Players have no issue with spread-out Stanley Cup Final

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Time is on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ side, with or without momentum.

Up 2-0 on the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, the defending champions have no problem with the schedule that would require 17 days to complete the series if it goes seven games. That’s how the Penguins won the Cup a year ago, following this exact pattern in beating the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s tough to know what it’s all about until you go through it and we were able to go through it last year,” goaltender Matt Murray said. “(You learn about) a lot of little things: How to deal with travel is one of them, how to deal with an opposing building is another one.”

More than anything, the Penguins know how to deal with time off that more resembles a playoff series in the NBA than the NHL. While the NBA Finals would take 18 days to complete if the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers go seven, this Cup Final is an anomaly.

Since the salary-cap era began in 2006, only the 2016 and 2017 Cup Final series have been spread out over more than 15 days. No series in the first three rounds this spring was scheduled for more than 15 days, and all this following a super condensed schedule because of the World Cup and bye weeks that squished an 82-game regular season into 180 days.

Read more: Nashville is a non-traditional hockey market, and that’s a great thing

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan considers it a benefit because banged-up and tired players get an extra 24 hours to rest. He doesn’t think it does anything for momentum, which a lot of coaches don’t believe in, anyway.

“I’m not sure it’s much different than some of the other series that we’ve been involved with, other than the rest component,” Sullivan said. “My experience of going through these playoff runs in the past has been that each game is its own entity. It seems to take on its own story.”

The story for the Penguins is that they endured seven-game series in the second and third rounds, needing double overtime to beat the Ottawa Senators four days before the start of the Cup Final. The Predators had a week off after eliminating the Anaheim Ducks in six but still stand to benefit from the schedule, which provides two days between games every time there’s travel involved.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” said Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, who allowed eight goals on 36 shots in the first two games against Pittsburgh. “At this point of the season it’s June and we’re fortunate to play hockey still. It’s pretty demanding right now, so any day you get to recover and regroup, I think it’s beneficial.”

The extra time off may do little for Predators forward Colin Wilson, who remained off ice Friday because of a lower-body injury. The same goes for Penguins center Nick Bonino, who took a shot from P.K. Subban off the left ankle or foot in Game 2, returned but did not take part in their final full practice before Game 3 Saturday night in Nashville.

Bonino was in a walking boot and getting around on crutches Friday. He’s considered a game-time decision, and center Matt Cullen said: “Bones is a huge part of everything we do. We all hope he’s ready to go, and if not we’re going to have to fill a big hole.”

With almost everyone banged up at this time of year, perhaps it doesn’t hurt either team to have some time off. It’s downright basketball-like, but as NBA commissioner Adam Silver pointed out in his league, “There’s a direct correlation between fatigue and injury on the part of the players.”

So the Penguins and Predators will just have to take the unfamiliar schedule and make the most of it.

“I think just use it to your advantage,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “You can look at it a couple different ways. You get the rest, which is obvious with the day off. As far as preparing, adjusting, all those little things, you get a chance to practice today, which is kind of rare throughout a playoff series. Usually you’re getting a day off, maybe a morning skate. To actually go through a practice, go through things you want to adjust, that kind of thing, I think that goes a long way, too.”

 

 

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.