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.

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.”