PHT Morning Skate: Rangers battle to return to Stanley Cup Final

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It was less than a week ago that the Chicago Blackhawks had a 1-0 series lead in the Western Conference Final and were up 2-0 against Los Angeles late in the second period of Game 2. The Kings overcame that deficit with six unanswered goals and haven’t looked back since.

With a 5-2 victory last night, the Kings have a commanding 3-1 series lead for the first time in the playoffs.

We’ve seen them excel with their backs against the wall during their 2014 postseason run. The question now is if Chicago will be able to give them a taste of their own medicine or if the Kings will eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions just one year after Chicago did the same thing to them.

While the Kings and Blackhawks get ready for a critical Game 5, the Rangers and Canadiens will play in a key contest of their own.

Game 5: Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers [Rangers lead series 3-1] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

When Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was eliminated from the series after just one game, it was fair to wonder if Montreal’s chances of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final were going with him. In desperation they turned to Dustin Tokarski, a 24-year-old with just 10 games worth of NHL experience, in the hopes that he could at least hold his own against a world-class netminder like New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.

Tokarski has risen to the challenge, but as it turns out, that alone might not be enough to save the Canadiens’ season.

Following the Rangers’ 7-2 blowout victory in Game 1, each game has been decided by two or fewer goals and the last two contests have gone to overtime. However, the fact that the Rangers have been winning by the skin of their teeth doesn’t make the situation any less dire for Montreal.

Martin St. Louis, the overtime hero in Game 4, has been superb and former Canadiens draft pick Ryan McDonagh has frustrated Montreal. Even Rick Nash has finally been clicking finally ended his goal scoring drought earlier in the series.

With the Rangers’ best looking sharp, the stage seems to be set for them to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994. At the same time, they know how little it would take for everything they’ve built to fall apart.

“This is far from over,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said after Game 4. “I remember sitting in here down 3-1 against Pittsburgh. They will feel bad tonight, but tomorrow they will wake up in front of their home crowd and once that game starts, 3-1, you throw that out the window and it is back in the battle again.

“We have to realize the longer it goes the more life and more belief they get, so it’s going to be a very important start to the next game.”

We’ve seen so many remarkable comebacks already in the 2014 playoffs. Montreal would certainly like to give us another.

Blockbuster: Rangers send Stepan, Raanta to Coyotes for No. 7 pick, DeAngelo

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Just when you thought Stan Bowman was the busiest man at draft weekend, John Chayka upped the ante.

Just minutes after acquiring Niklas Hjalmarsson from the ‘Hawks, Chayka went out and acquired veteran Rangers center Derek Stepan — along with netminder Antti Raanta — in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick at tonight’s draft, and young d-man Anthony DeAngelo.

The trade was first broken by TSN’s Darren Dreger, later confirmed by fellow TSNer Bob McKenzie.

Phew.

In Stepan the Coyotes get a massive upgrade at the center position, which was bereft of talent for all of last season. It’s why Arizona had been tied to Stepan for most of this week. The 27-year-old has consistently been able to go beyond the 50-point plateau, with 17 goals and 55 points last season, and will certainly be a boost to Arizona’s crop of talented young forwards.

Stepan’s entering the third year of a six-year, $39 million contract that comes with an annual cap hit of $6.5 million. And, importantly, the Rangers moved him prior to his no-trade clause kicking in next season. The money freed up by trading Stepan could be used in free agency to land, say, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

As for the other part of this deal, the Coyotes could also have their starting netminder of the future in Raanta, now that Mike Smith has been shipped off to Calgary. Raanta has been one of the league’s best backups working behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York, and a new No. 2 goalie is probably on the Rangers’ revised shopping list.

This trade also gives New York a pair of first-rounders this evening — the Rangers already held the No. 21 overall selection — which is important, given GM Jeff Gorton is without second- and third-round picks. They Blueshirts also received a good puck mover in DeAngelo, a former first-round pick himself.

DeAngelo, 21, made his NHL debut last year and scored 14 points in 39 games. He’s been described as a skilled offensive defenseman, but one with a history of disciplinary issues. That continued last year in Arizona, when he was suspended three games for abuse of an official.

More to follow…

 

Chicago Fire: ‘Hawks re-acquire Saad, send Panarin to Columbus as massive shakeup continues

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Stan Bowman has made good on his promise for big changes in Chicago.

Just minutes after sending longtime defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, Bowman got the band back together by re-acquiring former ‘Hawk Brandon Saad, who he traded to Columbus two years ago.

Per Sportsnet, the Blue Jackets will receive Artemi Panarin in exchange. Right now it’s unclear if any other pieces are involved in the deal, though earlier the ‘Hawks were reportedly looking to move up to the No. 7 pick in tonight’s draft, a pick Arizona currently holds.

UPDATE: Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Chicago will also get goalie Anton Forsberg and Columbus’ fifth-round pick in 2018. Columbus will get Tyler Motte and Chicago’s sixth-round pick this year.

Saad left Chicago shortly after the 2015 Stanley Cup win, in a deal that landed the ‘Hawks Artem Aninisov and a handful of others. The 24-year-old has since gone on to score 31 and 24 goals in his two years with the Blue Jackets.

Immediately after Saad left, Panarin joined the ‘Hawks and immediately stepped in as a frontline contributor. He’s posted back-to-back 30-goal campaigns — capturing the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie in 2016 — and has been a dynamic offensive player, often alongside Patrick Kane.

As for the money involved, both carry identical $6 million hits. Big difference is that Saad’s locked in through 2021, whereas Panarin is eligible to be a UFA in 2019. So there’s certainly more cost certainty for Bowman with this trade.

More to follow…

After helping ‘change the culture,’ Greene’s Kings career ends with buyout

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The Los Angeles Kings made it official on Friday and bought out the remaining years of defenseman Matt Greene‘s contract.

Greene spent nine years as a member of the Kings, winning two Stanley Cups with the team in 2011-12 and 2013-14.

In a statement announcing the move, team president Luc Robitaille spoke about Greene’s impact on the organization and how he helped change the team’s culture as soon as he arrived.

“Matt has made incredible contributions to our hockey club and we are very grateful for everything he has done since joining our organization including his outstanding leadership,” said Robitaille.

“Upon his arrival to Los Angeles he played a significant role in helping change the culture of the Kings and his contributions to our two Stanley Cups in particular is immeasurable.”

Injuries have completely decimated Greene’s career in recent years, limiting him to just 154 games over the past five seasons.

The buyout will cost the Kings a salary cap hit of $833,333 for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Trade: Chicago sends Hjalmarsson to Coyotes for Murphy, Dauphin

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One of the key pieces of Chicago’s three Stanley Cup championships is on the move.

Blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson, who’s spent his entire 10-year career with the Blackhawks, has been dealt to Arizona in exchange for fellow defenseman Connor Murphy, and prospect Laurent Dauphin.

Hjalmarsson, 30, has been a staple of the Chicago defense for quite some time. He’s durable, having only missed 11 games over the last four seasons, and has earned his reputation as a reliable top-four defensive defenseman.

As for the financials, Hjalmarsson has two years remaining on a five-year, $20.5 million deal with a $4.1M average annual cap hit. It’s worth noting he has a modified no-trade clause, in which he had to submit a 10-team trade list.

Murphy, 24, just wrapped the first of a six-year, $23.1 million deal with a $3.85M hit. That he was moved has to come as some surprise, given he signed a lengthy extension just last summer and, at the time, GM John Chayka said Murphy was “a guy we think can be part of our leadership group for a long time moving forward.”

Murphy appeared in 77 games for the Coyotes last year, scoring 17 points. It’s probably worth noting his TOI actually decreased after signing his extension, from 20:30 in ’15-16 to just 19:11 last year.

Dauphin, 22, was the 39th overall pick in 2013. He split last year between Arizona and AHL Tucson, and was a good scorer at the minor league level (28 points in 38 games).