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Reports: Portland's Dineen set to coach Florida Panthers

The Buffalo Sabres felt they caught a break last year when no NHL team decided to hire Kevin Dineen. It meant they had him around to coach their minor-leaguers for one more season.

It appears last season was the last one.

The Florida Panthers have called a news conference for Wednesday afternoon, at which time they are expected to name Dineen as their head coach. It will be the first NHL job for Dineen, who has coached the Portland Pirates for six seasons, including the past three as the Sabres’ affiliate.

Dineen, 47, was a finalist last year for the Columbus Blue Jackets job that went to Scott Arniel. The Sabres have been prepared to lose Dineen’s services for some time.

"He’s ready for the National Hockey League as a head coach," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told the Maine Hockey Journal last month. "That’s certainly how I feel. Whether someone else recognizes that and takes advantage of it, I don’t know. If he gets the opportunity, on one hand we’d really miss him. On the other hand, I’d only wish him the best."

Dineen led the Pirates to the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division title this season, piling up a 47-24-9 record. The Sabres’ minor-leaguers made the playoffs all three seasons under Dineen and assistant coach Eric Weinrich.

"I can’t say enough about the job that Kevin, Eric and the staff do here, both in preparing the players to play on the short-term basis and developing them on the long term," Regier said.

The Sabres may have been in the market for a new minor-league coach regardless of the Panthers’ decision. The Sabres have been in negotiations to purchase the Rochester Americans and switch their affiliate from Portland. Dineen is a big fan of Maine and likely would not have moved.

The only way he was departing was for an NHL job, and the Panthers have given it to him.

---John Vogl

Winnipeg group calls news conference to announce purchase, relocation of Thrashers

The NHL is headed back to Winnipeg.

True North Sports and Entertainment, the Winnipeg-based group that has been attempting to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers, has called a noon news conference to announce they are close to completing the deal and will relocate the team to Manitoba. The news conference will be shown on NHL Network and streamed live at NHL.com.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports that a deal had not been finalized but that there was enough confidence among the parties involved, True North, the NHL and Atlanta Spirit Group, to call a press conference. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and True North partner David Thomson are en route to Winnipeg for the announcement.

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the team in Winnipeg will play in the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference for one year before the league realigns.

The agreement will need to be approved by the NHL board of governors, which next meets June 21 in New York.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the Thrashers owners, Atlanta Spirit, have been negotiating the sale of the Thrashers to True North since mid-May. The Thrashers' owners have said in court documents that the team has lost $130 million since 2005.

The Winnipeg club will play in the MTS Centre, which the Sabres would visit twice next season if the relocated team does stay in the Southeast Division.

---John Vogl

Stanley Cup: Odds and ends, and make your pick

If there's a big event, you can count on the gambling folks over at Bodog.com to send me the odds to share with you. So, on the eve of the Stanley Cup final, here are your odds for the Stanley Cup final between Boston and Vancouver. As usual, here comes the disclaimer:

Gambling is bad. Your money is much better spent on whiskey, women and concerts.

Odds to win the Stanley Cup

Vancouver Canucks -235

Boston Bruins +195

Exact Series Result    

Boston Bruins 4-0 (25/1)

Boston Bruins 4-1 (12/1)

Boston Bruins 4-2 (13/2)

Boston Bruins 4-3 (15/2)

Vancouver Canucks 4-0 (15/2)

Vancouver Canucks 4-1 (13/4)

Vancouver Canucks 4-2 (4/1)

Vancouver Canucks 4-3 (15/4)

Total Games Played In Series

Four (6/1)                  

Five (9/4)

Six (2/1)

Seven (2/1)

Total Goals Scored in Series

Over/under 30 goals

Who will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP?

Ryan Kesler 7/5

Tim Thomas 4/1

Henrik Sedin 6/1

Roberto Luongo 13/2

Nathan Horton 7/1

Daniel Sedin 9/1

Patrice Bergeron 14/1

David Krejci 15/1

Kevin Bieksa 25/1

Zdeno Chara 25/1

Field (Any Other Player) 14/1

How Many Games of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals will go to overtime?

Over 1.5 (+135)

Under 1.5 (-165)

---John Vogl

Tuesday morning look around the NHL

Greetings. Happy Tuesday. Hope your sun-filled Memorial Day weekend went well.

*Bucky Gleason writes Boston could become the first city in this century to win a title in each of the four major team sports if the Bruins can beat the Canucks in the Stanley Cup final, which starts Wednesday night in Vancouver. It would be the first for owner Jeremy Jacobs, the Buffalo native who purchased the franchise in 1975 for $5 million.

Vancouver, which joined the NHL with the Sabres in 1970, is making its third visit to the finals, the first as a favorite after running away with the Presidents' Trophy. The Canucks are loaded with talent, depth and leadership. They have been a popular pick to win it all.

*The Atlanta Thrashers' sale to a group which would move the team to Winnipeg could be complete this week, possibly as early as today. The Stanley Cup final begins on Wednesday, and the NHL would prefer the Thrashers' sale is announced on a day there is no hockey.

Still, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press on Monday there is no strict rule against releasing big news during the final.

"It's not a firm policy as it is in some other sports," Daly said. "I don't know how we would handle if deal is done sometime during the final."

Daly said he couldn't say if the sale could be announced as soon as Tuesday.

"It's certainly possible something will be finalized this week," he said.

*NHL.com writes that a familiar face and unmistakable voice will be missed in Toronto this week when the NHL Scouting Combine is held for 102 of the top 2011 Entry Draft-eligible hockey prospects from around the world.

NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire, the Buffalo native who passed away from a rare form of cancer in April, will not be present for the first time in nine years, but his spirit undoubtedly will carry on throughout the Combine, which started Monday with player interviews and concludes at the Toronto Congress Center with fitness and medical testing Friday and Saturday.

"This was one of the events that, because of E.J., we saw so much progress and growth in our department," NHL Central Scouting videographer and scout David Gregory told NHL.com. "In an event like this, you definitely want to make sure this one is great for him. You want to make sure that we're living up to the standards he set for us."

*The Saint John Sea Dogs defeated the host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors 3-1 in the Memorial Cup final to become the first Quebec Major Junior Hockey League winning team since the 2006 Quebec Remparts. Saint John also hold the distinction of becoming the first Maritime team to win the national championship since the league expanded in the late 1990s.

St. Michael's forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect Gregg Sutch was injured in the semifinals. Good friend Kris Baker at SabresProspects.com has a video of Sutch getting hurt while delivering a check, and he reports Sutch suffered a broken wrist.

---John Vogl

Another final for Boston as Bruins take their turn

Horton Boston is going to get a chance at another championship. Hey Beantown, how about sharing with the rest of us? For the ninth time since 2001, a Boston team is in the finals of the four major sports after the Bruins' 1-0 win in Game Seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night.

While the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics have all had good runs of late, it's been a long time for the Bruins. They haven't made the Stanley Cup Final since losing to Edmonton in 1990 and haven't won the Cup since 1972. As a city, Boston is 6-2 in its recent title forays. 

Writes Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy: "These are Boston’s Glory Days, Black-and-Golden Days, Lobster Salad Days." And he throws out another wild note: If the Bruins win the Cup, the Boston team with the longest title drought would be the Patriots -- going all the way back to 2005! 

Nathan Horton (above right) got the goal with 7:33 left made the difference and he is the first player in history with two Game Seven winning goals in the same playoff year. The Bruins got him from Florida last June for defenseman Dennis Wideman, the 15th overall pick in last year's draft a third-round pick this year. Lots of folks in these parts were advocating the Sabres go for Horton. Pretty good return for the Bruins, don't you think?

Down in Tampa, St. Pete Times columnist Gary Shelton -- one of my favorites from trips to the Final Four and World Series -- had this take on the end of a great ride for the Bolts: "No one is ever sorry to see a bad season end, after all. A bad team is like a bad tooth, and the quicker you can get rid of it, the better. When a team is successful, however, you cannot help but notice the opportunity that was missed."

May26_tower_tiggyIn Vancouver, meanwhile, enthusiasm is higher than ever for the Canucks. In the form of a 56 feet long and 20 feet wide banner (left) affixed to the control tower at the Vancouver airport. Game One of the final is Wednesday night.

And who could be a surprise entry at some point in this series? Canucks center Manny Malhotra, a faceoff ace who suffered a career-threatening eye injury more than two months ago, is practicing fully. That would be quite an addition. Shades of Erik Cole returning to the Hurricanes late in the '06 final against Edmonton.

Malhotra could use as many days as he can get but the schedule might be tough on the Canucks, who will go eight days without a game and play just one in 11 days because there's a two-day break after Game One.

And how about some kudos for my cohorts? In our season preview video at Buffalonews.com, John Vogl picked the Bruins to beat the Canucks in the SCF while Bucky Gleason had the Canucks over Washington (I had the Capitals over the Canucks. Oh well). If you scroll to the 2:25 mark below, you can review the discussion of our picks.


---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

(Horton photo from AP, Vancouver tower photo from Canucks.com)

Game Seven and other NHL news

Happy Friday evening. We're a few hours from Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final, so that's where we'll start ...

*The Boston Bruins thought they excised the specter of last season's postseason collapse when they finished off the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals this year.

Yet here they are again, one round later, trying to turn back another comeback.

The Bruins will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the conference finals tonight, with the winner earning a chance to play the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup. But Boston could have avoided a winner-take-all predicament if it had merely protected a three-goal lead in Game Four; scored more than one power-play goal a week in the playoffs; or kept Tampa Bay from scoring, as often as not, in the first 90 seconds of the game.

"We've got a Game Seven, it's at home, and we're one game away from the Stanley Cup finals. Why shouldn't we be excited?" Boston coach Claude Julien said.

*Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa never doubted teammate Ryan Kesler would come back after limping off the ice and into the locker room during Game Five against the San Jose Sharks.

And there was no question Kesler, who returned to score the tying goal with 13.2 seconds left in regulation, would be ready to start the Stanley Cup finals, especially after the NHL announced they won't begin until Wednesday.

*The phone calls and resumes have been reaching the Buffalo Sabres' offices for years. The hopeful play-by-play announcers would start their chats or cover letters with something like this:

"I know you have an iconic broadcaster, but if and when Rick Jeanneret decides to retire or cut back ... "

The Sabres can expect a spike in the inquiries. The time for Jeanneret to cut back has arrived.

*Bucky Gleason writes that for Jeanneret, often, it was about the people.

That's one reason Jeanneret has been top shelf, where mama hides the cookies, for the past four decades and counting. His booming voice and personality came through the broadcasts, confirming he had as much fun describing the games as the fans had listening to them and the players had playing in them. RJ makes icing sound exhilarating.

*Sabres prospect Gregg Sutch has played in all three of St. Michael's tournament games, helping it reach tonight's Memorial Cup semifinal against Kootenay and recent Buffalo signee Brayden McNabb.

"It's the time of my life right now," Sutch said. "Memorial Cup championships, it just doesn't come around very often. I'm just taking it all in. I'm just trying to make the best of it. It's been really great for me."

*The Atlanta Journal Constitution writes negotiations on a sale agreement between the Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports and Entertainment that would result in the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba, continue to move slowly and may not be completed until next week.

---John Vogl

No decision on replacements for Jeanneret

Rick Jeanneret is cutting back on his broadcast schedule, but there is no word on the replacement yet.

"This is relatively a new development," Sabres President Ted Black said by phone. "In terms of what the plan is, I’m really not sure yet. We’re looking at this as just another thing we take a fresh look at."

The Sabres simulcast their games, with Jeanneret’s call going on television on MSG and on radio at WGR-AM 550. It’s possible each station could have different announcers during the games without Jeanneret.

Greg Ried, general manager of Entercom Buffalo, said WGR will collaborate with the Sabres on the ideal course of action.

"Everything’s on the table," Ried said by phone. "We really haven’t even had time to digest it yet. Just like the Sabres, we’ll be working with them and taking our time trying to figure out exactly what is best for the fans."

In addition to the expected arrival of numerous out-of-town candidates, the Sabres have several possibilities nearby to fill the duties of Jeanneret and Neale. Sabres studio host Kevin Sylvester called games during Jeanneret’s vacations, as did WGR’s Paul Hamilton and Portland Pirates announcer Mark Jeanneret, Rick’s son. Former Sabres player and broadcaster Danny Gare is also available.

---John Vogl

Thursday morning look around the NHL, including more Rick Jeanneret news

Happy Thursday. A bit of a late start to the morning papers because: A) making phone calls for the Rick Jeanneret story I woke up to see; and 2) a bunch of us had a few sodas and checked out "Hangover 2" at midnight. The movie is definitely worth the effort, with the first two-thirds being pretty darn funny.

OK, with that out of the way, here's your look around the NHL, starting right here in the B-lo ...

*The Buffalo Sabres broadcast team of Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale will work a reduced schedule of games next season, team President Ted Black announced Thursday in a press release.

The pair will work all home games but a reduced road schedule of 10 to 15 games next season. The road schedule will be set after the 2011-12 NHL regular season schedule is released. There was no word on who will do the other games but it was announced that Rob Ray will join Jeanneret and Neale in the booth for their road games.

 "It's no secret that the constant travel has been wearing on me over the years, and there were several times last season when I thought that it might be my last," Jeanneret said in the press release. "That's why I presented this arrangement to Sabres management. I think it's the best of both worlds, and allows me to continue doing the job I love."

(From what I've gathered so far, the Sabres really do not know who will do the other games yet. They've been getting calls and resumes for years from all over with people saying "When Rick retires ..." so now they expect to get bombarded. They'll find good candidates. This is a desirable market for that job.)

*There is still no word on whether Marcus Foligno, the newest Buffalo Sabre, will start his minor-league career in Rochester or Portland. But once he gets to the NHL, he'll have access to one of the top dressing room facilities in the league.

The Sabres unveiled extensive HSBC Arena renovation plans Wednesday, shortly after signing Foligno to a three-year contract potentially worth $2.48 million. The son of former Buffalo captain Mike Foligno will start next season in the American Hockey League, but the Sabres refused to divulge where their affiliate will be based.

*Facing elimination in the Eastern Conference finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew they could count on Martin St. Louis to make a difference. What he did - on and off the ice - to help his team stay alive against the Boston Bruins hardly came as a surprise on Wednesday night.

"I think that's what you play for," St. Louis said after scoring twice and assisting on a third goal as the Lightning rallied to beat the Bruins 5-4 in Game Six. Game Seven is Friday night in Boston.

*Trevor Linden is tired of celebrating a loss as the greatest moment in Vancouver Canucks history. Seventeen years after he captained the Canucks to their last Stanley Cup finals and three years since his last game, Linden hopes this year's team, still loaded with former teammates, can give the city something really worth commemorating.

"This team I believe is going to win and they will be celebrated for all the right reasons," Linden told the Associated Press on Wednesday, a day after the Canucks clinched a finals berth with a 3-2 double-overtime win against the San Jose Sharks.

*The Sharks head into another offseason wondering what it will take to get this supremely talented team past the conference final hurdle.

"You could ask 27 teams and I think they're a little jealous at the success we've had," captain Joe Thornton said. "For whatever reason you know you get down to the top two teams in your conference and they're pretty good teams. To get here is an accomplishment, but next year we've got to beat it."

*Kyle Okposo agreed to a five-year, $14 million deal Wednesday to stay with the New York Islanders.

(Okposo is good buddies with Drew Stafford, a fellow restricted free agent. Sabres GM Darcy Regier said Wednesday he has had preliminary talks with Stafford's agent, which I took to mean they may have said hello in passing at the Memorial Cup or something.)

*Brian Rafalski chose quality time with his wife and three kids over making $6 million next season with the Detroit Red Wings. The three-time Stanley Cup winner and two-time Olympic silver medalist confirmed Wednesday he's retiring after 11 seasons in the NHL, leaving one lucrative season left on his contract.

(I initially just skimmed over this story the last few days, but News co-worker Fletcher Doyle made a good point Wednesday that this impacts the Sabres. Buffalo is in need of a quality defenseman or two. With Rafalski's retirement, Detroit is, too. And the Red Wings have Rafalski's $6 million to dangle. The Wings certainly have the edge over Buffalo in the recruiting race for a D-man.)

---John Vogl

Sabres unveil locker room renovation plans

The Buffalo Sabres and their design firm studied the best locker rooms and training facilities of other NHL teams. Now they say they're ready to create a space that's even better.

The Sabres unveiled their HSBC Arena renovation plans today in the arena. The Sabres' facilities will expand from 8,644 square feet to 15,220, a boost they feel will help them with everything from player recruitment to better breakfasts.

"We've actually done quite a bit of benchmarking with other teams in the league to see what the best of the best is, and we feel like we'll be providing something even better than that," said Keith Alf, the project manager for Cannon Design.

Demolition will start next week, and the renovation is expected to be done by the opening of training camp in September.

---John Vogl

20110525-LG-NEW

Sabres sign Foligno

The Buffalo Sabres have signed forward Marcus Foligno to a three-year, entry-level contract.

UPDATE: The contract is potentially worth $2.48 million. He is set to earn an NHL salary of $790,000 for each of the first two years of the deal and $900,000 for the third.

Foligno, the son of former Sabre Mike Foligno, was a fourth-round selection by Buffalo in the 2009 draft. He was chosen behind Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb, both of whom have already signed their entry-level deals.

Foligno played four seasons for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. He had a breakout season this year, scoring 23 goals and 59 points in 47 games and making the Canadian World Junior team that played in HSBC Arena just after Christmas.

Wednesday morning look around the NHL

Hey there. Happy Wednesday. Well, one team from the NHL Class of 1970 will play in the Stanley Cup final. The other one will ceremoniously demolish its dressing room today. Get those hammers out, Buffalo ...

*Kevin Bieksa called it an ugly goal, the Vancouver Sun writes. But really, for the Vancouver Canucks and their long-suffering fans, it was a thing of beauty.

Never mind the puck took a fortuitous bounce off the glass and somehow ended up in the middle of the ice where Bieksa managed to flutter a shot past startled San Jose goalie Antti Niemi at 10:18 of double overtime to send the Canucks to the Stanley Cup final.

"I just tried to put it on net," Bieksa said in a joyous Canucks dressing room after their 3-2 Western Conference series-clinching win in Game Five. "That's the first thought. When it went in, I just yelled out 'let's go to the Cup.' It's a good feeling."

*The only worse way to lose an elimination playoff game in hockey would be ... well, frankly, there might not be a worse way, writes the San Jose Mercury News.

The Sharks didn't go down easy Tuesday night. They did go down emotionally and gallantly and weirdly. They lost their series to the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, in a double-overtime Game Five on the most cruel, fluky goal imaginable.

*The Tampa Bay Lightning are once again hitching their hopes of blocking Boston's path to the Stanley Cup finals on goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

Down 3-2 to the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals, coach Guy Boucher said the 41-year-old Roloson is "the guy that took us here," so he'll be in net for Game Six tonight when the Lightning try to even the best-of-seven series.

*Grant Ledyard was there for the beginning, Bucky Gleason writes, when the Winnipeg Jets joined the World Hockey Association in 1972. He was 11 years old when he and his friends rode their bicycles downtown to Portage Avenue and Main Street for their first look at the great Bobby Hull after the Jets signed him away from the NHL.

For years, hockey fans in Winnipeg and across Canada pleaded for the NHL to give them another franchise. True North Sports & Entertainment was founded and came up with the financing for a 15,000-seat arena that can be expanded in three months. True North is now moving toward buying the Thrashers and moving them to Winnipeg.

Ledyard, knowing the impact they can have back home, is hoping they return.

(And Bucky and Mike Harrington can fight about who gets to go there on the Sabres' first road trip. I have no desire. Maybe I'll take that day off and go visit the fine folks in Georgia. I guess I'll have to go someday, though, since I've covered games in all 30 NHL cities and would like to keep the 100 percent visit rate going.)

*The Atlanta Thrashers' sale and move to Winnipeg is not yet official, but Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed talked on Tuesday as if losing the team is inevitable.

*Brayden McNabb's defense partner seemed hesitant at first to discuss the Buffalo Sabres' prospect, a sheepish grin showing when his good friend popped into his mind. Once Hayden Rintoul got going, however, the compliments flew faster than a slap shot.

McNabb is stellar at playing defense and providing offense, Rintoul said, will deliver big hits and hard shots, can jump in the rush and make passes to start them, stands up to lead in the dressing room and is a really nice guy away from the rink.

OK, anything else?

"He's pretty much the deal," Rintoul said.

*The reeling Kootenay Ice felt they deserved a break. They caught a big one that kept their Memorial Cup chances alive. Matt Fraser scored in overtime as the Ice defeated the Saint John Sea Dogs 5-4 on Tuesday.

The Owen Sound Attack and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors wrap up round-robin play tonight. The winner of the matchup of OHL rivals will clinch a spot in Friday's semifinal, while loser will face the Ice in a third-place tiebreaker Thursday.

*Chicago Blackhawks Hall of Famer Stan Mikita says he has been diagnosed with stage 1 oral cancer.

*New York Islanders team captain Doug Weight will announce his retirement at a team news conference Thursday, according to an ESPN New York source familiar with the matter. The Detroit Red Wings have announced they will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Joe Louis Arena, where it's expected defenseman Brian Rafalski will announce his retirement.

---John Vogl

One month away from NHL draft

The NHL draft will start June 24, putting us exactly one month away. The Sabres reportedly will pick 16th overall during the June 24-25 event held in St. Paul, Minn.

NHL Central Scouting, which lost Buffalo native EJ McGuire to cancer last month, has a public Website that lists the top draft-eligible prospects from North America and around the world.

The 16th-ranked North American skater is Mark Scheifele, a 6-foot-2 center who plays for Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League.

Here is the official draft order thus far:

1. Edmonton Oilers
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Florida Panthers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Atlanta Thrashers
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
9. Boston Bruins (from Toronto)
10. Minnesota Wild
11. Colorado Avalanche (from St. Louis)
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Calgary Flames
14. Dallas Stars
The remaining positions are determined at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

---John Vogl

Tuesday morning look around the NHL

Happy Tuesday. Only one week left in May, so that must mean summer (or even spring) is getting close, right? That would be nice.

You know what else would be nice? If the NHL stayed in Atlanta instead of moving to Winnipeg. Did you know the average high in Atlanta in January is 50 degrees? Did you know the average high in Winnipeg in January is 8 degrees? And, yes, that 8 degrees is Fahrenheit, not that annoying Celsius junk.

It still looks like the relocation is inevitable, however, so that's where we'll start with today's look around the NHL ...

*The Atlanta Journal Constitution writes negotiations between the Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports and Entertainment continued over the weekend as a deal to sell and relocate the Thrashers to Winnipeg moved closer.

As of Monday, lawyers for Atlanta Spirit, True North and the NHL were still exchanging drafts and terms but a deal was not finalized. Monday was Queen Victoria Day in Canada, a bank holiday, which prevented the completion of some details.

The Winnipeg Free Press says Winnipeggers have been patient for 15 years and it looks like they'll need to hang tight for at least a few more days -- perhaps as long as a week. Despite published reports, hints from Premier Greg Selinger and constant rumors, there will be no press conference today regarding the potential return of the National Hockey League to Winnipeg.

*Brad Marchand was sitting on the bench when he saw Tampa Bay's Steve Downie get the puck at the edge of the crease, with nothing but an empty net to shoot at.

"I thought for sure it was going to be a goal," the Bruins forward said. "Those are usually pretty easy tap-ins."

Instead, Tim Thomas reached back and deflected the puck with the bottom edge of his stick as the blade bounced off the goal post, protecting a late one-goal lead in Boston's 3-1 victory over the Lightning on Monday night.

*Sami Salo waited 12 seasons, and endured countless injuries for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. One win from his first Cup finals, the Vancouver Canucks' defenseman doesn't want to wait any longer.

With a 3-1 lead over San Jose in the Western Conference finals heading into Game Five tonight, Salo knows how important it is for the Canucks to finish off the Sharks fast. It's something they failed to do against their opponents in Game Five at home in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

*San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton is expected to play a potential elimination game in Game Five of the Western Conference final despite leaving the previous game with an injury.

*Bucky Gleason writes that the list of concussed athletes who failed to reach the average life span of a male in the United States is long and disturbing. Many weren't aware that they had problems until much later in life before suffering downward and sometimes tragic turns.

"Obviously, it's scary and it's nerve-racking when you hear about these things happening to people," Matthew Barnaby said last week. "Maybe 'scared' is the wrong word because I don't know. Not knowing is what's nerve-racking, but I live pretty well day to day. You just don't know. There's a chance we're all going to get cancer."

---John Vogl

Monday morning look around the NHL

Happy Monday. Warmth has finally reached the B-lo (for now). Here's your look around the NHL and the Memorial Cup ...

*With the sharp-passing Sedin twins, plenty of players with big shots and a gold-medal winning goalie, the Vancouver Canucks are tough enough to beat in normal situations. That task becomes nearly impossible when they have two extra skaters on the ice.

The Canucks converted three successive five-on-three power plays in a span of less than two minutes during the second period, with Sami Salo scoring twice and Ryan Kesler adding the third, to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-2 on Sunday in Game Four of the Western Conference finals to take a 3-1 series lead.

"We kept marching to the box, they kept scoring," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

*The Boston Bruins know they must concentrate on every shift. They have to focus even harder right after Tampa Bay scores. The Lightning have packed key goals into quick bursts that have sent them into Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals tonight tied at 2-2.

In the opener, they beat goalie Tim Thomas three times in 1 minute, 25 seconds - including twice in 19 seconds - in the first period and won 5-2. In Saturday's 5-3 win, the Lightning scored three more times in a 3:58 span of the second period to wipe out a 3-0 deficit.

*Rob Flick and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors remain very much in the mix at the Memorial Cup. Flick had a goal and an assist Sunday to lead the Majors to a 2-1 win over the Kootenay Ice. The victory was the first of the tournament for Mississauga (1-1) and moved it into a first-place tie with the Saint John Sea Dogs (1-0) and Owen Sound Attack (1-0), who square off tonight. The first-place finisher advances directly to the tournament final with the second- and third-place teams qualifying for the semifinal round.

Brayden McNabb, who signed a three-year contract with the Sabres last week, was suspended for Sunday's Memorial Cup game after injuring an opponent Saturday with an open-ice hit. The Kootenay defenseman stepped up to check Owen Sound's Joey Hishon late in their tournament opener, and McNabb's elbow caught Hishon in the head, leaving the forward dazed and bloodied.

(So here's my brief rant about the Memorial Cup. I'd been looking forward to seeing it for years because of its rich history and reputation for stellar hockey. Well, Exhibit A on Sunday featured sloppy, uninspired hockey. The crowd was lifeless. Plus, Mississauga and Canada world juniors coach Dave Cameron lived down to his reputation as an [insert nasty comment here], and the babysitters for Kootenay and the Canadian Hockey League decided McNabb -- a 20-year-old captain who has signed a pro contract -- shouldn't be allowed to talk to the media. In other words, it was a disappointing, boring and infuriating day at the old Memorial Cup.)

*NHL.com writes that while most of the attention of the hockey world is focused on the conference finals, five teams -- the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars -- have their view in other places. Those are the only teams with coaching vacancies, and as the summer nears, those five teams are zeroing in on potential candidates.

*The Winnipeg Free Press has a special section dedicated to the possible relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Manitoba. The move is reportedly set to happen Tuesday. (I sat behind several employees of the Thrashers on Sunday at the game. One of them was greeted by an old acquaintance, who asked where he was working. The reply: "In Atlanta, for the next two days anyway.")

---John Vogl

Sabres prospect McNabb suspended one game

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- The discipline chairman of the Memorial Cup has suspended Kootenay captain Brayden McNabb for tonight's game against Mississauga St. Michael's following a hit to the head he delivered Saturday night.

McNabb, the Buffalo Sabres' third-round pick in the 2009 draft who signed with the team last week, stepped up to deliver an open-ice check against Owen Sound's Joey Hishon, and McNabb's elbow caught Hishon in the head.

"Following review of the referee’s report and watching all of the television footage of the incident, I determined that it was a reckless action by the player but not a deliberate attempt to injure," said Brian O'Neill, discipline chairman of the Memorial Cup.

McNabb will miss a crucial matchup. Kootenay and St. Michael's both lost their openers of the round-robin round.

"He’s an outstanding player, and he’s been an outstanding player for us for quite awhile," Kootenay coach Kris Knoblauch said. "We will miss him because he is a big part of his team, but we’re confident in the guys that we do have in our lineup, that we will improve."

---John Vogl

Sabres' prospect McNabb awaiting word on discipline

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Brayden McNabb is the most talked-about player at the Memorial Cup today. That's not a good thing.

McNabb and his Kootenay Ice are expected to learn early this afternoon whether the Sabres' prospect will be suspended for tonight's Memorial Cup game against host St. Michael's. McNabb stepped up to check Owen Sound's Joey Hishon on Saturday night, and his elbow connected with Hishon's head when the forward tried to dodge the hit.

McNabb was said to be undergoing medical treatment this morning and was not available, but Kootenay coach Kris Knoblauch reiterated his belief the hit was not worthy of a suspension.

"He’s made that hit countless times and has never been suspended for it," Knoblauch said in Hershey Centre. "Last night, as I said, it was a tall player hitting a small player. Joey Hishon was trying to dodge the hit, and it was pretty difficult for Brayden to get his elbow out of the way in such a short period of time. Yes, there was contact with his elbow to the head. It’s a very difficult thing. There was no intention to hurt whatsoever.

"Like I said, Brayden McNabb does that almost every game or every other game. I’ve seen it so many times from him. It’s just very unfortunate that it turned out the way it did."

---John Vogl

NHL, CHL Sunday morning papers

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Happy Sunday. Greetings from what is not a Toronto suburb, according to the people who live here and were so kind to repeatedly tell me such after a story I wrote about native son Brad Boyes. We're in the pretty sweet Hershey Centre, host building for the Memorial Cup.

Brayden McNabb, the recently signed Sabres prospect, is scheduled to play tonight for Kootenay against host Mississauga St. Michael's and fellow Buffalo draft pick Gregg Sutch. McNabb, however, may not be in uniform as we kick off your look around hockey:

*They were billed as the hottest junior team in Canada, the surprising little engine that could that swept through Western Canada in the post-season stunning one favorite after another. Well, the Kootenay Ice may have been all that, according to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, but they landed in upper Canada with a thud Saturday night.

For Kootenay, a 5-0 loss to Owen Sound was a disastrous start to the Memorial Cup, and making it worse was an elbowing major assessed to captain Brayden McNabb with 5:35 left in the third on a play that left Owen Sound centre Joey Hishon lying on the ice dripping blood from his face.

McNabb could be suspended for tonight’s collision with St. Mike’s, a big game early in the competition with both clubs looking to avoid falling to 0-2.

Kootenay coach Kris Knoblauch doesn't believe the 6-foot-4, 218-pound McNabb deserves to be suspended for his hit on the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Hishon. Knoblauch said Hishon lowered himself on the play, which made it difficult for the bigger McNabb to make the necessary adjustment.

"It was a very difficult situation, you have a player who is 6-foot-4 stepping up to make a hit on a player who is 5-foot-10," Knoblauch said. "Joey Hishon is an excellent hockey player and got his head up at the last minute and was trying to dodge that play so he lowers himself trying to get out of the way.

"So now you have a 5-foot-10 player who is a little bit smaller than that and it was pretty tough for Brayden McNabb to get out of the way and finish that check."

Reeds was critical of the hit but wouldn't say whether McNabb should be suspended.

"Yes he is obviously 6-foot-4 and Joey Hishon is 5-foot-10 but again still his elbow came out and made contact with his head and in the Ontario Hockey League that's a head shot," Reeds said. "I understand we're playing CHL rules and again he is a big part of Kootenay.

"I'm not part of the process that dictates these things, I'll leave that up the people that do that."

*Mike Smith has joined Simon Gagne in hurting the Boston Bruins during the postseason.

Smith was perfect in relief of goalie Dwayne Roloson, and Gagne snapped a tie in the third period for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who erased an early three-goal deficit and evened the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-3 win in Game Four over the Bruins on Saturday.

Roloson was pulled in the first period after he allowed three goals on nine shots. Smith came on and made 21 saves as the Lightning avoided dropping into a big hole against the surging Bruins. Boston will host Game Five on Monday.

*About 200 Atlanta Thrashers fans gathered on Saturday to tailgate outside Philips Arena for perhaps the final time. With the Thrashers reportedly close to being sold and moving to Winnipeg, fans blamed the team's ownership group, the Atlanta Spirit, for the club's seemingly imminent departure next week.

*San Jose hosts Vancouver tonight in Game Four of the Western Conference finals, and the Canucks can still grab a stranglehold on this series despite dropping Game Three. Vancouver has a 2-1 lead in the series.

---John Vogl

Bruins' collapse is one for the books

Did you think it was all over for the Tampa Bay Lightning this afternoon? Here's one view that it was.

The Boston Bruins had a 3-0 lead through one period and simply needed to hold on in order to go home with a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Then faster than you can say "Teddy Purcell", the game turned. Purcell scored twice and Sean Bergenheim added another to tie the game by the end of the second period, then Simon Gagne scored the winner in the third and an empty-netter gave the Lightning a 5-3 win.

Just like that, the series heads back to Boston tied at 2-2. Tampa Bay has a goaltending question, as Dwayne Roloson was pulled in the 3-0 hole and Mike Smith played shutout hockey in relief, but the Lightning also has all the momentum.

Saturday's game was just the fourth time in the Bruins' long history that they failed to hold a three-goal lead in a playoff game. The others included the infamous Game Seven loss to Philadelphia last season, a 7-5 loss to Montreal in 1971 -- and the May Day game at Memorial Auditorium in 1993. The Bruins, you might have forgotten, led that one by 5-2 before the Sabres rallied and finally won it on the Brad May goal.

And, of course, do we EVER give up a chance to put this one in here?

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

Afternoon hockey today in Tampa

It's an afternoon battle for the Bruins and Lightning today in Tampa as the teams have a 1:30 faceoff on NBC for Game Four at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Bruins have a 2-1 lead in the series and don't expect to make any lineup changes today. 

Here's a link to Boston coach's Claude Julien's pregame meeting with reporters at the noon hour. 

Meanwhile, the Lightning have to figure out a way to beat Tim Thomas if they want to stay in the series. After 10 goals in the first two games, a shutout at home was not what Tampa Bay expected.

NHL.com has the six questions facing the teams heading into Game Four.

Memo to NBC: You're not shipping this off to Versus to go to the Preakness pre-race babble if this one goes overtime. You learned your lesson from Sabres-Senators, circa 2007, right? RIGHT?

---Mike Harrington
(www.twitter.com/bnharrington) 

McNabb's deal for three years

Defenseman Brayden McNabb received a three-year deal from the Buffalo Sabres at annual salaries of $615,000, $690,000 and $840,000, according to a source at the NHL Players Association.

McNabb, whose Kootenay Ice plays its first game in the Memorial Cup, Canadian junior hockey's championship tournament, was a third-round pick of the Sabres in 2009, 66th overall. He had 27 points including 24 assists in 19 games in the Western Hockey League playoffs.

-- Fletcher Doyle

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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