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

Wild GM is hopeful prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov will join Minny for 2018-19 season

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With rumors on social media suggesting prized Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov has agreed to terms on a long-term deal in the KHL, Minnesota’s general manager Chuck Fletcher has decided to clear the air.

The Wild selected Kaprizov, a five-foot-nine-inch tall forward, in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

He had 42 points in 49 regular season games in the KHL this year — promising, if not impressive numbers for the now 20-year-old Kaprizov. He also lit up the 2017 world juniors, with nine goals and 12 points in seven games.

He was recently traded to CSKA Moscow. Despite reports of this long-term deal to stay in Russia, Fletcher, speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, seemed confident the Wild will be able to bring Kaprizov into their lineup for the 2018-19 season.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We’ve been in contact with his agent over the last couple weeks and we haven’t been made aware of anything like you’re communicating to me,” Fletcher said. “We’re operating under the assumption he’s got a year left. He’s going to play for CSKA, and then he’s interested in coming over and playing for the Wild for the 18-19 season. He’s a heckuva player. I think he’ll be ready to step in and be a good hockey player for us a year from now. That’s our expectation and our hope. We haven’t been notified of anything to the contrary.

“There was a rumor a few weeks ago of something to this effect, too, and his agent shot it down and said it wasn’t true. It’s just been communicated to us that he’s going to play for CSKA another year, and our hope he’s going to suit up for the Wild in 18-19.”

There has also been a recent report that it’s expected former Sabres general manager Tim Murray will join the Wild.

Fletcher also shot down that report for right now, saying it wasn’t “accurate,” although his full comments didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of such a scenario happening further along down the road.

“We’ll see what the future brings, but right now, that’s not true at all. There’d be a lot of hoops and hurdles there, and it’s not even a good thing to speculate on because there’s nothing true to that at all right now. That’s not true at all.”

Related: Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

AP sources: Capitals to host Maple Leafs in outdoor game at Naval Academy

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Two people with knowledge of the situation say the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs will play an outdoor game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, next season.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the NHL had not announced the event. The game is scheduled to be played March 3 at the 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that hosts Navy football games.

It will be the first NHL outdoor game at a U.S. service academy, though quite possibly not the last. The league has explored doing games at the Army’s home at West Point and at the Air Force Academy.

It’s the third outdoor game for the Capitals and Maple Leafs and the first in the Washington area since the 2015 Winter Classic downtown at Nationals Park.

Capitals-Maple Leafs at the Naval Academy will be one of at least three outdoor games next season. The Ottawa Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic on Dec. 19, and the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field in New York.

NHL Network revealed on air that the league would announce a game at Navy on Monday.

Trio of Red Wings prospects ‘making a statement’ in AHL Calder Cup playoffs

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The Detroit Red Wings saw their playoff streak come to an end earlier this spring, but their farm team in Grand Rapids continues its postseason run, qualifying for the Calder Cup final.

The Griffins clinched a spot in the championship series with a 4-2 win against the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday.

It has been during this playoff run that a trio of prospect forwards seem to have left quite an impression on Detroit’s coaching staff, led by Jeff Blashill.

Tomas Nosek, Tyler Bertuzzi and 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov have all been productive for the Griffins throughout this AHL postseason. This could help put them into the conversation for NHL roster spots in the fall, and present something of a youth movement in Detroit after years and years of chasing the playoffs.

Nosek is the oldest of the three at 24 years of age. Bertuzzi is 22 years old, and Svechnikov is only 20.

“I don’t know what all the pieces will be for us next season, but certainly Nosek made us confident he can be an effective NHL player,” said Blashill, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“Bertuzzi and Svechnikov, they are making a statement as well. They are becoming elite players in the AHL playoffs, and those are statements you want to make. We’ll look at them in camp and make our decisions based on who is going to make us better.”

The team’s general manager, Ken Holland, has in the past expressed his hesitation about a full-on rebuild, but after missing the playoffs, the Red Wings have an important few weeks ahead of them and the future of their franchise. They currently have the ninth overall pick in the NHL Draft following April’s lottery, and, after a busy trade deadline, four third-round picks, according to CapFriendly.

With six picks in the first three rounds, and 11 picks in total, Detroit should be able to help further stockpile their organization with a number of promising young prospects. It’s been suggested that the areas of concern for the Red Wings heading into the draft are up the middle and on the blue line.

Up front, all three aforementioned forwards — Nosek, Bertuzzi and Svechnikov — spent some time with the Red Wings this past regular season. Nosek and Bertuzzi each improved their overall point totals this season compared to 2015-16, and have been able to maintain a point-per-game pace in the playoffs. In Nosek’s case, he’s just over a point per game. Svechnikov had 20 goals and 51 points in 74 regular season games — his first full AHL campaign.

“Certainly part of us getting better next year is the young people on the (Red Wings) taking a step,” Holland told MLive.com. “And, hopefully, there is a player or two or three here that can push their way onto the team.”

Coyotes’ Rieder undergoes ankle surgery, expected to be out 8-12 weeks

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Tobias Rieder underwent ankle surgery after suffering an injury at the recently concluded World Hockey Championship, the Arizona Coyotes announced on Saturday.

Per the Coyotes, the operation was successful and he is expected to make a full recovery. However, the 24-year-old right winger is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks, as he goes through rehab.

With that timeline, he should be ready for training camp in September.

For the second straight year, Rieder was injured while playing for Germany in the IIHF tournament. Initially, it was reported that the Coyotes didn’t believe this latest injury was serious.

This past season, Rieder scored a single-season career best 16 goals in 80 games. He’s about to enter the final year of his two-year contract, which has an annual cap hit of $2.225 million.