‘Nothing’s going to be easy’ for the Preds, especially after the loss of Ryan Johansen

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The oddsmakers didn’t give the Nashville Predators much of a chance when the Stanley Cup playoffs began last month.

The Predators were considered one of the long shots to win it all, at 25/1, according to Bovada. No big surprise, given they were the second wild card team in the West and facing the No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks — also the favorites to win the championship when the playoffs began — in the opening round.

Since then, the Predators have swept the Blackhawks and advanced past the St. Louis Blues to make the Western Conference Final for the first time in franchise history.

They have played relentless hockey, backed for the most part by great goaltending from Pekka Rinne, an elite and productive group of defensemen, particularly Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, and a top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Those seven players have combined for 71 points, which accounts for a substantial majority of Nashville’s offensive production.

On Thursday, the Predators fell one goal short of putting the Anaheim Ducks on the brink of elimination and moving within one win of the Stanley Cup Final. On Friday, the series shifted back to Anaheim tied at 2-2. On the surface, that’s not a bad position for the Predators to find themselves in.

However, Nashville’s Stanley Cup hopes were dealt a massive blow, with news that Johansen underwent emergency thigh surgery and is now done for the playoffs. Just like that, the Predators’ top center and playoff points leader removed from the lineup. Making matters worse is the fact captain Mike Fisher, who still doesn’t have a point in these playoffs, was also hurt Thursday. There was no update on his status the following day.

The Predators were already facing depth issues at center with Johansen out. If Fisher can’t play Saturday, it only adds to the current problem. It’s been widely suggested that if Johansen AND Fisher are both out, Calle Jarnkrok could be put into the No. 1 center spot.

Jarnkrok had a decent regular season with 15 goals and 31 points in 81 games. But he has only two points in 13 games during these playoffs and only five points in 33 career post-season games. His production has been a far cry from that of Johansen, who leads the team with 2.68 points per 60 minutes in these playoffs and a player for which most of the offense funnels through.

Others will need to step up. James Neal has five goals and seven points, but more will likely be asked of him with Johansen out. Colin Wilson has in the past emerged as an offensive threat — at least during the playoffs, anyway — but so far has only three points in 10 games this year.

If their offensive attack is limited without Johansen, it may put the spotlight back on the play of Rinne, their goalie. His play was sensational, bordering on out-of-this-world versus the Blackhawks. He posted a save percentage of .976 in that opening-round sweep, and it would be unrealistic to demand he sustain that for an entire playoff run.

He has still played well at times in this series, but the Ducks have also been able to find success. Rinne’s save percentage in four games sits at .911. The Predators may need him to be as close to perfect as possible the rest of the way.

Injuries occur to every team during the playoffs. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins, still alive in the East, as a perfect example. They haven’t had their top defenseman — and one of the best in the league — in Kris Letang for the entire playoff, and have also dealt with a plethora of injuries, including to Sidney Crosby for one game, as this spring has continued.

“Nothing’s going to be easy,” Neal told reporters on Friday. “That’s why it’s the hardest trophy to win in sports.”

A few hours later, the hockey world learned the Predators would have to try to complete this already daunting task without their top center.

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.

Sens keep Condon with three-year, $7.2 million extension

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Ottawa was thrilled with the way Mike Condon played last year.

And so, they’ve rewarded him.

Condon has signed a three-year, $7.2 million extension, the club announced on Monday. It carries a $2.4 million average annual cap hit, and makes him the only Sens goalie under contract beyond next season. Both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are UFAs in 2018.

Condon, 27, found stability in Ottawa after a whirlwind start to the year. He was waived by Montreal out of training camp and picked up by Pittsburgh, but only saw 20 minutes of action before the Sens acquired him.

His acquisition was necessary after news broke that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. And as Anderson took leaves from the team to be with his wife, Condon got plenty of opportunities to play, and found his groove.

His first season in Ottawa featured several team records, including playing in a franchise-best 27 consecutive games between Dec. 1, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2017. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to record five shutouts, when he did so in his 32nd game on Feb. 16 versus the New Jersey Devils.

That performance led some to speculate Condon would test the market this summer, possibly for a No. 1 gig somewhere — or, the opportunity to compete for one.

That said, he and the Sens had started extension talks all the way back in February, suggesting both parties wanted to continue working together.

This means that another potential UFA goalie is now off the market. With reports that Ryan Miller is on his way to Anaheim, the pool of available guys is now led by Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec.

Rangers reportedly on verge of re-signing Brendan Smith

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The New York Rangers are “close to finalizing” a contract extension with defenseman Brendan Smith, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal is expected to be four years long with a cap hit of $4.35 million.

Smith, 28, was traded from Detroit on Feb. 28, and the Rangers clearly liked what they saw.

In the playoffs, Smith played all 12 games, averaging 19:41 of ice time while adding four assists and finishing a team-high plus-8.

It remains to be seen if signing Smith makes it less likely that the Rangers pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts got Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade, and DeAngelo’s game is quite similar to Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

Related: Smith, Rangers still talking

Report: Kings land Sabres goalie prospect Petersen

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Sounds like Cal Petersen is headed to Los Angeles.

Per LA Kings Insider, Petersen — the star Notre Dame goalie taken by Buffalo at the 2013 draft — has decided to sign with the Kings when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

The decision comes just days after Petersen told the Sabres he wouldn’t be signing with them.

“I’ve spoken to Cal. At this time I think he’s going to probably move to free agency and we’ll go from there,” GM Jason Botterill said, per the Buffalo News. “Disappointed, but we’ll move on.”

Petersen, 22, is coming off a great junior year for the Fighting Irish. He went 23-12-5 with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 GAA, helping the club advance to the Frozen Four. Petersen was also named a finalist for this year’s Mike Richter Award, given annually to college hockey’s top goalie.

In April, he was named to the U.S. team at the World Hockey Championships in France and Germany. He was one of three goalies on the squad — along with Connor Hellebuyck and Jimmy Howard — but didn’t appear in any games.

In late May, Petersen announced he was forgoing his senior year at Notre Dame to turn pro, but declined to say which club he would be signing with. Buffalo’s rights to Petersen expire on Aug. 15.

With the Kings, Petersen finds himself in a good situation. Jonathan Quick is entrenched as the No. 1, but turns 32 next season and missed most of last year with a groin injury. The backup battle will be between 30-year-old Jeff Zatkoff and 25-year-old Jack Campbell.

Organizationally, the club doesn’t have a ton of depth. L.A. cut ties with Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak following his assault charges in a domestic violence case in 2015. Jack Flinn, 21, saw a bit of time with AHL Ontario last year, and the club has used draft picks on the likes of Alec Dillon and Matthew Villalta.