Justin (over) time: Williams the OT hero as Kings take Game 1

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On Wednesday night, Mr. Game 7 was Mr. Game 1.

Justin Williams, the NHL’s all-time leader in Game 7 scoring, netted the overtime winner to give the L.A. Kings a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center.

The goal came just 4:36 into the extra frame and is one Rangers alternate captain Dan Girardi will want to forget. His defensive-zone turnover landed ended up on the stick of Williams, who made no mistake sniping past Henrik Lundqvist for his eighth goal of the postseason.

Williams’ winner came after an entertaining regulation period loaded with scoring chances.

The Rangers took a 2-0 lead late in the first period, capitalizing on a pair of L.A. mistakes in less than two minutes. The first came when Benoit Pouliot took advantage of a Drew Doughty turnover and buried his breakaway chance past Jonathan Quick; 102 seconds later, Carl Hagelin scored in a somewhat similar fashion when he sped past Slava Voynov for a breakaway chance that was saved by Quick, but deflected in off the Kings blueliner.

Undeterred, the Kings clawed back and cut the lead to one when Kyle Clifford scored his first goal of the playoffs with 2:30 left in the first. That gave L.A. life, and it carried the momentum into the second period when Drew Doughty knotted the score at two, with a nifty individual effort.

It was almost fitting tonight’s game went to OT. It was the 24th overtime game of this postseason, and the second consecutive Stanley Cup Final to open with overtime after Chicago and Boston went to triple-OT in Game 1 last year. It was also the third time in four games Los Angeles went to an extra session.

For the Rangers, tonight’s loss will be disheartening. They had a tremendous chance to gain a split of the games in Los Angeles and won’t be happy about blowing a two-goal lead. The Blueshirts also squandered a solid effort from Lundqvist, who stopped 40 of 43 shots.

For the Kings, the win continued their postseason resiliency narrative. A team that trailed in both of its first two series and three times in Game 7 against Chicago once again found a way to rally and emerge the victor, and is now just three wins away from its second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

Rangers make changes after loss in Anaheim

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The scuffling New York Rangers — coming off a 6-3 loss Sunday in Anaheim, and with just two wins in their last seven — are expected to have a slightly different lineup tonight in San Jose.

Up front, winger Matt Puempel is likely to replace rookie Pavel Buchnevich. And on the back end, Dan Girardi will come in for Kevin Klein.

The Girardi-for-Klein switch is no huge surprise. Both d-men have been battling injuries, with Klein only returning Sunday after an extended absence due to back spasms. Head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters that he “didn’t want to put two injured defensemen in at the same time,” so Klein gets the night off tonight.

As for the potential scratching of Buchnevich, that decision would be slightly more controversial. The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists in his last 11 games, but clearly has not gained the full trust of his coach.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in goal after a tough return to the net against the Ducks.

Canucks hint at shutting down injured Markstrom

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It doesn’t sound like Jacob Markstrom will play any more games for the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The 27-year-old goalie has been trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the Canucks’ skills competition on Feb. 26.

“I don’t think things are great,” head coach Willie Desjardins said today. “We’ve got to make a medical decision on him.”

It has to be frustrating for Markstrom, who was hoping to challenge Ryan Miller for the starting job this year. The tall Swede played well at times, going 10-11-3 with a .910 save percentage — but in the end, he only made 23 starts.

“He’s a good goalie,” Desjardins said of Markstrom. “He can challenge for the number-one spot. Every time he goes in net, I’ve got lots of confidence in him. He’s left his mark this year.”

Markstrom is signed through 2019-20, while Miller is a pending unrestricted free agent.

It’s possible that the Canucks will re-sign Miller and come back with the same netminding tandem next season.

Oilers sign Walter Brown Award winner Gambardella

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Joe Gambardella, the UMass-Lowell senior that scored 52 points in 41 games this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Edmonton, the club announced on Monday.

Gambardella, 23, captured this year’s Walter Brown award as the top American-born collegiate player in New England. He beat out the likes of Clayton Keller, Colin White, Charlie McAvoy and Tage Thompson for the honor, and joined a distinguished list of past winners.

Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey won the Walter Brown in ’16 and ’15, while Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau won it in ’14.

Gambardella is the first UMass-Lowell player to ever win the award, which has been given out annually since 1953. It capped off a nice year in which he also paced the River Hawks to the NCAA tournament.

An undrafted free agent, Gambarella’s ELC will kick in next season. It’s also worth noting that one of his UMass-Lowell teammates, defenseman Michael Kapla, signed with the Devils earlier today.

 

 

Coyotes to honor Cunningham for his ‘tremendous courage’

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The Arizona Coyotes will honor Craig Cunningham with a ceremonial puck drop on April 8 before their final home game of the season against the Minnesota Wild.

From the team press release:

Cunningham, who survived a medical emergency prior to the Tucson Roadrunners game on November 19, has made a remarkable recovery. Fans will have an opportunity to congratulate him on the tremendous courage, willpower and perseverance he’s demonstrated throughout his rehabilitation.

Cunningham was recently honored by the Roadrunners.

The 26-year-old’s hockey career is unfortunately over after doctors were forced to amputate part of his left leg due to concerns over infection.

True to form, though, he’s maintained a positive attitude.

“Obviously I miss playing every single day, and I miss the atmosphere around the locker room,” Cunningham said, per the Arizona Daily Star. “The guys have been great. From Day 1, they’ve been to see me every day. It’s been pretty incredible.”