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Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:22 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:32 pm
 

Crosby cleared for contact, could play on Sunday

Crosby has two goals and 10 assists in eight games this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Sidney Crosby has one again been cleared for contact and could be returning very soon. How soon? Perhaps as soon as Sunday.

"I'll give myself days with contact," Crosby said. "We have two more practices this week. No sooner than Sunday, I would say, but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork. I just want to make sure I get through these days fine and that would be a great decision to make if I get to that point.

"The big step is contact. Hopefully, I can do that for a few days and get back out there."

If he does make his return on Sunday it will come against the Boston Bruins -- NBC already has it scheduled to be the national game of the week. The interesting angle there, of course, is that it was against the Bruins that Crosby played his last game.

Crosby has been practicing with his Penguins teammates for a while but there were no updates coming from the Penguins about his status until after the team's skate on Tuesday. That's when Crosby revealed he has been cleared.

You'll remember that Crosby played eight games earlier this season after sitting out for nearly a full year because of a concussion. He returned to the sideline later with what many were assuming was another concussion. It was later discovered that Crosby had a neck issue that was causing many of the problems since its symptoms can be very similar to those of a concussion.

If -- and this remains an If until Crosby is able to return for an extended time -- he is healthy, is there any question that the Penguins will be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup? They already have the second best record in the Eastern Conference with Crosby out for all but eight games thus far.

As he showed earlier this season, it shouldn't take long at all for him to get back into top form -- which makes him in my and plenty of other's opinions the best player in the league.

"I've been through this before. Contact is the big step," Crosby said. "It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there. I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon."

It might not be a great day for the rest of the league per se, but it's a great day for hockey.

More from Eye on Hockey

Crosby has 'soft tissue injury'

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:31 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 11:43 am
 

Most miserable city? Post-Thrashers Atlanta

The fans pleaded to no avail in Atlanta. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

To the city of Atlanta and the sports fans there, I'm sorry, this feels a bit like piling on. But your city has been named the Most Miserable Sports City in America by Forbes, usurping Seattle for that dubious title.

Of course the biggest contribution to Atlanta's rise (fall?) to the top (bottom?) of the rankings was the loss of a franchise, the Thrashers leaving the city for the greener (or whiter with all that snow) pastures that were Winnipeg.

And no, the list doesn't refer to Atlanta being a bad sports city, even it that does apply. Atlanta would probably be in the running for that award neck-and-neck with Miami/South Florida.

It must really burn the hockey fans in Atlanta to see the franchise clear the executive offices out, get itself a new general manager and finding some success this season with nearly the same team that disappointed in Atlanta a year ago. Having to be reminded constantly about the Jets going from one of the worst home-ice advantages in the NHL to the best can't help either.

Here is the summary on Atlanta's deservingness of the title.

Over the past year, Atlanta fans have watched their hockey team leave for Winnipeg, their baseball team blow the playoffs on the final day, and their football and basketball teams bow out early in the playoffs.

Yea, that doesn't sound too pleasant. Then again one city that didn't even crack the top five doesn't have a hockey team, has a football team that hasn't made the playoffs in 10 years, a baseball team that has made it just once in the last 10 years and a basketball team that was left crushed when it was spurned by its biggest star. Yes, I'm looking at you, Cleveland. It’s not found until No. 8 on the list.

The top 5 cities are:

1. Atlanta
2. Seattle
3. Phoenix
4. Buffalo
5. San Diego.

Phoenix could be making a move to pass both Seattle and Atlanta in the next year if the Coyotes fall to the same fate that took the Thrashers from Atlanta. It remains a very real possibility with no deal yet to keep the team in Phoenix/Glendale.

Who says hockey doesn't matter? Sure seems to carry a lot of weight here, even if it's for the wrong reasons.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 10:08 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 10:32 am
 

Leafs re-sign Mikhail Grabovski for five seasons

Grabovski has 20 goals this season for Toronto. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Toronto Maple Leafs have re-signed center Mikhail Grabovski to a five-year contract, ensuring that their talented centerman won't hit the free-agent market this summer.

The cost? Well it's going to be a little expensive for the Leafs.

There hasn't been a whole lot of good news coming out of Toronto recently, so consider Tuesday morning's break to be a relief. The team has lost its grip on the playoff position it held for so long, head coach Ron Wilson was just fired and GM Brian Burke has continued to be Brian Burke, making news for something every other day.

This bit of newsmaking is good, though. Very good. Grabovski's name was floated a bit at the trade deadline since he wasn't under contract for next season. But in an interesting phone interview with TSN's James Duthie on deadline day, Burke expressed interest although not a whole ton of optimism they would sign Grabovski. Either way he wasn't going to be traded.

"We are extremely pleased to have Mikhail under contract for the next five seasons,” Burke said in the team's release. “His speed and skill are valuable commodities and fit perfectly with our style of play. He leads by example and his work ethic speaks for itself."

Grabovski is technically the No. 2 center for the Leafs but many would argue he's the best centerman on the team. He helps give Toronto a solid second line. This season he has 20 goals and 25 assists to follow up his 29-29=58 of last season.

The price tag, as you might expect, comes in a little high. But compare it to other recent signings such as Ales Hemsky in Edmonton and it shouldn't be a total shock. Grabovski is a legit top-six centerman and people all across hockey will tell you that's not easy to find. The Leafs have a good one and they had to make sure they kept him.

I get the sense that I'm in the minority on this one in thinking it's not a bad deal for Toronto. Grabovski will still be just 33 when the deal is done and he should consistently give the Leafs 25-plus goals each season at center.

What do you think, good deal?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 9:38 am
Edited on: March 6, 2012 9:45 am
 

Pregame Skate: Big night for all in playoff push

Jumbo Joe and San Jose enter the night eighth in the West. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

10:30 ET, Edmonton at San Jose

This is pretty amazing to type with only a few weeks left in the season, but if the Sharks don't win this game, they could be out of playoff position.

Now here is the part where I throw out the disclaimers: the Sharks have multiple games in hand on the teams ahead or near them in the standings. It's also where I remind you that does you no good unless you actually win those games in hand.

But the Sharks are sinking right now. They are 4-10-1 in their last 15 games, unable to really find their footing since returning from that nine-game road trip they took in February. As a result, they find themselves holding on to the final playoff spot in the West at the moment. Of course, they could also forge a three-way tie with losses by their Pacific Division rivals tonight and regain the third seed. This is how it is shaping up to be for the remainder of the season in the Pacific.

The important thing for San Jose is to not let these types of games slip away. The Sharks have had a couple days off, they're at home and the league's second worst team record wise (the Oilers) are visiting a night after playing in Anaheim. It's as good a shot at two points as any. It's more or less herring just dangling in front of them.

9 ET, Minnesota at Colorado (NBC Sports Network)

The Avalanche won't go away out West either. Unlike the East where teams like Toronto and Washington to an extent have been playing their way out of the playoffs, Colorado is one of those out West that has been winning its way in, meaning they have won five of the last seven games.

That includes a win on Sunday night against the same Minnesota Wild they host on Tuesday. It was a 2-0 win for the Avs with the lone tallies coming from Jamie McGinn in the first period.

I still haven't been convinced by the Avalanche that they have staying power in the Western Conference to make the playoffs this season. But here we are in March and they just won't go away. With that said, their odds still aren't as good as the other teams around them in the standings due to the extra number of games they have played. Sports Club Stats puts the odds on the Avs making it in at 17.95 percent.

It's important to point out that Semyon Varlamov has been significantly better in goal for them of late, showing why they traded a first-round draft pick for him this summer. Only once in his last six starts has he given up more than two goals. In the other five starts his goals against average is a decimal shade above 1.00 even.

7:30 ET, Ottawa at Tampa Bay

Welcome back to the playoff picture, Tampa Bay.

The Lightning have been streaking of late behind the hot stick of Steven Stamkos -- honestly, when is it not hot? -- and are about to enjoy some time at home. Having won four in a row, the Lightning are embarking on a nine-game stretch where eight games will come at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Here's an interesting little tidbit about that: The Lightning actually have the Southeast Division's best home record. Better than Winnipeg. Actually, Washington has a better home record than Winnipeg too (by two fewer OT losses). That's saying something about Tampa's prowess at home.

If they can use this home-heavy stretch the way the Jets just did on their eight-game home stand, there's no reason the Lightning can't get in the playoff seeding very soon, or possibly even jumping the Panthers for first place in the division (they enter tonight six points behind).

Of note for the Senators: Ben Bishop is expected to get his first start since being traded to Ottawa after Robin Lehner was sent back to AHL Binghamton.

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
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Others worth watching

7 ET, Boston at Toronto: Let's see if the change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle is going to help the Maple Leafs finally get over the Bruins hump. Boston has won all four meetings this season by a combined score of 23-6. Eek.

7 ET, Phoenix at Columbus: The Coyotes come into Columbus straight off a loss -- albeit a good showing -- against the Penguins on Monday. It was just Saturday that the Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes in the desert.

7 ET, Carolina at Washington: The last time these two got together the Hurricanes whitewashed the Capitals 5-0 in Raleigh. Washington comes in having lost two straight at home while failing to score in either. To say the Caps need this is an understatement.

7 ET, Detroit at Philadelphia: Not a whole lot in the playoff picture other than Detroit's battle for the Central Division and Presidents' Trophy, but Mark Howe's number will be retired before the game and it should just be an all-around good game.

8 ET, Los Angeles at Nashville: Kings coach Darryl Sutter joked the Predators “haven’t lost at home since Christ was a child.” Doesn't bode well for a team trying to stay in the playoff hunt too. If things go right, L.A. could be just one point out of first in the Pacific by night's end.

10 ET, Dallas at Vancouver: As the day begins, this is a matchup of division leaders as the Stars took that title on Monday night with Phoenix's loss. But the task is tall if they want to keep that lead after tonight.

Your promised miscellany

  • Monday's Winners & Losers
  • The Senators threatened they might leave Ottawa if tax breaks were eliminated. No worries, they're staying. (Ottawa Sun)
  • The news on the Jonathan Toews mystery injury front is sounding better for Chicago. (CSN Chicago)
  • A little more on my favorite story of the year so far, OHL forward Connor Crisp talks about the experience playing goaltender.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 11:00 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 12:27 am
 

Winners & Losers: Jets win to finish homestand

By Brian Stubits

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Winnipeg: Not the Jets -- although they fit too -- but the city of Winnipeg. Its support of the Jets in their return season has been spectacular and it seemed as amped up as ever at MTS Centre on Monday night with the Sabres in town. Winner earned the right to hold the eighth seed.

As always this season (and for many more to come, I'm sure) they filled the place to the rafters and in unison heckled somebody on the other team. Tonight's choise was Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and the Jets fans might have had the chant of the season, reigning "Sil-ver Med-al!" chants on Miller. Even if he was the best goalie in that tournament in 2010, it was still clever.

But of course its being fueled by the Jets (I'd like to say that pun was intended, but not really). They have still played more games than most every other team in the league but they are now starting to make that a moot point by winning right now. They are forcing those teams with games in hand to pick up all the points to catch them at this point. The win on Monday night, for example, put the Jets four ahead of the Sabres in the East.

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
More NHL coverage

More importanlty, they come out as winners on their long homestand. The victory tonight capped off their eight-game home stand in which they went 5-1-2. They did exactly what they had to which was use the comfy confines of MTS Centre to launch themselves into a position that they can hold on to what was was pretty unthinkable considering they are the Thrashers with a different name: a playoff berth. Nine of their final 15 games are on the road.

[Related Jets 3, Sabres 1]

Teemu Selanne, Corey Perry: The Anaheim Ducks got a win to keep their slimmest of slim playoff hopes alive, but that wasn't the biggest story out of the game. Instead it was, as is often the case, Teemu Selanne notching another milestone.

By assisting on Bobby Ryan's go-ahead goal against the Oilers, Selanne earned his 1,398th career point. That was good enough to tie him with his boyhood idol Jari Kurri for 19th on the all-time scoring list. You know that is one milestone that has to just be a little more special than the rest.

Perry then put in what proved to be the winning tally with only a couple minutes left in the game to reach his own milestone: Career goal No. 200. Sure, it isn't exactly tying your boyhood idol for 19th all time in scoring but it's nothing to sneeze at either. He added No. 201 in an empty net.

And yes, the win keeps the Anaheim hopes alive even if that's a still barely. They move five points behind eighth-place San Jose in the West while the Sharks have three games in hand. What it did accomplish, though, is that they passed the Minnesota Wild to take 12th place by themselves.

[Related: Ducks 4, Oilers 2]

Dallas Stars: Only in the NHL can you win by not playing. See the losers side for an explanation.

Losers

Phoenix Coyotes: What they wouldn't give to get February back. After gaining 23 of the 24 points up for grabs in the month of love, they have been left heartbroken so far in March. The latest was Monday's 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh, the early 2-0 hole too difficult to overcome against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins.

But they lost more than the game on Monday night. The Coyotes also lost their position atop the Pacific Division. Sure, it's by way of tie-breakers, but as of this moment, the Dallas Stars -- not the Coyotes, Sharks, Kings or Ducks -- are your division leaders and current holders of the No. 3 seed out West. Don't believe me? Take a look.

This is how quickly you can go from feeling comfortable to feeling very nervous at this time of the season. They have just a three-point lead at this point on the ninth-seeded Kings and 10th-seeded Avalanche, which isn't different than it was before the night. Except that they lose one game in hand.

It might be time to give goaltender Mike Smith a breather. He has now started 20 of the last 21 games after Monday night and he's obviously dropped the last three. He would probably like the two goals from Monday back, particularly the winner from Chris Kunitz back. After that, though, he was sharp.

[Related: Penguins 2, Coyotes 1]

Goal of the night

Chris Thorburn, Jets: This isn't a regular item in the Winners & Losers, just on occassion when when warrants it. And this one warrants it.

Back to Winnipeg we go.

H/t to Puck Daddy for the video

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 8:07 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 8:21 pm
 

Bruins sign Marty Turco after Rask injury

Turco spent 2010-11 in Chicago. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Not even an hour after the Boston Bruins announced that backup goaltender Tuukka Rask was going to miss the next 4-6 weeks with an abdomen strain/groin strain, they found their new (and temporary) backup by signing veteran Marty Turco.

Turco, who most recently played in the NHL with the Blackhawks last season, has spent time this year playing in Austria's First Division. In six postseason starts, he had a 3.16 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com reports that it won't cost the Bruins much, the deal is just for one year and will cost $600,000, pro rated of course.

Before we get too far, it's important to note that Turco has to clear waivers before anything else. Remember last year the Red Wings signed Evgeni Nabokov from Russia but the Islanders claimed him and he never made it to Detroit.

So that's the big question here. Will any team claim Turco and now allow him to join the Bruins? Just throwing it out there but what about the Tampa Bay Lightning? Dwayne Roloson has been usurped by Mathieu Garon and hardly plays any more. They are right in the thick of things in the East again. I could also see an argument for the Senators making a claim seeing as how they are chasing the Bruins in the Northeast right now and Alex Auld hasn't inspired a lot of confidence either.

Further, even if he does make it through waivers and ends up with the Bruins, he won't be eligible to play in the playoffs. The waiver deadline for playoff additions was last week.

Last season with the Blackhawks Turco was 11-11-3 with a 3.02 goals against average and save percentage of .897. He didn't have any offers from the NHL at the time so headed to Europe.

Turco was in Boston last year for the Stanley Cup Final, as an analyst on the NHL Network's coverage.

More from Eye on Hockey

Bruins annouce Rask out 4-6 weeks

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 7:22 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 8:22 pm
 

Bruins backup goalie Rask to miss 4-6 weeks

Rask is helped off the ice in Saturday's game vs. the Isles. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Boston Bruins announced a tough injury for them to take on Monday, especially at this time of the season. Backup goaltender (backup in title only) Tuukka Rask is going to miss the next 4-6 weeks after he sustained a lower abdomen strain/groin strain.

The Bruins have relied on Rask to carry a decent share of the load to help keep their No. 1 goalie, Tim Thomas, fresh for another playoff run this season. Well in this regard, consider the playoffs starting a few weeks earlier for Boston. It's Timmy Time for the foreseeable future.

The timetable sets up Rask for a return just about the start of the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the Bruins want to play it when Rask comes back considering the load Thomas is about to carry.

Good thing the Bruins didn't really entertain those suggestions to trade Thomas after that White House fiasco, now isn't it? They'd be in a pretty bad spot right now if they had turned the keys over to Rask already.

The Bruins rely heavily on great play by their goaltenders. It's an important equation to their system. Obviously Thomas is capable of handling that responsibility just fine, he did last year.

A little bit more of the good news in this injury -- hey, just searching for a silver lining -- is the fact that their closest division rivals in the Northeast are also dealing with a goaltender injury, it's just the Senators happen to be without their No. 1 in Craig Anderson.

Rask has been excellent this season for the Bruins with a .929 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average in his 23 starts.

More from Eye on Hockey

Bruins sign veteran goalie Turco

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 5, 2012 6:10 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 6:14 pm
 

Briere says Bryzgalov has been a better teammate

Bryzgalov and Jagr have a laugh after Sunday night's win. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

If you have been watching the Philadelphia Flyers play, chances are you have noticed a change in Ilya Bryzgalov. He has been starting to resemble a goalie worthy of the nine-year, $51 million contract he received this offseason.

In his last nine starts Bryzgalov has given up 19 goals, an average of a little more than two per start. He has also stopped 180 of the last 199 shots he's seen. That's a touch better than .900. Most recently, though, he stopped all 34 shots from the Capitals in a 1-0 shutout on Sunday night.

None of that is world beater stuff (although hard to quibble with that GAA) but it does mark an improvement. And that's not the only improvement the Flyers have seen in their goalie. Here is what Danny Briere had to say to Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly:

“We’ve seen all kinds of Bryz this year,” Briere said. “He’s never the same. He’s all over the place. But the last couple of weeks, he’s actually been a great teammate and hopefully, he stays that way.

“That’s the way it should be. If he wants the guys to keep playing hard for him, he needs to be a great teammate the way he has been lately, and it’s been fun having him around, too.”

Read that how you want but I can't help but extrapolate Briere admitting that Bryzgalov hadn't been a good teammate this season. All of those antics that we've seen, mostly around the Winter Classic really were apparently rubbing some the wrong way.

So some of the players and the management have been talking with him this season and apparently the message is finally getting through.

“Before, just trying to bring everything, everything was about Bryz,” Briere said. “When he played well, when he played bad, everything was about Bryz.

“I found lately, a lot more, it’s not just about him. He’s able to take the blame when there is and give credit to his teammates when that is. That is a learning process for him. New guys, new teammates.”

Well, playing in Philadelphia certainly is different than Phoenix. And I say that as more than the obvious differences between the markets themselves but also the teams they ice. Not too take away much from Bryzgalov -- or Mike Smith currently -- but Dave Tippett's brand of hockey tends to make goalies look good. The Flyers have tended to play a much more open game that can expose a goaltender.

I've said before that I'm a fan of Bryzgalov. I would like to see him playing well because he is arguable the most entertaining individual in the sport.

Oh, and no Bryzgalov post today would be complete without this little rap from a fan in Philly dedicated to Ilya the Philosopher.

H/t to Puck Daddy for the video

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com