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Shawn Thornton ready to call it a career

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) For Shawn Thornton, getting to the NHL was not easy.

Same goes for leaving.

The last game of Thornton’s 20-year pro career – the first half spent grinding in the minors before he got to the NHL for good – comes Saturday night, when he and the Florida Panthers play host to the Buffalo Sabres. The Panthers play their season finale Sunday in Washington, and Thornton isn’t making the trip.

He’s going out on his terms, on home ice, with a tall glass of celebratory scotch in his postgame plans.

“A lot of years, a lot of punches in the face, a lot of miles on the bus,” Thornton said. “But then a lot of charter flights, a lot of filets on those charter flights. It’s the best job in the world.”

And now it’s ending.

He is one of two players to play more than 600 games in the American Hockey League and at least 700 games in the National Hockey League. The first was Jim Morrison, who logged 704 NHL games in a career that ended in the early 1970s.

Thornton’s last game will be his 705th.

“It’s been a good run,” Thornton said.

He’ll get a bit of a break after the season but he’s staying with the Panthers, in a somewhat still-to-be-determined capacity on the business side of the operation working with team president Matthew Caldwell. Thornton considered trading his skates for suits last year when he was weighing an offer to return to Boston – where he won one of his two Stanley Cups – and work in television and community relations.

Florida interim coach Tom Rowe raves about Thornton and knows the end of his playing days is an emotional time. Rowe paid tribute last week when he sent Thornton out for the opening shift in Boston so he could hear an ovation from Bruins’ fans one final time.

“I think he’ll be great,” Rowe said when asked about Thornton’s looming transition to front-office life. “The thing that’s impressed me the most about him is how intelligent he is. He’s a very, very smart guy and he’s got a real passion for business and I think he’s going to pick it up quickly.”

Thornton’s career was not a glamorous one, with far more fights than goals. Drafted 190th overall in 1997, he was a fourth-line guy, an enforcer, someone whose job it was to protect his teammates by any means necessary.

He never scored more than two goals in a game, never even had more than two points in a game. Thornton’s first fight came in his second NHL contest, and he once told an opponent – while trying to bait him into a fight – that he could pick which hand to punch with.

“He’s the epitome of a hockey player,” Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said.

But off the ice, Thornton is a mild-mannered sort. He started a foundation that works with people affected by cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and is someone who was humbled by being nominated again this year for the Masterson Award that honors the player who best combines perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“Definitely no complaints,” Thornton said. “I tried to give back when I could. Hopefully when it’s all said and done I’m remembered more for than the antics on the ice, because that was just a job.”

His next job awaits.

His parents and some close friends are coming in for Saturday night’s finale, and that glass of scotch – a bottle he’s been saving for a couple years – awaits afterward.

It’ll be a toast to a career well done.

“Saying he’s been a heart and soul guy, even that does him an injustice,” Panthers goaltender James Reimer said. “He’s beyond that. His whole career, he’s played the game the right way. He’s battled hard, he’s fought hard, he’s stuck up for his teammates. He’s just been the ultimate pro, the ultimate teammate.”

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.

Sens keep Condon with three-year, $7.2 million extension

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Ottawa was thrilled with the way Mike Condon played last year.

And so, they’ve rewarded him.

Condon has signed a three-year, $7.2 million extension, the club announced on Monday. It carries a $2.4 million average annual cap hit, and makes him the only Sens goalie under contract beyond next season. Both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are UFAs in 2018.

Condon, 27, found stability in Ottawa after a whirlwind start to the year. He was waived by Montreal out of training camp and picked up by Pittsburgh, but only saw 20 minutes of action before the Sens acquired him.

His acquisition was necessary after news broke that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. And as Anderson took leaves from the team to be with his wife, Condon got plenty of opportunities to play, and found his groove.

His first season in Ottawa featured several team records, including playing in a franchise-best 27 consecutive games between Dec. 1, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2017. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to record five shutouts, when he did so in his 32nd game on Feb. 16 versus the New Jersey Devils.

That performance led some to speculate Condon would test the market this summer, possibly for a No. 1 gig somewhere — or, the opportunity to compete for one.

That said, he and the Sens had started extension talks all the way back in February, suggesting both parties wanted to continue working together.

This means that another potential UFA goalie is now off the market. With reports that Ryan Miller is on his way to Anaheim, the pool of available guys is now led by Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec.

Rangers reportedly on verge of re-signing Brendan Smith

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The New York Rangers are “close to finalizing” a contract extension with defenseman Brendan Smith, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal is expected to be four years long with a cap hit of $4.35 million.

Smith, 28, was traded from Detroit on Feb. 28, and the Rangers clearly liked what they saw.

In the playoffs, Smith played all 12 games, averaging 19:41 of ice time while adding four assists and finishing a team-high plus-8.

It remains to be seen if signing Smith makes it less likely that the Rangers pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts got Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade, and DeAngelo’s game is quite similar to Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

Related: Smith, Rangers still talking

Report: Kings land Sabres goalie prospect Petersen

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Sounds like Cal Petersen is headed to Los Angeles.

Per LA Kings Insider, Petersen — the star Notre Dame goalie taken by Buffalo at the 2013 draft — has decided to sign with the Kings when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

The decision comes just days after Petersen told the Sabres he wouldn’t be signing with them.

“I’ve spoken to Cal. At this time I think he’s going to probably move to free agency and we’ll go from there,” GM Jason Botterill said, per the Buffalo News. “Disappointed, but we’ll move on.”

Petersen, 22, is coming off a great junior year for the Fighting Irish. He went 23-12-5 with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 GAA, helping the club advance to the Frozen Four. Petersen was also named a finalist for this year’s Mike Richter Award, given annually to college hockey’s top goalie.

In April, he was named to the U.S. team at the World Hockey Championships in France and Germany. He was one of three goalies on the squad — along with Connor Hellebuyck and Jimmy Howard — but didn’t appear in any games.

In late May, Petersen announced he was forgoing his senior year at Notre Dame to turn pro, but declined to say which club he would be signing with. Buffalo’s rights to Petersen expire on Aug. 15.

With the Kings, Petersen finds himself in a good situation. Jonathan Quick is entrenched as the No. 1, but turns 32 next season and missed most of last year with a groin injury. The backup battle will be between 30-year-old Jeff Zatkoff and 25-year-old Jack Campbell.

Organizationally, the club doesn’t have a ton of depth. L.A. cut ties with Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak following his assault charges in a domestic violence case in 2015. Jack Flinn, 21, saw a bit of time with AHL Ontario last year, and the club has used draft picks on the likes of Alec Dillon and Matthew Villalta.