Patrick Kane, Roberto Luongo

Western Conference playoff field all set – Familiar faces get reacquainted

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After the Wild disposed of the Dallas Stars and put the Chicago Blackhawks into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it set the table for the Western Conference playoffs to have a familiar feel to it all. While there’s some new flavor in some of the pairings, there’s a couple match-ups that will look really familiar to fans from last year.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks

For the third straight season these two teams will meet in the playoffs. This time it’s in the first round and this time it comes with Vancouver in a much more dominant position. They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’ve been killing it all season long and now they have destiny set things up nicely for them so they can exorcise the demons of playoffs past right off the bat. Should Vancouver get over this psychological mountain in the form of a Blackhawks team living like they’ve been granted a new life, they’ll be very dangerous to deal with throughout the playoffs.

Chicago will instead hope to get in the Canucks heads like they have in the past and pull off a tremendous upset in their effort to retain the Stanley Cup. For Vancouver, this series has a Ric Flair feel about it: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings

An all-California playoff series is something we’ve been rooting for to happen for all season long and with all three California teams in the playoffs, things broke down perfect to get these two to face off against each other. The Sharks have the “playoff choker” thing still following them around but that doesn’t apply to this team. Antti Niemi has been lights out, they’ve got a host of new blood in the form of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to go along with the quietly monstrous year from Patrick Marleau as well as his running crew of Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks are firing on all cylinders now and very dangerous.

Los Angeles meanwhile is hurting without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Their offense isn’t as lethal as it once was without them and it’ll be up to Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown to score goals while Jon Quick will need to be lights out to keep the Kings involved. One thing they’ll really need is for Drew Doughty to once again look like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year. He’s been off a bit and they could really use big production at both ends of the ice from him.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes

They meet yet again. Last year it was Detroit ending Phoenix’s dream season in Game 7 in the desert during the first round of the playoffs. These two teams are more than familiar with each other and they’ll get to dance once again, this time with Detroit having home ice advantage. Detroit’s been a bit erratic to close out the year and they’ll start their series without Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll have a fully healthy defensive corps with Niklas Kronwall returning but they’ll need to be tough offensively to deal with the tough Coyotes defense.

Phoenix has been similarly hot and cold going into the end of the season and matching up against a skilled veteran squad like Detroit means they’ll have to be especially sharp. It’s a dangerous draw for both teams as they each have parts of their game that the opponent can struggle with. Phoenix’s physicality can give Detroit fits and the Wings’ savvy in big moments frustrates the Coyotes. If Shane Doan can break out his “DoanFace” a couple more times, the Coyotes might be able to finally make the second round.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

What a brawl this one should be. Both teams play overtly physical hockey. Anaheim comes in with offense to burn with Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry and old man dominator Teemu Selanne scoring tons of goals. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan along with defensemen Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, these Ducks aren’t like the Ducks from 2007 that won the Cup and would mug your grandmother to do it. The Predators are going to have to add that kind of snarl to the series if they’re going to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne will need to be the best player for Nashville while they try to generate offense from Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan. The Preds have been here before and at some point they’re going to get through. Whether or not captain Shea Weber can rally his team to do it this time against a Ducks squad that’s been uber-dangerous the last two months should make for some great drama and even better hockey.

More details emerge re: Isles’ arena plans

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 06:  A sign is seen at Belmont Park on June 6, 2014 in Elmont, New York.  On Saturday, June 7, California Chrome will attempt to win the triple crown with a win in the Belmont Stakes.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Big day for NHL arena news.

First came a report out of Arizona that the Coyotes’ public financing plans could be in trouble.

Now comes another report that the New York Islanders may have a solution to their Barclays Center problem.

From Bloomberg:

A supergroup of New York sports executives, including owners of the New York Rangers and the New York Mets, is lining up to invest in a new arena just outside of Queens for the National Hockey League’s Islanders, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The new arena proposal is a joint venture between the Islanders, Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because the talks are private. James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Co., which controls the Rangers, long the Islanders hated rivals, is an investor in Oak View Group, the private equity group run by Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff. The Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, controls Sterling Project Development. 

Bloomberg notes that NHL owners are allowed to “have a stake in another club’s arena,” so Dolan’s involvement shouldn’t be an issue with the league.

Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed last month that the Isles’ owners were exploring their options beyond the team’s current home in Brooklyn.

“The owners are committed to the franchise, they’re committed to New York and the great fan base that has followed the Islanders,” said Bettman. “There are some issues about playing in Barclays that may be fundamental as to the ice system, and that’s not something that can be fixed in the short term. I think, as is prudent, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are reviewing the situation and looking very seriously at what their options are.”

According to Bloomberg, the current focus is on a site at Belmont Park in Elmont. For more on that, read Newsday’s story from July.

Related: Tim Leiweke could play role in redevelopment of Seattle’s KeyArena

Neuvirth ‘scared’ Flyers will trade him at deadline

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Goalie Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Washington Capitals during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Washington Capitals won, 1-0. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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At the 2014 trade deadline, Michal Neuvirth was traded from Washington to Buffalo.

One year later, the Sabres flipped him to the Isles.

So it’s understandable, then, that Neuvirth — a pending unrestricted free agent — is plenty worried the Flyers might ship him out by next Wednesday.

“For sure, I’m scared,” Neuvirth said, per the Courier-Post. “The last three deadlines I’ve been traded twice. For sure, I’m scared, yes.”

The 28-year-old is probably right to be frightened. With an affordable $1.625 million cap hit and a history of solid stretches — including last year, when he went 18-8-4 with a .924 save percentage and 2.27 GAA — Neuvirth is a classic “upgrade your backup” option.

Like in 2015, when Isles GM Garth Snow wanted an improvement on Chad Johnson.

“Chad played some very good games for us over the course of the season,” Snow said at the time, per the Daily News. “But seeing Michal Neuvirth performing, especially in the last 30 days playing at an extremely high level, obviously goaltenders are hard to get in the NHL and the Eastern Conference.

“It was an opportunity for us to make a move and get a little better at the position.”

For a playoff-bound team, Neuvirth is a tantalizing add. His career postseason numbers are excellent — .933 save percentage over 13 appearances, with a pair of shutouts. (Yes, it’s a relatively small sample size.)

He was also terrific in last year’s opening-round loss to Washington, stopping 103 of 105 shots faced.

As for the Flyers, they’re in a precarious situation, sitting five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’d need to leapfrog Florida, Boston and the Isles to get there, and GM Ron Hextall hasn’t publicly identified himself as a buyer or seller.

What’s more, Hextall doesn’t want to address his goalie situation until the offseason. Steve Mason‘s a pending UFA as well, and there’s some believe neither will be back with Philly next year.

As for landing spots, one has to wonder if Boston will kick tires on Neuvirth. GM Don Sweeney said the club could try to solve its longstanding backup goalie problem at the deadline.

Report: Coyotes’ arena financing plan in trouble

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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More bad news for the Arizona Coyotes in their quest to build a new arena and remain in the Phoenix area.

From the Arizona Republic:

A plan that would provide $225 million in public financing for a new $395 million Arizona Coyotes arena likely does not have the votes to pass the state Senate, key lawmakers told The Arizona Republic/azcentral Thursday.

Sens. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, and John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said they definitely were going to vote against the plan, while Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said there is little support among the chamber’s 13 Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said he had “serious reservations” about the plan that would allow the National Hockey League team to build an arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

It would take at least 16 votes to pass Senate Bill 1149 in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 advantage. Statements from those lawmakers make it appear unlikely that there is enough support to move the plan to the House.

A vote before the full Senate could occur next week.

The financing plan is being championed by Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican.

“I’m not a hockey fan but I’m a business guy and I want to save any business of this magnitude from leaving and impacting thousands of jobs,” Worsley said earlier this month, per Arizona Sports. “We would go out of our way in the Legislature to see what we could do if there was a company considering leaving so it’s appropriate to say, ‘what can we do to help?’”

In light of today’s news, Worsley’s words do not bode well for the Coyotes, who have no intention of remaining in Glendale long term.

The team, still holding out hope, told the Republic, “There are a lot of moving parts in this legislative process and everything is malleable and open for discussion until the very end. We will continue to educate lawmakers about a complex project that creates a true public-private partnership and offers the Coyotes an economically viable solution to remain in the Valley for the long term.”

Related: Coyotes still ‘pretty confident’ of finding an arena solution

Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

“It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

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Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game