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  • Goaltending figures to be key as Blues host Preds
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues know how well goalie Jake Allen played in their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, but they have one sobering fact staring them in the face as they prepare for round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    • As good as Allen was, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was even better in his first-round series, leading the Predators to a four-game sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks, the top seed in the Western Conference.

      Rinne shut out the Blackhawks in two of the four games and allowed a total of three goals in the series on 126 shots.

      Whether the Blues can have more success against Rinne than the Blackhawks did likely will determine which team wins the series and advances to the Western Conference final. Game 1 is Wednesday night in St. Louis.

      The Blues are trying to reach the conference final for the second consecutive year, while Nashville has never advanced that far, losing in the second round to San Jose a year ago. The Blues then lost to the Sharks in the conference final.

      This is the first time the Blues and Predators have met in the playoffs.

      One of the keys to the Blues' win over the Wild in the first round might have been some inside knowledge from coach Mike Yeo, who spent five years behind the Minnesota bench before he was fired 14 months ago.

      They could have another source for information on the Predators in backup goalie Carter Hutton, who spent three years as Rinne's backup before signing as a free agent with the Blues last summer.

      "Knowing some guys and their mentalities, the way they handle games, the ins and outs of every guy is important," Hutton told NHL.com. "Before each series, we try to analyze it the best we can, and obviously, they're playing good hockey. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we're pretty pumped for it."

      Each team is quite familiar with the other's goalie. Rinne has started 39 games against the Blues in his career, including three this season. Allen has logged 10 games against the Predators in his career, four of them coming this year.

      "Chicago didn't get much in four games, which is very impressive," Blues center Paul Stastny said of Rinne's performance. "We have to get second- and third-chance opportunities, try to get in front of him so he doesn't see the puck."

      Stastny returned to the lineup for the final game against the Wild, his first since sustaining a broken foot on March 21. The Predators could be getting a key player of their own back for this series in forward Colin Wilson, who missed the Chicago series. Wilson led Nashville with 13 playoff points last year.

      "I think that (the Blues) are a heavy team, so you have to have some heavy players down low, and that's why my game can work well against them, to battle their attributes," Wilson told NHL.com. "I think I've always played well against the Blues."

      There is no question, however, the most important player for the Predators will be Rinne, just as he was against the Blackhawks.

      Rinne thinks having lost in the second round last year is serving as motivation for the Predators' attempt to advance further this season.

      "In anybody's career, you're going to have your ups and downs, and you're going to learn from your defeats," Rinne told NHL.com. "You're going to go through those things, and I think when you go through it as a team, it's good for you. Last year, it was an empty feeling after that Game 7 loss in San Jose. Now we're in the same situation, going back to the second round.

      "The biggest thing, too, even though there's a lot of fans going crazy and the whole city is supporting us, I feel like us players stay pretty even-keeled, and I think that's a good sign. That's a great thing, and that's how it should be. We haven't done anything yet, and I think that's the mindset we've been having."

  • Oilers, McDavid brace for next challenge: Ducks
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks square off in Game 1 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series Wednesday at Honda Center.

    • For visiting Edmonton, it is uncharted waters for a franchise that missed the playoffs in the 10 previous seasons. Anaheim, meanwhile, emerged as the favorite to win the Western Conference after the surprising first-round elimination of the Chicago Blackhawks, who fell to the Nashville Predators.

      The Oilers won their opening series against banged-up San Jose in unexpected fashion by shutting down the Sharks in six games. Despite having the third-best offense in the Western Conference during the regular season, Edmonton recorded only 12 goals in the six games and were outscored by San Jose 14-12 thanks mostly to the Sharks' 7-0 victory in Game 4.

      Center Connor McDavid, the favorite to win the Hart Trophy awarded to the league MVP, was merely average against the Sharks, registering two goals (including one empty-netter) and two assists.

      The Oilers' best player in the series was goaltender Cam Talbot, who posted two shutouts, a 2.03 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

      Edmonton knows it will need to produce more offense against Anaheim in order to advance.

      If McDavid is to return to form, he likely will have to do it against one of the game's premier defensive centers, Anaheim's Ryan Kesler. The burly center has been nominated for the Frank J. Selke Award, presented to the league's best defensive forward, for the fifth time. Kesler won the Selke in 2011 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, but despite his defensive prowess, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan does not appear to be concerned about the matchup.

      "Matching can be overemphasized, it can take a number of players out of the game, it can destroy your rhythm and you'd like to have an edge, but if you don't get it, you still got to find ways to win," McLellan said. "We're going to play four of seven games on the road, odds are we're not going to get favorable matchups, we'll find a way to get through it somehow."

      The Ducks had a much easier first round, sweeping the wild-card Calgary Flames in four games, continuing their recent domination of the matchup. The four-game whitewash gave Anaheim 23 wins in its past 26 games versus the Flames, but the Ducks expect a far tougher series against an Edmonton team that finished two points behind them in the Pacific Division race.

      A key to victory is the health of the Ducks' defensive corps. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen all could be in the lineup for Game 1, coach Randy Carlyle announced Tuesday. Vatanen and Fowler missed the first round, but fortunately for Carlyle, his blue-line depth chart is arguably the deepest in the league.

      Rookies Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour each averaged about 20 minutes in the first round and are solid insurance policies if any of their established blue-liners are not 100 percent. Theodore and Ryan Getzlaf led the way offensively against Calgary with two goals and three assists apiece.

      Carlyle said he expects far tougher sledding against Edmonton. The Oilers won three of the five regular-season meetings and outscored the Ducks 14-12. This is only the second time the teams have met in the playoffs, with the Oilers winning in five games in 2006 en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

      "Every inch of the ice is earned as you move deeper into the playoffs," Carlyle said. "The teams that win those battles give themselves a better chance of moving on. We not surprised to be facing the Oilers, they got the job done against San Jose, and we know this series will be tougher than the last one."

      The Oilers also received good news on their blue-line contingent when defenseman Oscar Klefbom announced he was at full strength after missing the third period of Edmonton's Game 6 clincher with an undisclosed illness.

      "I feel good, almost back to normal," Klefbom said. "I didn't feel very good on the bench in San Jose but felt a lot better after the game when we won that game. I feel a lot better now and should be good to go (Wednesday)."

      Edmonton may reunite its top line of McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl in the hopes of reigniting the offense. Draisaitl feasted on the Ducks in the regular season, registering six goals and two assists. Maroon has seen the chemistry his two linemates have created against Anaheim this season and expects to see more starting Wednesday.

      "Just finding those little holes and creating offense for yourself, that's what elite players do," Maroon said. "Connor and Leon do a really good job of that, and they will be playing against the best defensive line in all the NHL in (Jakob) Silfverberg, (Andrew) Cogliano and Kesler."

  • Canucks hire Green as coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, April 25, 2017

    Travis Green will be hired as the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks, ESPN reported Tuesday.

    • Green, 46, served as the coach of the Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, for the last three seasons. He guided the Comets to a 120-78-20 record and an appearance in the Calder Cup Final two seasons ago.

      Before coaching Utica, Green was the bench boss for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League during the 2012-13 season, going 37-8-2 en route to the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a Memorial Cup final appearance.

      As a player, Green totaled 193 goals and 262 assists over 970 career games from 1992 to 2007 between the New York Islanders, Anaheim Ducks/Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.

      Vancouver fired coach Willie Desjardins on April 10 after the Canucks (30-43-9) finished with the second-fewest points in the NHL after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. He went 109-110-27 in three seasons.

  • Sharks' Thornton played through ACL, MCL tears
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton played four postseason games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn medial collateral ligament, and he had surgery Monday to repair his left knee.

    • Sharks coach Peter DeBoer announced the extent of Thornton's injury on Monday, and later in the day general manager Doug Wilson said the 37-year-old forward was scheduled for surgery Monday afternoon.

      Thornton was injured on April 2 in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. He missed the rest of the regular season and the first two games of the Sharks' first-round playoff series against Edmonton. However, Thornton returned for Game 3 and played the final four games of the six-game series won by the Oilers.

      "I've been in this business a long time," Wilson said. "You see a player play with that type of injury tells you all you need to know about him."

      Thornton had two assists and averaged 18:50 of ice time in the four postseason games he played.

      Thornton spoke to the media before DeBoer revealed the severity of the injury, and Thornton downplayed the problem, calling it "the normal stuff that hockey players deal with."

      "It was just unfortunate, the time of the year," Thornton said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "That it happened three games before the end of the season and the playoffs, you got to deal with something like that.

      "Hockey players are a different breed. There's probably five or six guys that had to deal with different stuff. But it is what it is. I'll go get it checked out today and go from there."

      Thornton becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the injury and resulting surgery complicate things. ACL surgery typically requires about six months of recovery time, which mean Thornton might be ready to return to action when the 2017-18 season begins.

      Thornton, who won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 2006, just finished his 20th NHL season, and he had seven goals and 43 assists in 79 regular-season games this season.

      Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, who also become an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he played the series with a broken left thumb, although he will not need surgery.

  • Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan tabbed as Masterton finalists
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, Anaheim Ducks left winger Andrew Cogliano and Carolina Hurricanes center Derek Ryan on Monday were named finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

    • The award is presented "to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

      The Professional Hockey Writers Association voted on the award at the end of the regular season. The winner will be announced June 21 at the NHL Awards event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

      Anderson left the Senators for part of the 2016-17 season while wife Nicholle dealt with throat cancer. He returned to the team on Oct. 29 after Ottawa lost goaltender Andrew Hammond with a groin injury, but left again in early December while his wife underwent treatment.

      After the All-Star break, Anderson came back and helped the Senators to a playoff berth, finishing with 25 victories in 40 starts. The Senators have advanced to the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

      Anderson became Ottawa's career wins leader with 147 and played in his 500th NHL game on March 11.

      Cogliano has received four Masterton Trophy nominations. He has played in 786 consecutive regular-season games and 833 including the playoffs.

      In a 10-year NHL career, Cogliano has never missed a playoff game. His iron-man record to start a career is the second longest in NHL history behind Doug Jarvis' 964-game streak from 1975 to 1988. Cogliano's streak is currently the fourth longest in NHL history.

      Ryan is enjoying his first extended taste of NHL action this season at age 29. Before reaching the NHL, he has played for the Spokane of the Western Hockey League; in the United Hockey League; the University of Alberta; Szekesfehervar, Hungary; Villach, Austria; and Orebro, Sweden.

      Last season, Ryan saw action in six NHL games. In 2016-17, Ryan collected 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games.

      The late Bill Masterton, for whom the award is named, played for the Minnesota North Stars. He died in 1968.

  • Islanders sign D Seidenberg
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    Veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Islanders, the team announced Monday.

    • Seidenberg, 35, registered 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 73 games with the Islanders last season. He also led the club with a plus-25 rating.

      It was his first season with New York and 14th overall in the NHL for Seidenberg, who spent the previous 6 1/2 seasons with the Boston Bruins. He won a Stanley Cup championship with the Bruins in 2011.

      A sixth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2001, Seidenberg has appeared in 831 games with the Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, compiling 44 goals and 202 assists.

      A native of Schwenningen, Germany, Seidenberg has been a member of the German Olympic hockey team in 2002, 2006 and 2010. He also played for Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

  • Blackhawks dismiss assistant coach Kitchen
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, April 24, 2017

    The Chicago Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen on Monday in the wake of the team being swept by the Nashville Predators.

    • Nashville beat Chicago 4-1 on Thursday night to complete a surprising sweep of the Western Conference's top seed.

      Kitchen joined the Blackhawks' coaching staff as an assistant coach in July 2010 and was on Joel Quenneville's staff for two Stanley Cup Championships in 2013 and 2015.

      "We believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. "Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future."

      Kitchen spent 14 years as an assistant coach with Toronto and St. Louis before spending parts of three seasons as the Blues' head coach. He then spent three years as an assistant with the Florida Panthers before joining the Blackhawks following the 2010 Stanley Cup title run.

  • Lightning sign F Katchouk
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    The Tampa Bay Lightning signed forward Boris Katchouk to a three-year, entry level contract on Sunday.

    • Katchouk, 18, played in 66 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League this season, recording 64 points (35 goals, 29 assists) and 46 penalty minutes. The Waterloo, Ontario, native ranked second on the Greyhounds for goals, third for points and fifth for assists.

      The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Katchouk skated in 141 career OHL games in three seasons, posting 117 points (59 goals, 58 assists) and 124 penalty minutes.

      The Lightning drafted Katchouk in the second round (44th overall) of the 2016 NHL draft.

  • Kings promote Stevens to head coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    The Los Angeles Kings promoted assistant John Stevens to become their next head coach.

    • The team and Stevens agreed to contract terms on Sunday, new Kings general manager Rob Blake announced.

      Stevens, 50, has most recently served as the associate head coach of the Kings and been part of the coaching staff for the past seven seasons.

      Stevens was the Philadelphia Flyers' head coach from 2006 to 2010, after which he served as an assistant coach with the Kings, including four games in 2011-12 as an interim head coach. Stevens went 120-109 with the Flyers.

      "John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy and specifically how he would implement a strategy to activate our players offensively while maintaining the defensive philosophies we have come to be known for," Blake said in a statement. "I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed. With that said, we believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club. His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward."

      After Los Angeles missed the playoffs for the second time in three years with a 39-35-8 mark in 2016-17, the Kings fired coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi, who helped guide the franchise to its only two Stanley Cup championships.

  • NHL roundup: Rangers, Oilers, Blues advance
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, April 23, 2017

    NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored two goals and Henrik Lundqvist capped a brilliant first-round series with 27 saves as the New York Rangers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 on Saturday night.

    • The Rangers won the Eastern Conference best-of-seven series 4-2 and face Ottawa or Boston in the next round. Zuccarello scored both goals in the second period after the Rangers fell behind 1-0 after the first.

      Derek Stepan capped the win with an empty-net goal with 17.8 seconds remaining. Lundqvist stopped 195 of 206 shots in six games and made a stretching left pad save to deny Tomas Plekanec and preserve the win in the final minutes.

      Alexei Emelin scored for the Canadiens. Carey Price made 20 saves in a losing effort.

      Oilers 3, Sharks 1

      SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored breakaway goals 56 seconds apart early in the second period as Edmonton won their Western Conference first-round playoff series with San Jose 4-2.

      Cam Talbot stopped 27 shots as the defending West champion Sharks couldn't muster the tying goal despite a late third-period rally. Patrick Marleau's third goal of the series -- and 68th of his 177-game postseason career -- at 12:12 of the third period pulled San Jose to within a goal and brought the SAP Center sellout crowd to life.

      The Oilers were guilty of a too-many-men penalty at 15:03 to give the Sharks a third power play, but San Jose could not convert despite captain Joe Pavelski ringing a turn-around backhand effort off the crossbar and goalpost 1:15 into the advantage.

      Blues 4, Wild 3 (OT)

      SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at 9:42 of overtime and Jake Allen made 35 saves as St. Louis defeated Minnesota to win their Western Conference first-round playoff series.

      Vladimir Tarasenko, Alexander Steen and Paul Stastny scored first-period goals for St. Louis, which got its third road victory of the playoffs to win the series 4-1. The Blues open the Western Conference semifinals at home versus Nashville.

      Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored for the Wild, who had their best regular season in franchise history, but managed only eight goals in five playoff games.

  • Holtby, Bobrovsky, Price selected as Vezina finalists
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will have an opportunity to repeat as the Vezina Trophy winner.

    • Holtby, who took home the honor last year, joined Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday by being named finalists for the 2016-17 Vezina Trophy. The trophy is awarded "to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position."

      The general managers of the NHL's clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 21, during the 2017 NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

      Holtby shared the league lead with 42 wins this season while his career high-tying nine shutouts paced the NHL. The 27-year-old Saskatchewan native ranked second in the league with a 2.07 goals-against average and became the third goaltender in NHL history to post three straight 40-win seasons, joining Martin Brodeur (2005-06 through 2007-08) and Evgeni Nabokov (2007-08 through 2009-10).

      Bobrovsky, who was a 2013 Vezina Trophy winner, led the NHL with a 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage to guide the Blue Jackets to their best season in club history. The 28-year-old Russian ranked third in wins with a franchise-high 41 and tied for third in shutouts with seven.

      Price returned from an injury-plagued season in 2015-16 to post 37 wins to go along with his 2.23 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. A former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, Price opened the season in record-setting fashion, becoming the first goaltender in NHL history to win each of his first 10 appearances.

  • Bruins have shot at home to extend series with Senators
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    BOSTON -- Thanks largely to the unexpected heroics of rookie Sean Kuraly, the Bruins have life and their first-round playoff series with the Ottawa Senators returns to Boston for Sunday's Game 6.

    • But despite Boston's double-overtime win Friday night, Ottawa still leads the series 3-2.

      "We just stay the course. It's exactly what we expected -- tough, hard series," Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said before his team left for a return trip to Boston the Senators had hoped to avoid.

      " ... We rebounded all year. There's no reason why we can't rebound again."

      The Senators, who finished second in the Atlantic Division ahead of the third-place Bruins, have won five straight games at TD Garden. They are 7-2 overall against Boston this season.

      The Senators took Game 3 in overtime and won 1-0 in Game 4, with Bobby Ryan scoring the winner in both games.

      "It's a great stat, but I don't think we think about it much to be honest," Ottawa's Marc Methot said of his team's success at TD Garden. "During the regular season, that's one thing, but it's a different ballgame now."

      And the Bruins, who have never come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series -- losing all 22 previous times they faced that climb -- have life.

      And they have it at least partially because interim coach Bruce Cassidy played a hunch and inserted Kuraly, whose rights were acquired in a 2015 deal that sent goaltender Martin Jones to San Jose, into the lineup after he sat out the two games in Boston.

      Playing in only his 11th NHL game, Kuraly scored the tying goal from behind the net as the Bruins completed a comeback from two goals down, and then had the winner on a rebound past Craig Anderson.

      Kuraly then started jumping up and down as his teammates came off the bench in celebration.

      "It was really cool to see," teammate Kevan Miller said. "He looked a little bit like 1980 Miracle, running around the ice."

      "I'd say it's a huge momentum lift for tomorrow," said defenseman Joe Morrow, who like Kuraly is playing because of injuries to others. "Playing at 3 (p.m.) you're right back at it, take care of your bumps and bruises today.

      "You wake up tomorrow ready to play another game and you're still kind of coming off the high of winning that game in overtime and seeing some guys make some huge plays and be super excited about that. That's what we're going to carry into tomorrow."

      Both teams have manpower situations heading into Game 6. The Bruins, already missing three of their top four defensemen, also lost David Krejci again in Game 5 -- this time on a knee-on-knee hit by Chris Wideman.

      As Krejci left the ice, Bruins players detected Wideman mocking Krejci, who also missed the first two games of the series.

      None of the three defensemen will return for Game 6, although Torey Krug is skating and could be possible for a Game 7. Krejci was getting treatment Saturday and is officially day to day.

      Ottawa's Victor Stalberg went down with an injury Friday, joining Tom Pyatt and Mark Borowiecki on the Senators' injury list. Borowiecki was injured in Game 2, Pyatt in Game 4.

      "I just need to know who's available," Boucher said.

      Of the nine games the teams have played this season, only seven have been decided by one goal, one of the two two-goal decisions included an empty-netter, and four have required extra time.

      Speaking Friday night about Kuraly, Cassidy said, "I liked his game early in the series, but we had guys that had been here. You know Krech came back in the lineup, he's obviously going to play. So we liked him, we just kind of put guys ahead of him that have been here all year.

      "One door closes, another one opens, and he took advantage of his opportunities starting at the bottom of the lineup. Tonight, we just needed him more."

  • Ovechkin, Capitals looking to close out Maple Leafs
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    TORONTO -- The Washington Capitals expect to have Alex Ovechkin "ready to go" Sunday night in Game 6 when they try to clinch their Eastern Conference playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

    • Ovechkin left Game 5, which the Capitals won 2-1 in overtime Friday to take a 3-2 series lead, late in the first period at the Verizon Centre when hit on the left knee by a low hip check from Toronto's Nazem Kadri.

      Washington's star left winger returned for the second period and played the rest of the game. Ovechhin seemed to suffer no after-effects.

      "He was re-evaluated again after the game," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said in a conference call Saturday. "He's fine and we expect him to be ready to go."

      Washington defenseman Karl Alzner missed his third straight game Friday with an upper-body injury, although he participated in the morning skate Friday.

      "He's day-to-day and he's improving," Trotz said Saturday when asked about Alzner.

      Trotz said that if Alzner does return Sunday, he would consider going with seven defensemen instead of dropping one.

      If needed, Game 7 would be played Tuesday in Washington but the Capitals would prefer to finish the series by winning in Toronto.

      "You get the opportunity to push someone off the cliff, you need to push them off, if you can," Trotz said. "The difference is we've got a little bit of wiggle room and they don't."

      Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock agreed with Trotz.

      "I think the way I said it was when you have someone down, and you have a chance to step on them, you step on them or they might get up and kill you," Babcock said. "I agree with him 100 percent. We're in the same thing. If we don't win, we go home. There should be no more desperate team than us and we're all aware and understand that fully."

      It has been a close series with each game decided by one goal and four of the five decided in overtime.

      "It's been a great series; it's been a good battle," Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak said. "We're going to bring our best and hopefully we can push it to another game. It'll be an exciting, fun game to be a part of.

      "We believe in ourselves. I think every game has been a one-goal game, so it's been fun. It's been a great series to be a part of. We want to take it to another game after (Sunday). We're going to come out and play our best and hopefully we can get it to Game 7."

      Specials teams were a big factor for the Capitals on Friday and their penalty-killing was an important of the win. It needed to be because Tom Wilson, a hero on Game 4 with two goals and some hustle plays, took four penalties and was benched in the third period. His spot was taken by Ovechkin, who double-shifted the rest or the way.

      "Well, I thought Tom had energy, but you cannot take four penalties in a playoff game," Trotz said. "So, he didn't see the ice after that last one."

      The Maple Leafs praised Washington's penalty-killing.

      "They have a great penalty kill; they have a great goalie," Bozak said. "I think they've made some adjustments that we didn't adapt to well enough as a unit. It's something that we've got to be a little bit better at -- special teams."

      Wilson, when he is not in the penalty box, is an important part of Washington's penalty-killing so when he is off, others need to respond.

      "Especially when you lose a guy like Tommy, he's like a big PK guy, we had to rely on some other guys to go out there and get the job done," Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "But that's the way our guys have been rolling this year, just making sure we just roll those guys over and keep going, and I thought that really gave us a lot of momentum. Obviously, we didn't capitalize on it, but I thought we've gotten a lot of offensive zone time from those kills."

      Babcock said the power play was not at its best Friday.

      "I didn't think the power play was bad until last game," Babcock said Saturday. "I thought last game we bobbled and turned the puck over way too much. Give them credit, but a lot of them were unforced by ourselves. We can do a better job. We won four faceoffs and we didn't do much with them. We could win more faceoffs in that area."

      Trotz said special teams are a "big factor for both teams."

      "If you can keep your special teams going through the playoffs, it is a big factor in a series," he said. "It can be because of the fact that the five-on-five play becomes so tight at times that that can be a deciding factor. Consistency on the special teams has been huge."

  • Wild C Staal crashes into boards, taken to hospital
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild top-line center Eric Staal left Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round series versus the St. Louis Blues after sustaining an apparent head injury in the second period on Saturday.

    • The Wild announced Staal is alert and stable and has been taken to the hospital for further observation.

      With the teams skating 4-on-4, Staal skated through the slot before being stopped by St. Louis goalie Jake Allen with 6:07 remaining in the session. The 32-year-old Staal appeared to stumble over Allen's right skate and was tripped by Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarson, sending the veteran into the end boards.

      Staal remained motionless on the ice for several moments before needing assistance to get to his feet and retreat to the locker room.

      Staal had a team-leading 28 goals in his first season with the Wild.

  • Canadiens' Shaw out for Game 6 with upper-body injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, April 22, 2017

    Montreal Canadiens gritty forward Andrew Shaw has been ruled out against the host New York Rangers for Saturday night's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first-round series.

    • Coach Claude Julien confirmed the news on Saturday afternoon, telling reporters that Shaw will miss the contest due to an upper-body injury. Julien said Shaw is considered day-to-day for the Atlantic Division champion Canadiens, who trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

      "He's a big part of our team, but obviously without him it's an opportunity for other guys to step up," Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher told NBC's Kaitlin Urka on Saturday. "We say it all the time, guys drop out of the lineup, other guys are going to come in, very capable players and they are going to be able to do the job."

      Michael McCarron likely will be filling in for Shaw, who has been held without a point in five games of the series. The 25-year-old Shaw has recorded 12 hits, three blocked shots and a minus-2 rating while averaging 15:01 of ice time in the series against the Rangers.

      Shaw collected 12 goals, 17 assists and 110 penalty minutes in 68 games during the regular season.

      McCarron, 22, scored one goal and set up four others with 41 penalty minutes in 31 games in 2016-17.

  • Sharks aim to avoid playoff elimination vs. Oilers
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Last year, the San Jose Sharks' playoff run took them all the way to their first Stanley Cup Final before losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    • This year, they're trying to avoid being eliminated in the first round by an upstart team that seems to have the pieces necessary up and down the roster to enjoy postseason success for some time.

      The Sharks look to push the series to the limit on Saturday when they host the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6 at SAP Center.

      Edmonton rebounded from Tuesday's decisive loss in northern California with a 4-3 victory at home in Game 5 on Thursday. David Desharnais, who scored six goals in 49 games with the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton, notched the game-winner with 1:45 to play in the first overtime period.

      Desharnais also assisted on Oscar Klefbom's tally with less than three minutes left in regulation en route to his third career multi-point playoff game.

      "That's how you win in the playoffs. You need everyone to step up. You need guys that maybe usually don't put the puck in the net," forward Leon Draisaitl told the team's official website.

      That's certainly true in this series. The Oilers' Zack Kassian had game-winning goals in Games 2 and 3 -- both shutouts -- and Klefbom is tied with the fourth-liner for the team lead in goals in the series with two. Connor McDavid, the team's young captain and Art Ross Trophy winner after recording 100 points in his second season, has just three points (one goal, two assists), as does veteran Mark Letestu.

      Coach Todd McLellan said Edmonton made "amends" for a 7-0 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, but that the team cannot afford to let up now.

      "I'd like to think we learned our lesson now, that when you have a little bit of success, you have to take it to another level on Saturday," he said.

      Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told the San Jose Mercury News that he is also expecting big things.

      "We know if we lose, we're done, so that always brings out your best game, especially with our group," he said. "We've been a team that's been able to bounce back after tough losses all year and get wins, so I'm confident we'll be ready to play."

      For the Sharks to force a Game 7, they'll need goaltender Martin Jones to excel again. Despite the team losing three of the first five contests, Jones has a 1.69 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

      "What can we do? We've just got to get ready for the next one," said Jones, who has turned away 139 of 148 shots. "Our backs are against the wall now. So we've got to play with some urgency and win a home game."

      As has been the case throughout the series, San Jose's top offensive players have struggled to produce. High-scoring defenseman and Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns has three assists so far. Captain Joe Pavelski has two goals and two assists through five games, with all but one assist coming in Game 4.

      In that contest, San Jose chased Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot after he surrendered five goals in less than 33 minutes. Laurent Brossoit finished the game, stopping only six of eight shots.

      "You've got to have a short memory in the playoffs," said Sharks defenseman David Schlemko, who has goals in each of the last two games to match his output in 62 regular-season contests.

      Edmonton has won three straight Game 6s, all in 2006 when it reached the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.

      "Two years ago, we started and talked about not folding your hand," said McLellan, who took over for interim coach Todd Nelson in May 2015. "And, in fact, that started in training camp two years ago. It's for these moments."

      If the Sharks win, Game 7 is scheduled for Monday night in Edmonton.

      If the Oilers advance, they would face the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks in the next round.

  • Lundqvist, Rangers look to close out Canadiens
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    For most of the regular season, Henrik Lundqvist wasn't doing what he usually did for the New York Rangers, which is make his team look better than it is.

    • The goaltender finished with a career-worst .911 save percentage while playing behind a leaky defense, which is why New York finished in a wild-card spot instead of higher in the standings.

      During the Rangers' first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens, the defense hasn't improved all that much -- but Lundqvist has. The former Vezina Trophy winner will bring a .944 save percentage into Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night with New York holding a 3-2 series lead over Montreal.

      And if Game 5 is any indication, maybe the defense finally will start taking care of Lundqvist.

      It started in the first period when the protection offered to Lundqvist was more of the metaphorical nature. Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith, apparently at a breaking point with the Canadiens crowding Lundqvist around his crease, dropped the gloves and fought Andrew Shaw.

      "It's a message, but I'm not out there just trying to send a message," Smith said to the New York Daily News on Friday. "The thing is we're trying to take care of (Lundqvist). He's playing really well so they're gonna try to get their bumps and we have to protect him. I think they kind of crossed the line a little bit there. Those things happen. Shaw's a warrior and he tries to go to the front of the net, and I've got to make sure that that can't happen. I think (Steve) Ott was right in there.

      "We obviously want to protect our goalie and we don't want to see Henrik get hurt from guys jumping on him or falling on him. That's a little bit on our 'D' and our low forwards to make sure that doesn't happen. I guess it's a message, but in most ways that just happens in hockey and sometimes you've just got to answer the bell."

      Shaw was ruled out for Game 6 due to an upper-body injury, coach Claude Julien confirmed Saturday afternoon. Julien said Shaw is considered day-to-day.

      The Rangers have also protected Lundqvist better when it comes to allowing shots. The Canadiens had 118 shots over the first three games of the series -- a number bolstered by Montreal's 58 in Game 3, which went to overtime -- but were held to 24 shots in Game 4 and had just 20 over the final 54 minutes of Game 5.

      Whether it's the message getting through with physical play or better technique, the Rangers' defense hasn't been hanging Lundqvist out to dry as much the past two games.

      "I think we need either the refs making the calls to back them off or do your best to box them out within a shift," defenseman Marc Staal said to the New York Daily News. "There's a few shifts where they're sitting on him, falling on him purposely, all that kind of stuff."

      If there is one player who needs to break through against Lundqvist in Game 6, it's Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who has yet to score in the series. He had a breakaway chance late in the third period of Game 5 that could have won the contest for Montreal.

      "It's tough, but you got to win four to win a series," Pacioretty told the Montreal Gazette. "I think we've done an OK job of, I guess, tuning out the negativity this far. It's important, especially in Montreal. This should be no different."

      Pacioretty isn't the only top forward that has failed to make his mark on this series. Alex Galchenyuk, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher have combined for one goal after scoring 40 in the regular season.

      "In order to get through this, we're going to need more from a lot of guys," Julien told the Montreal Gazette. "It's time for certain players to elevate their games and have that confidence and desire to be better. There's no doubt when you lose games and you're behind 3-2, you can't be satisfied as a team and you know there are certain players who can give a little bit more."

  • Parise, Wild focused on extending series vs. Blues
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Zach Parise played in the Stanley Cup Final in his final weeks as a member of the New Jersey Devils.

    • His team fell behind 3-0 in the series, then relaxed and won a pair of games before falling to the Los Angeles Kings in six.

      With his Wild taking the first step in digging out of a 3-0 hole in their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues, Parise sees some parallels ahead of Game 5 on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.

      "Having been in that situation, it helps," Parise said. "Going back to that, we lost the first two in OT at home. We could've been up two-zip as easy as we were down two-nothing, but they were tight games just like these have been tight games.

      "Again, the focus is not on what happened, it's on 'OK, now we need to get ready to play the next game.' You can't dwell on what happened in Game 1, 2 or 3. We've got to play even better and better to try and make the series longer."

      The Wild are coming off their first game where they held a lead, and it lasted, as they beat St. Louis 2-0 in Game 4. As the Wild come back home down 3-1 in the series, their odds are still quite long, but there's a better feeling now that they've at least pushed back.

      "I think the attitude is fine," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice on Friday. "I don't know if tense is the right word, but I think they're anxious to play again. This is only the third game in seven or eight days. So I think both teams are probably really anxious to get back at it."

      Blues forward Paul Stastny could hardly be any more anxious after missing a month with a foot injury. He had a full practice on Friday in Missouri before the Blues hopped on a northbound plane.

      St. Louis coach Mike Yeo hinted that Stastny could be back in the lineup on Saturday afternoon.

      "Getting a player back is always nice. It helps to stabilize things, it gives us a little bit more options, but at the same time, it's not like getting a player back is just the answer and going to make things better for us," Yeo said. "I think in a lot of ways, we've lost players and it's sharpened our focus and guys have understood that they need to bear down and they need to do their jobs and do the little things and we need to make sure we continue to have that mindset. If we add a player like (Stastny) obviously then you become a better team."

      Like Minnesota, the Blues are taking the "win one game" approach, not thinking about closing out the series, just focused on playing better for 60 minutes.

      The surprising Nashville Predators are on the horizon for whoever emerges from this series, whether it's one, two or three games from now.

  • Capitals captain Ovechkin injured in Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    WASHINGTON -- Capitals star forward Alexander Ovechkin was injured late in the first period of Friday's Game 5 between Washington and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    • As Ovechkin was skating up the ice with 2:28 remaining in the opening frame, he was hit hard in the left knee area on a hip-check by Toronto's Nazem Kadri, who went low to deliver the blow. Ovechkin flipped in the air and lay on the ice for several minutes while his Capitals teammates went after the Maple Leafs' center.

      Ovechkin slowly got up and was assisted off the ice by a pair of teammates, but returned for the second period.

      Kadri was whistled for tripping, and T.J. Oshie scored a power-play goal to give Washington a 1-0 lead.

      Ovechkin has three goals through the first four-plus games of the series.

  • NHL notebook: Burns, Hedman, Karlsson name Norris finalists
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators were named the finalists for the 2016-17 James Norris Memorial Trophy, the league announced Friday.

    • The trophy is presented to the NHL's top defenseman.

      Burns led NHL defensemen in scoring and set franchise records for goals (29) and points (76) by a blue-liner for the second consecutive season.

      Hedman had 16 goals and 72 points in 79 games, including five game-winning goals.

      Karlsson ranked third among NHL defensemen with 17 goals and 71 points, the fourth time he has cleared the 70-point and 50-assist milestones in his eight-season career.

      The winner will be announced June 21, during the 2017 NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

      --The New York Rangers agreed to terms with free agent defenseman Alexei Bereglazov on a contract.

      Bereglazov, 23, skated in 60 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League this season, registering 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes. He established KHL career-highs in games played, assists, points and average ice time (19:27).

      --The Carolina Hurricanes agreed to terms with forward Steven Lorentz on a three-year, entry-level contract.

      The deal will pay Lorentz $650,000 on the NHL level in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and $700,000 in 2019-20. On the American Hockey League level, he would earn $60,000 per year. Lorentz receives a signing bonus of $185,000.

      Lorentz, 21, ranked tied for second among Peterborough skaters with a career-high 29 goals during his fourth Ontario Hockey League season in 2016-17.

      --The Washington Capitals recalled forward Chandler Stephenson from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League.

      Stephenson, 22, skated in four games for the Capitals this season, with three shots on goal, and played in nine games last season, making his NHL debut. He has not registered an NHL point.

  • Burns, Hedman, Karlsson named Norris Trophy finalists
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators were named the finalists for the 2016-17 James Norris Memorial Trophy, the league announced Friday.

    • The trophy is presented to the NHL's top defenseman.

      Burns led NHL defensemen in scoring and set franchise records for goals (29) and points (76) by a blue-liner for the second consecutive season. He became the first defenseman to record back-to-back 75-point seasons since Brian Leetch achieved the feat with the New York Rangers in 1995-96 and 1996-97. Burns' 29 goals were 12 more than any other NHL defenseman and his 21 even-strength tallies were the most by an NHL defender since the Sharks' Sandis Ozolinsh had 22 in 1993-94. Burns fiished third for the Norris last season.

      Hedman had 16 goals and 72 points in 79 games, including five game-winning goals. He averaged 24:30 of ice time per game and blocked 132 shots. The first-time Norris Trophy finalist set single-season Lightning records for assists and points by a defenseman and became the franchise's all-time leader in those categories.

      Karlsson ranked third among NHL defensemen with 17 goals and 71 points, the fourth time he has cleared the 70-point and 50-assist milestones in his eight-season career. The Senators captain became just the second defenseman in NHL history, and the first since the New York Islanders' Denis Potvin from 1973-74 to 1976-77, to lead his team in scoring in four consecutive campaigns. He also ranked second in the NHL with 201 blocked shots and fourth in average ice time per game (26:50). He is a finalist for the third consecutive season and for the fourth time in the past six campaigns. He won the award in 2012 and 2015.

      Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association submitted ballots for the Norris Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season. The winner will be announced June 21, during the 2017 NHL Awards at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

  • Rangers ink D Bereglazov
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    The New York Rangers agreed to terms with free agent defenseman Alexei Bereglazov on a contract Friday.

    • Bereglazov, 23, skated in 60 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League this season, registering 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes. He established KHL career-highs in games played, assists, points and average ice time (19:27).

      The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Bereglazov also played in eight playoff games with Metallurg, recording six assists. He skated in 162 regular-season games over parts of four seasons in the KHL, totaling 33 points (five goals, 28 assists) and 73 penalty minutes.

      The Magnitogorsk, Russia, native helped his country earn a bronze medal at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

  • Hurricanes sign F Lorentz to entry-level contract
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    The Carolina Hurricanes agreed to terms with forward Steven Lorentz on a three-year, entry-level contract Friday.

    • The deal will pay Lorentz $650,000 on the NHL level in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and $700,000 in 2019-20. On the American Hockey League level, he would earn $60,000 per year. Lorentz receives a signing bonus of $185,000.

      Lorentz, 21, ranked tied for second among Peterborough skaters with a career-high 29 goals during his fourth Ontario Hockey League season in 2016-17. He also established career highs in assists (32) and points (61), serving as Peterborough's alternate captain and helping the Petes earn the top record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.

      The 6-foot-4, 201-pound Lorentz ranked fourth in the league in playoff goals with nine, despite having played just eight games in the first two rounds as Peterborough swept Niagara and Kingston to reach the Eastern Conference Final. Peterborough dropped Game 1 of its Eastern Conference Final series against Mississauga on Thursday, with Lorentz factoring on all three of the Petes' goals.

      "Steven took a big step forward this season with Peterborough, and has earned an opportunity to continue his development with our organization," Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said in a statement.

      The Kitchener, Ontario, native was the Hurricanes' seventh-round selection in the 2015 NHL draft.

  • Capitals recall F Stephenson
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    The Washington Capitals recalled forward Chandler Stephenson from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Friday.

    • Stephenson, 22, skated in four games for the Capitals this season, with three shots on goal, and played in nine games last season, making his NHL debut. He has not registered an NHL point.

      The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native earned 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in 72 games with Hershey during the 2016-17 regular season. Stephenson set AHL career highs in points, goals, assists and games played this season.

      The 6-foot, 204-pound Stephenson owns 81 points (25 goals, 56 assists) in 174 career AHL games with Hershey. He was drafted by the Capitals in the third round of the 2012 NHL draft.

  • Pressure mounts for Caps, Leafs ahead of Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, April 21, 2017

    WASHINGTON -- In a fun, fast and freewheeling series that has signaled the rise of the Toronto Maple Leafs and stirred up unpleasant memories of previous Washington Capitals playoff failures, both teams will skate into Game 5 on Friday at Verizon Center with the goal of grabbing the elusive momentum.

    • The best-of-seven series is tied at two games apiece.

      By dint of their 5-4 victory Wednesday, the Capitals earned a nominal advantage in that two of the final three games will be in Washington, where they have been dominant this season. But the Maple Leafs feel they are a much different squad than the one that opened the series a week ago.

      "We're in a much better situation than we were when we went to Washington the first time," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after practice Thursday. "I think the competition level in each game in every series gets higher and higher. There's a lot more at stake and a lot less recovery space, if that makes any sense. Suddenly you're in a two-out-of-three, and you think it's an important series, you want to win Game 1. Game 1 is the next game you play, so it's good.

      "We got a nice meal today, a nice stretch. Let's get ready to play."

      The problem for the Leafs was that they weren't ready to play at the start of both Games 3 and 4. They fell into first-period holes that made things difficult against the experienced Capitals, a trend that must change for the Leafs to have a chance in what figures to be an electric atmosphere.

      "Without a doubt, starts are important, especially on the road," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. "We've got to try to get off to a good start, and I think the stats don't lie, the majority of teams that score that first goal have a better chance of winning the game. That's just stats and facts."

      Washington has had its hands full with the upstart Leafs, in part because the Capitals feel Toronto has gotten most of the favorable bounces in the series, leaving them feeling helpless at times.

      "We're becoming really mentally tough in this series," Washington coach Barry Trotz said Thursday. "They've got some strange goals, and that sometimes can play on your mind a little bit."

      Just ask Braden Holtby. The Capitals' goaltender was one of the best in the NHL this season, but he has given up 14 goals and carries just a .907 save percentage into Game 5 thanks to Toronto's willingness to fire pucks at any time, from any angle.

      "It's one of those types of stretches where every bounce seems to be going the wrong way," Holtby said after his Game 4 win. "You just have to focus on the percentages -- where they usually go. There are some I've played that you really can't do anything about and some I'd like to change a bit. You just have to battle and look at video more than usual."

      Defenseman Karl Alzner remains a question mark for the Capitals after missing the last two games with an upper-body injury, although he did skate Thursday.

      While the Leafs get all the headlines for their young players, Washington has received key contributions from defenseman Nate Schmidt, in lieu of Alzner, and from forward Tom Wilson, who tallied two goals in Game 4 after Trotz played a hunch and put him on the third line.

      "We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series no matter what the media or fans said," Wilson said. "They've been playing good hockey all year."

      And Toronto is confident it can steal another win Friday.

      "We've split a couple of games already and found a way to win on the road," Kadri said. "We know we can do it again."