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Western Conference finals at a glance: Phoenix-Los Angeles playoff preview

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Schedule

All times Eastern; *if necessary

Game 1: Sunday, May 13 at Phoenix, 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 2: Tuesday, May 15 at Phoenix, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 3: Thursday, May 17 at Los Angeles, 9 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 4: Sunday, May 20 at Los Angeles, 3 p.m. (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 5: *Tuesday, May 22 at Phoenix, 9 p.m. (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 6: *Thursday, May 24 at Los Angeles, 9 p.m. (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 7: *Saturday, May 26 at Phoenix, 8 p.m. (TBD, CBC)

Three storylines to follow

1. The goaltending. Early punditry figures this series will be decided in net, where Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith have been their teams’ MVPs thus far (and two of the leading Conn Smythe candidates as well.) Being Pacific Division rivals, the two have faced off numerous times this season, reflected in their statistics:

Quick vs. Phoenix: 3-1-2, 9.32 save percentage, 1.79 GAA, two shutouts

Smith vs. L.A.: 3-1-1, .938 save percentage, 1.76 GAA, one shutout.

2. The rivalry. A full season of scrapping in the airtight Pacific resulted in these two disliking each other a great deal. Most of the malice stems from a Feb. 16 game in Los Angeles that featured the following chain of events:

Dustin Brown taking out Rostislav Klesla with a high hit (Klesla missed 10 games as a result.)

Shane Doan fighting Brown.

Martin Hanzal fighting Mike Richards.

Raffi Torres fighting Colin Fraser.

Paul Bissonnette fighting Kevin Westgarth.

Two weeks later — in the sixth and final regular season tilt — Kings forward Kyle Clifford was given five and a game for a headshot on Phoenix’s Gilbert Brule.

3. The travel. “I think it’s pretty obvious that Phoenix would definitely be the better team from a travel standpoint,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said prior to the Coyotes’ defeating Nashville. “Being an hour flight or less there and back — that’s the only obvious advantage to Phoenix.”

While last year’s Western Conference final between Vancouver and San Jose was a booking agent’s dream — the two cities are a two-hour flight apart and share a time zone — it hasn’t always been that way:

2010: Chicago and San Jose (1835 miles apart)
2008: Detroit and Dallas (998 miles apart)
2007: Anaheim and Detroit (1968 miles apart)

It’s roughly 350 miles between Los Angeles and Phoenix.

And then another 10 to Glendale.

Records (reg. season)

No. 3 Phoenix: 42-27-13, 97 points (1st in Pacific) | No. 8 LA: 40-27-15, 95 points (3rd in Pacific)

Leading playoff scorers

Phoenix: Antoine Vermette (5G-4A-9PTS) | LA: Dustin Brown (6G-5A-11PTS)

Starting goalies

Phoenix: Mike Smith (8-3, 1.77 GAA) | LA: Jonathan Quick (8-1, 1.55 GAA)

Head-to-head

Season series tied 3-3

Oct. 20: Los Angeles 2, at Phoenix 0
Oct. 29: at Phoenix 3, Los Angeles 2, SO
Dec. 26: at Los Angeles 4, Phoenix 3
Jan. 5: at Los Angeles 1, Phoenix 0, OT
Feb. 16: Phoenix 1, at Los Angeles 0
Feb. 21: at Phoenix 5, Los Angeles 4, SO

Playoff history

First meeting

2012 playoffs

Phoenix: Def. Chicago 4-2 (WC quarters), def. Nashville 4-1 (WC semis) | LA: Def. Vancouver 4-1 (WC quarters), def. St. Louis 4-0 (WC semis)

2011 playoffs

Phoenix:  Lost to Detroit 4-0 (WC quarters) | L.A.: Lost to San Jose 4-2 (WC quarters)

Stanley Cups

Phoenix: None | Los Angeles: None

Injuries

Phoenix: Raffi Torres (suspension), Kurt Sauer (concussion) | Los Angeles: Scott Parse (hip), Kevin Westgarth (hand), SimonGagne (concussion)

Poll

Datsyuk ‘wants to make sure the Wings have options,’ says his agent

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 21:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings checks his stick before a face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Pavel Datsyuk‘s future with the Detroit Red Wings and in the National Hockey League has been up in the air for a while now, as he’s linked to rumors of a return to Russia and the KHL.

His agent, Dan Milstein, recently explained to the Detroit Free Press that Datsyuk’s future should become clear in mid-June after meeting with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.

As per General Fanager, Datsyuk has one more year left on his current deal, which comes with a cap hit of $7.5 million.

From the Detroit Free Press:

“He would like to leave, but at the same time, he wants to make sure the Wings have options,” Milstein said. “He wants to help the team any way he can with the salary cap issue.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland has said there are no loopholes. Because Datsyuk signed his last contract after he turned 35, his $7.5 million salary cap hit remains in tact even if Datsyuk departs. The Wings’ only option is to trade his contract to a team such as Arizona or Carolina that could use the hefty cap hit in order to be above the salary cap minimum.

At the age of 37, his career in the league started in 2001-02, and has spanned 953 regular season games in which he’s accrued 918 points.

He’s had a highly decorated career, with two Stanley Cup championships with the Red Wings, three Selke and four Lady Byng trophies.

Allen or Elliott? Another goalie decision looms for Hitchcock

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal against Nick Spaling #16 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues need to win Game 6 on Wednesday, or their season is over. Who they decide to turn to in net is likely to be a talking point — heated debate, maybe? — leading up to that contest.

Do they go back to Jake Allen for a third consecutive start, despite the fact he allowed four goals on 25 shots in Monday’s Game 5 loss to the San Jose Sharks? Or, will head coach Ken Hitchcock turn once again to Brian Elliott, who started every single game from the series opener of the first round versus Chicago to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

Hitchcock at least felt that going with Allen over Elliott in Game 4 provided the necessary spark for his team, as the Blues evened the series.

But on Monday, the Sharks, on the strength of two Joe Pavelski goals, eventually overpowered the Blues for the win, moving San Jose one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was fine. I don’t know, those are decisions we make in a day or so. But I thought he was fine today. He stopped some point-blank shots, especially early, three times early,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“I don’t know. That’s stuff we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final

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The San Jose Sharks won a back-and-forth Game 5 to take back the lead in a back-and-forth Western Conference Final, moving one victory away from appearing in the Stanley Cup Final.

After scoring the tying goal late in the second period, Joe Pavelski notched his 12th of the playoffs to give San Jose the lead for good just 16 seconds into the third period.

The Sharks earned a 6-3 victory on the road, in a bounce-back effort from Saturday.

Twice, the Blues grabbed the lead. Troy Brouwer gave them the advantage in the first period, showing off his baseball skills by batting the puck into the net on a rebound. Robby Fabbri gave them another lead in the second period, making Roman Polak pay for snapping on Dmitrij Jaskin along the boards.

But the Blues couldn’t hold on. The Sharks scored twice on three power play opportunities and can now clinch the Western Conference on home ice in Wednesday’s Game 6.

As for the Blues, will Ken Hitchcock change up his starting goaltender again? It’s certainly an aspect of this series that will once again be up for debate leading up to Wednesday’s game.

After Brian Elliott had backstopped the Blues through the first two rounds and started the first three games of this series, Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in Game 4.

Allen recorded the win Saturday, and was called upon again in Game 5 as expected, but gave up four goals on 25 shots Monday.

Video: Sharks’ Polak snaps, Blues make him pay on the power play

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San Jose Sharks defenseman Roman Polak took serious issue with St. Louis Blues forward Dmitrij Jaskin during the second period, as the two eventually threw off the gloves off in a fight in the corner.

In the process, Polak let his emotions get the better of him — he snapped — by also taking a roughing minor to give the Blues a power play.

The Blues made him — and the Sharks — pay on a blast from Robby Fabbri, who was a game-time decision for Monday’s contest.

The Sharks tied the game at 3-3 before the end of the second period on Joe Pavelski‘s 11th of the playoffs. Pavelski struck again in the third period, giving San Jose the 4-3 lead.