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: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are Game 5 start times for all four series this coming weekend

St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) and Dallas Stars left wing Patrick Sharp (10) tangle during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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When it comes to arranging your life for maximum playoff viewership, it’s never too early to plan.

The weekend may seem like a distant cry from this Monday evening, but imagine all the bruising hits, circus saves and beautiful goals you’ll get to see and share a hearty smile.

Here’s the full rundown for when each Game 5 will start … with the Nashville Predators – San Jose Sharks series needing at least one Preds win to drop the “if necessary” disclaimer (via the NHL):

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues has been set for 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT on Saturday, May 7, in Dallas. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has been set for 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, in Washington. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, if necessary, has been set for 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT/7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 7, in San Jose. The game would be televised exclusively on NBCSN in the U.S. In Canada, the game would be on CBC and TVA Sports.

· The start time for Game 5 of the Second Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders has been set for 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 8, in Tampa Bay. The game will be broadcast exclusively on NBC in the U.S. In Canada, the game will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

After ‘rough year,’ Kronwall seeking options for ailing knee

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped up by Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Jets 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Coming off one of the worst seasons in an otherwise solid — and lengthy — career, Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall is already looking to ensure the knee issues that plagued him won’t continue on into 2016-17.

Kronwall is “getting opinions” about how to fix the knee, Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. The injury limited the Swedish rearguard to just 64 games played — and those 64 games were largely played with Kronwall not close to 100 percent.

More, from the Free Press:

At 35, Kronwall is showing the wear and tear of being, at his best, a hard-hitting workhorse defenseman. Productionwise, he had the lowest numbers of his career since 2006-07, scoring just three goals and finishing with just 26 points in 64 games. (Even during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he had five goals and 29 points in 48 games.) His minus-21 was eye-popping.

“It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways,” Kronwall said. “Definitely, a summer of good training is the first thing that you need, and the rest of it will play out as you go along.”

The Wings will be hopeful Kronwall can return to form.

He’s still got plenty of time left on his current deal — three more years, at a $4.75M cap hit — and is still considered a key part to the Red Wings defense, which wasn’t great this year and doesn’t project to be a heckua lot better next year.

If Kronwall can’t get back to form, it could push Holland even harder to make a trade to beef up the blueline.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.