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Kings court: L.A.’s five candidates for Conn Smythe

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First things first, the Stanley Cup Final is far from over. The Los Angeles Kings’ 3-2 overtime win against the New York Rangers in Game 1 showed that this series could be a lot closer than many fans and experts were expecting.

All that aside, if the Kings do win the Stanley Cup, voters are going to have a real hard time settling on one player from Los Angeles to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Five players have distinctly good cases to make to take home the hardware when it’s all said and done. Let’s take a look at the arguments for each of them.

Anze Kopitar — Kopitar leads the playoffs in points scored with 24. He’s been consistently great offensively all throughout the playoffs and he’s been equally strong, if not better, defensively. He’s shut down and outplayed Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jonathan Toews and is working on Derek Stepan now. If great and consistent all-around play gets it done, he’s your guy.

Marian Gaborik — His 12 goals are tops in the postseason. He’s been everything the Kings have hoped for in helping them have a definitively threatening top line. Playing alongside Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown has helped drive the Kings offense since his arrival at the deadline. It’s not just goals either as he’s piled up 19 points, good for fifth overall in the postseason.

Jeff Carter — Carter has quietly caught up to Kopitar in points (23) and has ignited L.A.’s second line with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli on his wings. His nine goals put him just behind Gaborik for tops in the playoffs and putting him back at center apart from Mike Richards has helped L.A. become impossible to deal with up the middle.

Justin Williams — You’re probably sick of hearing about his “clutch” play by now but… Can it really be argued anymore? His overtime winner in Game 1 and continued great play in Game 7s through the playoffs has turned him into a mythological character and cult hero in L.A. On top of all that he has 20 points in the playoffs. He’s not just showing up in big moments but all throughout the playoffs.

Drew Doughty — Doughty’s goal to make it 2-2 in Game 1 was something for the all-time highlight reels. His offensive output throughout the postseason has made him out to be a must-watch player and his 17 points make him the highest-scoring defenseman in the playoffs. Add that to his workload averaging nearly 28 minutes per game and matching up against the opponents top players nightly and you’ve got an MVP-like player.

We can’t stress enough that the series isn’t over and if the Rangers do win it’s probably Henrik Lundqvist who walks away with the Conn Smythe, but with an array of talent like this to wrangle, he and the voters will have their hands full.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber celebrates after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the second period in Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal playoff series Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.