Size matchup will be one to watch when Blackhawks meet Ducks

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According to the NHL’s media website, the Chicago Blackhawks have an average weight of 197.3 pounds. Kris Versteeg is the lightest at 176 pounds, which is only slightly lighter than Patrick Kane (177), Teuvo Teravainen (178), and Andrew Shaw (179). There are a few heavy skaters, like Bryan Bickell (223) and Brent Seabrook (220), but for the most part, this is not a gigantic team we’re talking about.

And then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks’ next opponent, who boast an average weight of 207.5 pounds. Sure, Sami Vatanen, at just 180 pounds, isn’t very heavy, but Patrick Maroon (231), Ryan Getzlaf (218), and Corey Perry (213) definitely are. Did we mention those three play on the same line?

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is fully cognizant of the size disparity between the two teams. He’s not too worried about it, though.

“I think size and talent is great. But size alone is not the answer,” Bowman told the Sun-Times. “We’ve seen that more than ever with the modern game here in the last few years. It’s never been more friendly for a smaller player to play because it’s really a skill game now. If you have size in addition to that, that’s great. We like big players, too. We don’t have an aversion to that at all. Anaheim does it really well with the players they have. But there’s not one way to win.”

That being said, the size matchup will certainly be one to watch when the ‘Hawks and Ducks kick things off in the Western Conference finals. The undersized Flames had all sorts of trouble handling the big Ducks in their second-round series.

Here’s but one example of what size and strength can do:

The key for the Blackhawks will be to avoid getting cornered like that. The solution? Quick feet. Quick decisions. Quick passes. Or, as Mike Babcock likes to say, “Play fast.”

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they’re fully capable of doing just that — and that starts with their star defenseman, Duncan Keith.

Save for the goalies, no player is likely to get more ice time in this series than the “freak” Keith, and no player’s performance may be more pivotal. Expect the Ducks to do everything they can to get to him. 

Just don’t expect them to find it easy.

Kings forward Dustin Brown, one of the NHL’s best at getting in on the forecheck, knows what it’s like to try and hunt down Keith.

“For me, it’s just his skating ability,” said Brown. “He has the ability to get himself out of trouble. He’s a real big part of that team from the back end. He’s one of those guys that plays against top guys but also has the offensive side of the game. He’s the best offensive guy on the back end and he really helps those forwards with their transition game because of his heads-up play and he moves the puck really quick.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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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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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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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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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.