Cory Emmerton, Trevor Lewis

Kings suffer a brutal loss for second night in a row

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No doubt about it, it’s been a brutal two nights for the Los Angeles Kings – maybe the worst in a season rife with letdowns.

A night after dropping an honestly unacceptable 3-1 loss to Jack Johnson and the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, the Kings seemed like they were on the verge of salvaging back-to-back contests against the Central Division by beating the Detroit Red Wings.

Dwight King gave the Kings a 3-2 lead with about six minutes left in the third period, but that lead proved insufficient. Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg were a serious problem for the Kings all night, including the game-tying goal by Filppula. Zetterberg had two goals and one assist while Filppula collected a tally and two helpers. Darren Helm then scored the 4-3 game-winner with 1:13 left in the third, making the Kings go from increasingly positive to downright despondent.

The kind of losses that result in firings later on

On paper, losing to the Red Wings is far from shameful – particularly at Joe Louis Arena. Still, with all of Detroit’s injuries and the urgency of tonight’s match in mind, this is the kind of loss that might get Kings GM Dean Lombardi fired.

Dwindling odds for the Kings

With that loss, the Kings remain a point behind the eighth-ranked San Jose Sharks, who also hold two games in hand on Los Angeles. The Kings do have a slight edge over the Colorado Avalanche but the Calgary Flames could create a virtual tie for ninth place if they hold on to beat the Winnipeg Jets tonight.

What lies ahead

The Kings face a challenging schedule, but at least gives them a chance to “control their destiny” to an extent with matches against some of the teams who stand in their way.

Los Angeles will visit Chicago on Sunday and then get a chance to avenge tonight’s loss against the Red Wings at the Staples Center on Tuesday. After that, they’ll take on the Ducks in Anaheim on Friday and then enjoy a four-game homestand that’s less enjoyable since they’ll face four of the best teams in the NHL (Nashville, San Jose, St. Louis and Boston).

After that, they must deal with a four-game road trip through the Northwest Division, a home game versus the Edmonton Oilers and then a potentially crucial season closing home-and-home set with the San Jose Sharks.

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On paper, that’s a brutal stretch. Sadly for Kings fans, it doesn’t seem like the team’s given the hockey world much reason to believe that they’ll overcome the challenges ahead.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.