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POSTED ON Sunday, 06.16.2013 / 2:00 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask furthered his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy in Game Two. The Blackhawks bombarded Rask with 19 shots in the first period, but he allowed only one goal – by Patrick Sharp – at the conclusion of a lengthy barrage.

Even by conservative estimates, Rask stopped at least three additional “sure things” by the Blackhawks. Sharp had six of the shots and Marian Hossa had five. That sort of goaltending kept his team from getting blown out in the first period, and Rask very well could have taken up residence in the Blackhawks’ heads.

The Bruins got Nathan Horton back in the line-up after his departure during Wednesday’s first overtime. However, his line (with Left Wing Milan Lucic and Center David Krejci) did little to produce much, with Krejci getting the line’s only shot on goal until later in the third. In his interview with NBC’s Pierre McGuire, Bruins’ Coach Claude Julien admitted that the Blackhawks caught the Bruins “on their heals” in the first period.

Late in the second period, Boston was able to capitalize on Rask’s work. The Bruins’ role players came through to tie it – Chris Kelly converting a rebound of a Daniel Paille shot. So, although Chicago had dominated territorially, they had not on the scoreboard. When a breakaway by Brad Marchand was stopped by an overlooked slash by Brent Seabrook and the goalpost to Crawford’s left with 1:48 left, it was clear that no matter how much Chicago “had its way” in the first period, this game could be taken by either side.

A number of icing calls against Chicago late in the third gave the Bruins some opportunities against the Blackhawks, but the Bruins had scored on just one of 16 shots totaled in the second and third periods, during which they held the Blackhawks to nine. Game Two would go to overtime as well!

41-year-old Jaromir Jagr had the best early chance, ringing one off the pipe with a heavy wrister 1:28 into overtime, beating Corey Crawford’s glove. Five minutes later, Rask got just enough glove on a shot by Patrick Sharp to keep the drama going. With 10:59 gone in the overtime, the United Center faithful erupted in a Bridgestone Arena – like ovation to urge on the Blackhawks.

While it was the Blackhawks depth players who produced the win in the first game of the series, their Bruins’ counterparts did it in the second. With 13:48 gone in overtime, Daniel Paille ended the proceedings, on helpers by Tyler Seguin (who had been switched to that line during the game by Julien) and defenseman Adam McQuaid.

The Bruins should be deliriously happy that they split in Chicago. That is particularly after their could-have-been-disastrous first period Saturday night. The Blackhawks are the team thinking about lost opportunities at this point, especially their lack of production on the powerplay.

Now the scene shifts to Boston’s TD Garden for Monday night’s Game Three. Overtime anyone? Better take a nap!

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POSTED ON Thursday, 06.13.2013 / 10:38 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

Game One of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final was the epitome of playoff hockey. The Boston Bruins were big and bad, just like the late 1960’s early-1970’s version.

Their biggest and baddest forward – Milan Lucic (give me license here, Nathan Horton is listed as being 9 pounds heavier than Lucic) – provided the Bruins with a 2-0 lead with his goal early in the second period.

Indeed, the Bruins’ top line of Lucic-David Krejci and Horton dominated the early going. They outplayed Chicago’s top line of Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in their head-head battles. The Blackhawks seemed tentative in that first period.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville adapted, and so did his team. Quenneville juggled his lines and put rookie Brandon Saad back with Toews and Hossa, as they had been much of the regular season. Sharp dropped down to left wing with Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw – both units benefitted.

Saad scored the goal that cut the Boston lead in half, and the Blackhawks were all over the Bruins and goaltender Tuukka Rask for the balance of the second. They outshot the Bruins, 16-6, yet were still down a goal when the second ended. The theme seemed to be lost opportunities though, as Chicago had three powerplay situations in the second, including 1:17 of a 5-on-3, but didn’t even manage a shot on goal in that span.

As the third period began, whatever momentum the Blackhawks may have had was neutralized when the Bruins scored a powerplay goal by Patrice Bergeron just 18 seconds after Michael Frolik took the first Blackhawks penalty of the game for tripping Zdeno Chara, making it 3-1, Boston.

Yet, that turned out to be the starting point for what NBC’s Pierre McGuire termed “spectacular theatre.” Less than two minutes after Bergeron’s goal, Dave Bolland beat Rask from his right side to gut it to 3-2. With 7:46 left in regulation, a shot from Johnny Oduya got through Rask to tie it up.

Who would have dreamed the two teams would play almost three full periods after that before it was decided?

The Bruins had great chances, particularly early in the first overtime, but Corey Crawford and Rask held firm. In that first overtime, the Bruins lost Nathan Horton to what seemed to be a re-aggravation of a previous injury. Tyler Seguin was plugged into his spot as Boston had 11 forwards available for the balance of the game. In the In the three overtimes, the Bruins outshot the Blackhawks, 29-24.

The start of the game-winning play was an attempted shot by Michal Rozsival, which was deflected, first by Bolland, and ultimately by Andrew Shaw to end the marathon game at Midnight on your kitchen clock, or 12:08 of the third overtime.

Bottom line, while the big guns tallied for Boston, the role players got the job done for Chicago.

It was spectacular theatre – six periods worth. It set the bar extremely high for these playoffs. The winner was the NHL – and the players and the fans, who have until Saturday to ready themselves for Game Two!

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 05.29.2013 / 9:30 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

He has not worn a Predators uniform since April 27, 2007; yet I still root for Tomas Vokoun. With all the obstacles he has overcome in his career, how could I not? Now, I have the feeling that Pittsburgh Penguins fans feel much the same way.

As this playoff season got started, there was absolutely no indication that we would be talking about Tomas at all. Marc-Andre Fleury shut the New York Islanders out in the first game of the opening series, stopping 19 shots. The second game marked the return of Sidney Crosby, who celebrated with a two-goal night. Still, the Islanders overcame a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, proving that the series was not going to be an easy one for the Penguins.

Game Three on Long Island, the Penguins overcame an early two-goal deficit and won in overtime on a powerplay goal by Chris Kunitz. It was the following game where it all came unraveled for Fleury, the goaltender of record when the Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Fleury was clearly fighting the puck, and the puck oftentimes won. The Islanders tied the series, with 6 goals on only 24 shots. At this point, since his shutout in the opener, Fleury had stopped 88 of 112 shots, or–78.6 per cent. For the record, 13 goaltenders in the playoffs have stopped over 91 per cent of the shots they faced.

That led to a crucial decision by Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma. It was clear that Fleury wasn’t getting the job done. So Bylsma, with his top-seeded team in the East even with the eighth-seeded Islanders after four games, decided to put Tomas Vokoun between the pipes. Vokoun, 36, who had not been in a playoff game since his last with the Predators six years ago, would get the call.

Bylsma’s move has clearly paid off. Vokoun’s play has been stellar. He won games five and six to close out the Islanders in the first round, then lost just once (in double overtime) in five games to the Ottawa Senators in Round Two. Heading into the Eastern Conference Final with the Boston Bruins, Vokoun is 6-1, with a 1.85 goals against average and a 94.1 saves percentage.

The above is the reason Penguin fans love him. Now I will tell you why he rates so highly with me:

Many deals were made as the Predators’ first roster was formed at the 1998 expansion draft. The Montreal Canadiens, who had drafted Vokoun out of the Czech Republic in 1994, begged the Predators to select him, perhaps to ensure they wouldn’t lose a goaltender in later expansion drafts. To emphasize their desires, they also gave the Predators center Sebastien Bordeleau.

Coming into that first Predators’ training camp, the pecking order in goal for the team appeared to be Mike Dunham, Mikhail Shtalenkov, Dominic Roussel and then Vokoun, who had played all of one NHL period for the Canadiens (where he gave up four goals in Philadelphia). Shtalenkov was traded before the season began to Edmonton in a deal that brought Mike Dunham’s first back-up to town: Eric Fichaud. Four days after that trade, Roussel was sent to Anaheim for Marc Moro and Chris Mason.

Vokoun started the Predators’ first season with the Milwaukee Admirals, playing nine games there. He made his Predators’ debut in early November, taking a 5-3 loss in Vancouver. A week later, he held the St. Louis Blues scoreless in the third period, mopping up for Mike Dunham. Eric Fichaud picked up the next four appearances as Dunham was sidelined by injury.

During this time, Tomas would end up in a seat behind me on the team bus. The top goaltender of that era was Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek (also from the Czech Republic). Vokoun knew I had been with him in Buffalo and would ask me about Hasek on a fairly regular basis

On December 10th, Vokoun picked up his first NHL win, 2-1 over San Jose, stopping 34 of 35 shots. He started the next game as well – against the team that wanted to be rid of him – Montreal, and stopped 25 of 27 in a tie at 2. On December 19th, Dunham injured his groin on a penalty shot by Markus Naslund in Vancouver. Dunham would not return for another month. The Predators then used Vokoun, Fichaud and Chris Mason trying to hold things together. They combined to go 5-8-1 (as an expansion team!) in Dunham’s absence.

In his 15th start for the team, one night after a dropping a 2-1 decision to the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in Detroit, Vokoun made Predators’ history. He produced the team’s first shutout, stopping 31 shots in a win over the Phoenix Coyotes. He raised his hands high over his head and was jumped to the side of his net in celebration.

However, Vokoun’s career course was not yet set. He would back up Mike Dunham and have another stint or two in Milwaukee until the big trade of December 12, 2002, when the team decided to go with him as the starter, and send Dunham to the New York Rangers.

At that point, things began to turn for the Predators. Still offensively challenged, they did not make the playoffs in 2003. But they did make them the next four seasons, and Vokoun was the man in net for each of those teams. He is the ultimate team man. He takes responsibility for every goal scored against him, he doesn’t point fingers at his teammates. That sort of behavior helps to hold a team together, particularly through the inevitable tough times that develop.

He has maintained his humility throughout his 15-season career, perhaps the best example of this – the day after one of his typical 40-save performances, he was seen at a craft show in Nashville pushing a stroller with his wife Dagmar and their first daughter, Adelle (now a competitive figure skater). When he was recognized that afternoon, his head bowed, but with a big smile on his face, he said “You did NOT see me here!”

Now Vokoun is being seen all across the hockey world, and he has a chance to play a vital role for a top Stanley Cup contender. I am willing to wager there are a lot of people that couldn’t be happier for him. Who knows just how many points he stole for the Predators over the years? That notwithstanding, there is an outstanding chance that when his career is over, he will look back and the 2013 playoffs and say: “those were the good old days!”

Click on the links below to hear some of my favorite Vokoun calls:

Vokoun records his first career shut out - Jan. 15, 1999

Vokoun shutsouts Detroit - Dec. 20, 2003

Vokoun stymies Pavel Bure

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 05.21.2013 / 4:00 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

For the first time in the Predators’ history, a former defenseman will be part of the team’s coaching staff, as Phil Housley arrives in Music City.

Phil Housley had a Hall of Fame career – 21-seasons long in the National Hockey League. He began as an 18-year-old, fresh out of the United States Hockey League and his hometown St. Paul (MN) Vulcans.

The Buffalo Sabres took him sixth overall in the 1982 draft. Then-Sabres Coach/GM Scotty Bowman likened him to the “next Bobby Orr,” that’s how highly he was regarded.

No one could reasonably expect to measure up to those expectations, but consider he played almost 1,500 games in the league (only Chris Chelios played in more), and tallied the most points (1,232) by any player born in the United States when he retired in 2003. Mike Modano subsequently broke that mark in 2007.

Housley was so creative and gifted offensively that sometimes he was moved up to center a forward line. That also happened with long-ago Red Wing and Maple Leaf Red Kelly.

Inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, he is a strong candidate for the overall Hall as well. Phil played in seven NHL All-Star games, and made and the All-Rookie team in 1983.

Internationally, he also made his mark as part of two gold medal efforts: as a player in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and as Head Coach of Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.

He began his coaching career at the high school level in his native Minnesota with the Stillwater Ponies, where he coached eight seasons before taking on the head coaching job for the U.S. National junior team. In addition to the gold medal his club won this season in Russia, he was also an Assistant Coach in the recently concluded Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships, which ended with a bronze medal. The Predators’ Craig Smith and Bobby Butler played on that team.

Housley highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnjGInqmBIg

Housley after World Junior Team’s training camp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGkDTm5I0qg

Interview with Minnesota Hockey Magazine: http://minnesotahockeymagazine.com/In-Depth/Phil-Housley--Coaching-Plans/144070407

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.23.2012 / 9:50 AM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, he reviews “The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the NHL and Changed the Game Forever.” (Published by Triumph Books)

Jonathon Gatehouse, a senior correspondent for Canada’s MacLean’s magazine, wrote this biography of the NHL Commissioner. Gatehouse is not regularly assigned to the hockey beat, so his perspective on his subject is fresh – and thorough.

While this is not an “authorized” biography, Bettman did cooperate with Gatehouse, providing him with access to himself and others within the NHL family.

Gatehouse takes you into Bettman’s upbringing, his time in college at Cornell, law school days at NYU, breaking into the law, landing at the Proskauer Rose law firm, then the NBA office (where he earned his reputation with a salary cap system), all the way to his NHL office in a corner suite at 47th and the Avenue of the Americas in New York.

We find out that then NHL Board of Governors Chairman Bruce McNall had initially attempted to hire NBA Commissioner David Stern to lead the NHL at a lunch meeting in the fall of 1992. McNall quickly found out that Stern was not interested. McNall then inquired as to the availability of Stern’s second-in-command, Russ Granik, but was rebuffed again. However, Stern heartily endorsed 40-year old Gary Bettman, calling to McNall’s attention the fact that Bettman was entrenched in all of the NBA’s labor negotiation.

That was precisely the sort of endorsement the NHL was seeking as the league made a clean break from the John Zeigler – Gil Stein regime, which many owners thought had failed them in CBA negotiations with the players.

It still left the NHL with some additional restructuring. All previous heads of the National Hockey League had been titled “President.” Bettman was going to come in as “Commissioner,” with enhanced powers over his predecessors.

So, on December 11,1992, at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Commissioner Gary Bettman was introduced to the hockey world.

As he entered the NHL, the league was undergoing massive changes. The day before his introduction, the move of the “North” Stars to Dallas was approved for the fall of 1993. Then, the league expanded to 26 teams with the additions of South Florida and Anaheim. Four years later, was the next wave of new teams, Nashville announced along with Atlanta (now Winnipeg), Columbus, and Minnesota. It seems like the changes have never stopped since that point in time.

Gatehouse provides a behind-the-scenes look at all of those, along with the franchise moves from Quebec City to Denver and Winnipeg to Phoenix. Consider those moves with the ownership changes, and the thought is pounded into your brain – the biggest component of the major league games we follow is business!

What also has occurred during Bettman’s near-20 years as Commissioner are three work stoppages, and how Bettman has tried to hold the league together while the naturally adversarial negotiations take place. After all, that’s why he was hired!

The insights provided here are very important now for fans attempting to understand what the situation is like for Bettman on his side of the table.

Gatehouse gives his interpretation from the outside of the Bettman – Bob Goodenow negotiations of 1994-95 and 2004-05. He also includes a chapter on current NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, former head of the Major League [Baseball] Players Association and student of Marvin Miller.

Those portrayals are important if you are to have any chance of comprehending what hockey faces now. I think such understanding is important to hockey fans today.

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.16.2012 / 2:16 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators’ Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, Pete reviews “Breakway: From Behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL the Untold Story of Hockey’s Great Escapes” written by Tal Pinchevsky.

We take for granted that players from around the world populate today’s National Hockey League. That wasn’t the case as recently as 1979. Virtually every athlete in the league was from Canada (the greatest majority) or the United States. True, there were a smattering of Swedish players then in the NHL and WHA.

Until the great “Summit Series” between Team Canada and the Soviet Union in 1972, that was not considered remarkable. That was when the eyes of North American hockey were opened. The talents displayed by the Soviet’s “Big Red Machine” were immense.

When the Canada Cup was staged in 1976, further exposure to European hockey showed, what had developed in Czechoslovakia and Finland.

All teams are looking for an edge in talent. But how could the NHL gain access to those from the Soviet Bloc?

Tal Pinchevsy, a staff writer and producer for NHL.com, answers this very thoroughly in his case-by-case study. He brings to life the risks that had to be taken by players in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia while trying to win their freedom to ply their trade in the NHL.

The risks were very real – the cost could have meant their lives or the hardships that would be put upon friends and family members they would leave behind. Those risks were also borne, at least in part, by the NHL representatives assigned to “spring them.”

The point can be argued that the first true defection was that of Vaclav Nedomansky (“Big Ned”) from Czechoslovakia to the WHA’s Toronto Toros as a 30-year old in 1974. He later was part of the first WHA-NHL trade and moved to the Detroit Red Wings.

Where Pinchevsky’s narrative gets to be nerve-wracking is the story of Gilles Leger of the Quebec Nordiques pursuing the Stastny brothers (Peter, Anton and eventually, Marian) is fraught with palpable danger.

The Nordiques began work on bringing them over in 1979, hoping they could do it easily at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games. Suspecting as much, the Czech team security was so tight, Leger could not communicate with them.

Finally, in Austria for a tournament in August of 1980, Nordiques President Marcel Aubut and General Manager Leger made contact with Peter and Anton, and they (along with Peter’s pregnant wife, Darina) drove like Formula One drivers to ultimately escape Czech team officials and ultimately fly to Montreal.

Pinchevsky has similar stories to tell about Petr Klima in 1985, and the battle for the likes of the incredible KLM Line (Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov) to escape the Soviet Union.

Escaping the Soviet Union proved to be the most difficult. Goaltending great Vladislav Tretiak simply retired rather than continue playing at his high level when it was made clear to him that he would not be permitted to join the Montreal Canadiens.

While the KLM Line ultimately got to the NHL, that was made possible in part by the development of a top junior line: Alexander Mogilny, Sergei Federov and Pavel Bure. Yet as the Iron Curtain was falling, each of them was able to defect. The Mogilny case was particularly precarious.

However, when these players found their way to North America, the story was actually only beginning. Predators’ fans in particular will be interested in the story of Michal Pivonka and his fiancé. They had left Prague in 1986, supposedly on a vacation to Yugoslavia, only to end up at the U.S. Embassy in Rome to, ready to accept a contract that had been offered him by the Washington Capitals, where David Poile was General Manager. The Pivonkas lived with the Poile family for several months!

After the players arrived, most were faced with a huge language barrier. Some were faced with bigger challenges than others. Consider the Stastny family, leaving Czechoslovakia for French-speaking Quebec, and the English spoken in all the other league cities outside the province.

That is only part of the cultural adjustments that had to be made. For some of the players, it was difficult to take care of their own nutrition since their hockey clubs had attended to that for them.

All in all, a fascinating story of how the trails were first blazed from the Soviet bloc, and told well by Pinchevsky. I think you will enjoy it!

Link to amazon.com book site

Link to author interview

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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.16.2012 / 2:05 PM
By Pete Weber - Nashville Predators / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

If you are seeking other means to satisfy your “hockey jones,” Predators’ Voice Pete Weber will be periodically reviewing various forms of hockey media.

In this installment, Pete reviews “Team Canada 1972 – The Official 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Summit Series – as Told by the Players” With Andrew Podnieks

More hockey history for you with this entry: the “Summit Series” between Team Canada and the Soviet Union is remembered by Canadians as well as Americans over 55 remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963.

Andrew Podnieks has put together a coffee table book that allows the players involved in the first-ever series involving the top NHL players against the best of the Soviet Union. Previously, the Soviets had always maintained that they would not play their “amateurs” against the Canadian professionals. The fact that the only thing the Soviet players did was play hockey never entered into it.

This provided a great awakening in North America. Team Canada was supposed to take the 8-game set (4 in Canada, 4 in Moscow) easily, perhaps even sweep it.

The scouting reports on the Soviets added to that presumption of Canadian superiority. The Soviets didn’t shoot enough, their goaltender – Vladislav Tretiak seemed to be an absolute sieve when the Canadians saw him play. They didn’t know that when they saw him, he was just coming off his nuptials. Weeks later, things would be different.

An All-Star team (minus Bobby Hull, who had jumped to the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets from the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, was not allowed to play. Defenseman Bobby Orr was not healthy enough to participate fully) was assembled – and came to camp to get into shape. One problem – the Soviets trained 11 months a year and were in great shape!

Team Canada got out to an early and easy lead in Game One in Montreal…only to receive the ultimate wake-up call, getting thrashed, 7-3.

The response was a victory in Toronto, a tie in Winnipeg and a disheartening loss in Vancouver, after which Phil Esposito emerged in a post-game TV interview, stating that all the booing of Team Canada at the Pacific Coliseum that night was unfair, that the players were there because “we love Canada!”

After the series switched to Moscow, the Soviets took Game Five, taking a 3-1-1 series lead. Team Canada was one loss away from dropping the series.

Calling on every aspect of their character and talents, Team Canada managed to sweep the final three games, with Paul Henderson emerging as the hero. Ask virtually any Canadian what they were doing on September 28, 1972, and most will respond that they were in front of their television sets listening to Foster Hewitt intone: “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

As a keepsake, it’s an outstanding addition to any hockey library. There are the official portrait photographs of all the players and coaches, some you know, some you won’t, along with tables of statistics from the event.

Link to amazon.com book site

Link to author interview

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WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
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10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
S. Weber 79 23 33 -2 56
P. Hornqvist 76 22 31 1 53
C. Smith 79 24 28 16 52
M. Fisher 75 20 29 -4 49
R. Josi 72 13 27 -2 40
M. Cullen 77 10 29 4 39
C. Wilson 81 11 22 -1 33
N. Spaling 71 13 19 2 32
R. Ellis 80 6 21 9 27
G. Bourque 74 9 17 -5 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Hutton 20 11 4 .910 2.62
D. Dubnyk 11 18 3 .891 3.43

 
 

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