Daniel Sedin

Five Q’s: Canucks-Sharks series preview


Will Cory Schneider sink or swim?

Schneider finished the regular season with great numbers (17-9-4, .927 SV%), and he was especially good in March and April as Roberto Luongo was relegated mostly to the bench. But Schneider only has four career playoff starts — a pittance of big-game experience compared to the man he supplanted. The 27-year-old’s ability to handle stress and maintain an even keel will be paramount if the Canucks are going to have success. This, of course, assumes Schneider actually plays. He’s been nursing a “body” injury that’s kept his status for Game 1 up in the air.

Can Antti Niemi steal the show?

For all the talk about the Canucks’ goaltending — and lord knows there’s been enough of it — let’s not forget about the guy in the Sharks’ crease. Niemi, who backstopped the ‘Hawks to a Stanley Cup in 2010 (beating Vancouver along the way), put together a Vezina-caliber season in San Jose, starting 43 games and posting a .924 save percentage.  “I think the lockout, in the long run, it’s been a good thing for me,” said Niemi recently. “I just got stronger. My legs got stronger.”

Can San Jose keep killing penalties?

The last time these two teams met, in the 2011 Western Conference finals, the Canucks rode their league-best power play to a five-game win. Vancouver scored nine times with the man advantage in that series. In 2013, however, the Canucks had just the 22nd-best PP (15.8%), while the Sharks dramatically improved their penalty killing, finishing the season ranked No. 6 (85.0%). To be fair to the Canucks, they did show some improvement late in the season, scoring on seven of their last 25 PP opportunities (28.0%). New addition Derek Roy has given them another play-maker up front.

What kind of hockey will we see?

Two years ago, the Canucks and Sharks were among the highest-scoring and most entertaining clubs in the NHL. But things, for better or worse, have changed since then. “We are not a run-and-gun team anymore,” Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin told CBC.ca recently. “You’ve got to be good in your own end. When healthy, I think this is as good a team as we have ever had.” Meanwhile, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle put it this way: “Today’s game, there’s not so much pretty plays passing up and down the ice as much as there used to be. Playing quick is getting it out as quick as you can and playing in their zone.”

What’s at stake?

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged Tuesday that his team’s window to win won’t stay open forever. If Vancouver bows out in the first round for the second straight season, the Vigneault coaching era may well be over. Likewise, there will be calls for Todd McLellan’s job if the Sharks don’t get to the second round. This is San Jose’s ninth straight postseason appearance, and the club has yet to advance past the third round. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Dan Boyle can all become unrestricted free agents after the 2013-14 season.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Rangers

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 27:  Ryan Spooner #51 of the Boston Bruins scores a goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during the third period at TD Garden on November 27, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Original Six rivals face off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers come into the game having won two in a row and three out of their past four, while the Bruins were blown out just 24 hours earlier at home against the Minnesota Wild.

Making matters worse for the Bruins is the fact they are also dealing with some major injury issues  having lost their top two goalies (Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin) to injury. That means they will be giving rookie Zane McIntyre his first NHL start after Malcolm Subban was benched on Tuesday.

The Bruins will also be without veteran forward David Backes.

You can catch tonight’s game (8 p.m. ET) on NBCSN or with our NHL Extra live stream.


More links to get you ready for tonight’s game

Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up

Backes undergoes elbow procedure

Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

And he’s still not in the clear.

Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

“I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per NHL.com.

Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.

Another twist to the Seattle arena saga

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Just one day after news broke that investor Chris Hansen was willing to forego public financing to build a downtown arena that could potentially house an NHL and/or NBA team, there’s been another twist in the long-running Seattle saga.

The latest from King 5 News:

If Chris Hansen passed the ball back to the city Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray isn’t ready to execute a slam dunk.

In other words, Murray has other ideas for a new sports arena in Seattle, and it involves Key Arena.

The mayor’s budget director, Ben Noble, told KING 5 that the mayor’s office is quietly exploring a major renovation of Key Arena at Seattle Center. The facility was home to the NBA’s SuperSonics until 2008 when efforts to renovate and expand its size fell through, prompting the team’s sale and move to Oklahoma City.

It’s definitely worth noting that AEG, the same company that owns the Los Angeles Kings, is the facilities manager for Key Arena. It was reported last year that billionaire Victor Coleman had been in touch with AEG, and that his group was willing to explore the Key Arena option for an NHL team.

Coleman, of course, has also worked as Hansen’s NHL partner, though their agreement to work together was reportedly “non-binding.”

At the moment, it’s not clear which option — Hansen’s project or Key Arena — Coleman would prefer to pursue, or even if he’s still involved at all.

But for Seattle hockey fans, the good news is that there’s, well, news.

And there may be more news soon.

Here’s a radio interview with King 5 reporter Chris Daniels, who’s been all over this story:

Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

Letang had a ‘good day’ at practice, Penguins hoping he can return soon

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 09: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks battle for the puck during the third period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, they got Sidney Crosby back.

Soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins should have another key player back in the lineup. Kris Letang, their top defenseman, participated in full-contact practice today, taking the same step Crosby took two days ago.

“He had a good day on the ice today, we’ll see where it goes from there,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who’s missed three games with an upper-body injury. “We’re encouraged with his progress. We’re hoping to get him back soon.”

The Penguins host the Islanders tomorrow night. Don’t be surprised if Letang plays. He skated with Ian Cole at this morning’s practice.

If Letang isn’t ready to go against the Isles, his next opportunity to return will be Saturday in Philadelphia.