On the road to recovery from concussion issues, Willie Mitchell turned to motivational speakers

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for williemitchell1.jpgIn many cases, the best free agent acquisitions tend to slip under the radar. Sure, every once in a while you’ll see a guy who’s just so good it really doesn’t matter where he goes; Marian Hossa and Scott Niedermayer jump to mind in those cases.

But if Jay Bouwmeester and Craig Anderson – two former Florida Panthers teammates with radically different profiles in the ’09 summer spree and similarly contrasting successes in the 09-10 season – prove anything, it’s that the lesser known types can often make a bigger mark than their richer counterparts.

This is an elaborate way for me to say that I think that the Los Angeles Kings ended up landing the biggest fish in the free agent sea even if he blended into the metaphorical corral reef. They didn’t land Ilya Kovalchuk (barring a true catastrophe of the New Jersey Devils, of course). Instead, GM Dean Lombardi signed Willie Mitchell, one of the league’s leading experts in the field of muzzling Kovalchuk and other offensive stars.

If he’s healthy, of course.

Thumbnail image for williemitchellfreeagent.jpgThat qualifier kept both Mitchell and other interested parties from putting the pedal to the metal on any legitimate contract offers until August. The Kings’ official site ran a rather fascinating piece on Mitchell’s recovery from his latest concussion thanks to a dangerous hit from behind via Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.

One day, Mitchell grabbed a motivational speaker’s CD that had been collecting dust in his house, one titled “The Maverick Mindset.” Mitchell listened, and the timing couldn’t have been better, as it provided a framework for his eventual return to the NHL.

“It’s funny how it was sitting on my countertop and I never touched it,” Mitchell said. “Then something like this happens to you, and it’s like, `Well, I’ve got time to kill in this chamber, so I’m going to listen to it.’ It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever picked up in my life, in terms of it being a life lesson but also in being an athlete like I am. A lot of it was talking about controlling the things that you can control and not worrying about all the external factors that ultimately, at the end of the day, you have no bearing over.”

The message helped bring calm and clarity to Mitchell. He stopped worrying about how his teammates would fare without him, stopped stressing about his recovery and, as much as possible, stopped wondering whether he would ever play hockey again.

Perhaps it’s because I watched “The Big Lebowski” on a seemingly eternal loop during high school, but picturing Mitchell listening to a motivational speaker in a hyperbaric chamber makes me look back to the time the Dude was relaxing to some “Sounds of the Whale” in his bath tub before being rudely interrupted by a few nihilists.

Moving on, Mitchell is motivated to prove that he’s healthy after some rather troubling concussion issues. He might not fill the net very often and won’t make many Youtube-worthy plays, but when we look back at the 2010 free agent summer, don’t be shocked if Mitchell is considered one of the best signings of them all.

If, you know, he’s healthy.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

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Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff hopes are basically squashed, but Sunday should provide plenty of motivation: giving the Pittsburgh Penguins grief.

The two rivals will face off on NBCSN tonight with the Penguins hoping to improve their situation in the three-team Metropolitan race for the division crown (and, failing that, at least one round of home-ice advantage).

The Penguins must fight injuries and a cross-state rival. There should be plenty of talent on the ice, too, so this should be a fun one.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Video: Doc Emrick takes a look back at Joe Louis Arena memories

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Sunday’s overtime win against the Wild wasn’t the last hurrah for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, but that time is rapidly approaching.

The Red Wings have four more dates at the historic building:

April 1: vs. Maple Leafs
April 3: vs. Senators
April 8: vs. Canadiens
April 9: vs. Devils

With the playoffs out of reach, Red Wings fans must grapple with the end of an era.

To help with that cause, Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena, which you can enjoy in the video above.

And, if it helps make the future look a little rosier, take a look at highlights from Sunday’s victory.

Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

Wild’s struggles continue with OT loss to Red Wings

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Well, the good news for the Minnesota Wild is Sunday’s game in Detroit wasn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as their game on Saturday. They were at least competitive in this and took the game to overtime to earn a point in the standings.

The bad news is the result was pretty much the same — another loss in the standings.

Thanks to Andreas Athanasiou‘s 17th goal of the season 1:52 into the overtime period, the Red Wings were 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon, sending the Wild to their 11th loss in 14 games this month.

The game continues Minnesota’s late-season collapse that has seen the team lose its stranglehold on the Central Division and play some of its worst hockey of the season with the playoffs just around the corner. They have collected just seven out of a possible 28 points in the standings this month and still sit seven points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the division after Sunday. The Wild led the division by five points at the start of the month.

As bad as another loss is, this was far from the Wild’s worst game during this recent stretch. They limited Detroit to just 19 shots on goal, they had their chances to win it. But at the end of the day nobody in Minnesota wants to hear that right now because it’s still a loss, and it still looks like a team that is struggling to find answers on the ice. Not really the type of thing you want to see at this time of year.

Minnesota actually entered the third period with a 2-1 lead but let it slip away early in the period on a Tomas Tatar power play goal 55 seconds in. The Wild had their share of chances late in the game only to have Jimmy Howard make a couple of huge stops on Eric Staal and Jason Zucker in the final minute.

Staal did score his 26th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.

As for the Red Wings, the win is their fourth in their past six games (and the fifth with at least a point during that stretch) while Henrik Zetterberg continued his recent strong play recording another assist.

Defenseman Mike Green also scored in the win.