Penguins believe goals will come against Predators

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The goals that came so easily to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final – the ones that arrived in bunches and seemed to signal an emphatic end to Pekka Rinne‘s spectacular playoff run – have disappeared.

Across six periods in Nashville, the NHL’s highest-scoring team managed to beat Rinne just twice as the Predators rallied to tie the series. Yet Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hardly seems frustrated heading into Game 5 on Thursday night back home in Pittsburgh.

Sullivan is 7-0 in series with the Penguins, and the way he sees it, his team’s inability to solve Rinne in Games 3 and 4 had little to do with lack of effort or opportunities. It had everything to do with a remarkable performance by the 34-year-old goaltender.

Where do you want to start? With Rinne’s no-look left pad stop on Jake Guentzel early in the second period of a tie game on Monday night? Maybe the one about a minute later when Rinne denied Chris Kunitz on a breakaway? Or maybe the diving blocker stop on Guentzel just before the midway point, the one that preserved Nashville’s lead on the way to a 4-1 victory?

Sullivan understands it’s easy to look at the result and be discouraged. That’s not his job. The coach who has made “play the right way” part of the franchise’s lexicon is more focused on the process. The Penguins didn’t produce much in Games 1 and 2 and somehow won going away. They “got to their game” (another of Sullivan’s favorite mantras) repeatedly in Game 4 only to lose.

It’s hockey. It happens.

“We believe that we have some guys that are due to score some goals here,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “They’ve had some high-quality chances, and the puck hasn’t gone in the net for the last couple of games. We believe if we continue to try to do the right things out there, we’ll score.”

Game 4 marked the sixth time in their last 11 games the Penguins have scored just one goal, compared to just twice in 24 playoff games last spring.

Pittsburgh has survived anyway thanks in part to a resilience that has been their hallmark under Sullivan. When limited to one goal during the 2016 postseason, they won the following game. When the Penguins had just three goals during the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa last month, they scored 10 over the next two to take control.

“It just comes down to burying your chances,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who picked up his first goal of the series in Game 4.

Something the Penguins did more than anybody during the regular season when it led the NHL in scoring. Pittsburgh is averaging 3.0 goals per game in the playoffs, the same as the Predators. It’s not a coincidence they’re the last two teams standing, both two wins away from a championship.

What the Penguins are saying now sounds an awful lot like what the Predators were saying after coming up empty in Pittsburgh to start the final. Nashville was every bit the defending champ’s equal in the opening two games only to be undone by a pair of dominant bursts by the Penguins. The Predators weren’t shaken then, much like the Penguins aren’t shaken now.

“I know it’s a nasty hole to be in,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. “But we really liked the way we played in Game 1. We thought we played a real competitive game in Game 2. Could have had results in both those games.”

While Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen said there are no moral victories during the postseason, the way the Penguins were able to generate odd-man rushes and stretch the ice were encouraging. They got the puck everywhere it needed to go, just not in the net. Though that style also generated opportunities for the Predators at the other end, don’t expect Pittsburgh to try and rein it in. That’s now how they got to the cusp off back-to-back titles.

“If anything we just need to press a little more,” Cullen said.

Well, everything except the panic button. Though Sullivan experimented liberally with his line combinations – something he frequently does when trying to break the Penguins out of a funk – there appear to be no plans to make a change in net.

Asked twice Tuesday if he planned on reevaluating his goaltending situation after Matt Murray allowed eight goals in Nashville, Sullivan stressed “we haven’t lost games because of our goaltending.”

The issues have been at the other end of the ice, where Rinne suddenly has his groove back. For now anyway. If the first four games of an unpredictable series have dictated anything, it’s that momentum is just one shot away.

“We found a different level (in Game 4),” Crosby said. “If we continue to get those chances, they’ll go in for us.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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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.