Ovechkin brushes off benching: “It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play”

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With controversy swirling above, Alex Ovechkin said all the right things.

“It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play,” Washington’s captain said the day after playing 1:58 in the third period of a 2-1 win over Boston. “Of course I want to be there, but it’s [head coach Dale Hunter’s] decision.”

And with that, the story of the Great Eight’s benching was dead.

For now.

Thing is, the optics of this latest incident will probably last a while. Ovechkin is Washington’s captain, highest-paid and most talented player. He’s the team leader and the face of the franchise, which makes the following two facts so stunning:

1) In the last 14 minutes of Washington’s biggest game of the year, Ovechkin played 15 seconds.

2) No Capital played less in the third period.

That said, Washington players were quick to contextualize those two stats.

“Just because he’s not on the ice, doesn’t mean he’s not a big part of the team. He’s paid to score goals. He’s here to score goals, and make sure we’re in games and giving ourselves a chance to win games,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “If we were down a goal, he’d be the guy that would probably log the most amount of ice time.

“But being a game where you have a one-goal lead, they have a pretty good push, you want your defensive guys out, the guys who are usually on the penalty kill, the shutdown line – and he understands that.”

Head coach Dale Hunter said his decision was all about line matching and putting out shot-blockers.

“You want your best players blocking shots, but your offensive guys, but you don’t want them breaking a foot, either,” he explained.

Problem is, that theory falls a little flat.

Hunter gave Alex Semin (3:03) and Marcus Johansson (3:52) more ice than Ovi in the third, and neither of them are Dikembe Mutombo — they’ve combined for four blocks in four games.

The reality is that Hunter’s explanation for benching Ovechkin is the same explanation he gave for parking him versus Philadelphia back in March. Both instances occurred after an Ovechkin turnover resulted in a goal against, and both were masked under the notion of “matching lines”.

The question is: Will it have any long-lasting effect? Judging by Ovechkin’s comments, you’d have to say….no.

“I understand it. I accept it — it doesn’t matter if I’m going to play 10 seconds or 5 seconds,” he said. “Most important thing is team result.”

Blackhawks F Katchouk will be 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 Sunday.

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.