Did Sharks’ vets convince Wilson to keep Niemi?

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In three games since the trade deadline, Antti Niemi has helped San Jose gain four of a possible six points by posting a .941 save percentage, allowing just six goals on 102 shots.

Why the marked improvement in play?

In today’s Mercury-News, Niemi hinted it’s easier to relax and focus on the game now that the deadline’s passed and he’s no longer the center of rumors; curiously, this development came after an alleged meeting between some of San Jose’s older players and GM Doug Wilson.

More, from the Merc:

One reason Niemi may still be with the Sharks, according to a report by San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, is a meeting 24 hours before the trade deadline when a group of the team’s leaders met with Wilson and expressed their preference to have Niemi be part of the push to make the playoffs.

Niemi welcomed that support.

“Yeah, if that’s the case, for sure,” he said. “It makes me feel appreciated here, and it makes me appreciate them even more.”

Logan Couture wasn’t a part of the Wilson meeting, but shared the sentiment anyway.

“Everyone in this dressing room supports [Niemi], and has his back,” Couture said. “We all want to play hard for him because we know how hard he works for us.

“I figured we weren’t going to move him because you lose a goalie like that, you’re just hunting yourself.”

At this point, it’s safe to assume the Sharks — who head into Tuesday’s play three points back of Calgary for third in the Pacific Division — will ride Niemi down the stretch, firmly planting Alex Stalock to the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how the veteran Finnish netminder reacts; the Sharks will soon embark on one of their toughest trips of the season, a seven-game Eastern roadie that sees them play in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the span of 13 nights.

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.