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With Ryan Smyth trade pending approval, Kings could own off-season throne after two days of work

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While Brayden Schenn could be a strong player in the future, Wayne Simmonds is a solid checking winger right now and a second round pick might yield some nice results of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Mike Richards trade is a resounding victory for the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings scratched and clawed their way to two consecutive playoff berths without many high-end offensive options beyond Anze Kopitar (unless you count the offensive gifts of blueliners Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson) but now they have a one-two punch at center that can compete with the best duos in the league. Richards is a premier two-way center who ranks as one of the most dangerous shorthanded threats in the NHL and comes in at a very manageable $5.75 million annual salary cap hit.

That cap hit could be even easier to digest if the Kings find a way to unload expensive, aging winger Ryan Smyth on the Calgary Flames, as many rumors suggest. The latest buzz is that the two sides are very close to a deal, although TSN’s Gord Miller reports that Flames ownership needs to approve it first.

It is unclear what the Kings would get back if the trade goes through, but there aren’t many Flames players who cost more than Smyth’s bloated $6.25 million cap hit (to be fair, his 2011-12 salary is significantly lower at $4.5 million). Smyth remains a likeable leader with a nose for the net, but his production – 47 points in 10-11, no more than 59 points since he signed that five-year, $31.25 million deal in 2007 – simply cannot justify his paychecks.

The Flames seem intent on making changes this off-season, although it might be grimly accurate to say that they are making the same mistakes that got them into this mess. Reports indicate that the Flames want to unload Robyn Regehr’s $4.02 million salary cap hit to the Buffalo Sabres if Regehr will waive his no-movement clause. That seems like a semi-reasonable idea in a vacuum, but possibly adding Smyth makes the Flames’ moves look downright foolish in context.

On the other hand, pulling off that trade makes Kings GM Dean Lombardi look like a genius. There was a sense that Lombardi’s cautious rebuild of the Kings franchise might stall out during this off-season, but adding Richards for prospects and getting rid of Smyth’s problematic cap hit could cast Los Angeles as serious Stanley Cup contenders. Honestly, it’s quite possible that Lombardi’s Kings won the off-season before we learn the name of the first pick of 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Then again, from the looks of things, we could see plenty of other jaw-dropping decisions before Friday night ends.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.