Hornqvist the hero as Pens capture second straight Stanley Cup

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NASHVILLE — The winning goal wasn’t an oil painting.

But for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was a thing of beauty.

The Penguins became the first repeat Stanley Cup champion in the salary cap era on Sunday night, thanks to Patric Hornqvist‘s goal with 95 seconds left for a 2-0 win over the Predators in Game 6.

Carl Hagelin‘s empty-netter with 14 seconds remaining sealed the deal. But the story of the game was Hornqvist’s tally, which was a weird one.

He was actually behind the goal line when he batted it in, knocking the puck off the back of Pekka Rinne‘s shoulder and into the net. The goal broke a breathless, exciting goalless game that seemed destined for overtime.

Prior to that, the two teams engaged in what was easily the best tilt of the series. And it wasn’t without drama. Nashville had a clear goal disallowed in the first period, when referee Kevin Pollock blew his whistle too early to nullify Colton Sissons‘ tally.

That one aside, there were chances aplenty, with both Rinne and Matt Murray standing on their heads at times. Rinne finished with 25 saves on 26 shots, while Murray stopped all 24 faced.

The biggest save may very well have come as the Predators were trying to cash in on a golden 5-on-3 power-play opportunity in the third period. As much as the Nashville fans wanted to rattle the 23-year-old with “Murr-ay” chants, he was clearly a huge difference-maker.

Not only was it his second consecutive shutout against Nashville, but he also made history as well. No goalie in NHL history has captured the Stanley Cup in each of his first two seasons.

Now, one has.

Heartbreak for the Predators

That disallowed goal was crushing enough. Failing to score on a 5-on-3 opportunity had to sting. As much as the Predators put on a brave face, they had just a bit more than a minute-and-a-half to shake off what would ultimately be the game-winning goal by former Predators winger Patric Hornqvist.

First-ever trips to the third round and Stanley Cup Final created unforgettable memories, yet the franchise has never experienced a brutal loss like this. They came two wins short of a championship and often carried the play against Pittsburgh, and the future could be bright … yet it’s tough to think about at a time like this.

Not when the Penguins are celebrating in front of their home crowd, something that’s becoming a bit of a tradition for Sidney Crosby‘s team.

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.