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PHT Morning Skate: Shall we begin?

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Game 1: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings (8:00 p.m. ET — NBC)

Tonight, for the first time in his career, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will play in the Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old goaltender, who 14 years ago was wondering if he made a mistake heading over to North America in the first place, has never been closer to cementing the legacy he’s built through years of elite play.

He’ll be countered by former teammate Marian Gaborik, who was taken in the same 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Lundqvist, Gaborik was always highly regarded, but the 32-year-old has forward battled injuries throughout his career and has been traded off twice in the last two years. His stock had fallen so much by the March 5 trade deadline, that Columbus couldn’t even get a first round pick or top prospect from the Kings even after agreeing to retain half of his remaining cap hit.

Just three months later, Gaborik has established himself as perhaps the greatest threat Lundqvist will face. Like the Rangers netminder, tonight will be his first game in the Stanley Cup Final.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This series will be defined by the personal stories of those who have worked their entire lives in the hope of creating opportunities like this one. From forward Brad Richards, who might be playing with in his last games with the Rangers as the nature of his contract still makes him a potential compliance buyout candidate, to his old Tampa Bay teammate Martin St. Louis, who has rejoined him a decade after they led the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship.

Los Angeles won it all in 2012 and with largely the same cast, so there are fewer stories about guys seeking to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time or get that chance again after a long drought, but they have a more ambitious purpose.

The Kings have been to at least the Western Conference Final in three straight years and they’ll have largely the same team back for 2014-15. Drew Doughty is just 24 years old and has already played in 71 playoff games. There’s the potential for him to win multiple championships with the Kings before he retires based on the path this team is going.

In other words, they’re one of the few teams that can compete for that dynasty title that has alluded hockey teams in the salary cap era.

In the days since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, PHT along with the rest of the hockey world has been breaking down this series from every angle imaginable. Doing so is interesting, engaging, and enriches the fan experience, but at the end of the day, half of the people that skate in this series will come up short, head back to their locker room, wonder if they that was their last good shot, and then get to work towards proving that it wasn’t.

And the rest of them will lift the Stanley Cup.

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.