Resilient Ducks vow stronger start to Game 2 vs Predators


ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Both the Anaheim Ducks and their fans showed up late for the start of the Western Conference finals. Hundreds of empty orange seats ringed the rink while the Nashville Predators largely dominated the first two periods of their 3-2 overtime victory .

At least the fans had Southern California’s murderous Friday afternoon traffic as a good excuse. The Ducks have built their season on a remarkable resilience, but they realize they probably can’t make another tardy start in Game 2 on Sunday night against Nashville, the Stanley Cup playoffs’ best team so far.

“To start the game, it didn’t feel like the conference finals, to be honest,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said Saturday after a short practice at the Ducks’ training rink. “I think a lot of things played a factor into it, but emotionally, we didn’t start the game like we needed to. From the flipside, the positive is we lost in overtime, so I think we were able to weather the storm in terms of how (Nashville) came out.”

The Ducks would never blame their fan base for their own sluggishness. Unfortunately, it’s kind of their thing.

From autumn to spring, both home and away, slow starts have been a regular theme over the past two seasons for the Ducks, who have relied to an extraordinary degree on their veteran ability to rally when it really matters.

Anaheim famously turned last season’s horrific start into a Pacific Division title, but then lost a seven-game series in the first round to Nashville by dropping the first two games and Game 7, all at home.

The Ducks started this season slowly as well, but surged down the stretch to a fifth straight division crown and a first-round sweep of Calgary. Anaheim then promptly lost two straight home games to Edmonton before rallying desperately to win the second-round series in Game 7 .

The Ducks do almost nothing easily. They had to make an unprecedentedly late rally from a three-goal deficit to beat the Oilers in Game 5 at home.

In total, Anaheim has held a lead for less than 24 minutes in the past 255 minutes of game time over its last five outings.

“I don’t think you can put it any other way: We need to emotionally get ourselves involved in the game right away,” Cogliano said.

Just two days after surviving Edmonton, the Ducks had to face Nashville in an early-starting game – and they were promptly outskated and outclassed for long stretches by the well-rested Predators. Anaheim still rallied to force overtime on Hampus Lindholm‘s clutch third-period goal , but James Neal ended it for Nashville .

The Ducks see the problem as largely mental, and they intend to address it in the hours before the series resumes.

“Starts in the playoffs are huge,” Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler said. “It gave them a lot of momentum and sucked the life out of us, so we need to make sure that we turn that around (in Game 2).”

The Predators have been a model of consistency while going 9-2 in the postseason, and they think much of the credit should be placed on a defensive corps that might be the best in the playoffs. While Neal scored the winner, he was only open to score on P.K. Subban‘s pass because the defenseman froze the entire Anaheim defense with a picture-perfect shot fake.

“Usually when I get the puck in those types of positions, everybody is expecting me to shoot it,” Subban said. “I just wound up, took a look, and everybody was diving, and legs were trying to get in the way of the shot. Everybody talks about the pass, but you can’t make the pass unless the guy makes the effort to get open and create that lane. (Neal) did a good job getting open.”

Subban, who hoped to have a cupcake Saturday to celebrate his 28th birthday, is regularly dazzling his teammates during the Predators’ playoff run. He’s eager to remind everyone that he’s only one component of a defensive group that has driven the Predators to these unprecedented postseason heights.

While the injury-riddled Ducks are attempting to thrive with six defensemen under 26 years old, Nashville’s top four defensemen are the high-scoring backbone of its roster. With fundamentally sound defensive play and plenty of offensive flash, Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are a big reason why the Predators are in position to take early control of their franchise’s first conference finals with a second road victory.

Nashville showed its own resilience in Game 1 after a third period described by coach Peter Laviolette as their worst in a long while.

“We just stayed with it,” Josi said. “Nobody panicked. I thought we had a really good start, really good first period, and then they scored the first goal. We just kept coming at them and had a lot of chances. Great job by our guys staying calm and getting the win.”

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The Buzzer: Shutouts for three, Dubnyk gets win No. 200

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Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils and Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do we begin on the night of the shutout? Rask didn’t have a particularly busy night making 23 saves, but when you’re facing names like Kucherov and Stamkos, it’s always dangerous. Still, Rask kept rolling along. He is 27-3-2 in his past 32 starts. That’s just silly. … Kinkaid, meanwhile stopped 38 — including 19 in the first period — in a 3-0 win against the Kings for his fourth career shutout. … No Frederik Andersen for Toronto? No problem. McElhinney stepped in and pitched a 33-save performance as the Leafs down the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The Blues defenseman scored twice in regulation and then assisted on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime winner to cap off a three-point night.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While he didn’t get a shutout, Dubnyk did stop 30 of 31 en route to his 200th career NHL win. The win was also important for the Wild, who moved to within five points of the Winnipeg Jets for second place in the Central Division, and moved five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for third place.

Highlights of the Night:

Filthy pass:

First-goal celebrations are always the best:

Voracek with a slick move in front:

Save of the year candidate:

Factoids of the Night:

Home is where the wins are:

A legend passes a legend:

Believe in McJesus:

Scary Scenes of the Night:


Sabres 5, Blackhawks 3

Oilers 4, Panthers 2

Devils 3, Kings 0

Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 0

Bruins 3, Lightning 0

Flyers 4, Hurricanes 2

Blue Jackets 2, Senators 1

Blue 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Wild 3, Coyotes 1

Sharks 5, Canucks 3

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

He did not return to the game.

If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Dundon, Hurricanes suspend search for new GM: report


The Carolina Hurricanes’ search for a general manager is on hiatus.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported Saturday that the process of replacing former GM Ron Francis is being put on hold for the time being, citing that owner Tom Dundon needs more time.

“Tom hasn’t had the time he needs to do face to face interviews and feels that waiting will pay off,” Shannon wrote in a tweet.

Francis was removed from his post as GM on March 7 and “promoted” to a new role as president of hockey operations. There was only one catch: whoever replaced Francis would bypass the Hurricanes’ legend and report directly to Dundon.

The search, thus far, hasn’t been going that well, with three potential targets already withdrawing any interest they were thought to have had.

Part of that problem could be how hands-on Dundon appears to want to be. Part of it could just be timing. Fenton, for instance, could be on his way to a Stanley Cup ring this year in Nashville.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on the situation in a recent 31 Thoughts column.

“I think what I’m looking for, is we have to be comfortable with each other. That’s the most important thing,” Dundon told Friedman when asked what he wants in a new GM. “I actually like to disagree and argue. I don’t want someone to come in and just do what I say, and I don’t want to make decisions. Someone to create a structure of how something is a good idea, and now we are going to get it done.”

You can add Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin to the list:

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Dundon wanting his hands all over the team — including whatever the GM is doing — isn’t the best selling point.

There’s some good, young talent on the Hurricanes for a new GM to come in and build around, but there’s also some dead weight, including what’s turned into a bad contract with goalie Scott Darling.

No GM wants to play puppet for an owner.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes will suspend their search until the summer when a larger crop of candidates reveals itself.

Still, you have to wonder who’ll be willing to take that plunge. Someone will, of course, but people haven’t exactly been lining up to fill the role.

UPDATE: On Headlines on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that the salary being offered to a prospective GM in Carolina is $400,000, to which he said he doesn’t see any GM taking as it’s too low. Friedman, meanwhile, believes the search for a new GM is not on a complete hiatus.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck