PHT Morning Skate: Blackhawks, Kings ready for historic Game 7

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Game 7: Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks [Series is tied at 3-3] (8:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN)

The last series against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks was a bit anticlimactic with Chicago taking out the then defending Stanley Cup champions in five games. When the Blackhawks claimed Game 1 of this series, it marked their eighth win over the Kings in nine meetings.

These are two of the best franchises in recent history, but it was so one-sided that it was hard to even call them rivals.

“A rivalry only exists when the other team wins,” Kings forward Justin Williams said following Game 1. “We haven’t beat them yet. We have that set for us and we need to rise to the challenge.”

Williams found the back of the net late in the second period of Game 2, starting a run of six unanswered Kings goals to even the series. Less than two weeks later, there’s no question that these teams are true rivals.

“I think this series deserves a Game 7,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said, per the Chicago Tribune. “I think that the crowd deserves it too. I think it’s going to be a great finish to a great series. Hopefully we’ll be the winner.”

It will be worth keeping an eye on Williams tonight. He already has six goals and 12 points in six career Game 7s. That’s one shy of the points record held by Doug Gilmour and a goal short of the Glenn Anderson’s Game 7 record, per NHL.com. The Kings can also lean on one of the best Game 7 coaches in the history of the league.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter is tied for the most career Game 7 victories (six in nine attempts) with legendary bench bosses Pat Burns and Scotty Bowman. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has plenty of success to draw on too. In fact, he has an opportunity tonight to become the fourth coach in history to record his 100th postseason victory.

Los Angeles would also become the first team to advance to the Stanley Cup Final after playing in the full 21 games through three rounds.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks are trying to become the first team to ever overcome 3-1 series deficits in back-to-back campaigns after pulling it off against the Detroit Red Wings last year. They’ll be led by Patrick Kane, who has pushed Chicago this far by scoring two goals and seven points in his last two contests. His counterpart, Jonathan Toews, is on a four-game point streak.

But most importantly, the winner tonight will go to face the New York Rangers with an opportunity to claim the Stanley Cup for either the third time in five years (Chicago) or second time in three campaigns (Los Angeles).

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

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We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.