Preds descent continues as Sharks’ Niemi earns 35-save shutout

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After being one of the league’s top teams for most of the season, the Nashville Predators seem to be falling apart in the 11th hour. Their latest setback came in the form of a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi stopped all 35 Predators shots to earn his fifth shutout of the season. San Jose has gone 4-1 this month and Niemi has played a significant part in that with a 1.48 GAA and .956 save percentage in March.

Pekka Rinne was solid between the Predators’ pipes, but Tomas Hertl found the back of the net with the man advantage late in the second period to break the scoreless tie.

Tommy Wingels scored an empty-net goal to make it 2-0 with less than a minute left in regulation.

Between Winnipeg losing and Los Angeles winning tonight, the Sharks are now three points behind in the battle for the second Wild Card spot. Their journey to the playoffs is about to get even more challenging though as they’ll face Chicago on Saturday before beginning a seven-game road trip.

Nashville has now lost seven of its last eight games and the one exception was an overtime victory against the lowly Arizona Coyotes. Thanks to St. Louis’ victory tonight, Nashville is no longer in control of the Central Division’s top seed. Instead, if the playoffs were to start today, the slumping Predators would be up against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

As is the case with San Jose, the Predators schedule isn’t going to get any easier in the near future. They’ll complete their road trip with games against Los Angeles and Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday respectively before hosting the red hot Minnesota Wild Tuesday night.

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.