If the Kings make the playoffs, scheduling and travel should be fun

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Intriguing note here from CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

Conventional wisdom is that the Western Conference matchup to avoid is the No. 4 / No. 5 fight between two of Detroit, Nashville and Chicago. After all, the thinking is, you’d rather finish sixth and face the Pacific Division winner. Here’s the flaw: travel. Since 2000, nine Central Division teams have won a first-round series against a team at least two time zones away. How many went on to reach the Cup Final? One. (That’s Detroit, which captured the crown in 2002.)

Be careful what you wish for, especially if it’s the Kings. Get a look at that Staples Center schedule.

On it.

The NHL playoffs begin on Wednesday, Apr. 11. According to the Staples Center schedule, there are Lakers/Clippers games booked for Friday (7:30pm), Saturday (12:30pm), Sunday (12:30pm), Monday (7:30pm) and Tuesday (7:30pm).

The arena is vacant for Wednesday the 18th, then booked for the evenings of the 19th and 20th for Mexican pop rock outfit Mana.

NHL playoff series are 2-2-1-1-1 affairs with the higher seed opening at home. Should the Kings win the Pacific Division and finish third overall, they’ll hold home-ice advantage over the No. 6 seed…and that’s where things could get interesting.

The series could open at Staples on the 11th, but would then be forced into either a back-to-back (on the 12th) or having two off days before resuming on the 14th — after the Clippers-Warriors game, when they transition from hardwood to ice. (Which always makes for great ice.)

The series could also open on the 12th, then play the evening of the 14th. But the later the series starts, the more likely a potential Game 5 return date falls into the Staples gauntlet (when the evenings of the 17th, 19th and 20th are booked.)

That said, it is possible for NHL teams to flex muscle and move preexisting events out. A good example of this occurred last postseason, when the Vancouver Canucks bumped a Supertramp concert from Rogers Arena because it conflicted with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Rangers make changes after loss in Anaheim

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The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.

Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.

The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.

As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”