Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
Take a deep breath, Vancouver Canucks fans. Thatcher Demko did not pull a Jimmy Vesey.
Goaltender Demko, 20, officially signed with the team that drafted him Wednesday, as announced by the Canucks. He’s now a professional hockey player and will forego his senior year at Boston College.
The move makes sense for Demko, who has nothing left to prove at the NCAA level. He went 27-8-4 with a 1.88 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and 10 shutouts this season. That latter stat broke a school record set by Canucks alumnus Cory Schneider in 2005-06 and stands as the second-highest total ever for a college goalie in a single season.
Demko helped Boston College reach the Frozen Four and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, a.k.a hockey’s Heisman Trophy. Demko even won the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top college netminder. He acquitted himself well starting for Team USA at the 2015 world juniors, posting a .934 SP, and he’s cracked USA’s 2016 World Championship roster, following the recent footsteps of Yankee netminders John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck. Demko really needs a new challenge, and turning pro is exactly that.
Denis Potvin was, is and will always be among the Nassau Coliseum’s favorite sons. He’s a legend, a Hall of Famer, one of the best defensemen ever to play the game and, of course, New York Islanders royalty. He was instrumental in their four straight Stanley Cup victories from 1980 to 1983.
But that resume apparently wasn’t enough to save him from peril at Barclays Center, the Islanders’ new home building, after Game 4 of their Atlantic Division semifinal matchup versus the Florida Panthers. The Cats won to even the series 2-2 and, you see, Potvin is now the Panthers’ regular color commentator on FOX Sports. After the game, he and play-by-play man Steve Goldstein got beer or soda or some kind of liquid dumped on them by some Isles fans.
Video (well, audio by way of video) evidence of the incident, as confirmed by a Twitter user named Kevin Bustillo:
The Tampa Bay Lightning looked like a complete hockey team, a.k.a one not missing something or somebody, in Tuesday’s Game 4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
Tampa held Detroit to exactly two goals for a fourth straight contest. The Bolts converted three times on the power play, Nikita Kucherov twice and Ondrej Palat once, all assisted by Jonathan Drouin. They head back to Tampa Bay up 3-1 in their Atlantic Division semifinal having scored at least three goals in three of four games.
Would the Lightning be in better shape with captain and top goal scorer Steven Stamkos in the lineup? Of course. Same goes for top-pairing defenseman Anton Stralman. Pencil those two in and we’d probably have a sweep on our hands. But the Lightning have shown something noteworthy with regards to Stamkos, the game’s most famous unrestricted free agent ever: they are a damn good team with or without him.
So, that Rickard Rakell…pretty sure he has better than average hand-eye co-ordination. Maybe better than better than average.
Rakell, 22, has enjoyed a breakout 2015-16 season with the Anaheim Ducks. He hit the 20-goal mark for the first time and showed a knack for spectacular goals. He wowed us with a one-handed deflection against the L.A. Kings a few months back. The overtime winner against the Edmonton Oilers in February was just nasty.
For his next trick, Rakell opted for a between-the-legs deflection goal in Game 3 of the Ducks’ Round 1 matchup versus the Nashville Predators. Check it out:
Full marks to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning Game 3 against the New York Rangers Tuesday night. Details here. But, sheesh, things might have gone differently had the referees caught defenseman Kris Letang’s dastardly act in the third period.
The Penguins led 2-1 at this point, so the Rangers surely could’ve used a power play, and they deserved to get one here. Check out the over-the-top slash from Letang on Rangers right winger Viktor Stalberg:
The conditions were perfect, in theory, for the New York Rangers to take over their Metropolitan Division semifinal matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night in Game 3. The Blueshirts were fresh off a convincing 4-2 victory over the Pens in Game 2. New York had captain Ryan McDonagh returning from a hand injury after missing the start of the post-season. And Pittsburgh was turning to Matt Murray, 21, for his first career playoff start in net.
But it wasn’t to be. Murray, an elite prospect ranked 39th overall in THN Future Watch, showed no signs of jitters in his first game back from a head injury. He challenged shooters and made a few tough saves early. His lone hiccup came on this downright pretty Rick Nash goal early in the second period:
“This time is different. I know we said last time was different, and it turned out to not be, but trust me, THIS time is different.”
That’s the sentiment the San Jose Sharks, from their players to their front office to their fan base, finally want to believe. But the Sharks, of course, have been the poster child for falling short of colossal playoff expectations throughout this millennium.
They made the post-season 10 straight times from 2003-04 to 2013-14, never finishing with a points percentage below .585 and topping 100 points seven times, or eight if you pro-rate 2012-13. They bowed out in three conference finals, four times in Round 2 and three times in Round 1. Most famously, they flopped in jaw-dropping fashion just two years ago against the Los Angeles Kings. San Jose led the series 3-0. It had Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick on the run, playing some of the worst hockey of his career. But Quick and the Kings as a whole rallied. They became the fourth team in NHL history to come back and win a series after trailing 3-0. They went all the way and won the Stanley Cup. It appeared halfway through that series “this time was different” for the Sharks. Instead, they cemented the choker reputation further.
You know what question comes next. Are the Sharks different this time now that they’ve jumped out to a 2-0 lead on L.A. in Round 1 of the 2016 playoffs? We can’t know for certain. We can, however, examine the facts surrounding the 2014 and 2016 series to unearth similarities and differences.
Nicklas Backstrom has the yips. Too bad, as golf is by far his favorite summer pastime. He’s damn good at it, a five handicap. He carves his way through most courses off the tee, in his approach shots, via his short game. Put the man on a green, however, and his knees start to wobble. Backstrom can’t putt. He’s terrible at reading undulations.
Of all skills on a course for him to lack…putting? Really? This is Nicklas Backstrom, the tranquil Swede with golden blond locks and stoic green eyes. The robotically efficient playmaking machine. The man with more assists than any player not named Joe Thornton or Henrik Sedin since breaking into the NHL in 2007-08.
Putting is the closest thing on a golf course to passing. You’d think it would cater to Backstrom’s talents as much as any non-hockey skill, but it doesn’t. It’s a reminder he’s far more human than he lets on. It hints at someone nothing like the person he appears to be on the ice.
On the surface, Backstrom fits a template. He grew up a hockey nut in Valbo, Sweden. He took up the sport by the time he was three, shortly after his father, Anders, retired from a 10-year career with Brynas of the Swedish League. Nicklas’ older brother, Kristoffer, also went on to play in the SHL. Nicklas was so obsessed he would sometimes sleep with his skates on. He idolized the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom. He was a six-year-old jumping up and down on his couch when Peter Forsberg scored the postage stamp goal at the 1994 Olympics.