Kings top Blackhawks in Game 7 OT, advance to Stanley Cup Final

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The 2014 Western Conference finals received the great game this spellbinding series deserved. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Kings edged the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 5-4 in overtime to advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers.

Alec Martinez’s shot took an odd carom off of Nick Leddy to decide the series with the kind of bounce that often determines playoff overtime contests.

The Kings saw their 3-1 series lead dissolve into a 3-3 tie, yet it gave them another chance to display their resounding resilience. They’ve done something that no other team has done: win three road Game 7’s in the same postseason. If nothing else, they would host the Rangers in a Game 7 if the championship round goes that far.

Martinez provided an interesting take on his team’s resiliency:

A fitting end

Really, Game 7 seemed like a microcosm of the 2014 Western Conference finals as a whole. There was a frenzy of goals, the Blackhawks’ leads barely lasted (Los Angeles tied it three times tonight) and then the contest settled into a nail-biter.

The first period provided that frenzy. The Blackhawks charged out to a 2-0 lead, yet some great shots and shaky goaltending ensured that there wasn’t a dull moment. Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick likely didn’t feel very confident about their games going into the first intermission … although the familiarity of it all likely dulled that tension.

The two teams traded goals in the second period to set up a tense third period. With the Kings’ season on the line, Marian Gaborik found a way to push this series into the first conference final Game 7 overtime since the New York Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils back in 1994.

Quick made 37 out of 41 saves as he finished strong while Crawford had the toughest night even before that game-winner (which wasn’t really his fault), allowing five goals on 32 Kings shots.

This marks the Kings’ second Stanley Cup Final appearance in the last three seasons while Chicago’s title defense comes to an end. A lot can change in this parity-friendly salary cap era, yet the feeling is that these two teams may very well fight for the West crown for the foreseeable future.

If that’s the case, they’ll struggle to top this instant-classic series.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.