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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

Against the odds: Team Europe provides Team Canada’s most difficult challenge in World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Team Europe looks on after their defeat to Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey Championship during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Team Canada defeated Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Peter Power/Getty Images)
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The World Cup of Hockey is over. It received praise and it received criticism in its return.

In a twist from previous tournaments, organizers decided to field a Team North America, consisting of players under the age of 23 from the U.S. and Canada, and a Team Europe, consisting of players from eight different countries outside of Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia.

Both teams were called gimmicks.

Against the odds — 33/1 to win the tournament when it began — Team Europe overcame a sluggish start in the pre-tournament round to nearly force a third and decisive game in the World Cup final versus powerhouse Canada.

At the beginning, the addition of Team Europe, led by Anze Kopitar, to this competition looked to be a regrettable idea. Team North America skated them into the ground in those pre-tournament games.

Team Canada’s depth and skill was something to behold. Many of this team’s players have come together at the Olympics, and before that, the world juniors. This should give you an idea of their domination the last six years: Sidney Crosby is now 25-0 in his last 25 games for the Canadian national team dating back to the 2010 Olympics, according to the NHL.

After being by far the best team in this tournament through the round robin and semifinal, Team Canada was tested in the final. On Thursday, Team Europe played great for 57 minutes and was that close to winning the game, before Canada’s improbable comeback.

“They played their hearts out. When you see the minutes on some of the guys and you see the effort of players that reached for their potential all the way through the game, it’s extremely painful to see the final result,” Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger told reporters.

“But I feel nothing but pride of the way this group performed today, the challenge they put up against Canada. This group just continued to surprise and beat the odds and beat the thoughts of everybody that was watching.

“I think we turned this into a hell of a final, which nobody expected, and it was certainly the best game played by anybody against Canada in this tournament was today. And now we have to digest it.”

Not bad for a team considered to be a gimmick.

Video: Brad Marchand buries late short-handed winner for Team Canada

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On Monday, Brad Marchand signed a lucrative eight-year, $49 million contract extension with the Boston Bruins.

On Thursday, he scored the winning goal — on the penalty kill — for Team Canada, as it fought back to win Game 2 of the World Cup final by a score of 2-1. Patrice Bergeron and Marchand scored 2:09 apart late in the third period, as the Canadians came back to stun Team Europe, which had controlled a good portion of Thursday’s game.

While it had been the line of Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Marchand that had caused the opposition problems in this tournament, Jonathan Toews actually set up the winner, as he rushed up the ice on the penalty kill and dropped to Marchand.

The Bruins forward then ripped a shot past Jaroslav Halak.

Not a bad few days for Marchand.

Team Canada stuns Team Europe with late comeback to claim World Cup

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 29: Patrice Bergeron #37 of Team Canada is congratulated by his teammate Steven Stamkos #91 after scoring a third period goal during the third period during Game Two of the World Cup of Hockey final series at the Air Canada Centre on September 29, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Team Canada defeated the Team Europe 2-1.  (Photo by Peter Power/Getty Images)
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John Tavares hit the post on a wide open net. Steven Stamkos whiffed on a one-time slap shot attempt. And Team Europe shut down every other player wearing red and white — for about 57 minutes.

Yup. It looked like it would be that kind of night for Team Canada.

After running through the World Cup competition during the round robin and semifinal portions, Canada was facing the possibility it could suddenly be forced into a third and decisive game against an underdog Team Europe.

Cue an improbable comeback.

Down 1-0 and finding it difficult to get anything going offensively, it started for Team Canada with a power play goal on a deflection from Patrice Bergeron. And then, with 44 seconds remaining in regulation time, the Canadians struck again, this time on the penalty kill, as Jonathan Toews set up Brad Marchand for what turned out to be the winning goal.

Team Canada, which has won back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics, claims the World Cup, winning Game 2 on Thursday by a final score of 2-1. Sidney Crosby was named tournament MVP.

As per David Amber of Sportsnet, Crosby joins Joe Sakic as the only two players to win the World Cup, Olympic gold, world championships, world juniors, Stanley Cup, Hart Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Team Canada had surged by its opponents thanks to such a deep, skilled lineup and the goaltending of Carey Price. But after taking the first game of this best-of-three series, the Canadians looked completely out of sync in the second act.

They weren’t the faster team, especially in the first period.

They turned the puck over. They gave up too many odd-man rushes. Their power play didn’t capitalize — until it mattered the most.

If it weren’t for the play of Price, this one could’ve been a blowout. His best save came off Marian Hossa late in the third period.

Since the elimination of Team USA, Team North America, Team Russia and Team Sweden, it seemed like the drama would be drained from this tournament as it came to its close, the Canadians looking like a runaway champion.

The final seemed like it was only a formality.

For a long time Thursday, it looked like Team Europe could actually force a Game 3. But Canada has found another way to win.

But this time, it was far from a dominant effort.

Report: No timetable for Sharks’ Meier to return from illness

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 26:  Timo Meier poses for a portrait after being selected ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Timo Meier and the San Jose Sharks aren’t taking any chances.

An illness, reported to initially be strep throat, has kept the prospect forward off the ice for five straight days, as per Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area. There is no timetable for his return, the report adds, and that could have an impact on whether Meier makes the Sharks roster out of training camp.

From CSN Bay Area:

The illness has likely diminished Meier’s chances to make the opening night roster, as he’ll miss the Sharks’ second preseason game on Friday and will probably not be in any condition to play on Sunday in Vancouver, either. It was thought before camp that the ninth overall pick from the 2015 draft was ready to seriously challenge for a spot on the Sharks, perhaps even as a replacement for Tomas Hertl on the top line if Hertl becomes third line center.

Meier spent last season in the QMJHL, where he scored 34 goals and 87 points in 52 games split between the Halifax Mooseheads and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

It was around this time last year the Sharks sent Meier back to junior, after he left quite an impression on the Sharks coaching staff during the preseason.