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

Young Mitch Marner meme isn’t lost on Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

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A couple of days ago, Mitch Marner was spotted at Pearson Airport in Toronto with a backwards baseball cap after flying back from a very impressive and productive run at the World Hockey Championship.

Hockey Twitter exploded with well-meaning laughter as the dazzlingly talented 20-year-old looked even younger than 20.

Even a few days later, it really is a sight to behold, whether you need a respite from politics or biting your nails about Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

As much as many of us deride this age of social media, it’s been a goldmine for self deprecating comedy from hockey players; as it turns out, Roberto Luongo doesn’t have that market completely cornered, either.

Not long ago, Auston Matthews jumped in on the Marner meme, and it was glorious:

To his credit, Marner himself joined in:

Is anyone else eager to see what these young stars come up with both on and off the ice during the next, oh, couple decades?

Johansen wishes he was there to shake Kesler’s hand after Predators won

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Ryan Johansen isn’t backing down about his criticisms of the way Ryan Kesler plays. Not after the Nashville Predators eliminated the Anaheim Ducks. Not as he recovers from emergency surgery.

That was the top bulletin-board material from a great interview Johansen participated in with TSN 1040 Vancouver on Wednesday, as the refreshingly candid forward discussed a wide array of topics.

For instance, Johansen:

  • Praised the hockey acumen of Nashville fans, backing up P.K. Subban‘s praise of the market.
  • Went into detail about his harrowing injury. Johansen explained that, at first, the seemingly innocent hit by Josh Manson would just be one of those “that’s going to leave a bad bruise” moments. Toward the end of the game, he was a shift or two from telling Peter Laviolette that he’d be a liability to his team. After the contest, he couldn’t even walk out of the shower, and that’s when medical staff determined that a painful injury required emergency surgery.
  • The bittersweet feelings of seeing his team advance to a Stanley Cup Final without him.
  • He spoke about how confident he felt during a postseason run that’s drawn rave reviews.

Still, the juicy stuff was about Kesler. That comes at around the 10:50 mark of an interview worth listening to in its entirety.

Nice. That’s basically the opposite of Detroit Red Wings players regretting shaking Claude Lemieux’s hand and maybe the other extreme of Martin Brodeur snubbing Sean Avery, right?

(It feels necessary to discuss Milan Lucic getting weird during the handshake lines, too. Ah, memories.)

Johansen admits that he was a Vancouver Canucks fan growing up, and while Kesler wasn’t one of his favorite players, he certainly cheered his endeavors. That … won’t happen again anytime soon, as you can note.

Johansen expects a full recovery from that surgery, so yes, we can all pencil in the rematch between those two Ryans in 2017-18.

Hot take: there won’t be handshakes.

Blues add Darryl Sydor as assistant coach

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The St. Louis Blues continued to assemble the coaching staff for Mike Yeo on Wednesday when they announced the hiring of former NHL defenseman Darryl Sydor.

Sydor previously served as an assistant on Yeo’s staff for several years when he was the head coach of the Minnesota Wild. Before joining the Blues, Sydor was an assistant coach for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves this past season.

“I am excited to have Darryl back on my staff,” Yeo said in a statement released by the team. “He was an outstanding teacher during our time in Minnesota and will add a wealth of experience and knowledge to our team.”

Before joining the coaching ranks Sydor was a defenseman in the NHL for 18 seasons, playing 1,291 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Columbus Blue Jackets and Blues. The Blues were his final stop in the NHL, playing 47 games for the team during the 2009-10 season. He was a member of two Stanley Cup winning teams, winning it with the Stars in 1998-99 and then with the Lightning in 2003-04.

The Blues hired Yeo to be their coach-in-waiting to work alongside Ken Hitchcock before the start of the 2016-17 season, but when Hitchcock was fired in the middle of the season Yeo was promoted a few months earlier than expected.

The Blues eliminated the Wild in the first-round of the playoffs this season but were defeated by the Nashville Predators in the second round.

For fourth time in five years Sergei Mozyakin is the KHL’s MVP

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The KHL handed out its awards for the 2016-17 season on Wednesday and it was Magnitogorsk Metallurg forward Sergei Mozyakin taking home the Golden Stick Trophy as the league MVP.

Given the season he had, and the career he has had in the KHL, this should not really be much of a surprise.

Mozyakin turned in one of the greatest performances in the history of the league this season by scoring 48 goals and recording 85 total points (both league records) in only 60 games.

Since the KHL formed in 2008-09 only three different players have won the Golden Stick award. Danis Zaripov won it during the inaugural season, while Alexander Radulov won it four times (three years in a row between 2009-10 and 2011-12, then again in 2014-15).

Mozyakin won it in 2012-13 and 2014-15, then in each of the past two seasons.

The 36-year-old forward was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the ninth-round (No. 262 overall) of the 2002 draft by never played a game in the NHL. He has spent his entire professional career playing in Russia where he has consistently been one of the best, most productive players in the league.

Among the KHL’s other award winners, Vasily Koshechkin was named the league’s top goalie, Oleg Znarok was the coach of the year, while Vladimir Tkachyov is the rookie of the year.