Resilient Ducks vow stronger start to Game 2 vs Predators

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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.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Greg Beacham on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/gregbeacham

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

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.