round 1 into Round 2. But even a multiple Rocket Richard Trophy winner can go through battles with confidence. And while it certainly helped that the Lightning came back in their series against the Detroit Red Wings, it feels good for the Tampa captain to know he’s contributing in victories now. The Lightning won Game 5 against the New York Rangers 2-0 Sunday night, putting them a win away from advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2004. Stamkos scored a power play goal late in the second period to put Tampa up 2-0 and put the game effectively out of reach given the Rangers’ inability to breach Ben Bishop, who made 26 saves. Stamkos has now scored in four consecutive games, tying a team playoff record set by Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The goals have started coming since Game 2 of Round 2 against the Montreal Canadiens. Since that 6-2 win Stamkos has 7 goals in 10 games and 14 points over that stretch.  The jump in production coincided with a move to the wing, a move that Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said he made so Stamkos didn’t exert too much energy in the defensive zone.  “I’m definitely more confident now than I was the first eight games, no question,” Stamkos said. “But I think for me it was a great adversity test. Our team was winning, which was great. The depth has prevailed all season for our team. But I knew I was playing the right way. When you play the right way, things are going to start going your way.” While the “Triplets” line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov has garnered much of the attention, Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula and Alex KIllorn have done damage themselves. Despite their lack of a catchy nickname — “I don’t think we need a nickname,” says Filppula — they’ve provided another threat the Rangers have failed to contain. “Whenever good things happen you get confidence and you get more comfortable and you trust what you’re doing,” said Filppula, “it’s going to get results. I think that that’s a good sign.” Both head coaches have talked about needing their big names to step up at this stage of the season. New York got that from St. Louis and Rick Nash in Game 4, but have missed them for the most part. Meanwhile, Cooper has watched his go-to guys lead the charge, and in Stamkos’ case, it’s been timely.  “The one thing with Stammer, you look at his seven goals, he’s not getting the sixth goal in a 6-2 game,” Cooper said. “He’s getting the go-ahead goal or the one that you build off. It was only a matter of time. You can’t keep him down forever. He was responsible on both ends of the ice.” Stamkos and Victor Hedman are the only Lightning players who remain from that 2011 team that lost 1-0 in Game 7 of the East Final to the Boston Bruins. Four year later, Stamkos is now the leader of the Lightning and Hedman has evolved into one of the NHL’s top defensemen. They know how close they are to advancing to the the final stage of the season, but they also understand the Rangers have been coming back in series all postseason.  “We’re going to get some rest. We’re going to regroup,” Stamkos said. “We’re going to watch the film, watch the things that we did well, and obviously try to do it again.” – – – – – – – Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY:

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Journal de Quebec sports journalist Albert Ladouceur dies at the age of 63 (The Canadian Press)

Sports journalist Albert Ladouceur has died in a Quebec hospital at the age of 63. Ladouceur suffered from pancreas cancer, a disease he found out he had in August 2013. Ladouceur worked for the Journal de Quebec and was last featured in their paper in mid-April.

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Smith goal leads Oshawa past Rimouski 4-3 in Memorial Cup opener for both teams (The Canadian Press)

Hunter Smith could breathe easier after scoring the winning goal for the Oshawa Generals. The six-foot-six Calgary Flames prospect bulled his way up the middle and scored on his own rebound to break a tie and lift the Ontario Hockey league champion Generals to a 4-3 victory against the Rimouski Oceanic in the opening game for both teams at the Mastercard Memorial Cup on Saturday. Hunter was sent off for hooking and Jan Kostalek scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game 3-3 for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions 3:46 into the third period.

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Smith goal leads Oshawa past Rimouski 4-3 in Memorial Cup opener for both teams (The Canadian Press)

Hunter Smith could breathe easier after scoring the winning goal for the Oshawa Generals. The six-foot-six Calgary Flames prospect bulled his way up the middle and scored on his own rebound to break a tie and lift the Ontario Hockey league champion Generals to a 4-3 victory against the Rimouski Oceanic in the opening game for both teams at the Mastercard Memorial Cup on Saturday. Hunter was sent off for hooking and Jan Kostalek scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game 3-3 for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions 3:46 into the third period.

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NHL playoffs: 3 things to watch for Ducks-Blackhawks in Game 4 (CBC)

It’s been especially true in the Western Conference where the Ducks hold a 2-1 advantage as they skate against the Blackhawks in Chicago Saturday night. Anaheim Ducks’ head coach Bruce Boudreau knows a lot about winning hockey in the post-season and has his Ducks if not in a row, at least well positioned to get a big leg up on their series with the Blackhawks. A win Saturday in Game 4 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET) would boost Anaheim to the verge of the Stanley Cup final as they are halfway to their goal.

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NHL playoffs: 4 things to know for Rangers-Lightning Game 4 (CBC)

Like a great closer in baseball, it pays for even the best NHL goaltenders to have short memories, and the Lightning’s Ben Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers will be looking to do just that in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. After getting a split in New York to open the series, the last thing Ben Bishop and the Lightning needed in Game 3 Wednesday was to face an early Rangers power play and have Derick Brassard put the Rangers on the board with their first shot of the game. It would only be the start of an 11-goal shooting gallery where the Lightning would finally prevail in overtime 6-5.

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Leafs coach Babcock stirs hornet's nest with 'Canada's team' comments (The Canadian Press)

Canadians can get touchy when one NHL franchise is anointed as “Canada’s team,” as incoming Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock found out on Thursday. “Whether you believe it or not, I believe this is Canada’s team and we need to put Canada’s team back on the map,” Babcock told a buzzing media contingent at Air Canada Centre on Thursday while accepting the job as the 30th head coach in Maple Leafs history. The Maple Leafs added to the outrage when they posted a Vine video of Babcock uttering the offending phrase on their Twitter account.

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All about Babcock; Sabres’ coaching options; wake up, Henrik (Puck Headlines) (Puck Daddy)

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at  puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com .   

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Mike Babcock's Maple Leafs salary puts him in rare company (CBC)

Toronto hooked “the big whale,” as one Maple Leafs executive put it, when the team landed highly sought-after coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday. Babcock reportedly received an eight-year deal worth about $50 million US, putting him in rare company. Babcock’s salary puts him in the upper echelon of well compensated coaches when considering the North American big four sports: hockey, baseball, basketball and football.

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Senators sign 'Hamburglar' Andrew Hammond to US$4.05M, 3-year deal (The Canadian Press)

Andrew Hammond has shown he has what it takes to play at a high level in the NHL in a short-term situation. The Ottawa Senators signed the goaltender to a US$4.05-million, three-year contract on Wednesday. Hammond, whose spectacular late-season run got the Senators into the playoffs, will make $1.2 million next season, $1.35 million in 2016-17 and $1.5 million in 2017-18.

Continue reading Senators sign 'Hamburglar' Andrew Hammond to US$4.05M, 3-year deal (The Canadian Press)

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Senators sign 'Hamburglar' Andrew Hammond to US$4.05M, 3-year deal (The Canadian Press)

Andrew Hammond has shown he has what it takes to play at a high level in the NHL in a short-term situation. The Ottawa Senators signed the goaltender to a US$4.05-million, three-year contract on Wednesday. Hammond, whose spectacular late-season run got the Senators into the playoffs, will make $1.2 million next season, $1.35 million in 2016-17 and $1.5 million in 2017-18.

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Boston Bruins elevate Don Sweeney to general manager (The Associated Press)

On his first day as general manager of the Boston Bruins, Don Sweeney met with Claude Julien and declined to give his Stanley Cup-winning coach more than a tepid endorsement. ”He’s the coach of the Boston Bruins as of today, for sure,” Sweeney said Wednesday in a news conference after he was promoted to become the eighth GM in the 81-year history of the Original Six franchise. It’s just a matter of lining up things that I believe in.” Julien led the Bruins to the NHL title in 2011 and back to the Stanley Cup finals two years later.

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Captain Foligno; Hedman’s arrival; ‘Uptown Puck’ (Puck Headlines) (Puck Daddy)

Here are your Puck Headlines: A glorious collection of news and views collected from the greatest blogosphere in sports and the few, the proud, the mainstream hockey media. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com . 

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Ward, Petry among free agents who made some more money in playoffs (The Canadian Press)

NHL players make their money during the regular season, but a strong performance in the playoffs can still lead to a bigger paycheque. Joel Ward made extra on his last contract with the Washington Capitals from his post-season exploits with the Nashville Predators and is one of a handful of pending unrestricted free agents who improved their stock in these playoffs. Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry, Anaheim Ducks winger Matt Beleskey and Capitals teammate Jay Beagle certainly didn’t hurt themselves, either.

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Andrew Hammond reaches 3-year deal with Senators (CBC)

Goalie Andrew Hammond, who stole the hearts of fans and goals from opposition players while leading the Ottawa Senators to the playoffs, has signed a three-year contract, the club announced Tuesday. Hammond will make $1.2 million US next season, $1.35 million in 2016-17 and $1.5 million in 2017-18.  The contract will count $1.35 million against Ottawa’s salary cap per year over the length of the deal. The 27-year-old from Surrey, B.C., came out of nowhere to save the Senators’ season when Ottawa regulars Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner were injured.

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Thriving under pressure

MONTREAL – Much was expected of P.K. Subban this past season and he didn’t disappoint.

When Subban signed the most lucrative contract ever given to a player in Canadiens history last August, he knew that people would be paying particularly close attention to his performance in 2014-15, even more so than they had in his four previous seasons in Montreal. The fact that he’d returned from Sochi with a gold medal around his neck or that he’d been the Canadiens’ top point-getter during the 2014 playoffs didn’t absolve him from his obligation to deliver on his new deal. Subban needed to produce and be among the team’s standouts night after night. And, in addition to all that, the Toronto native was selected as one of the squad’s troops who would sport an “A” on his jersey while awaiting the nomination of a new captain.

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Johnson, Gaudreau prove there's no height requirement to star in NHL playoffs (The Canadian Press)

The Stanley Cup playoffs can be a roller-coaster ride with climbs and drops, unpredictable twists and turns. If that existed, there’d be no room for Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning or Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. Johnson is favourably listed at five foot eight and Gaudreau at five foot nine, yet they’ve been larger than life in this post-season.

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Not just happy to be in East final, Lightning show they can hang with Rangers (The Canadian Press)

Jon Cooper wondered if the Tampa Bay Lightning let up for just one day after reaching the NHL’s final four. It showed in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, when the tentative Lightning couldn’t hang with the playoff-tested New York Rangers. “It’s just part of the evolution of our team,” Cooper said Sunday.

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Injured forward Zuccarello skates solo, remains out of Rangers' lineup (The Canadian Press)

Injured Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello skated on his own Monday morning, though he remains out indefinitely with a suspected head injury. Zuccarello hasn’t played since getting hit in the side of the helmet by teammate Ryan McDonagh’s shot in Game 5 of New York’s first-round series against Pittsburgh. He doesn’t appear close to playing in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but skating “lightly” represented progress. “He’s just going through the process of getting healthy,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

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What We Learned: Why is Rick Nash so bad in the playoffs? (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)   Each year, the New York Rangers make the playoffs. Each year, Rick Nash is criticized for not producing. This kind of thing is common in hockey, of course. Sidney Crosby has faced it. Alex Ovechkin has faced it. If you put up a lot of points in the regular season and then not-a-lot in the playoffs, especially if your team is unceremoniously bounced, then you get called out. No one would ever mistake Nash for a player of Crosby’s or Ovechkin’s level; he’s long been an All-Star but never has he been in the conversation for “best in the world.”  But as far as Rangers go, he’s certainly the best they’ve got up front. He averages 0.47 goals per game over his career on Broadway, and he’s pushing 400 in the regular season since he broke into the league in 2002. Not world-beating, but always respectable, and when he’s got actual talent around him —which he does to some extent with the Rangers —he can produce. He has eight 30-goal performances out of his 11 full seasons. The playoffs have been a different story, as everyone has learned time and again when watching pregame, between-periods, and postgame chats on the Rangers’difficulties putting the puck into the net in each of the last three postseasons (during which time they’ve always advanced at least to the second round). Nash has 50 playoff games in New York. He also has just six goals, or 0.12 per game. It’s a major problem. But the question, then, is whether this is just another Ovechkin/Crosby/Stamkos run of bad luck; that is to say: Those players basically play at the same level and have suffered playoff difficulties because of hot goalies, bad luck, and maybe a few undisclosed injuries, so does Nash fall into the same boat? And if you look at his even-strength performances in both the regular- and postseason in his career —Nash has only made it four times due to having languished in Columbus so long —you see the drop-off at 5-on-5 is about as stark as can be. (These numbers include only the first two rounds this year, and worse performances are indicated in red, better in green.)

Continue reading What We Learned: Why is Rick Nash so bad in the playoffs? (Puck Daddy)

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NHL playoffs: 4 things to know for Sunday (CBC)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks come into their Western Conference final Sunday well-rested and raring to go. It took the Ducks only nine games to overcome the Canadian content offered up by the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames. Now they’ll tangle with the experienced Blackhawks who are in the Conference finals for the fifth time in seven years. The Ducks have gotten younger and bigger since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 They can overpower you with their size and scoring prowess.

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Dominic Moore, the greasy heart of the New York Rangers (Puck Daddy)

NEW YORK – To call Dominic Moore an inspirational player would be understating it.  Moore has played with nine different NHL teams since debuting in 2004 with the New York Rangers. He’s never averaged more than 17 minutes a night, never scored more than 18 goals. He’s a great faceoff man, a grinding forward and a penalty killer. His work ethic is his calling card, as much as his determination and heart – even when that heart is heavy with grief, as it was in 2013 when his wife Katie Moore died of cancer at 32 and Dominic Moore took a year away from hockey. He takes nothing for granted. “For me, this is the fourth time in the last five years in the conference final. I don’t take lightly being in these games,” said Moore after scoring the game-winning goal for the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, having also made the penultimate round with the 2010 Montreal Canadiens, the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning and last year’s Stanley Cup Final runner up from New York. “We worked heard to earn this opportunity.” The Rangers don’t take Moore for granted. “He’s very trustworthy as a player. You know what you’re going to get every night,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “He’s a true pro, I think,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “He had it early on. My rookie year was his  rookie year. I’m all about preparation, and I can see him almost being like a goalie with everything he does and preparing himself to get into the right place going into every game. I think that’s why he’s been so consistent throughout his career, as well. He brings his game to a level that he’s helping the team every night in face-offs and making great plays.” Moore’s game-winner late in the third period, giving the Rangers Game 1 against the Lightning by a 2-1 count, may not fall into the “great play” category. It was a Kevin Hayes pass that bounced off the knee of Moore and past Ben Bishop; the first goal of the playoffs for Moore. “It’s the playoffs, isn’t it? The beauties that you see in the regular season often times don’t show up in the playoffs,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper. “Give them credit. They drove the net. They had guys buzzing around down there and they got the break. In a game like that, that’s how it was going to end up, who was going to get the last one at the end. And unfortunately for us, they got it.” It was the kind of goal Moore specializes in: In the trenches, around the net, being hounded by the opposing defense. “He plays a greasy kind of game. Tough to play against,” said Marty St. Louis of the Rangers.   “Guys that play with him understand how he plays. Killing penalties, winning faceoffs … he doesn’t get a lot of the accolades and glory but his teammates appreciate him.” (Of course, Moore couldn’t help on the Lightning’s last power play, as he sat in the box for a tripping call against former teammate Anton Stralman. The Rangers killed it off.)  St. Louis was added to Moore’s wing in Game 1, along with Carl Hagelin, and the results were stellar for coach Alain Vigneault: They were the best line on the ice in the first period, and helped the Rangers dominate the Lightning at 5-on-5. Moore finished with a 65.2 percent corsi for the game at 5-on-5. (The addition of Kevin Hayes to the line of Rick Nash and Derick Brassard was also palpable, as Hayes finished with a 74.07 corsi percentage at even strength, his line producing 20 chances to the Bolts’ seven.) Moore saw copious amounts of the “Triplets” line for the Lightning, with NHL leading playoff goal-scorer Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. That line was the offensive engine for the Lightning in the previous round; while they were dangerous in Game 1, they didn’t score at 5-on-5.  “In the second we gave them some room, and that’s the nature of the long change. Towards the end there, there were some opportunities to gain the zone,” said McDonagh, who was also matched against them. “But whoever was out there, as a unit of five, did a good job with the back pressure, getting it out of their hands before they get here.” St. Louis agreed: “When you’re out there against them, he have to have your head on a swivel.” The Triplets converted on the power play. But they were outscored by Moore at even strength, the result of the Rangers center’s overall effort, all game long.  He set the workrate for the Rangers, and helped them take a 1-0 advantage in the series.  “To see him get that goal, benefit of that bounce,” said Vingeault, “[is to see that] hard work pays off.” MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY

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Dominic Moore, the greasy heart of the New York Rangers (Puck Daddy)

NEW YORK – To call Dominic Moore an inspirational player would be understating it.  Moore has played with nine different NHL teams since debuting in 2004 with the New York Rangers. He’s never averaged more than 17 minutes a night, never scored more than 18 goals. He’s a great faceoff man, a grinding forward and a penalty killer. His work ethic is his calling card, as much as his determination and heart – even when that heart is heavy with grief, as it was in 2013 when his wife Katie Moore died of cancer at 32 and Dominic Moore took a year away from hockey. He takes nothing for granted. “For me, this is the fourth time in the last five years in the conference final. I don’t take lightly being in these games,” said Moore after scoring the game-winning goal for the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, having also made the penultimate round with the 2010 Montreal Canadiens, the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning and last year’s Stanley Cup Final runner up from New York. “We worked heard to earn this opportunity.” The Rangers don’t take Moore for granted. “He’s very trustworthy as a player. You know what you’re going to get every night,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “He’s a true pro, I think,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “He had it early on. My rookie year was his  rookie year. I’m all about preparation, and I can see him almost being like a goalie with everything he does and preparing himself to get into the right place going into every game. I think that’s why he’s been so consistent throughout his career, as well. He brings his game to a level that he’s helping the team every night in face-offs and making great plays.” Moore’s game-winner late in the third period, giving the Rangers Game 1 against the Lightning by a 2-1 count, may not fall into the “great play” category. It was a Kevin Hayes pass that bounced off the knee of Moore and past Ben Bishop; the first goal of the playoffs for Moore. “It’s the playoffs, isn’t it? The beauties that you see in the regular season often times don’t show up in the playoffs,” said Tampa coach Jon Cooper. “Give them credit. They drove the net. They had guys buzzing around down there and they got the break. In a game like that, that’s how it was going to end up, who was going to get the last one at the end. And unfortunately for us, they got it.” It was the kind of goal Moore specializes in: In the trenches, around the net, being hounded by the opposing defense. “He plays a greasy kind of game. Tough to play against,” said Marty St. Louis of the Rangers.   “Guys that play with him understand how he plays. Killing penalties, winning faceoffs … he doesn’t get a lot of the accolades and glory but his teammates appreciate him.” (Of course, Moore couldn’t help on the Lightning’s last power play, as he sat in the box for a tripping call against former teammate Anton Stralman. The Rangers killed it off.)  St. Louis was added to Moore’s wing in Game 1, along with Carl Hagelin, and the results were stellar for coach Alain Vigneault: They were the best line on the ice in the first period, and helped the Rangers dominate the Lightning at 5-on-5. Moore finished with a 65.2 percent corsi for the game at 5-on-5. (The addition of Kevin Hayes to the line of Rick Nash and Derick Brassard was also palpable, as Hayes finished with a 74.07 corsi percentage at even strength, his line producing 20 chances to the Bolts’ seven.) Moore saw copious amounts of the “Triplets” line for the Lightning, with NHL leading playoff goal-scorer Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. That line was the offensive engine for the Lightning in the previous round; while they were dangerous in Game 1, they didn’t score at 5-on-5.  “In the second we gave them some room, and that’s the nature of the long change. Towards the end there, there were some opportunities to gain the zone,” said McDonagh, who was also matched against them. “But whoever was out there, as a unit of five, did a good job with the back pressure, getting it out of their hands before they get here.” St. Louis agreed: “When you’re out there against them, he have to have your head on a swivel.” The Triplets converted on the power play. But they were outscored by Moore at even strength, the result of the Rangers center’s overall effort, all game long.  He set the workrate for the Rangers, and helped them take a 1-0 advantage in the series.  “To see him get that goal, benefit of that bounce,” said Vingeault, “[is to see that] hard work pays off.” MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY

Continue reading Dominic Moore, the greasy heart of the New York Rangers (Puck Daddy)

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Smith shuts out Czech Republic, Canada advances to gold-medal game (The Canadian Press)

Mike Smith recorded his second straight shutout Saturday to lead Canada to a 2-0 semifinal win over the Czech Republic at the world hockey championships. Smith, who’s been stellar all tournament, made 23 saves to hold down a fired-up Czech squad and propel Canada into Sunday’s gold-medal game against Russia. “I think we played a solid game and that’s most important,” Smith said. Smith has given up just 11 goals through the first nine games of the tournament and has recorded a .931 save percentage — third best behind Connor Hellebuyck of the United States and Sebastian Dahm of Denmark.

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NHL playoffs: 4 things to know for Saturday (CBC)

You know the NHL playoffs are a grind when you look back at the first two rounds and think of all the close games and then realize that the final four teams still playing are only halfway to a Stanley Cup championship. Here are 4 things to know about the Rangers and the Lightning who begin round 3 Saturday. Two almost certainties right off the bat about the New York Rangers are that they aren’t going to give up many goals and that they don’t wilt under the pressure of tight games. Saturday they begin the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 1 p.m. ET).

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What will make or break the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning? (Puck Daddy)

Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning were 3-0 against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers during the regular season. The great thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is that those stats are thrown out and it boils down to who’s going to be the better team over a maximum of seven games. We all know the Tampa-New York connections and we’ll be hearing too much about them over the next two weeks, specifically Martin St. Louis. But this series is a matchup of a team who’s hot offensively against one who is hot defensively. Something will have to give for one to escape the Eastern Conference Final and move on to the Stanley Cup Final. Here are three things that will make or break the Rangers and Lightning.  New York Rangers 1. Can their penalty kill minimize Tampa’s power play? New York has the best penalty kill of the final four teams and are ranked fourth overall in these playoffs (89.3-percent success rate). It’s a solid kill unit whose success from the regular season (sixth overall, 84.3-percent) has carried over into the postseason. In the playoffs, of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers only allowed one goal between them against the extra man. Now comes the Lightning who scored seven power play goals in Round 2. Jon Cooper talked about how a power play can carry momentum for a team, but with the Rangers having killed their last 13 man advantages faced, can they swing things in their favor? 2. Is a track meet scheduled? The Rangers and Lightning are two of the fastest teams in the NHL. Heck, the Rangers even have a guy named “Fast” on their roster just to hammer home that point. Both teams enjoy activating their defensemen into the rush, but does New York want to go toe-to-toe with the Lightning in this department? Their defense hasn’t had to deal with as much speed as Tampa contains, so quick transitions could cause the Ranger blueliners fits. 3. Will Mats Zuccarello return? Zuccarello has been sidelined since Game 5 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins after taking a puck to head. His availability beyond the second round is “in doubt,” reported the New York Post . He was in attendance for Game 7 versus Washington and head coach Alain Vigneault said the forward was “coming along.” His absence hurts New York’s secondary scoring, and with St. Louis still without a goal, Zuccarello, who has scored 34 times over the last two seasons, coming back for this series would provide a boost to an offense that could use one.  Tampa Bay Lightning 1. Can they break Henrik Lundqvist? No goalie remaining has a better goals against average (1.60), even strength save percentage (.945) or history in Game 7s. Six of New York’s playoff wins this spring have come via 2-1 victories, with Lundqvist rising to the occasion when needed, despite the Rangers allowing 29.6 shots per game. Tampa’s averaged 2.62 goals per game these playoffs, while the Blueshirts have had their issues scoring averaging 2 goals for per game. The Lightning have to manage to bring Lundqvist back down to earth.  2. What’s next for “The Triplets”? The hottest line in hockey is the trio of Tyler “Conn” Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, who have combined for 17 of Tampa’s 34 goals this postseason. Johnson leads the team with eight and is one of the Conn Smythe Trophy favorites heading into Round 3. Kucherov didn’t score in Round 1, but erupted against the Montreal Canadiens scoring six times in six games. Palat, meanwhile, enters the conference final with five points in his last four games. They’ve been the driving force behind the Lightning offense so far, and will be relied upon to keep the pressure on Lundqvist. 3. Win the neutral zone. Speed and an aggressive approach to turn pucks over in the neutral zone will lead to scoring chances, and with the arsenal Tampa possesses, more often than not that will result in goals — and goals will be hard to come by with a certain Swedish netminder playing at a high level at the moment. – – – – – – – Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY:

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Habs GM Bergevin defends Therrien from critics, says coaching staff will stay (The Canadian Press)

Montreal Canadiens fans who dream of Mike Babcock as the next coach had better think again: Michel Therrien isn’t going anywhere. General manager Marc Bergevin launched an emphatic defence of his third-year head coach at a news conference on Friday to wrap up the Canadiens season. The Canadiens finished second overall in the NHL with 110 points this season, but some feel the numbers were misleading and that Therrien leaned on star goalie Carey Price to bail out a squad that struggled to score goals and was brutal on the power play. Bergevin responded with numbers: The Canadiens played five rounds of playoffs in the last two seasons, behind only Chicago and the New York Rangers, and Therrien’s squad was among the leaders with 29 playoff games played and 16 wins over that span.

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