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Coronation close: Kings blank Rangers, one win away from Stanley Cup

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings as close as they can get to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Mug.

The Rangers, meanwhile, couldn’t feel further away from it.

That was the story from Madison Square Garden on Monday night, as the Kings dispatched of the Rangers 3-0 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead to move within one victory of their second Cup in three years.

On a night of storylines, it’s hard to say which was more compelling — L.A. continuing its uncanny ability to grind out results, or New York getting absolutely deflated in what, heading in, was hyped as the biggest hockey game in the city in the last 20 years.

The acts of deflation were plenty, and consistent. Jonathan Quick took the air out of MSG in the early stages of the opening period, saving  what looked to be a Mats Zuccarello goal with his paddle. Then, at the tail end of the frame, Jeff Carter sucked further life out of the arena by scoring with 0.8 seconds left — to give L.A. its first lead of the series.

Even though the deficit was one goal, you got the feeling the Rangers were cooked.

Some of it had to do with that deflating feeling, but most of it had to do with Quick. The Kings goalie put forth his best effort of the Stanley Cup Final — and, really, his best effort in a couple of weeks, given his struggles in the Chicago series — finishing with a 32-save shutout for his first clean sheet since Game 5 of the opening series against San Jose.

While Quick was doing his thing, his L.A. teammates continued to add to their lead.

Jake Muzzin scored his sixth of the playoffs on the power play early in the second period, and Mike Richards scored his third at 17:17 to cap off the scoring for good. While this was happening, New York kept finding new ways to let the air out of the building — the Rangers went 0-for-6 on the power play in Game 3, putting them at 1-for-14 overall in the series.

For the Rangers, tonight’s game was the latest in a series filled with frustration and disappointment. The Rangers blew four two-goal leads in the opening two games in L.A. and couldn’t muster a win despite twice taking the Kings to overtime; on Monday, the Blueshirts failed to take advantage of a loud, partisan home crowd that seemed desperate for something to cheer for.

Looking ahead, the Rangers also now face the prospect of having to deal with a dialed-in Quick, who hasn’t allowed a goal in over 110 minutes of action.

For the Kings, tonight’s game got them to the brink of another Cup, and provided some symmetry. The script is eerily similar to how they won the Cup in 2012. — two years ago, they beat the Devils in OT in the opening two games before capturing Game 4 by a 4-0 scoreline; this year, they again won two overtime games to start the series before capturing the third, 3-0.

The 2012 Stanley Cup Final did end up going to Game 6, though, which begs the question: Will the Rangers find a way to extend this series on Wednesday, or will we see our first finals sweep since Detroit broomed Washington in 1998?

Kovalev, Brodeur would’ve killed it at All-Star Game’s ‘Four Line Challenge’

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils makes a stick save as Alex Kovalev #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during their game at the Continental Airlines Arena on December 6, 2006 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
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It’s reasonable to bemoan the death of the Breakaway Challenge heading into the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, but we should also give its replacement “The Four Line Challenge” a shot.

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski provides a nice breakdown of some of the ways the event might be great and also why it may not work, stated well here:

This could also be the new “passing pucks into mini-nets,” as these players frustratingly miss shot after shot after reaching a certain distance and the crowd slips slowly into a coma.

Indeed. The event itself is kind of a brain-full to explain in words, so luckily the NHL laid it all out in this video:

Yeah, that’s a lot to digest.

After sorting things out a bit, it does kind of make you miss the sublime skill of Alex Kovalev, who probably would get a fairer shake these days. One of his old mix tapes is basically an argument for this event:

Martin Brodeur also would have been a game-changer, what with goalies getting bonus points later in the competition:

It almost makes you yearn for old-timers to get an invite to the festivities, eh?

Then again, the beauty of competitions like these is we get to find out which All-Stars boast the same freakish skills. There won’t be systems or opponents to get in the way of those displays, either.

Of course, as Wyshynski notes, it also opens the door for silent crowds and players frustratingly missing targets … but there’s a segment of the audience that will love that part the most.

Flames put Gaudreau back with Monahan, life makes a little more sense

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Look, it totally makes sense for teams to strive for scoring depth. Just look at what spreading the wealth did for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Stanley Cup run.

Even so, in these uncertain times, there’s also some comfort to seeing dynamic duos reunite, and the Calgary Herald indicates that will be the case for the Calgary Flames, as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are back together.

The wider consensus is that Monahan generally benefits the most from being with Gaudreau, something you can see plainly in “WOWY” stats.

This specific instance presents an interesting wrinkle, however, as it’s Monahan who has the hot hand.

He’s currently riding a five-game goal streak, and he’s also sprinkled in two assists for good measure. You can tell he’s confident even by looking at shots on goal; Monahan’s fired an impressive 25 on net during the past six games.

“I think I’m getting a lot of chances right now,” Monahan said, via the Calgary Herald. “When you’re getting chances, that means you’re doing things right. When you’re getting those chances, if you’re not putting the puck in the net, it can be frustrating. Right now, I’m getting some lucky bounces.”

(Hey, he might be on a hot streak, but he’s still, well, not a great quote.)

Gaudreau, meanwhile, has one goal in 2017. He has just three points in his last 12 games.

Some of that is failing to get the bounces Monahan mentioned, but maybe Gaudreau’s better off with his partner-in-crime, too? It can’t hurt for the Flames to experiment, especially considering the fact that they have something special in the “MMM Line” of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik.

Really, the bigger question is probably still: who will ultimately fit with Gaudreau and Monahan? For now, the answer is Alex Chiasson, but the Flames are still searching for a better solution.

Gaudreau, Monahan and the rest of the Flames face an interesting test in the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Sens sign Smith to four-year, $13 million extension

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
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Two weeks ago, we passed along word that Ottawa and Zack Smith had engaged in preliminary extension talks.

On Monday, the two sides wrapped ’em up.

Smith and the Sens have agreed to a four-year deal worth $13 million — an average annual cap hit of $3.25 million, as announced this afternoon. It’s a pretty nice pay bump for the 28-year-old, who’s in the final year of a deal that pays $1.88M.

Smith had a breakout performance last year, scoring a career-high 25 goals while averaging a healthy 15:24 TOI per night. This year he’s been equally effective offensively — 11 goals and 22 points in 43 games — and has thrived at times playing on a line with Derick Brassard and Mark Stone.

Smith also earned the praise of his coaching staff, particularly assistant bench boss Marc Crawford.

“He is so strong on the puck and he has got a very good shot,” Crawford explained, per the Citizen. “He’s fearless and he goes to the net.”

This new extension kicks in next season, and will keep Smith in the Canadian capital through 2021. The only players on the current roster locked in for that long are Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan.

 

Pre-game reading: Remembering the ’74-75 Caps, who were just terrible

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— Up top, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh recalls his high-school hockey days in Minnesota, where he won a state championship with Cretin-Derham Hall and received the 2007 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.

— An enjoyable look back at the NHL’s worst-ever team, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. “To date, no team has played at least 70 games while posting fewer points (21), wins (8) or road wins (1) than the 1974-75 Capitals. Nor has any mustered a lower points percentage (.131), allowed more total goals (446), or dropped more contests consecutively (17).” The expansion Caps lost 67 games that season, including ones by scores of 10-4, 11-1, 12-1, 10-0, 10-3, 12-1, and 10-2. Click here to see their entire season. (Sports Illustrated)

— Speaking of expansion teams, Sportsnet recently caught up with Vegas president Kerry Bubolz, who had the following to say about the Golden Knights’ unique market: “We are setting aside some of our ticket inventory for that convention or leisure traveler, but the vast majority of our inventory is going to be sold locally. The local who happens to be from another market, maybe their hometown is Philadelphia or Boston or Chicago… we’re going to be embracing the fact that they may be fans of another team. But we’re going to encourage them to join our team as well. You can only play those other teams once a year.” (Sportsnet)

— A touching tribute from Paul Holmgren to his late brother, Dave, who gave him a gift he’ll never forget. All these years later, Holmgren only wishes he’d made more of an effort to say thanks. “I don’t remember thanking him, even though my father had specifically told me to. And even if I did, I’m convinced that I didn’t thank him enough.” (Player’s Tribune)

— The Boston Globe remembers the last Bruins team to make the playoffs. “Tuukka Rask was doing his thing. Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton formed an excellent top defensive pairing. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were emerging as the best 200-foot tandem in the league with Reilly Smith riding shotgun. Musclemen Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla flanked David Krejci. Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson were chewing up bottom-six forwards and third pairings as third-line partners.” Indeed, it’s a different-looking group today, and management must accept much of the responsibility for what’s gone wrong. That doesn’t mean Claude Julien’s job is safe, but the Globe’s analysis is worth a read. (Boston Globe)

— The NHL has hired an artist to paint 100 portraits of the league’s 100 top players. It’s quite an undertaking for one artist, but for Tony Harris, it’s also “maybe the greatest job I could ever get.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!