Gauging Kings’ chances for a Cinderella run

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The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from sweeping the Vancouver Canucks, which would make them the third team to do so to the Presidents’ Trophy winner. It’s not as if the Canucks are rolling over, either; they just haven’t had much luck cracking the Kings’ code. Even a 3-0 series lead isn’t a guarantee for future success, but it’s irresistible not to at least ponder Los Angeles’ chances of making a deep playoff run.

So, with that in mind, here are some big reasons why they can do it and one big reason why they might not.

No juggernaut

Looking up at the higher seeds, you can’t blame the Kings for not feeling too intimidated. The St. Louis Blues got back into their series with the San Jose Sharks, yet Los Angeles brings virtually the same strengths to the table as the Blues. It’s unlikely that Los Angeles would be all that intimidated by the thought of facing the Phoenix Coyotes in the semifinals, either; in fact, the biggest worries could come if they face either the Nashville Predators or the Detroit Red Wings.

Jonathan Quick

Depending upon whom you ask, Quick may just hold the trump card over every West goalie not named Pekka Rinne. As you’ve probably heard a lot of times in your hockey-loving life, a hot netminder can make all the difference.

Strong defense

The Predators, Blues and Coyotes could manage a strong counterargument, but the Kings have a defense that can stack up with any in the NHL. That’s especially true now that Drew Doughty is back to the form that made him the most promising young defenseman in ages. Beyond Doughty, Los Angeles has solid lesser-known offensive defensemen such as Slava Voynov and strong stay-at-home types like Willie Mitchell. There aren’t many soft spots in that lineup.

Improved offense

The Kings aren’t likely to blow many teams out, but the Jeff Carter trade gives their offense a respectable added dimension. It’s not just the Anze Kopitar line doing all the work now, as Carter, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown can pitch in. On paper, that offense probably edges out the defense-first groups like Phoenix, St. Louis and Nashville – though that doesn’t mean it actually will work out that way.

A Sutter edge

The Kings hold some interesting similarities to the Flames team that Darryl Sutter pushed to within one win of a Stanley Cup. There’s more talent in Los Angeles, but both squads fought their way into lower seeds and then combined timely scoring, tight defense and great goaltending to become an imposing upset force. Sutter the coach > Sutter the GM, as we’ve seen quite clearly.

The glass half-empty approach

Still, the Kings aren’t perfect. The No. 1 area of concern is still scoring. Los Angeles only seems to have a “grind it out” gear, which could bog them down in the long run. Fighting tooth-and-nail is fine in the playoffs, but every now and then, it’s nice to score some “easy” goals. Depending upon matchups, offense may still be the Kings’ fatal flaw.

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Sure, it won’t be pretty, but it seems like the Kings might just have the makeup for a deep run. What do you think of their chances?

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.