Willie Mitchell’s health the big x-factor in Kings’ plans

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Los Angeles defenseman Willie Mitchell was a key piece in the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup championship, but he missed the entire 2013 campaign due to a knee injury. There’s no guarantee he’ll be available for the 2013-14 season either even though he’s shown signs of improvement recently.

That by itself is an unfortunate situation for the Kings to be in, but it’s compounded by the fact that the team is up against the cap and they can’t just assume that Mitchell, along with his $3.5 million cap hit, will end up on the long-term injured reserve list.

“Yeah, it kind of circles around out there because it’s hard enough making decisions when you have all the facts,” Kings GM Dean Lombardi told LA Kings Insider.

“We’re making decisions based upon assumptions we might think will be facts two months from now. So this job is hard enough when you’ve got all the facts and lord knows you guys remind us when we mess up. Now we have to make some of these decisions on assumptions that might or might not be the case, and that’s just the way it is with Willie.

“I mean, we all know how good a player this guy is, how instrumental he is, his fit with his partner there, Voynov. And now, like I said, all the indications are positive in terms of his health. But that could change tomorrow. I can’t give you a definitive answer; it’s a moving target.”

The Kings only have five blueliners signed to one-way contracts, including Mitchell, but defenseman Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby, and Jake Muzzin are all restricted free agents.

On top of that, Rob Scuderi is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and while Lombardi would like to re-sign the veteran defensive defenseman, he realizes that the falling cap ceiling is forcing him to make some tough calls.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.