Ducks discuss low rest, getting revenge against Predators

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Among the numerous hurdles and obstacles that have blocked the Anaheim Ducks’ path to a Stanley Cup title this decade, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne might be the biggest – and not just because he’s 6-foot-5.

After beating Anaheim in two previous playoff series, the fantastic Finn and his Predators are looming again in front of the Ducks in the Western Conference finals. Game 1 is Friday night in Anaheim.

The Ducks and the Predators were the class of the first two rounds, taking just five combined losses and earning a rematch of last season’s first-round series for considerably higher stakes.

Rinne and the wild-card Predators won that series in seven games, prompting coach Randy Carlyle’s return to Anaheim and a renewed focus on playoff mental strength. The Ducks are in the conference finals for the second time in three years after winning five straight Pacific Division titles, but they still haven’t made a Stanley Cup Final since 2007.

In the rematch, the Ducks hope to show the Predators what they learned last spring.

“Obviously it’s a new year, new teams, (but) for some of us, it means a little bit more,” Anaheim center Ryan Kesler said. “But we’re all playing for the same thing, and right now it’s about getting four wins before they do. It’s going to be a tough road, but we’re up to it.”

Rinne and the Predators also beat the Ducks in 2011 for the first playoff series victory in franchise history. Heading into the franchise’s first conference finals appearance , Nashville is putting little reliance on its previous successes against the Ducks.

“Whoever wins the series gets to play for the Cup,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “So that’s probably the only motivation you need.”

Here are some more things to watch when the clubs meet for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final:

DUELING D

The Predators have advanced largely on the strength of their stellar corps of defensemen in front of Rinne. Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm form one of the NHL’s best top-four groups, even contributing a combined 27 points in these playoffs – just one point fewer than the Predators’ four highest-scoring forwards.

The Ducks have excelled with youth on the blue line. With veterans Kevin Bieksa and Clayton Stoner sidelined for the final six games against Edmonton, Anaheim used a six-man group with nobody over 26 and averaging just 23.6 years old – the youngest group among the NHL’s 16 playoff teams.

QUICK TURNAROUND

Thanks to their seven-game series in the second round, the Ducks will be back on the Honda Center ice two days after finishing off Edmonton in Game 7 . At least the Ducks didn’t have to travel, but the Predators have been off since their clincher over St. Louis last Sunday. Carlyle would have preferred an extra day off, but Honda Center is booked for the Stars on Ice touring show on Saturday night.

“Having the clinching game last night and then being – I don’t know if it’s called forced – to play the next game in less than 48 hours is kind of a surprise,” Carlyle said. “From a scheduling standpoint, that we’re playing on Friday night and we just finished on Wednesday, you don’t get a lot of time.”

SURVIVING RINNE

Rinne is huge, but his mobility and puck-handling skills make him even more daunting. Carlyle has warned his players to think of Rinne as a third defenseman on the ice capable of starting a rush with a breakout pass. The Predators also know what they’ve got in Rinne, who leads the postseason with a .951 save percentage and a 1.37 goals-against average while allowing only 14 goals in 10 games.

“He gives us that confidence,” Josi said. “I think every game, he’s been our best player. He’s so confident back there. He’s confident in making saves, he’s confident in passing the puck, and he’s been unbelievable for us.”

GIBBY IN GOAL

While Rinne appears to be at the peak of his skills again, his counterpart in Anaheim’s net has work to do. With one of the playoffs’ worst save percentages and goals-against averages, John Gibson hadn’t really distinguished himself this spring until Game 7 against Edmonton, when he was outstanding in a 2-1 win He’ll likely have to maintain that level to keep the Ducks competitive against Nashville’s aggressive offense.

CHECKING LINE

Kesler and linemates Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano did a standout defensive job against Connor McDavid in the second round. The Selke Trophy finalist’s next shutdown assignment is likely to be Ryan Johansen , Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators’ dynamic top line.

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Panarin trying to ‘find chemistry’ with new teammates in Columbus

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Artemi Panarin faced his old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Tuesday.

It was only preseason and Panarin didn’t register a point in just over 22 minutes of ice time, and 8:17 on the power play.

But there was an interesting nugget to come from his media availability following the game — Panarin’s first against his old team following this summer’s blockbuster trade between the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Panarin was loose and comfortable, occasionally chatting in English and frequently devolving into giggle fits with teammates Vitaly Abramov and Matiss Kivlenieks, who tried in vain to interpret for him. In fact, Panarin said he was ‘‘glad’’ to be with the Blue Jackets, where he’ll have more creative control on the ice. As dynamic as he and Patrick Kane were as linemates, Kane is basically a center playing wing, dominating the puck.

With the Blue Jackets, Panarin can be that guy.

‘‘I can play a little bit more with the puck,’’ Panarin said through the interpreters. ‘‘Just kind of express myself on the ice a little bit more.’’

In two NHL seasons, both with Chicago, Panarin has been a scoring threat, reaching the 30-goal mark twice. Now with Columbus, Panarin is on a two-year contract worth a total of $12 million and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency when this deal concludes, per CapFriendly.

With the Blackhawks, Panarin spent plenty of time alongside Kane and it appears there has been suggestions that his offensive production was inflated as the result of playing on a line with Kane.

That suggestion has annoyed Panarin. Still, he joins a Blue Jackets team already equipped with a strong nucleus of young players that made considerable progress with a franchise-setting regular season in 2016-17.

“We’ll see how the season will go,” Panarin told the Chicago Tribune. “Beginning of the season maybe I’ll need to make some adjustments, but I just try to find chemistry with my new partners. It’s still in progress.”

NHL hopes to make inroads in China with preseason games

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SHANGHAI (AP) As the Vancouver Canucks held their first practice in Shanghai before their exhibition game with the Los Angeles Kings, a dense fog settled over the ice. The humidity in the arena was high and the players could barely see the puck.

Large dehumidifiers were rolled in and the mist eventually cleared, but the NHL has perhaps a bigger visibility problem in China – a country with little tradition of winter sports, hockey included. The league is hoping to turn that around with a major push in the country, beginning with its first two preseason games between the Canucks and Kings in Shanghai and Beijing this week.

The timing couldn’t be better for the NHL. With Beijing set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the government is putting a massive emphasis on developing winter sports. Hockey training programs and youth leagues are expanding across China, and the nation’s first professional team, the Kunlan Red Star, plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

With interest on the rise, the NHL believes it now has an opportunity to crack a market that has traditionally been more fixated on basketball and soccer.

“You don’t quite know what to expect the first time the game is coming here, but I’ve always believed that hockey is a game you need to see live,” Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens said after Wednesday’s practice. “And once you see it live, you become hooked as a fan.”

A glance at the numbers shows just how far the NHL has to go. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has just 1,101 registered players, compared with nearly 556,000 in the U.S. and more than 631,000 in Canada.

And the fan base in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people is still in its infancy. On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the NHL has just 47,000 followers, some of whom are obviously new to the sport. (One posted a question about the temperature of the arena and what was suitable to wear to the game.) The NBA, which hosted its first preseason exhibition games in China in 2004, boasts more than 33 million followers on Weibo.

“We’re learning a lot about how to market here and we’re learning a lot about how tickets are sold,” says David Proper, the NHL’s executive vice president of media and international strategy. “We’re just viewing this as Year 1 of a multi-year project and in Year 1 we may not knock it out of the park . but we can still build over time.”

Media exposure certainly helps. State broadcaster CCTV now televises five games per week to Chinese audiences and the Internet giant Tencent streams 14 games per week on its digital platforms, including the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The NHL also has an influential partner on the ground in Zhou Yunjie, the billionaire founder of a Chinese drinks packaging company who has devoted significant time and resources to building the game he fell in love with as a youth in Beijing. Zhou’s company, ORG Packaging, is the presenting partner for this week’s exhibition games.

“Hockey was actually quite common in northern China back in the ’60s and ’70s, so there is a foundation among the kids in those areas,” Zhou told The Associated Press at his company’s newly opened hockey training base in a Beijing suburb, which includes a fully stocked gym, physical therapy room and a hotel for players attending training camps.

Zhou said China’s hockey revival should focus on both universities and a professional league, using the North American, northern European and Russian systems as models.

“It will take time before ice hockey really becomes like a religion with young people as it is in the West,” he said. “But ice hockey will definitely catch on with lots of kids.”

One thing that will certainly help is developing a home-grown star similar to Yao Ming in basketball and Li Na in tennis. There are promising signs on this front, too.

Song Andong became the first China-born player to be drafted in the NHL two years ago, selected by the New York Islanders. The 20-year-old Song has committed to play at Cornell this season.

On Monday, the Vancouver Canucks signed 21-year-old Sun Zehao to an amateur tryout contract to serve as the team’s third goaltender for the China preseason games.

“He’s working with our goalie coach,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “He liked how quick (Sun) was, how competitive he was. . I just think it’s a great experience for him.”

The NHL should also get a boost in China as excitement builds for the 2022 Olympics. The league angered its players by deciding not to interrupt its season to allow them to take part in the 2018 Games in South Korea in February. That stance may change for 2022 in the much larger Chinese market.

To some, skipping the Pyeongchang Olympics is a missed opportunity to gain a bigger foothold in China.

“With 2022 coming up, winter sports are taking the leading focus of all sports in China right now – more so than football,” said Mark Dreyer, founder of the China Sports Insider website. “They’ll be promoting the Korea Olympics more than ever before.”

For now, the league is focused on taking its first baby steps in China, giving spectators in Shanghai and Beijing a good show.

“It’s going to be pretty cool, especially for people who have never really experienced it before,” Kings forward Tanner Pearson said. “It’s going to hopefully start something good here.”

 

Report: Up to eight teams have recently expressed interest in Duchene

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Another day, another development in the ongoing, lengthy Matt Duchene trade saga.

“Many teams are interested and many teams have been talking with (general manager) Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. Up to as many as eight teams over the last stretch of days,” said TSN’s Darren Dreger during Insider Trading.

“But the reality is none of these teams think they’re getting him. If you look at the Ottawa Senators, Pierre Dorion has been among the more aggressive and you look at the need he has with Clarke MacArthur out and Colin White out. But I’m pretty sure Ottawa doesn’t think they’re getting Matt Duchene. And the same applies to Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, the Los Angeles Kings, the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets.”

Yesterday, it was reported in the Ottawa Sun that the Senators were making quite an aggressive push to try to land Duchene, the Avalanche center who has been for months the focus of trade speculation following yet another disastrous season for Colorado’s NHL team. That said, the same report added that the two sides aren’t close.

Duchene has two years remaining on his current contract — five years, $6 million annual cap hit — before he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency.

The Senators are dealing with a list of injuries up front right now, including the aforementioned MacArthur and White, the prospect center who got only a small sample of NHL playing time this past spring after his college season ended and he turned pro. The former did not pass his physical at the beginning of camp and the latter was announced as being out six to eight weeks with a wrist injury.

Last week, Duchene reported for training camp and gave a brief statement to reporters but didn’t take questions. He has since spoken to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, calling his future with the Avalanche “day to day.”

“I’m not going to predict the future on my longevity here,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “I’m day by day. I’m just enjoying playing hockey. A lot got blown out of proportion. I said what I wanted to say then. Nothing’s changed since Thursday. I’m here to get better, I’m here for those reasons — that I said on Thursday.”

Trocheck’s upper-body injury not believed to be ‘anything serious’

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Vincent Trocheck scored a goal during Tuesday’s exhibition game versus Nashville, however the 24-year-old forward had his night limited by an upper-body injury.

Trocheck recorded 6:49 of ice time — the vast majority of that taking place on the power play — in the first period and missed the second and third periods.

Per reports, Trocheck was to have the injury re-evaluated today.

“He had an upper-body injury, I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner told 560 WQAM Sports Radio on Wednesday. “I expect him back for practice in the next couple days.”

Originally a third-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft, Trocheck enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16 with 25 goals and 53 points, emerging as one of Florida’s promising young forwards.

He followed that up with 23 goals and 54 points last season. That point total led the Panthers, a team that was decimated by injuries to a number of key players, particularly Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.