Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings reacts to his goal with the bench to take a 1-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks during the first period in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on May 2, 2013 in Anaheim, California.

Wings figure to benefit from Eastern Conference move

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For years the Detroit Red Wings sat patiently, waiting for NHL realignment to move them into a more time-zone and travel friendly setup.

Now the wait is over.

Beginning next season, the Wings will play in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division along with the Bruins, Sabres, Panthers, Canadiens, Senators, Lightning and Maple Leafs.

Needless to say, players were thrilled to learn they’d be leaving the Western Conference, dramatically cutting down on cross-country flights.

“We’ve traveled back and forth, across the United States quite a bit,” Jimmy Howard told the Macomb Daily back in May. “To move to the East I think that would be a lot of fun to play a lot of games in the Eastern Time Zone. It would be great for our fans too, not having to stay up until all hours of the night to watch us.

“I think the travel sometimes takes years off of all of our lives.”

Traditionally one of the NHL’s most-traveled teams, Detroit figures to cut down its mileage in 2013-14. Some diligent work from SB Nation’s On The Forecheck suggests the Wings will log 35,324 miles — a far cry from the 42,865 they played in the last full NHL season (2011-12).

The real boon, though, might come in the playoffs.

The 2013 postseason was a tough one for Detroit, especially in the opening round. Its series with Anaheim went the full seven games, meaning the Wings had to endure five cross-country trips totaling more than 10,000 miles. There was also the endless switching of time zones (three hour difference), all of which took its toll.

“The worst is going back from [Pacific Standard Time] to the Eastern,” defenseman Kyle Quincey told MLive.com. “It’s a four- or five-hour flight with a three-hour time change. You get on a plane at 9 in the morning, you get home, the next thing you know you get back to your place and where did the day go?”

All that said, Detroit won’t escape the West entirely this year. It’ll have two significant swings: One through Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from Oct. 30-Nov. 4, and another through Dallas, San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim from Jan. 4-12.

The move will also affect Detroit’s relationship with one of its biggest rivals — the Chicago Blackhawks. Whereas the two teams would meet routinely during the regular season, next year sees them face off just twice…something at least one Red Wing is OK with.

“I don’t think we’ll miss playing them six times a year,” said Niklas Kronwall.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.