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(Page 136 of 166)

Young forward Rakell X-factor for Ducks

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Ducks vs Jets - 2015 SCP First Round

Curtis Zupke - Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- One of the questions the Anaheim Ducks had to answer this season was whether Rickard Rakell was ready for the role as third-line center. Two months into the season, Rakell wasn’t so sure himself.

Rakell found himself in close competition with William Karlsson, whose dazzling start turned heads and made Rakell a scratch six times in the first 16 games. Rakell was reassigned to the American Hockey League in early December, and the two-game stint there was a turning point.

Rakell not only grabbed the third-line role but has proven he can be an effective two-way player who can be a difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I kind of got my confidence back and kind of figured out what kind of player I want to be and just do the things that I’m good at, like playing with puck control and protecting pucks and trying to make plays for my teammates," Rakell said.

Why the Blues will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

Jon Lane - Staff Writer

There's no denying the recent history of the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Three seasons ago, the Blues won the Central Division but were swept in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings. The past two postseasons each ended in extreme disappointment after St. Louis took 2-0 series leads but went on to best-of-7 first-round losses to the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

That track record has planted seeds of doubt about whether the Blues can go far this time after qualifying for the fourth straight season.

This time, this postseason, there is no debate. The Blues will hit the high note in June when they exorcise their playoff demons and win the Stanley Cup.

Why the Wild will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

John Kreiser - Columnist

The Minnesota Wild season can be divided into two parts: pre-Dubnyk and post-Dubnyk.

Shaky goaltending had the Wild struggling before general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Devan Dubnyk, a backup with the Arizona Coyotes, on Jan. 14 in a trade for a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With Dubnyk turning in brilliant work on an every-night basis, the Wild quickly rose from being 13th in the Western Conference, eight points out of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to a playoff team that will win it all.

Suffice it to say that acquiring Dubnyk might be the best deal Fletcher ever makes. It certainly saved the Wild's season.

Second-liner Stafford X-factor for Jets

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Ducks vs Jets - 2015 SCP First Round

Patrick Williams - Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets needed Drew Stafford's offense in February and March when they were dealing with injuries in their lineup, and they will need him to continue to produce in April in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

On March 14, the Jets were fighting to retain their hold on a wild card in the Western Conference. That night, Jets coach Paul Maurice debuted a line against the Tampa Bay Lightning. First-line center Bryan Little's recovery from an upper-body injury had slowed, and left wing Mathieu Perreault had already been out a month with a lower-body injury.

Maurice decided to put right wing Blake Wheeler and center Mark Scheifele together with Stafford on left wing. Against the Lightning, who were tied for the NHL lead in home wins at the time, the Jets won 2-1 on third-period goals from Wheeler and Stafford.

Franson's offense will be X-factor for Predators

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Predators vs Blackhawks - 2015 SCP First Round

Robby Stanley - Correspondent

The Nashville Predators were the best team in the NHL when they acquired defenseman Cody Franson from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 15.

Since then, they've stumbled, losing out on the Central Division to the St. Louis Blues, but Franson's play could go a long way in determining whether or not Nashville makes it out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It took Franson a few games to get up to speed with the system that the Predators run. After 24 games with his new team, Franson has figured out his role, and the way he's expected to play.

X-Factor Namestnikov sticking with Lightning

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Lightning vs Red Wings - 2015 SCP First Round

Corey Long - Correspondent

TAMPA -- After spending the first third of the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, it appeared Vladislav Namestnikov would be going through the postseason with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.

The 22-year-old forward was recalled again March 4, and he's made it hard for coach Jon Cooper to keep him out of the lineup.

Namestnikov, the No. 27 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has established a role on the team that gives Cooper plenty of flexibility. He has the scoring touch to play on one of the top two lines if needed but possesses the grit and toughness that make him a good fit on the third line with Cedric Paquette or the fourth line next to Brian Boyle.

He's shown the skill set to be used on either special teams unit and he has three game-winning goals, showing he isn't afraid to make a play with the game on the line.

"[Namestnikov] has shown that he has the ability to play here and he's made it really hard for me to pull him out of the lineup right now," Cooper said. "As we approach the playoffs you want to have a relatively healthy team and play the guys that give you the best chance to win. He's one of those guys."

Hudler's season sparked Flames, but he won't say so

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Canucks vs Flames - 2015 SCP First Round

Aaron Vickers - Correspondent

CALGARY -- Jiri Hudler is as elusive on the ice as he is off.

But while the bashful Calgary Flames forward has never proven to be a big fan of chatting about personal accolades, linemates of the right wing haven't been shy to step in and discuss Hudler's best NHL season.

"A lot of people might not have expected that but in this room we know how he can play," said Sean Monahan, who has served as Hudler's center for much of 2014-15. "It's no surprise to us. I don't think he minds not getting that attention that some of the other guys get.

"He flies under the radar a little bit. That's something that he likes. He's doing a great job for us. He's taken a big chunk of this season and carried us."

Why the Lightning will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Lightning vs Red Wings - 2015 SCP First Round

There are a few things teams need to have to win the Stanley Cup, from a deep offense to a mobile but stout defense and a goaltender who makes all the important saves.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have all those pieces in place, and that's why they will win the Stanley Cup.

Captain Steven Stamkos draws most of the attention when it comes to the Lightning, and with good reason. Along with being one of the purest goal scorers in the League, Stamkos has the ability to elevate the play of his linemates.

But what separates the Lightning from the pack is the depth of their offense. Their second line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov arguably is the best 5-on-5 line in the NHL. They've combined for more than 90 points on the ice together at even strength; that ranks them in the top two among all lines, and about 60 points better than the Lightning's next highest-scoring line. Johnson, Palat and Kucherov each has a plus/minus of plus-30 or better.

Why the Predators will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Predators vs Blackhawks - 2015 SCP First Round

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

The Nashville Predators entered the 2014-15 season with hopes of finding a way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after failing to qualify in back-to-back years.

They entered with a new coach, Peter Laviolette, who is the second in Predators history. Barry Trotz spent the first 15 years of their existence behind the bench. Armed with an ability to quickly turn things around, Laviolette seemed to be the perfect hire by general manager David Poile.

Just like Laviolette did in his first seasons with the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, he quickly got his team back on track. Laviolette, who coached the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, has done such an impressive job his name has been mentioned as a Jack Adams Award candidate as the NHL's top coach.

Why the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Rangers vs Penguins - 2015 SCP First Round

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

The New York Rangers are better suited to win the Stanley Cup this season because they're faster and more skilled than they were last season, when they went to the Stanley Cup Final. This is the best Rangers team since the 1993-94 season, when they last won the Cup.

Everything the Rangers do starts with speed. It fuels their overall game. They are arguably the fastest team in the NHL from front to back.

New York pushes the pace to create odd-man opportunities off the rush with quick puck movement. It puts the opponent on its heels. When the Rangers do that, it allows coach Alain Vigneault to roll four lines and three defense pairs, keeping everybody into the game and fresh.

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Quote of the Day

I first met him when I was 19 years old and he coached me for 13 consecutive years. I don't know how many athletes who have had that pleasure. Al Arbour was a man that left us not only feeling like champions, but left us with a lot of great memories that we can carry on through life.

— Islanders Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin on former coach Al Arbour, who passed away Friday at the age of 82