Kovalchuk on prospect of facing Ovechkin: “It will be special for both of us”

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While he insists he has no preference which team — New York or Washington — advances to the Eastern Conference finals, Ilya Kovalchuk recognizes a matchup with Alex Ovechkin would be pretty cool.

“It doesn’t really matter who we’re going to play against, but for sure it would be something nice,” the Devils forward told NorthJersey.com. “We’re both Russians. We’re pretty much the same age and if they’re going to win it will be his first time on the conference finals too.

“So, I’m pretty sure it will be special for both of us.”

Kovalchuk and Ovechkin have never faced each other in the playoffs, but are quite familiar with each other. They’ve played internationally for Russia at both the Olympics and World Hockey Championships — winning gold together in 2008 — and it was Kovalchuk that famously brokered the Ovechkin-Evgeni Malkin reconcilliation back in 2009:

From The Handshake to The Gatorade Squirt, the Ovechkin-Malkin kiss-and-make-up melodrama is easily the top story of the All Star weekend. Well, one thing you should probably know is who was behind the truce. It was none other than Ilya Kovalchuk, the noble southern gentleman and the upright family man that he is.

Friday night, during the dinner with other fellow All Stars, Kovalchuk got the two of them together and proposed to finalize the peace talks (which began earlier that day with the handshaking incident) and make it all official.

Needless to say things won’t be as peaceful should Kovalchuk and Ovechkin cross paths this time around.

“It will be the conference finals,” he explained. “I’m pretty sure everybody will be pumped up and ready to go.”

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.