Preds counting on Subban to be ‘big-time player’ in playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The adjustment period is over for P.K. Subban along with the regular season, and now expectations for the All-Star defenseman could not be higher.

The Nashville Predators swapped their captain and own All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal last June , believing that Subban could provide both a boost to the offense and help a franchise that has never gotten out of the second round finally win its first Stanley Cup.

Well, the playoffs start Thursday night with the eighth-seeded Predators in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

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The former Norris Trophy winner, who had to get used to living in the United States for the first time in his life, understands that for all the fun of learning about Music City and his new teammates that the postseason is the biggest reason why he is here.

“Me coming into this team was about helping us win a Stanley Cup and being a part of that,” Subban said. “And now we have our opportunity, so I’m really excited about everything.”

So are the Predators and their fans. This franchise has reached the postseason 10 of the past 13 years, advancing to the second round three times.

They came closest to the Western Conference Final a year ago by pushing San Jose to seven games . The Predators start this postseason Thursday night in Game 1 against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

With Subban, the Predators are scoring more goals (238) than a year ago (224), a two-spot jump to 11th in the league. Subban ranked 22nd among defensemen with 40 points in 66 games. Weber finished with 42 points over 78 games.

The Predators’ biggest improvement came after Subban returned from an upper-body injury that kept him out 16 games . After the All-Star break, the Predators were the NHL’s seventh-best scoring team with 102 goals.

Subban wasn’t the only injury Nashville dealt with in its defensive group. Roman Josi missed 10, while Ryan Ellis was out 11. Playing with new defensive partners also slowed the process.

“He’s been a great addition,” Josi said of Subban. “I mean we know he’s a big-time player, so we’re looking forward to him to be a big player for us in the playoffs.”

That’s where Subban is expected to make the biggest impact. He has 38 points in 55 playoff games – 10 more than Weber in 59 postseason games – and was nearly a point a game player for Montreal in 2014, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games.

Nashville captain Mike Fisher said the Predators are excited to see that part of Subban.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and offensive ability to our team, and he’s had a great year,” Fisher said Monday. “I think he’s poised for an even better playoff.”

Nashville doesn’t see Subban only as an offensive threat. Coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed by Subban’s defensive skills too so much that the Predators regularly pit Subban and Mattias Ekholm against an opponent’s heaviest players.

“He’s delivered for us from an offensive standpoint, and our defensemen scoring is still in a good place and he’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said. “I think he and Eky have done a great job defensively handling the other team’s biggest customers.”

Now that the postseason is here, general manager David Poile and Laviolette want to make clear that this isn’t a one-man show.

“It’s not just hinging on him,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said Chicago has got a good team. We’re going to have to play good hockey. P.K.’s going to have to play well. All of our guys are going to have to play well.”

 

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.