Drew Doughty, Shane Doan, Willie Mitchell

NHL on NBC: Kings look to sweep Coyotes

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On an unprecedented weekend at the Staples Center and for Los Angeles sports in general, the Los Angeles Kings have a chance to sweep the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 on Sunday (3pm ET, NBC).

After struggling to even make the postseason, the Kings have steamrolled through the playoffs so far, becoming just the sixth team and fifth franchise to start a postseason with an 11-1 record. They did it against the cream of the crop in the West, too, as they only lost once while facing the top two seeds in the conference.

Of course, the difference between the Pacific Division champion Coyotes and the two other Pacific playoff teams really came down to a week (or so) of jostling. Mike Smith and some timely scoring carried Phoenix beyond Chicago and Nashville yet it seems like the team’s magic and great play seem to be running out.

Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar are dominating, which isn’t a surprise. Seeing occasional production from Jeff Carter and Mike Richards doesn’t stand as a shock either, but Dwight King’s emergence comes from left field. Meanwhile, the Kings’ defense remains suffocating, their forechecking is fierce and Jonathan Quick remains his dominant self.

The Coyotes get Martin Hanzal back after a Game 3 suspension, yet it seems like their top scorers Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata have been “missing” at times in their own ways. Phoenix has some defensive star power in Keith Yandle and rising prospect Oliver Ekman-Larsson along with Shane Doan’s grizzled leadership. Those players need to be a force in Game 4 (and for the Coyotes, hopefully beyond), but it all comes down to Smith being dominant once again.

Dave Tippett wasn’t happy about the officiating in Game 3 while Darryl Sutter’s been taking the high road with a lot of the bigger discussions. It’ll be interesting to see if the Coyotes getting any “breaks” after Tippett’s controversial takes on “embellishments” in his press conference after Game 3.

Game 4 Notes:

– Dwight King has scored the same amount of goals (five) as Anze Kopitar has in the playoffs this year. Yes, seriously.
– The Kings’ power play has only connected on 9.4 percent of their chances in the postseason, but they’ve been great on the PK (93.8 percent) and outstanding five-on-five. In other words, they sport the same formula that the Boston Bruins boasted in 2011.
– In fact, Los Angeles scored almost as many shorthanded goals (four) as the Coyotes (five) and the Kings (six) have scored on the PP.
– Antoine Vermette is the Coyotes’ leading scorer with just nine points in 14 postseason contests. That’s great work for the former Senators center, yet it doesn’t speak so well for his teammates.

Trade deadline: Caps only need to ‘upgrade on the fringes’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The way the Washington Capitals have been steamrolling their opponents in 2017, it was no surprise to hear GM Brian MacLellan say he doesn’t expect to make major changes ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline.

“This year, I don’t feel that pressure or that need to do anything,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir. “We’re not going to mess with lines or defensive pairs. If we can upgrade on the fringes, we might do it.”

The Caps have already added some defensive depth, acquiring Tom Gilbert last week in a trade with the Kings.

Gilbert is currently with AHL Hershey but could be called upon soon after Matt Niskanen was forced to leave last night’s win over the Flyers.

MacLellan said today that Niskanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, adding that it wasn’t anything “serious.”

“We’ll make sure he’s 100 percent before he comes back,” the GM said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

The Caps’ next game is Friday at home to the Oilers. On Saturday, they’re in Nashville to take on the Predators.

Gaudreau wasn’t demoted for missing team bus, says Gulutzan

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates up to a face off during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 8, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Calgary head coach Glen Gulutzan set the record straight about Johnny Gaudreau missing a team bus for an outdoor practice in New York earlier this month, and Gaudreau’s subsequent fourth-line demotion a week later.

“I can tell you this — it wasn’t a big deal,” Gulutzan explained, per the Calgary Sun. “We were in a gong show that day — we were dressing in a hotel ballroom, it was a real mess.

“He was with the trainer, so he came over with him. It was a 10 a.m. bus and I said, ‘hey do your thing, everyone else get there.’ So he jumped in a cab with (head therapist) Kent (Kobelka).”

The incident occurred on Feb. 4, and made for quite the scene — Gaudreau, decked out in full gear, jumped out of a taxi at Central Park just prior to practice. He then played over 19 minutes the following night against the Rangers, tallying an assist, but two games later was dropped to the bottom line in an ugly 5-0 loss to Arizona.

The initial assumption was Gaudreau got demoted because of an offensive zone turnover at the end of a lengthy shift. But given his history — last year, he was scratched after showing up late for practice following a reported “epic” Super Bowl party — there was some speculation he’d been subjected to another team punishment.

Not the case, said Gulutzan. From the Sun:

He insists no team rules were broken and no discipline was needed.

Gulutzan and other team officials said exceptions weren’t made for the superstar, nor were there whispers on the bus about him getting preferential treatment.

It’s been an up-and-down year for Gaudreau. He missed the entire preseason embroiled in contract negotiations before inking a monster six-year, $40.5 million extension.

He’s oft been the subject of targeting this season, and missed 10 games with a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash. As a result, his production is down — just 11 goals and 39 points through 50 games — and has found the back of the net just once in his last 20 contests.

That said, Gaudreau’s still shown off his incredible offensive talent. In Tuesday’s wild 6-5 OT win over Nashville, he racked up four assists, which included a helper on Mark Giordano‘s winner in the extra frame.

Letang day-to-day, but Schultz hopes to play Saturday

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck in the first period during the game against the San Jose Sharks at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 20, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz is hoping to play Saturday when the Penguins host their rivals from Philadelphia outdoors at Heinz Field.

The 26-year-old offensive defenseman was back at practice today after missing three games with a concussion suffered a week ago.

“It’s good to be back,” Schultz told reporters. “The legs feel really good. Not cleared for contact yet. Hopefully I can be ready for the game.”

Schultz is enjoying a career year with nine goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and the Pens may need him Saturday since Kris Letang is now “day-to-day with an upper-body injury,” according to head coach Mike Sullivan. 

No word how Letang was injured. The 29-year-old managed to log 28:49 of ice time in Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Carolina, but he skipped practice today.

Suffice to say, the Pens’ defense is in a real state of flux at the moment. Trevor Daley is expected to miss the rest of the regular season due to knee surgery, and Olli Maatta is out long term as well. Those two injuries likely hastened GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Ron Hainsey in a trade today with Carolina.

“I’m familiar with him because I signed him in Carolina,” Rutherford said of Hainsey. “He’s a real character guy. He’s a good penalty killer.”

Rutherford added that the Pens may be in the market for another defenseman still.

Pittsburgh has two games left before the March 1 deadline, Saturday against the Flyers and Tuesday in Dallas.

Related: Shattenkirk headlines list of UFA d-men who could be traded

‘Canes waive Bickell in hope of extended AHL stint

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Busy day in Carolina — shortly after sending veteran d-man Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh, the ‘Canes placed forward Bryan Bickell on waivers.

Bickell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis earlier this season, has been training and skating in advance of a comeback.

He’s been out since Oct. 30, and missed the last 48 games.

Today’s move is based on the assumption Bickell, 30, will need more than the standard two-week conditioning stint in the AHL, so the plan is for him to clear, then spend extended time in Charlotte.

“I’ll tell you what: he’s done everything he possibly can to get himself ready and get back at it, so we’ll see where it leads,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the ‘Canes website. “It’s an unreal source of inspiration, and his attitude has been fantastic through this whole thing.

“I give him nothing but credit there.”

Per NHL.com, Bickell originally aimed to return to the ‘Canes following their bye week, targeting a home date against the Avalanche on Feb. 17.

“It all depends too on what other guys are doing if they’re going on a huge streak,” Bickell explained. “I like to see them win. If they need me, I’m sure an extra week of me skating is not going to hurt me.

“We’re just going to wait until after the next treatment and after the bye week and go from there.”

Bickell’s treatment is a monthly intravenous of Tysabri, a drug which helps limit the effects of MS. The 30-year-old said he began feeling better upon taking the medication, and has steadily his skating workload to get up to NHL speed.