Filip Forsberg

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Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted … and lost my tooth’ before scoring winning goal for Predators

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Pontus Aberg scored his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal on Saturday, and then he was removed from the game and put through concussion protocol.

In his ninth career postseason game, Aberg scored what turned out to be the winning goal for the Nashville Predators versus the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5.

He was in the right spot to collect a rebound from a Filip Forsberg shot, diving around Jonathan Bernier to slide the puck into the net just past the midway point of the third period.

Prior to that, however, Aberg was hit to the ice — an incident that didn’t go unnoticed.

Aberg was eventually removed from the Predators bench to undergo protocol. According to NHL.com, he didn’t play another shift after his goal — even though he said the incident that forced him from the game occurred before he scored.

“They called me off of there, after I scored that goal,” he said. “So I didn’t expect that. It didn’t hurt me at all. But the league called it in, so I had to. But I’m feeling good.

“I kind of face planted there and lost my tooth, but it didn’t hurt my head.”

The Predators now have a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Final. Game 6 of the series goes Monday in Nashville, as the Predators will look to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, which would be another first for this franchise.

Predators win Game 5, push Ducks to brink of elimination

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The Nashville Predators are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite missing centers Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher due to injuries and having to shuffle their lineup accordingly, the Predators got a third-period go-ahead goal from Pontus Aberg and then held on to defeat the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in Game 5 on Saturday.

Nashville takes a 3-2 series lead.

Talk about a timely goal from Aberg, Nashville’s second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. That’s his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal and just his second career goal in the NHL.

The biggest story of this series over the last day has been the injury to Johansen, the Predators’ leading point producer in these playoffs prior to Saturday, and how his absence is a huge blow to their Stanley Cup hopes.

Well, the Predators were able to respond with a huge win on the road.

“Well, I mean, that’s a factor, sure, that we’re without Ryan. I think there’s no question about that. With regard to our players’ heads, they’ve been in the right place, I think, through the entire playoffs and they remain in the right place,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 5.

“We’ve got a job to do tonight. We wish Ryan was here with us, but he’s not. We’ve got to move forward. And there’s a lot of trust and belief inside of our room that we can be successful.”

Without Johansen, it was mentioned yesterday the need for other members of the Predators to step up and fill the void offensively.

Aberg did his part, converting on a rebound after Filip Forsberg was stopped on the initial shot. Colin Wilson also scored for Nashville. In the previous two playoffs, Wilson had been producing at just below a point per game pace. So far this year, he had only three points in 10 games, but he buried a power play goal in the second period to tie it a goal apiece.

That tying goal came just after Josh Manson was called for a cross check on Forsberg. Prior to that, officials missed a Forsberg high stick on Manson, who was bleeding as a result. More controversy later on, as Predators goalie Pekka Rinne appeared to play the puck outside of the trapezoid, however there was no call.

While the Predators received timely scoring, Rinne was spectacular making 32 saves.

The Ducks began this game without Rickard Rakell, who did not play because of a lower-body injury. The drama continued later on, as goalie John Gibson was replaced by Jonathan Bernier at the beginning of the second period.

The Ducks later announced that Gibson suffered a lower-body injury and was questionable to return.

Game 6 goes Monday in Nashville.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Saturday, May 20

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It’s amazing how a few breaks can change the outlook of a series.

When Filip Forsberg sent Game 4 to overtime, it was reasonable to wonder if the Nashville Predators could steal the contest from the Ducks, placing Anaheim on the brink of elimination. Instead, the Ducks dug deep to win in overtime, tying the series 2-2.

If that wasn’t enough, the Predators dealt with stunning news shortly thereafter: their top center Ryan Johansen is out for the playoffs.

All of a sudden, things are leaning heavily toward the Ducks … but the playoffs are a strange beast. The Western Conference Final has been a violent, exciting affair so far, so expect more of that fun in Game 5 on NBC tonight.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks (Series tied 2-2)

Time: 7:15 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream online here)

Check out highlights from Anaheim’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 4

Related:

Predators know it won’t be easy, especially without Johansen

Mike Fisher stands as another injury situation to watch

‘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.