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  • Penguins, Predators gear up for Game 1
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- A little more than 24 hours before the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators launch the 2017 Stanley Cup Final with Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena, there was the craziness Sunday that was the NHL's annual media day.

    • The requisite off-beat questions -- Who's your funniest teammate? Which player could sing the National Anthem? What celebrity would you like to have at the games? -- were mixed with serious queries about the matchup and deeper dives on individual players' life and career stories.

      Players, coaches and general managers from both clubs patiently, and at times light-heartedly, provided answers for the swarms of reporters and cameras.

      "It's something that you always dreamed about. You always wanted to get to this point," said Predators winger and team playoff scoring leader Filip Forsberg (15 points). "Here we are just one day away."

      It all changes Monday night, when the story lines go from theories and thoughts to a real-time, on-ice matchup of Pittsburgh, chasing its second straight Cup and third in nine years in a city that has grown accustomed to hockey celebrations, against Nashville, a first-time finalist in a festive town learning to love hockey on the fly.

      "We can't wait to play," Pittsburgh center and postseason scoring leader Evgeni Malkin (24 points) said. "Back-to-back Finals, and we're excited."

      The on-ice matchup has at least the promise of being worthy of the stage.

      The Penguins -- who beat Columbus, Washington and Ottawa to get to this point -- feature world-class offensive talent and the speed to make their transition game and forecheck tough to handle, even if their defense has used a by-committee format with top defenseman Kris Letang missing the postseason after neck surgery.

      Nashville showed in beating Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim that it also has speed, plus a stingy but swift defense and a goaltender in Pekka Rinne who not only is having probably the best stretch of games of his life but also is such a good puck-handler that he often gets the Predators' transition game going.

      "We're expecting a fast series, a lot of speed, high tempo," Rinne said.

      The Penguins lead all playoff teams in offense, averaging 3.05 goals. The Predators lead all playoff teams in defense, giving up an average of 1.81 goals.

      "One of the things I've always talked with our players about is having the ability to generate offense different ways," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "Regardless of the challenge that is in front of us, we believe we have the capability of having success. We just beat a really good team that was a defense-first team, always had numbers back, tried to limit opportunities off the rush, and had more of a counterattack mindset."

      Sullivan was referring to Ottawa, where Erik Karlsson is the elite two-way defenseman on a team that plays a smothering style. Malkin cracked that Nashville "has four Karlssons" in defensemen P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm.

      Pittsburgh's mantra this season has been to stubbornly play its style, without distraction, but Nashville and the gravity of the series represent a challenge that might require some tweaks.

      "I think both teams believe in what gets them here," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, said. "You make minor adjustments depending on who you're playing against, what they do, but I think ultimately you trust your game and what's gotten you to this point.

      "As the series goes along, there's probably more adjustments made, but to start out I think you just want to try to establish your game and see what happens. ... Hopefully, the less adjustments, the better."

      Subban has a similar approach, but one that also is shaped by the teams' different levels of past success.

      "Part of our success in Nashville has been staying in the moment, living in the moment," Subban said. "It's a privilege to raise the 'mug' over your head. I haven't done it yet, but the team over there has done it a few times. ...We're going to have to play our best to (win it). That's all I'm thinking about right now."

      On the injury front, Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist practiced Sunday and could return for Game 1 after missing six games with an upper-body injury. Center Mike Fisher, the Predators captain, may also play after missing the past two games of the Western Conference finals.

  • Stanley Cup Final: 10 Things To Watch
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    With a defending champion on one side and a de facto 16th seed on the other side, this year's Stanley Cup Final promises to be one of the most fascinating in a long time.

    • Shooting to become the first back-to-back Cup champs since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Nashville Predators on Monday night in Game 1. Great storylines abound both ways, which could lead to an entertaining series.

      Here are 10 things to watch during the course of the series:

      --CENTER ICE: Here is where Pittsburgh should have a big advantage. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are arguably the top 1-2 center duo anywhere, and Nashville is playing without its top pivot after Ryan Johansen underwent emergency thigh surgery following Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

      Short term, the Predators managed to thrive against the Anaheim Ducks in the conference finals despite the loss of Johansen. Colton Sissons potted a hat trick in the clincher against Anaheim while matching up well physically with Ryan Getzlaf. But even in a short sample size, can he be expected to match or exceed Crosby or Malkin?

      Help does appear to be on the way for Nashville, as captain Mike Fisher is likely to rejoin the lineup for Game 1 in Pittsburgh after sitting out the final two games of the Anaheim series.

      --NET GAINS: There's a school of thought that suggests Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite, even if the Penguins win this series.

      After all, Rinne has played the best hockey of a good career this postseason, registering a 1.70 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in 16 games. Those marks are top five in NHL playoff history.

      But there's a chance Rinne might not be the best goalie on the ice in this series if Pittsburgh's Matt Murray is playing up to form. Murray posted a .930 save percentage in last spring's run to the Cup title, and was close to the top of his game after taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury following Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

      If Rinne or Murray can steal a game in the Cup Finals, it could make all the difference.

      --BIG-NAME DEFENSE: It took about half a season to figure things out, but Nashville has hit on a winning combination for its defensive corps.

      Coach Peter Laviolette tried P.K. Subban, acquired from Montreal on June 29 in the offseason's biggest trade, with Roman Josi on the first pairing. It didn't work, so Plan B was to pair Subban with Mattias Ekholm and Josi with Ryan Ellis.

      After a spate of injuries forced pairings to be juggled, the Predators settled on that foursome when Josi returned from a concussion in early February. The Big Four has starred at every turn, providing key goals and helping limit high-danger chances in front of Rinne.

      Ekholm and Subban have been death on opposing top lines, shutting down Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the Chicago series, keeping Vladimir Tarasenko in check during the St. Louis series and quashing Getzlaf's line in the Anaheim series. Playing against either Crosby or Malkin could be their greatest challenge yet.

      "The numbers and eyeball all pointed to Roman and Ryan being a terrific pair," Laviolette said. "Ekholm and Subban are a really, really big, strong, tough pair to play against. We really haven't changed from that in probably five months, six months."

      --NO-NAME DEFENSE: Forget Don Shula's back-to-back Super Bowl champions in Miami in the early 1970s. The Penguins have your real No-Name Defense.

      Hainsey, Dumoulin, Schultz, Cole, Maatta, Daley. Most of these guys were cast off by other organizations for one reason or another. Brought together by circumstance and others' misfortunes -- No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang (neck) has missed the entire playoff run -- this group has managed to hold the fort.

      Ron Hainsey, acquired from Carolina at the trading deadline to add depth, has joined Brian Dumoulin on the top pairing. Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley, along with Ian Cole and Justin Schultz, form the other pairings. None of them will remind you of Nashville's Big Four, but all have played well enough to get Pittsburgh back to this point.

      --WEAKNESS VS. WEAKNESS?: If the matchup of Penguins forwards vs. Nashville defense is strength against strength, the clash of Predators forwards and Pittsburgh defense could be classified as weakness vs. weakness, relatively speaking.

      That doesn't mean that it is less important. Far from it. In fact, one can make the case that what happens when Nashville possesses the puck will determine whether the Cup stays in Pennsylvania or acquires a Tennessee twang for the first time.

      Wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are still capable of driving play even without Johansen, and the Predators have another sniper who's under the radar at the moment in James Neal. His overtime goal in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals set the tone for that series.

      Speaking of Neal ...

      --TRADING PLACES: Three years ago, the teams made a trade during the NHL draft. Neal left the Penguins and Patric Hornqvist departed Nashville, and now the duo match scoring touches on the sport's biggest stage.

      Neal has scored at least 23 goals in each of his three seasons in Nashville, adding 13 playoff markers in that span. Hornqvist has given Pittsburgh the edge it sought along with the ability to pot points, tallying at least 21 goals in each of his three seasons in Pennsylvania.

      "I've never met a player like him," Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said of Hornqvist. "We could lose 10 in a row, and he'd be in the locker room as if we'd won 10 in a row. He keeps things going in there."

      Hornqvist, who has missed the past six games with what is believed to be a hand injury, although officially labeled an upper-body injury, practiced on Sunday and could return for Game 1. His return would boost the Penguins in a similar fashion to Fisher rejoining the Predators.

      --STAR-SPANGLED COACHES: This series represents a first in Cup annals. Laviolette and Pittsburgh bench boss Mike Sullivan were both born in the United States. Every other final has featured one or two coaches born in Canada.

      "They're passionate coaches, great motivators," Rutherford said of Laviolette and Sullivan. "They play an up-tempo game. The way Peter has his team play is what I saw in what Sully does."

      Both have won Cup titles, and Laviolette is one of only four coaches to take three different franchises to the Cup Finals. He guided Carolina to the 2006 Cup title in a seven-game thriller against Edmonton and coached Philadelphia when it fell to Chicago in six games in 2010.

      --BEHIND THE NET: Every team will use the hard-around, that is, shooting the puck around the net from one side of the ice or the other, as a way to gain the offensive zone.

      That strategy has backfired repeatedly on Predators opponents in the postseason. Rinne, always a willing puck-handler who at times has made some errors in judgment, has been like a third defenseman this postseason. He has been able to stop the puck behind the net and start a breakout sequence with a pass to a defenseman.

      Rinne also has picked up three assists in the playoffs, most notably in Game 2 of the Chicago series when he started a passing sequence that led to Harry Zolnierczyk's goal and a 2-0 second-period lead that helped shape the game's remainder.

      "He's very good at knocking them down," Laviolette said of Rinne's work stopping pucks behind the goal. "You see how he does it. When he goes back there, he uses his whole body and he can get a piece of it."

      --GETTING OFF THE MARK: One reason that Nashville has reached this point is its ability to get going early in a series. It has won Game 1 on the road in all three series, seizing home-ice advantage and then using the loud, wild environment at Bridgestone Arena to its advantage.

      The Predators are 7-1 at home in the playoffs, losing only Game 4 of the conference finals on a fluky Corey Perry goal that hit off Subban at the goalmouth. After that loss, Nashville bounced back and won Game 5 in Anaheim to set the stage for its clincher in Game 6.

      The Penguins have also won two of their three Game 1s, the exception occurring in their conference final when Ottawa's Bobby Ryan knocked them off with an overtime goal.

      --NO BULLIES HERE: If Crosby and other Pittsburgh players were breathing a sigh of relief when the Predators eliminated Anaheim, there's a good reason: They probably won't have to worry about overtly physical play.

      Johansen criticized the Ducks' Ryan Kesler after Game 2 of the conference finals, saying he was having to pull a stick out of his groin every shift. Other incidents -- such as Perry's butt-ending of Rinne in Game 4 -- might have left one with the impression that Anaheim could have changed its nickname from the Ducks to the Really Rottens.

      It would be surprising if this series took that kind of ugly twist. Sure, both teams have players who don't mind the crunching checks or even dropping the gloves on occasion. But their identity revolves around speed and puck possession.

      That should make this the kind of matchup the NHL was hoping for, made more alluring by the prospect of a defending champion being challenged by an appealing underdog.

  • Capitals to play Maple Leafs at U.S. Naval Academy
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 28, 2017

    An NHL outdoor game featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals will be played at the U.S. Naval Academy next season, according to multiple reports.

    • The game is slated to be played March 3 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. The Capitals will be the designated home team.

      The contest will be the first NHL regular-season game played at a service academy. The stadium, which is home to Navy's football team, has a seating capacity of 34,000.

      The NHL is also exploring the possibility of playing regular-season games at Army in West Point, N.Y., and the Air Force Academy just outside Colorado Springs, Colo.

      The New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers played an indoor preseason game at West Point in October.

  • Coyotes forward Rieder undergoes ankle surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    Arizona Coyotes right winger Tobias Rieder underwent ankle surgery after injuring his ankle at the World Hockey Championship, the Coyotes announced on Saturday.

    • Rieder, 24, is expected to be sidelined 8 to 12 weeks and should be ready for training camp in September.

      This is the second straight year that Rieder was injured while playing for Germany in IIHF tournament.

      Apparently the damage to the ankle was more severe than originally believed, because the Coyotes said at the time of the injury that it was not serious.

      Rieder scored a career-best 16 goals to go along with 18 assists in 80 games in 2016-17 for the Coyotes. In 2015-16, he had 14 goals and 23 assists.

      He is entering the final year of a two-year contract that carries an annual cap hit of $2.225 million.

  • Blackhawks sign D Kempny to one-year extension
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 27, 2017

    The Chicago Blackhawks signed defenseman Michal Kempny to a one-year contract extension through the 2017-18 season.

    • Kempny, 26, would have become a restricted free agent on July 1

      Kempny recorded two goals, six assists and 22 penalty minutes in 50 games with the Blackhawks this season, his first in the NHL. He also made his Stanley Cup playoff debut in Game 4 of the 2017 first round against the Nashville Predators, registering two hits.

      "Michal's style of play is an asset to our defense," general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday in a statement. "He is the type of player who will continue to improve now that he has transitioned to the National Hockey League. We look forward to his continued development on the ice for the Blackhawks."

      Prior to joining the Blackhawks, Kempny tallied five goals and 16 assists during the 2015-16 regular season with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. He added two goals and two assists in 11 playoff games.

      Kempny, originally signed by the Blackhawks on May 24, 2016, had two goals and one assist with the Czech Republic in eight games at the 2017 World Championship. He also represented his country at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and the 2016 World Championship, where he picked up two assists.

  • Predators notebook: The new Hockeytown USA?
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    In 2007, the Nashville Predators almost left town. Canadian businessman James Balsillie entered into a tentative agreement with then-owner Craig Leopold to buy the team and move it to Hamilton, Ontario.

    • Leopold had lost money every year of the team's existence. Canadian columnists were saying that Nashville simply wasn't a market that could support the NHL. It appeared that Nashville was going to join the likes of Quebec, Kansas City, Hartford and Cleveland as markets that had the NHL and lost it.

      Ten years later, Nashville not only still has hockey, but is now being held up as the place where you want to see a game. The Predators' run to their first Stanley Cup Final has not only galvanized an entire city and state, but has also proven the hot takes of the past to be as fruitless as an odd-man rush on Pekka Rinne.

      "Nashville has really taken on a life of its own," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said Monday night after a 6-3 win over Anaheim clinched the Western Conference title. "I think our fans who have been so supportive for so many years ... the energy they bring into the building, it goes to a level that I'm not sure goes anywhere else in the National Hockey League."

      Dating to last spring's playoffs, Nashville is 11-1 in its last 12 home playoff games. They have closed out their first three series at Bridgestone Arena. Players have noted before playoff games that they can hear the din of the crowd and that it takes their play up another level.

      It certainly appeared to be the case in the last eight minutes Monday night. Immediately after killing a delay-of-game minor on Roman Josi, the Predators snapped a 3-3 tie with Colton Sissons' third goal of the night, then iced the game with two empty-netters in the final 2 1/2 minutes.

      "After we scored to make it 5-3, I had to hop on the ice," Predators forward Austin Watson said. "You couldn't hear what anyone was saying."

      That's a far cry from a decade ago, when the building almost went quiet for good.

      --DEEP DEPTH: To make a deep run in the playoffs, a team has to have more than one or two dominant lines and a dominant goalie. Nashville has epitomized that over the last six weeks.

      The Predators have tied an NHL record this postseason by using 18 forwards. All of them have contributed in some way. The final two games of the conference finals showcased the organization's depth and commitment to player development.

      Of the nine goals scored in those games, eight came off the sticks of players drafted and developed by Nashville. Sissons and Watson each potted three while Colin Wilson and Pontus Aberg also lit the lamp.

      Following Monday night's win, Laviolette paid tribute to the coaching staff at the team's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.

      "Not only are they a successful team in the minors, but every time they come up here, they're better hockey players," he said. "It's a credit to the development that Nashville puts into the young players."

      The only marker in the last two games against Anaheim not scored by a player drafted by the Predators came from Filip Forsberg. He was acquired from Washington at the trading deadline in April 2013 for Martin Erat, and has blossomed into a 30-goal scorer in his age 21 and 22 seasons.

      --P.K. PRAISES: After the initial shock of being traded in the offseason from the Montreal Canadiens, the only franchise he had ever known, wore off, defenseman P.K. Subban realized he had a chance to make a long playoff run with Nashville.

      Following the win over Anaheim on Monday, Subban lauded Laviolette and general manager David Poile for their work in building the team, and in welcoming him to Nashville shortly after they acquired him from Montreal on June 29 for veteran defenseman Shea Weber.

      "I said that when I got here, I thought we had a tremendous opportunity to win a Stanley Cup," Subban said. "I got some flak for it, but what solidified it for me was when I talked with David Poile and (Laviolette). They just embraced me, and wanted me to do my job."

      Subban's playoff stats haven't been spectacular, as he has two goals and eight assists in 16 games. But he's a plus-six, and has teamed with defense partner Mattias Ekholm to shut down opponents' top lines consistently. They're sure to see a lot of Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby in the final.

  • Canucks sign D Holm to one-year deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    The Vancouver Canucks signed defenseman Philip Holm to a one-year, entry-level contract on Friday.

    • The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder most recently represented Sweden on the international stage at the 2017 World Championship, helping to earn gold for his home country.

      "Philip is a mobile, two-way defenseman who adds depth to our blueline," said Canucks GM Jim Benning. "He made strides in his development last season with Vaxjo and played a strong series with Sweden at the World Championships. We're pleased to welcome him to the Canucks organization."

      The 25-year-old Holm scored four goals and added 17 assists in 52 games with the Vaxjo Lakers of the Swedish Hockey League this past season. He also had a league-best plus-24 plus/minus rating.

  • Penguins notebook: Banged up Pens still finding ways to win
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- The number that Pittsburgh captain and center Sidney Crosby didn't have off the top of his head is 38.

    • That's how many players have dressed for at least one game for the club dating back to the start of the regular season.

      It's a number necessitated by a string of injuries at all positions, and the string has continued through three rounds of the playoffs even as the Penguins have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, which opens Monday against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena.

      "What we've gone through to get to this point, with all the injuries, we found ways all year long," said Crosby, who missed the first six regular-season games and another in the postseason because of concussions. "That's a credit to everyone in this (locker) room. ... If you look at the amount of guys who have played, who are on the roster, over the course of the year, it's a lot of guys. Everyone's a part of that.

      "The biggest step is ahead, but to get to this point you need a lot of things to go right, and everyone deserves a lot of credit."

      Pittsburgh already knew it would be without top defenseman Kris Letang for the duration of the playoffs after he had disc surgery on his neck. Other defensemen were in and out of the lineup during the first three rounds because of injuries.

      The Penguins regrouped. Pairings have been fluid, and the team has spread the responsibility and minutes, with no defenseman averaging as many as 22 minutes a game in the playoffs.

      "I think our defense corps is a resilient bunch," coach Mike Sullivan said. "They get knocked down, and they get up, and they get back in the fight. I think that's what I love about them."

      It's been the same at forward, where Pittsburgh has juggled lines and lineups.

      It has made things all the more difficult, but the Penguins apparently are down to three injured players -- forwards Patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. All three -- particularly feisty winger Hornqvist, who will be facing his former team in the Final -- seem close to returning.

      "Win four more, and after that we can rest," winger Carl Hagelin said. "We had some injuries throughout the course of the season, so some guys when you're injured you actually get some rest. We're getting more and more guys back, and that's key right now."

      --Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray has played in just four games, including three starts, since returning from what was believed to be a groin injury that kept him out nearly a month.

      He said he's not only OK, but he's also better than before physically.

      "It was definitely a slow process," he said. "It's tough when you're not able to skate and you're not able to spend the days with your teammates when you're hurt. So I definitely just tried to focus on my rehab. I think I came back stronger than before."

      His numbers, while a small sampling, bear that out. He is 3-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and one shutout. He stopped 27 of 29 Ottawa shots Thursday in the Penguins' 3-2, double-overtime win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

      On April 12, the night of the team's playoff opener against Columbus, Murray consulted briefly with team head trainer Chris Stewart, then limped down the runway toward the locker room about halfway through the pregame warmup.

      Former No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stepped in and carried the team partway into the Eastern Conference final before Murray was recovered and Fleury faltered in a game.

      Even though Murray helped lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup last year after Fleury got hurt, he found that jumping into the playoffs midstream this spring required a headlong leap.

      "That's kind of all I could focus on," Murray said. "I just tried to jump in and not kind of dip your toes in the water because then you're going to get beat. So I just tried to jump in and be confident and just try and play my game."

      --Pittsburgh might still be a Steelers-first city, but the Penguins have made great inroads the past few decades. Winning Stanley Cups will do that -- they are chasing their second in a row, third in nine seasons and fifth overall.

      According to NBC Sports Network, which televised Game 7 Thursday, the Pittsburgh market delivered a 29.7 local rating, tops for any Penguins game, including past Cup Finals games.

      The share in Pittsburgh was 47.0, which means almost half of the televisions in the market that were on Thursday night were tuned to Game 7.

      --Another sign of the deep loyalty among Penguins fans is a strong road showing. At times, Pittsburgh contingents in opponent arenas have produced clearly audible chants and cheers for the visiting Penguins -- particularly places within reasonable driving distance from Pittsburgh.

      The Predators, apparently well aware of this, are working to try to ensure that Bridgestone Arena does not become home to any sizable Penguins Nation horde.

      Ticketmaster, the agent for Finals games in Nashville, posted a notice on its website that buyers for games at Bridgestone Arena will be limited to credit card billing addresses in the Predators' viewing area -- Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. All others who purchase tickets will have their transaction voided.

  • NHL playoff schedule -- Stanley Cup Final
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 26, 2017

    The dates and times for the 2017 Stanley Cup Final series are below. All times are Eastern.

    • Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan No. 2 seed) vs. Nashville Predators (wild card No. 2)

      Monday, May 29 -- Nashville at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m.

      Wednesday, May 31 -- Nashville at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m.

      Saturday, June 3 -- Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8 p.m.

      Monday, June 5 -- Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8 p.m.

      Thursday, June 8 -- Nashville at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. (if necessary)

      Sunday, June 11 -- Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8 p.m. (if necessary)

      Wednesday, June 14 -- Nashville at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. (if necessary)

  • NHL notebook: Ducks' Lindholm, Vatanen need surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    In their season wrap-up availability after being eliminated by the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Final, the Anaheim Ducks announced that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen will require torn labrum surgery.

    • "We're almost positive Hampus is having shoulder surgery," Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "Sami needs surgery. He's deciding where to do it. Some can rehab these things, but we're not suggesting they do that.

      "Those two guys have bad shoulders and they played through them. You've got to give them (credit)."

      Lindholm is expected to miss four-to-five months, making his return around the end of September. Vatanen's injury is apparently more serious, and his recovery is expected to take longer.

      --The St. Louis Blues named Steve Ott an assistant coach.

      The 34-year-old played 848 NHL games from 2002 through this season, scoring 109 goals and 179 assists along with 1,555 penalty minutes using an abrasive style.

      A day earlier, the Blues tabbed another NHL veteran, Darryl Sydor, as an assistant coach. Those moves come after the Blues announced that assistant coaches Ray Bennett, Rick Wilson and Steve Thomas had been let go, along with goalie development coach Ty Conklin.

      --The Columbus Blue Jackets signed goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks to a three-year entry-level contract, the team announced.

      Kivlenieks, 20, went 36-7-4-2 with a 1.85 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and five shutouts in 49 games to help the Sioux City Musketeers capture the 2016-17 Anderson Cup as the league's regular season champions.

      He was named the United States Hockey League's Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year.

  • Ducks defensemen Lindholm, Vatanen need surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    In their season wrap-up availability after being eliminated by the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Final, the Anaheim Ducks announced that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen will require torn labrum surgery.

    • "We're almost positive Hampus is having shoulder surgery," Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "Sami needs surgery. He's deciding where to do it. Some can rehab these things, but we're not suggesting they do that.

      "Those two guys have bad shoulders and they played through them. You've got to give them (credit)."

      The Ducks were eliminated Monday in a 6-3 loss to Nashville in Game 6.

      Lindholm is expected to miss four-to-five months, making his return around the end of September. Vatanen's injury is apparently more serious, and his recovery is expected to take longer.

      Vatanen and Lindholm both averaged over 21 minutes per night this season. They are locked into long-term contracts -- Lindholm at $5.2 million annually through 2022, Vatanen at $4.8M through 2020.

      The 23-year-old Lindholm had six goals and 14 assists and a plus-13 rating, while the 25-year-old Vatanen had three goals and 21 assists and a plus-three rating.

  • Ott named Blues assistant coach
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, May 25, 2017

    The St. Louis Blues named Steve Ott an assistant coach on Thursday.

    • The 34-year-old played 848 NHL games from 2002 through this season, scoring 109 goals and 179 assists along with 1,555 penalty minutes using an abrasive style.

      "Steve was a competitor on the ice as a player and I expect him to bring that energy in this role," said Blues head coach Mike Yeo. "He was highly respected as a player and a person among his teammates and I believe he will be a huge asset to our staff."

      Ott played 14 NHL seasons with Dallas, Buffalo, St. Louis, Detroit and Montreal. He served as Buffalo's captain during the 2013-14 season before being acquired by the Blues on Feb. 28, 2014.

      "I am very proud of my playing career and will devote the same work ethic to my coaching career," said Ott. "The Blues organization is very special to me and my family and I'm excited to take the next step in my hockey career with this franchise."

      A day earlier, the Blues tabbed another NHL veteran, Darryl Sydor, as an assistant coach. Sydor, who served as an assistant on Yeo's staff during his stint with the Minnesota Wild, signed a three-year contract with the Blues.

      Those moves come after the Blues announced that assistant coaches Ray Bennett, Rick Wilson and Steve Thomas had been let go, along with goalie development coach Ty Conklin.

  • Senators, Penguins think deep prior to Game 7
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- Game 7, such as the one the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators are facing Thursday in the Eastern Conference Final, brings out a lot of things.

    • Philosophers. Psychologists. Pragmatists. Or at least desperate hockey players playing armchair versions of those folks.

      With the game at PPG Paints Arena set to determine which club moves on to face Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final beginning Monday, the Penguins and Senators seem to be thinking of every possible advantage while also trying to clear their minds.

      Take, for instance, the approach from the two goaltenders.

      Pittsburgh's Matt Murray is trying to balance some tunnel vision against the fact that his team is coming off a 7-0 shellacking of Ottawa in Game 5 followed by a Game 6 in which the Penguins did what amounted to everything but win when they swarmed on offense and produced 46 shots, only to have the Senators' Craig Anderson stop 45 in a 2-1 loss.

      "I think (it's) just the fact that it's coming down to one game, and everything that's led up to now really doesn't matter," Murray said Wednesday. "But at the same time, we want to take those good feelings from the last couple games.

      "So, yeah, you just do what you need to do. You just try to worry about what you can control, and that's how we prepare and how we play. I think, if we do that, the rest will take care of itself."

      Anderson, who got pulled in Game 5 before coming back strong in Game 6, pushed the power of positive thinking.

      "It's huge," he said. "The mind is a powerful thing -- history and the scientific data behind using your brain, using visualization as a tool to get yourself better.

      "I think if you believe you're beaten, you're done already. If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

      The teams have clashing styles with Ottawa's methodical, smothering defensive scheme against Pittsburgh's speed and high-octane offense. Evgeni Malkin (first with 24 points), Sidney Crosby (19) Phil Kessel (18) and Jake Guentzel (16) rank in the top seven in point production this postseason, while Erik Karlsson (16) is the only Ottawa player in the top seven.

      Yet the first six games haven't necessarily favored either pattern completely.

      Further, statistics and trends often don't fall true in these make-or-break games.

      So, the fact that Ottawa is 0-5 in franchise history in Game 7s might not mean much. Same with Pittsburgh's all-time record of 3-7 at home in Game 7s. Or Pittsburgh's fresh memory of beating Washington 2-0 in Game 7 of the previous round. Or that fact that Penguins center Matt Cullen's teams are 6-0 in his Game 7s over the years.

      Cullen isn't denying that these games are different.

      "Well, I think just, obviously, the finality of it," he said. "These are the games, when you're a kid growing up, that you're playing in the backyard. So, for us as players, this is what it's all about. It's a different level of intensity. It's a different level of excitement. Obviously, when you get it, you move on."

      For Pittsburgh, falling in this Game 7 would mean failing to defend last year's Stanley Cup championship. For Ottawa, it would be a jubilant upset.

      Ottawa winger Mike Hoffman said he figures that's an advantage for his club.

      "No pressure on us," Hoffman said. "They're the ones that are favored. For us, we just go and take it as another hockey game."

      Pittsburgh might get a couple lineup reinforcements. Coach Mike Sullivan said feisty winger Patric Hornqvist and defenseman Justin Schultz could return from upper-body injuries.

  • Predators might get C Fisher back for Final
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The Nashville Predators got past the Anaheim Ducks without their top two centers, but they might have one of them back for the start of the Stanley Cup Final.

    • Ryan Johansen has been lost for the season, but general manager David Poile said Wednesday he hopes captain Mike Fisher can practice on Thursday and added that there is "a real good chance" Fisher will be able to play in Game 1 of the Final.

      The Predators will play the winner of Thursday's Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators.

      Fisher sustained what appeared to be a head injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. He missed two games, but did take part in the celebration following Game 6.

      Fisher has not scored a point in 14 games this postseason, but had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 regular season games.

  • Red Wings sign D Sulak to entry-level contract
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    The Detroit Red Wings signed defenseman Libor Sulak to a two-year, entry-level contract on Wednesday.

    • Sulak, 23, spent the past two seasons playing for Orli Znojmo, a Czech team that competes in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, the top professional league in Austria.

      In 2016-17, Sulak placed fourth on the team with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) and a team-best plus-19 rating. He added a team-leading three goals in four postseason games.

      The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Sulak also made his debut with the Czech Republic men's national team this year, recording one assist in two games at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Germany and France.

  • Back to basics for Senators as Pens seek clincher
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 22, 2017

    OTTAWA -- Down to their last out, the Ottawa Senators plan on retreating to the style that brought them to the Eastern Conference finals.

    • That means the neutral zone should be a crowded piece of ice when the Pittsburgh Penguins look to eliminate the Senators on Tuesday night at Canadian Tire Centre.

      "We can't be sitting in our mud puddle," Senators coach Guy Boucher said Monday, less than 24 hours after a 7-0 shellacking put Ottawa behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. "We've got to get up and go."

      Boucher said the Senators opened up early in the Game 5 loss, and that was what got them in trouble. He has since had what he feels were productive conversations with the team about returning to a 1-3-1 defensive structure for which he has become known.

      "We went in last game trying to run and gun it with the best offensive team in the league, and that's the result we got," Boucher said. "We got slapped, and hard enough. So the reality sets back in, and we know how we have to play to give ourselves a chance. I have total confidence in them that they will, and then the game goes on, and we need to manage what we need to manage at that point."

      There exists the possibility that no matter what the Senators do, it may not be enough to stop a Penguins team that appears to be operating on all cylinders.

      Held without a point in the first two games, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby scored in each of the next three. Fellow star Evgeni Malkin had three assists and was dominant in Game 5, when the Penguins had seven different goal-scorers.

      Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan juggled his lines so all of them have a combination of finesse and grit. The result saw the Penguins break through the security guarding the Senators' zone to score five goals from within 13 feet of the net.

      "I think it's critically important that we have that determination and play with that necessary conviction in order to give ourselves the best chance to win," Sullivan said as the Penguins try to become the first team to play in consecutive Stanley Cup finals since they and the Detroit Red Wings met in in 2008 and 2009.

      "So we talk a lot about the puck battles and the thankless jobs that you can't necessarily quantify, but they help teams win. And those thankless jobs are critically important at this time of year."

      The Senators will go back to No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson, who was pulled in Game 5 after giving up four goals on 14 shots. Boucher also said defenseman Erik Karlsson and center Derick Brassard, who were in the dressing room nursing injuries at the conclusion of the Sunday game, would be good to go.

      After frittering away a 3-1 series lead against Washington before finally winning Game 7, Pittsburgh thinks it is better prepared to close out Ottawa with the first chance.

      Crosby said the Penguins didn't play with enough desperation when they had the Capitals down.

      "We have to learn from that and make sure it's there (Tuesday) night," Crosby said. "I think that it's something that in the playoffs you have to get better and better to improve, and that's one area we've got make sure we improve on."

      The Penguins also can take confidence from the strong form of Matt Murray.

      The 22-year-old goalie has been stellar since returning to action as a sub in Game 4 vs. Ottawa after missing the first 2 1/2 rounds of the playoffs due to a lower-body injury he sustained in warmups before the postseason opener. He has stopped 68 of the 71 shots he has faced, including a 25-save shutout on Sunday.

  • Former Blackhawks D White dead at 77
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, May 22, 2017

    Former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Bill White, who played in six NHL All-Star games, has died at age 77.

    • The team released a statement Monday on the passing of White.

      "The Chicago Blackhawks organization extends its thoughts and heartfelt condolences to Bill White's family as we mourn his loss," the statement said. "He will be remembered as a leader, generous teammate and tough player to play against. His energetic style helped the Blackhawks see great success during his tenure with the team."

      White played with the Blackhawks from 1969-76 and spent a total of nine seasons in the NHL. He scored 30 goals and tallied 149 assists with the Blackhawks and played for Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.

      White appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games (1969-74) and helped the Blackhawks reach the playoffs in all seven of his seasons in Chicago. He scored 50 goals with 215 assists in 604 career NHL games.

      White began his NHL career at age 28 with the expansion of the Los Angeles Kings in 1967 after playing in the American Hockey League, receiving his break when the league expanded from six to 12 teams.

      White served as head coach of the Blackhawks for the final 46 games of the 1976-77 season. He compiled a 16-24-6 record.

  • Battle of attrition as Ducks try to stay alive vs. Predators
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 21, 2017

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has turned into a battle of attrition in the Western Conference Finals.

    • One more loss and the Anaheim Ducks will have until September to rest. One more win and the Nashville Predators clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

      Saturday night's 3-1 defeat to the equally shorthanded Nashville Predators put Anaheim in a 3-2 hole, requiring it to win Game 6 Monday night in the cauldron of noise known as Bridgestone Arena.

      In their second elimination game of the postseason, the Ducks edged Edmonton 2-1 in Game 7 of the conference semifinals on May 10. This time, the Ducks will have to go without 30-goal scorers Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves.

      Both stayed back in Orange County with lower-body injuries.

      Goalie John Gibson also has a lower-body injury, which knocked him out of the last two periods of Game 5. Gibson said after the game he would play in Game 6, but coach Randy Carlyle was more cautious when the team arrived late Sunday afternoon in Nashville, saying Gibson would be reevaluated in the morning.

      Regardless, Carlyle is confident his team can bring the series back to Anaheim for Game 7 Wednesday night, and why not? After all, the Ducks snapped the Predators' 10-game home playoff winning streak in Game 4 Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime decision.

      "We have won in Nashville before, and there is no reason we cannot go into that building and win on Monday," Carlyle said.

      It was at Bridgestone where Anaheim played its best game of the series in Game 4, outshooting Nashville 14-2 in the first period and 36-33 for the game. But that was with a healthy Rakell, whose blistering slapper initiated scoring that night.

      Of course, the Predators can be excused for having zero sympathy for the Ducks' injury issues.

      Consider that they won Game 5 with their top two centers, Ryan Johansen (compartment syndrome surgery in left thigh) and Mike Fisher (undisclosed injury), on the shelf, and have played the entire series without Craig Smith (undisclosed) and Kevin Fiala (fractured leg).

      It's not known if Fisher or Smith will be available Monday night, but Nashville didn't exactly look like a team searching for answers with all those guys out of action.

      Pontus Aberg drew back into the lineup and scored the winning goal just over midway through the third period for his first playoff goal, while Frederick Gaudreau played well defensively and had a winning record on faceoffs, going 10-4 in his first playoff match.

      Gaudreau became the team's 18th forward to play in the postseason, tying an NHL record. Aberg and Austin Watson, who sealed the outcome with an empty-netter in the last minute, are the 16th and 17th Predators to score goals in the playoffs.

      It was the latest example of how depth is driving this team to heights it's never reached before.

      "Whatever 20 guys we have going out there, we're fully confident in the group we have going," Watson said. "For guys like Freddie Gaudreau to come out and play the way that he did, for guys to just step up and maybe take on some more minutes, that was a huge win for us tonight."

  • Preds' Johansen diagnosed with rare syndrome
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, May 21, 2017

    Nashville Predators forward Ryan Johansen is recovering from emergency surgery after he sustained a serious left thigh injury during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday.

    • An update from the Predators on Sunday indicated the seriousness of Johansen's condition before the procedure and identified the injury.

      The 24-year-old Johansen is out for the remainder of the playoffs. His recovery is expected to take two to three months.

      "On Thursday, Ryan Johansen was treated for an acute compartment syndrome of the left thigh," Predators general manager David Poile said in a statement. "Rapid diagnosis and treatment are critical to prevent complications.

      "His symptoms developed shortly after the end of Game 4 in Nashville, and as they progressed, he was diagnosed, transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and had surgery performed by head team physician Dr. Jed Kuhn within two hours of his diagnosis. As a result, he had no permanent injury to his muscle, nerves or blood vessels and we expect a full and complete recovery."

      It's uncertain when Johansen suffered the injury, but he managed to finish the game.

      "At some point, Ryan sustained an injury, was able to make it through the game," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "And then upon further assessment, had to move on from there with the doctors."

      Johansen was leading the team with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in the playoffs. The Predators are up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series after winning Game 5 on Saturday at Anaheim.

      "I am forever thankful for the support and well wishes I have received the past few days," Johansen tweeted. "Feeling much better now."

      During the regular season, Johansen collected 14 goals and 47 assists to tie for the team lead with 61 points while playing in all 82 regular-season games.

      Johansen has scored 101 goals and set up 187 others in 433 career games with Columbus and Nashville since being selected by the Blue Jackets with the fourth overall pick of the 2010 draft.

      Saturday's Game 5 was the first game that Johansen missed since coming to Nashville in a trade with Columbus in January 2016.

  • Ducks G Gibson exits with apparent injury
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 20, 2017

    ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Anaheim Ducks backup goalie Jonathan Bernier replaced John Gibson at the start of the second period in Saturday's Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Nashville Predators, apparently due to an injury.

    • Gibson wasn't on the bench later in the period, but the team made no immediate announcement about his status.

      He had stopped all 10 shots he faced in the contest before exiting. Coming into the contest, he was 9-5 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in the postseason.

      Bernier appeared in two previous playoff games this year, going 1-0 with a 2.82 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

  • Ducks F Rakell out for Game 5
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 20, 2017

    Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell will miss Game 5 of the Western Conference final against the visiting Nashville Predators on Saturday with a lower-body injury.

    • Rakell has collected seven goals and six assists in 15 playoff games for Anaheim, which entered Saturday's tilt tied 2-2 in the series. The 24-year-old Swede led the team with a career-high 33 goals this season to go along with 18 assists.

      Rookie left wing Nic Kerdiles likely will draw in for Rakell. The 23-year-old has yet to record a point in one regular-season game this season and two playoff contests.

  • Pivotal Game 5 on top for Senators, Penguins
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 20, 2017

    PITTSBURGH -- If patterns always held true, the Ottawa Senators could be assured of winning Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final on Sunday at PPG Paints Arena, simply because it's their turn.

    • The Senators won Games 1 and 3 in the best-of-seven series, with the Pittsburgh Penguins taking Games 2 and 4. Each team is 1-1 at home and on the road.

      Neither team, however, is willing to take anything for granted.

      "Well, we're at where we're at, 2-2," Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf said Saturday, a travel day for both clubs with no practice for either. "The way you look at the series is we expected it to be a tough, long series, as we've expected the other series that we played in."

      This one is going at least six games, and that's if one of the teams can win two in row for the first time. Otherwise, it will end in Game 7, scheduled for Thursday in Pittsburgh if needed.

      The Penguins will be looking to break the pattern of alternating wins and be the first this series to win two straight following a 3-2 victory on Friday at Canadian Tire Centre.

      "We need to find a way to maintain that sense of urgency, that desperation," Pittsburgh center and captain Sidney Crosby said. "We're deeper into the series now, so that's got to be there.

      "I think seeing the way we played (Friday), hopefully that's something we can build off of."

      Not if the Senators can help it. They don't want any momentum to carry over.

      "You think, 'Oh, they played a great game, so the next game they're going to win,'" Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said. "They don't. It's just because the other team has push-back. It's all about desperation at this time of the year."

      While both teams have dealt with injuries, Pittsburgh, in particular, has had to overcome a depleted defensive corps. The Penguins have almost gotten used to -- although they are not thrilled about -- playing with only five defensemen because of injuries.

      On Friday, it was Chad Ruhwedel who left the game. He has been diagnosed with a concussion, which would make playing in Game 6 seem like a longshot. Veteran Mark Streit probably will slot in.

      "Obviously, you don't want to be doing that," Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said of rotating five defensemen. "It's going to wear you down during the playoffs."

      Pittsburgh has played all of the postseason without Kris Letang (neck disk surgery) and has not had Justin Schultz (upper body) the last two games. Schultz's status for Sunday is unclear, as is that of Penguins forwards Patric Hornqvist (upper body), Bryan Rust (upper body) and Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body).

      Ottawa's injury situation looks brighter. Alex Burrows, who left Game 3 because of a lower-body injury, and defenseman Mark Borowiecki, out since the first round of the playoffs because of a lower-body injury, are possibilities to return.

      While the injury status trend is one that favors Ottawa, the winner Sunday will have highly favorable odds on its side. According to the NHL, the Game 5 winner of a 2-2 series has gone on to claim that series 198 of 252 times, a .786 winning percentage, including 5-0 this postseason.

      There is one other pattern of sorts that Boucher sees in the series. Wins have come honestly, and neither team has stolen one.

      "I just think you look at the last four games, there was no luck involved," Boucher said. "Two games we won, we deserved. Two games they won, they deserved."

  • Talk isn't cheap: NHL fines Ducks' Getzlaf $10,000
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, May 20, 2017

    Forward Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks was fined $10,000 for directing an inappropriate remark toward another participant in Thursday's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference Final against the Nashville Predators, the National Hockey League announced on Saturday.

    • It is the maximum fine permitted under the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement.

      Getzlaf's comment is a violation of the NHL's policy which prohibits inappropriate and offensive remarks, and the use of obscene, profane or abusive language or gestures.

      "Getzlaf's comment in Thursday's game, particularly as directed to another individual on the ice, was inappropriately demeaning and disrespectful, and crossed the line into behavior that we deem unacceptable," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.

      "The type of language chosen and utilized in this instance will not be tolerated in the National Hockey League."

      The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

  • Sharks' Ward undergoes shoulder surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 19, 2017

    San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward underwent surgery on his right shoulder after the season and is expected to be ready for training camp in September, general manager Doug Wilson said on Friday.

    • Ward recorded 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 78 regular-season games and added four points (one goal, three assists) in San Jose's first-round playoff loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

      The 36-year-old has one year remaining on his contract with San Jose, carrying a $3.275 million salary cap hit.

      "Joel was dealing with a minor shoulder injury last season and, once the season ended, had a choice to either rehab the injury or to have a surgical procedure," Wilson said in a statement. "Joel opted to proceed with the surgical procedure, which was completed successfully, and he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2017 season."

      Ward scored 128 goals and set up 164 others in 674 career contests with the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and Sharks.

  • Predators face adversity ahead of Game 5 vs. Ducks
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, May 19, 2017

    ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Nashville Predators' magic carpet ride through the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs encountered major turbulence when they announced Friday that Ryan Johansen will miss the remainder of the playoffs with a left thigh injury.

    • The injury to Johansen, the team's leading scorer, was sustained in Nashville's 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday which evened the Western Conference Final at two victories apiece. Johansen underwent surgery in Nashville on Friday and the Predators estimated his recovery time to be in the range of two to three months.

      Johansen collected 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) through 14 games, registered a team-best 54.3 percent faceoff win percentage and his average ice time (20:45) was second only to linemate Filip Forsberg among Nashville forwards.

      With captain Mike Fisher's status unknown for Game 5, the Predators could be down to their two top centers in an evenly played series.

      The Predators rolled through the first two rounds with little adversity, so this injury news will be the first major test for them given their lack of productivity at center behind Johansen. Fisher has yet to score a point in the playoffs and third-line center Calle Jarnkrok has registered a goal and an assist in 13 games.

      With the Ducks already holding a significant matchup advantage at center with captain Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Antoine Vermette and Nate Thompson manning the middle, coach Randy Carlyle will look to exploit it as Anaheim tries to take one step closer to a Stanley Cup Final berth. Their last appearance was 10 years ago when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games to capture the franchise's lone Stanley Cup.

      The Ducks evened the series with a 3-2 overtime victory on Thursday on Corey Perry's third overtime goal of the playoffs, matching the NHL record for most OT tallies in a playoff year with Mel Hill in 1939 and Maurice Richard in 1951.

      Carlyle was behind the bench for the 2007 Cup victory and feels that the performance by players at two positions will determine the series winner.

      "If our goaltender can outplay their goaltender, then our chances go up dramatically," Carlyle said. "If our centermen can outplay their centermen, our chances go up dramatically."

      Despite missing an opportunity to take a commanding lead in the series had they completed the rally from a two-goal third period deficit, Predators winger James Neal knows his team has plenty of fight left in them.

      "It's 2-2. Nothing's going to be easy," Neal said. "That's why it's the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports. And we should be confident in our group. We have a chance to go in their rink, win a game, and come back with a chance to win in our home building. So put a smile on our face, enjoy it, get ready, and feel good about a tough game in their rink and what can come from that."

      The Predators will need goaltender Pekka Rinne to revert to the form he displayed in the two series wins over Chicago and St. Louis if they are to secure their first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Rinne posted a .951 save percentage in the first two rounds but has plummeted to .911 against Anaheim. Given that Rinne's season percentage was .918, it is incumbent upon the Predators' defense to limit the number of shots the Finnish netminder faces.

      Rinne claims to have put the Game 4 loss behind him and knows he will need to be at his best behind a short-handed team.

      "Game 4 has to be behind us already, and we have to focus on the next one," Rinne said. "That was a missed opportunity, but we battled back, and obviously didn't have a good start. We did not a good first period but we battled back and showed a lot of character."