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Isles hit the road for whopping nine-game stretch

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NEW YORK (AP) After climbing back into the playoff race with nearly unbeatable play at home the last month, the New York Islanders will need to quickly find a way to win on the road to preserve their postseason hopes.

Just a month ago, the Islanders were in last place in the conference. Now, they sit just two points behind Boston for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. The turnaround has been keyed by a 9-0-2 record in their last 11 at Barclays Center – their longest points streak on home ice since 1982.

“We’ve somehow just got comfortable and we’ve gotten into a rhythm (at home),” forward Ryan Strome said. “We’ve got to try to obviously take that to the road if we want to make the playoffs.”

The Islanders have seven wins on the road, tied with Carolina and Dallas for the fewest in the league, and they play 17 of their final 24 games away from home. They’ll get that started with a franchise-record stretch of nine straight road games over a 19-day span due to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Atlantic Coast Conference men’s college basketball tournament at Barclays Center.

“I think it’s good for us. We’ve been home a lot this year,” forward Andrew Ladd said. “To get the opportunity to go out on the road and spend some time together, it’s not a bad thing. We obviously have to figure out a way to win on the road and be more consistent.”

The strong play at home followed the coaching change on Jan. 17, when assistant Doug Weight was promoted on an interim basis to replace the fired Jack Capuano, who led the Islanders to their first postseason series win in 23 years last April. They were 17-17-8 and in last place in the East, eight games back of a playoff spot, at the time of the change.

The Islanders’ latest win — 6-4 against New Jersey on Sunday — pushed their overall mark to 10-4-2 since.

Weight said he planned to make some adjustments to the team’s routine during the upcoming road swing, including altering video and scouting sessions ahead of games. There also could be some line combination changes during games.

“We got to change things,” Weight said. “We don’t have a good feeling, not a good vibe on the road right now. … We’ve been (home) a lot and we’ve been great (at home) and it’s been a crutch. Hopefully, we can get on the road and get together as a team and start to be that good road team that I believe we can be.”

The stretch of road games will be broken into two trips. The Islanders begin a three-game, five-day trip at Detroit on Tuesday night. After facing Columbus on Saturday, they’ll return home for several days before visiting the Stars on March 2 to start a six-game, 10-day trip.

“It’s a lot of big games in a short period of time,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “We got to be ready and just take it one game at a time but know the importance of each game. … We got to play a full 60 (minutes). We can’t come out with flat starts.”

Last season, the Islanders won six of seven on a trip around the same time on the calendar, and that helped lead them to a second straight playoff appearance. They’ll need similar success to boost their chances to make it three years in a row.

The Islanders don’t return to Brooklyn until they host the Hurricanes on March 13. They are still far short of the 30-game home point streak set 35 years ago – in the midst of their run of four straight Stanley Cup titles. That stretch – which came before teams earned a point for losses in overtime and when there weren’t shootouts to decide ties after the extra period – included a 21-0-2 mark to end the 1981-82 season and a 7-0-0 start to the 1982-83 campaign.

Ducks forward Sorensen signs in Swedish League

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Nick Sorensen, the forward taken 45th overall by Anaheim in 2013, has opted to return to Europe and sign a two-year pact with SHL club Linkoping, the team announced on Tuesday.

Sorensen, 22, returned to North America this season after spending ’14-15 and ’15-16 in Sweden (the latter with Linkoping, so this is a homecoming of sorts).

A former Quebec League standout, Sorensen impressed during training camp and made the Ducks’ opening-night roster, appearing in five games before being dispatched to AHL San Diego.

“Every game, every practice, every day for me, it’s a look to try to stay here,” Sorensen said back in October, per the Daily News. “Even if I play zero, one, five or 20 games, I’m not going to get comfortable up here. It’s the best league in the world.

“I’m just going to try to prove to them every day I want to be here.”

With the Gulls, Sorensen had 10 goals and 22 points in 48 games. He also chipped in with another four in eight playoff contests, but did suffer an injury during the postseason.

Sorensen was a pending RFA, having just wrapped the last year of his entry-level deal.

 

Sens owner: ‘very disturbing’ that tonight’s game may not sell out

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Entire rows in the upper deck of the Canadian Tire Centre still haven’t been sold for tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Not surprisingly, the specter of a non-sellout for one of the biggest home games in franchise history has the Senators’ owner rather concerned.

“It’s very disturbing,” Eugene Melnyk told Postmedia, “however, knowing the players and coaches they will be trying their hardest for Ottawa.”

The Senators’ attendance has been a big story throughout these playoffs. In the second round, a crowd of just 16,744 was announced for Game 1 against the New York Rangers.

It was thought the story would go away once the conference final started. And for Games 3 and 4, capacity crowds were, indeed, announced.

But with no opportunity for the Sens to advance to the Stanley Cup Final tonight, it’s possible the building may not be full.

Via Ticketmaster, the blue dots represent unsold seats, while the pink dots are tickets available for resale:

Flames d-man Smid signs in Czech League

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Ladislav Smid isn’t ready to call it a career yet.

Smid, the 31-year-old defenseman that missed all of last year with a neck injury, has signed with Czech League team Liberec, the club announced on Tuesday.

He just wrapped the last of a four-year, $14 million deal with a $3.5M average annual cap hit.

Smid’s last NHL action came in ’15-16, when he appeared in 22 games for the Flames. The end of his tenure in Calgary was marked largely by injury and lineup absences, this after being acquired from Edmonton in 2013 (and scoring eight points in 73 games in his first full season with the Flames).

At one point considered a high-end prospect — the Ducks took him ninth overall in 2004 — Smid is probably best known as one of the pieces Edmonton acquired in the infamous Chris Pronger-to-Anaheim trade. He leaves North America with over 500 NHL games on his resume, and represented the Czechs at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

‘Our guys know the big picture’: Preds aren’t satisfied with spot in Stanley Cup Final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators, the final team into the NHL playoffs, are headed to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Coach Peter Laviolette insists they won’t just be happy to be there either.

“Our guys know the big picture,” Laviolette said. “They understand what it is that we’re trying to do here. And when that time comes, we’ll be ready.”

Colton Sissons scored a hat trick with his third goal the game-winner with 6:00 left, and goalie Pekka Rinne made 38 saves as the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

Now the team no one outside of Nashville expected to be here is waiting to face either defending champion Pittsburgh or Ottawa for the Stanley Cup. Game 1 is Monday.

No matter what happens next, the Predators already have turned in a thrilling run this postseason as just the third franchise seeded last in its conference to reach the Final since the NHL went to the current conference-based playoff format in 1994. The Edmonton Oilers lost to Laviolette’s Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, while the Kings beat New Jersey in six in 2012.

They also are the eighth team in the past 15 seasons to reach the Stanley Cup Final after finishing the regular season outside the top 10 in the final standings.

Nashville’s magical run started by sweeping the West’s No. 1 seed in Chicago. The Predators downed St. Louis in six to reach their first conference finals, and now they’ve knocked off the Pacific Division champ in Anaheim, which lost for the second time in three years in the Western finals.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne, the Predators’ longest tenured-player at 34, called the victory an amazing feeling.

“It’s a funny thing though,” Rinne said. “Everything that is happening around us, you still feel hungry and now we have a chance to play for the Cup. It’s a pretty amazing feeling and you’re working for that for a long, long time. I feel like the last number of years, we’ve been going in that direction, building this team and having more depth.”

That depth has paid off, particularly the last two games after losing top center Ryan Johansen after Game 4 to emergency surgery on his left thigh. Captain Mike Fisher, the only player on the roster who has played in the Stanley Cup Final with Ottawa in 2007, also missed those two games with an upper-body injury.

Forward Kevin Fiala broke his left leg in the second round.

Laviolette simply tapped Nashville’s pipeline and has tied the NHL’s all-time mark using 18 forwards this postseason. Sissons is the latest to respond. The 23-year-old center was scoreless in the 2016 playoffs and had 10 points in 58 games during the regular season. Now he has 10 points this postseason.

“I don’t think I even dreamt of this moment, scoring a hat trick in the Western Conference clinching game, but I can’t speak enough for just our whole group,” Sissons said. “We’ve been through some challenges together and we stuck together no matter what, just always believed and here we are.”

Now Laviolette is the first coach since 1994 and the fourth overall to take three different teams to the Stanley Cup Final , joining Scotty Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan.

“Probably means that I got fired a lot,” Laviolette said with a chuckle. “I’m fortunate to be here working and fortunate (general manager) David Poile gave me a job. And when you do that, you’re not thinking about things like that, you’re just thinking about coming to work.”

Now Music City stands ready to show the NHL how to chase hockey’s ultimate trophy in star-studded fashion.

The Predators have had a different national anthem singer for each playoff game ranging from Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan to Trisha Yearwood. The singer’s identity is a well-guarded secret. NFL stars like Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker and former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George have revved up crowds for a raucous party each game.

Fans filled the plaza outside the arena and the park across the street during the game before pouring onto the street lined with honky-tonks to celebrate. Forward James Neal said the Predators’ fans are special and now everyone in the hockey world is getting to see them.

“It’s hard to describe and it’s an amazing feeling to win this, and we’re not done,” Neal said.