Ice melting to slush in Vegas heat at Stanley Cup Final

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — After just one game, it’s already clear this Stanley Cup Final is on thin ice. Thin, patchy, slushy, rut-riddled ice.

The Vegas Golden Knights have shocked the sporting world by playing for a championship in their inaugural season. But their incredible playoff run has taken them straight into summer in the Mojave Desert, where temperatures routinely soar past 100 degrees from May to October.

With sizzling heat outside and a frenzied sellout crowd inside, T-Mobile Arena’s ice melted into an inconsistent playing surface for the Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals in the series opener.

Despite constant sprucing from attendants during timeouts, both teams chased the puck through dozens of weird bounces and unpredictable slides while Vegas rallied for a 6-4 victory.

”It was pretty bad,” Washington forward Jay Beagle said. ”It’s so hot outside, so it’s not like it’s a surprise.”

And it’s about to get worse: The mercury on the Strip could hit triple digits Wednesday for Game 2, when the league is likely to see its hottest outdoor temperature ever recorded at a Final game.

But before any Canadians develop heatstroke at the prospect of their national game being played in a Nevada swimming pool, players on both teams were eager to make it clear the Vegas ice is absolutely playable.

”It’s the same for both teams, which is why it doesn’t matter,” Vegas forward James Neal said. ”It’s still the same game for everybody. Of course, everybody would like to play on perfect ice, but that doesn’t happen at this time of year.”

Middling ice quality can be a fact of life year-round in NHL rinks, particularly for the Sun Belt teams from Anaheim to Miami, yet their players still thrive. It’s common to see ice deterioration in rinks at various latitudes when temperatures rise while the NHL playoffs roll through spring.

The Capitals are well aware they won’t skate onto a pristine Nordic pond when they return to Capital One Arena for Game 3 on Saturday – not with 85-degree temperatures and 70-percent humidity in the Washington forecast.

”It’s probably the time of the year where it’s pretty hard to keep the ice fresh,” Washington forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said. ”But both teams play on the same ice.”

Both coaches used the Vegas ice quality to emphasize points in their game plan that would probably be important on any surface. Washington’s Barry Trotz and Vegas’ Gerard Gallant want a north-south approach with crisp passes, minimal puck-handling and no turnovers.

It’s all easier said than done when the puck refuses to behave.

”The pucks were bouncing pretty good,” Trotz said. ”Unfortunately, the ice wasn’t great. There was a lot of chaos.”

Dan Craig, the NHL official responsible for masterminding and maintaining the temporary ice sheets at outdoor games across the continent, has been working on the Vegas ice with the in-house crew. The sheet only went down one day before the series opener because T-Mobile had a Pink concert booked Saturday night – again, something that happens in playoff rinks all the time.

Gallant hopes the ice will be more consistent after two more days to set up. Most of the Capitals reported better conditions during practice at T-Mobile on Tuesday – although the arena also wasn’t filled with more than 18,575 screaming, sweating people.

”I don’t know if it was the empty building or – just like everything – it needs to cure a bit, but I thought it was really good (at practice),” Trotz said. ”So hopefully, that will help both teams.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

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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.