Minnesota finds a way to win against Tampa Bay

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It wasn’t always pretty – especially if you exclude a particularly enthralling segment of the second period – but the Minnesota Wild managed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1. They’ve gotten to this point in about as different a way as possible, but the bottom line is that Minnesota tied the Chicago Blackhawks* for the first spot in the Western Conference tonight.

The biggest story was a bounce-back game for Wild workhorse goalie Niklas Backstrom, who stopped 32 out of 33 shots after being pulled less than nine minutes into Sunday’s contest against the Calgary Flames. Mikko Koivu also notched career goal 100 with an empty-netter.

While it doesn’t make for great hockey, new head coach Mike Yeo’s plan to revert back to Minnesota’s skin-tight defensive days seems to be paying off. Of course, it’s working mainly because of great goaltending. Backstrom is starting to look like a $6 million goalie (or as close as one can) while Josh Harding is hardly a backup in 2011-12. (For all the well-deserved hype that Cory Schneider gets, Harding might be the biggest free agent goalie target this summer because of his soon-to-be-unrestricted status.)

So can they keep it up? It’s tough to say, but on the bright side, they’re not just depending on one goalie to stay hot. If Backstrom falters, perhaps Harding can slide in and hold down the fort. It wouldn’t be shocking if they slide a few rungs down the West ladder, but a much-needed playoff berth doesn’t seem so far-fetched right now.

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* The Wild and Blackhawks share 14-7-3 records for 31 points; Minnesota has 57 goals for and 53 goals against while Chicago scored 79 goals and allowed 75 so far this season.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.