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Bluelines: Singing the Third-String Blues

Stan Fischler looks at the rise of third-stringers making an appearance – and a positive impact – in the playoffs. Plus, he breaks down some things to think about this weekend, the USHL playoffs, Toronto's lack of production from a big-name star and more.
Pyotr Kochetkov

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW FOR A WEEKEND SCHMOOZE

1. CANES: GM Don Waddell had better find a fourth-string goalie because Little Bad Marchand thinks Carolina netminders are archery targets.

2. OILERS: The Kings are learning that not even land mines can

deter a McDavid end-to-ender. Connor is the best 200-foot-skater since Bob Orr.

3. CANUCKS: As colleague Adam Proteau notes, Good Guy Bruce Boudreau shouldn't be made a lame-duck coach. Trouble is that Fischler and Proteau have more faith in Cousin Brucie than Jim Rutherford.

4. The Rangers-Penguins first game marathon took more out of older Pittsburgh than younger New York. It says here the Pens will be lucky to win another; even at home.

5. BRUINS: Charlie McAvoy is a fine defenseman except, Tony D'Angelo is better. (Like four assists in two games better.)

6. EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY: Want to make big money, fast? Open a Used Goalie Lot!

7. BATTLE OF THE COACHES: A compelling sidebar to the Rangers-Penguins tourney has to do with the rival coaches. Both New York's Gerard (He Is Quite) Gallant and Pitt's Mike Sullivan are top candidates for the Adams (Best Mentor) Awad.

8. After watching Washington lose last night in Florida, my man in Sunrise, Al Greenberg, put it well: "The Caps without Tom Wilson are like bagels without cream cheese!"'

9. All things considered, the Predators' OT effort last night in Denver was nothing short of valiant; just short of a win. 

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SINGING THE THIRD-STRING BLUES

This is the best -- and worst -- time to be a goalie.

Worst because first-string NHL netminders are like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Over and OUT! Over and OUT! Every single week!

Best, because erstwhile no-names like Pyotr Kochetkov became overnight headline-stealers. Or, as Mel Brooks commented in History Of The World, Part One, "It's Great To Be King." If not King; then third-string goalie!

Only in this zany playoff year can third- and fourth-string goalies become legends. Exhibit A, Louis Domingue: Exhibit B. Pyotr Kochetkov.

As my crease-watching guru Al (Stop The PucK) Greenberg notes, "Kochetkov had the biggest moment of sudden fame since David Ayres. Pyotr endeared himself with the Carolina faithful not only for his goaltending prowess but for his feistiness in a very physical game. He retaliated in kind for a goalmouth slash by Brad Marchand and then challenged the Bruin forward before both wisely stepped back."

At the start of this season, Kohetkov was so far from making the Canes varsity he didn't even make The Hockey News Yearbook for Canes goalies. (Beck Warm of Whistler, B.C. beat out Pyotr.)

So, as the Big, Bad B's return to Boston tonight for Game Three, the Bruins' expensive starter, Linus Ullmark is oh-for-two.

(Could be oh-for-three tonight unless Bruce Cassidy wisely goes with his Number 2 twine-tender, Jeremy (I'm From Alaska) Swayman.)

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THE BANE OF TORONTO -- OVERPAID AND UNDERPRODUCED

If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times; there's no way Toronto is going to see Stanley unless John Tavares does more than win the odd face-off.

Sorry, but the league's most overpaid-under-producing millionaire (seven years, $77 million) has been forcing the Matthews-Marner moving firm to carry Shelly Keefe's offense.

And that's not fair.

For the pile of dough J.T. is pulling in, he should have done better than finish 41st in scoring and had better do better tonight when his teammates will be in Tampa Bay trying to take a series lead.

"Through the two playoff games so far, Tavares has one assist," Mike Augello, my man in T.O. points out.

But there's still time for The Pyjama Boy to deliver. But not a whole lot of time!

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I'M JUST SAYIN'

* At the beginning of the season, Connor McDavid's "200-foot Game"

measured about 90 feet of ice.

* But after ESPN's John Tortorella shook up the Edmonton world about McD finding the other 110 feet of ice, the Oilers captain has become a legit 200-foot player. Watch him tonight at L.A. and see.

* Peter DeBoer deserves one more chance to return the Golden Knights back to hockey excellence.

* Geno Malkin takes a lot of heat from an anti-Evgeny bloc in Pitt. Yet his game-winner in the opener against the Rangers was the 13th of his career.

* Guess what? Malkin's red light in Game One was the best game-winner in Penguins history.

* Kudos to Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald for staying with Lindy Ruff for another season.

* What New Jersey needs is an A-1 goalie; not a new guy behind the bench.

* As long as Igor Shesterkin stays healthy, the goalie-poor Penguins do not have a chance. Iggie-The-Goalie could carry New York to the third round; at least.

* Gary Bettman's middle name could be "Indefatigable." The Commish visited Sunrise last night for Caps-Cats. It was his fourth game in four nights!

* That makes him a back-to-back-to-back Commissioner.

* How about this for a possible upset. Stars take last night's win momentum to take the series and Edmonton -- not Calgary -- makes it to Round Two!

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NO CHEAPENING THE PLAYOFFS

The "Change-For-The-Sake-Of-Change bloc out there would like the NHL to expand its number of teams qualifying for the playoffs.

When this was brought to the attention of Commissioner Bettman the other day in Edmonton, the Commish shook his head, "No!"

Bettman's logic makes sense: "The current system creates great competition during the regular season," says The Commish. "It makes those games most meaningful.

"There's nothing like our playoff tournament. The Stanley Cup is the hardest to win; and there's nothing like it in any sport in the first round. Right now we like where we are."

(The Board of Governors -- Bettman's employers -- like where he is

now. Next February he'll celebrate his 40th year in office.)

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FUN PLAYOFF HOCKEY ON ANOTHER LEVEL

America's only Tier I Junior circuit, the USHL is celebrating its 20th season. Both the Western and Eastern Conference Final rounds begin tonight.

In the West, it's Sioux City Musketeers at Tri-City Storm while in the East, the Madison Capitols host the Muskegon Lumberjacks. You can bet a ton of scouts will be watching both tilts.

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WHO SAID IT? "The adversity we had earlier this year with goalies made this not a big deal." (ANSWER BELOW.)

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HAIL THE COLLEGIANS:

Hockey on the university level is more popular than ever and the proof is in the numbers. Nearly 350 former college hockey standouts played in the NHL this past regular season. That breaks the previous record of 327, set three years ago.

Interesting note: The number of NCAA alumni in the NHL has grown by 65 percent in the last 19 years.

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SITUATIONS WANTED: NHL COACHING JOBS

Only a genius will be able to tell me who -- among he following will have an NHL bench gig next season. Some of the worthies (names) follow -- in no particular order: Claude Julien, John Tortorella, Travis Green, Mike Babcock, Paul Maurice, Kirk Muller and Rick Tocchet.

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ANSWER TO WHO SAID IT? Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour on twice starting rookie goalie Pyotr Kochetkov against Boston.

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