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Can Darling, Mrazek finally give Hurricanes better goaltending?

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Asking the Carolina Hurricanes to get better goaltending sometimes feels like asking water not to be wet.

This franchise has been through a lot since it gradually became clear that Cam Ward wasn’t quite the brilliant netminder he seemed to be in leading them to a stunning Stanley Cup in 2005-06. Really, it says a lot about how much Carolina clung to the hope of Ward being “the guy” that it’s taken until 2018-19 for the two sides to move on.

Carolina brought Scott Darling in during the 2017-18 season in hopes that he’d be the next, say, Cam Talbot or Martin Jones: a backup who turned out to be an effective starter. Instead, Darling proved to be the latest goalie who couldn’t cut it in Carolina, putting up the sort of stats that only looked solid during Gretzky’s dynasty days with the Oilers: 13-21-7 with an abysmal .888 save percentage.

Those are the sort of stats that make you step back and maybe take a seat for a moment. Such stats should send a goalie directly to a sports psychologist.

The question, then, for the Hurricanes is: can Darling salvage his career? Were his strong numbers with the Chicago Blackhawks merely a mirage? And, can Petr Mrazek revitalize his career, either instead of Darling or alongside him?

Having a good attitude won’t necessarily cause fewer pucks to go in Carolina’s net, but shaking off a colossal failure of a 2017-18 season is absolutely crucial for Darling and the Hurricanes.

Judging by an entertaining Q & A with the Hurricanes website, it sounds like Darling is taking a positive approach to a potential tandem with Mrazek, and it also seems like the towering goalie hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

” … Having Petr (Mrazek) come in will be good. He’s kind of in the same boat as me; we’re both trying to prove that we can be the guy we’re supposed to be. I’ve had the chance to talk with him a little bit, and he seems like an awesome guy. Overall, the team as a whole, I’m extremely optimistic about this season.”

Darling also points out something interesting, and a matter that has to put a lot of this in perspective. Not only have Darling and Mrazek faced each other in the NHL and AHL, but they’ve also been in opposite nets as far back as their ECHL days. That’s what happens when you come across a big sixth-rounder (Darling went 153rd overall in 2007) and an athletic fifth-rounder (Mrazek was selected 141st in 2010). These goalies were forced to fight to prove that they even belonged in the NHL, let alone deserved chances at starting gigs.

So, such a thought should provide Hurricanes fans with at least some solace.

It’s also fair to argue that a season can simply get away from a player, goalies included. Darling’s 2017-18 was undoubtedly a disaster, yet his overall body of work in the NHL has been very promising lately, which is why he received a risky contract in the first place. In 75 games with Chicago, Darling managed a dazzling .923 save percentage. Sure, those starts were likely sometimes cushier than the ones he’ll enjoy with Carolina, yet goalies can be unpredictable. Recent examples are comforting, whether they actually forecast sunnier days or not.

(Mrazek’s successes have been dynamic at times, too, although his stronger moments are starting to get a little more distant. He hasn’t really enjoyed a great run since managing a .921 save percentage with Detroit in 2015-16.)

The rest of the Q & A is fairly standard stuff. OK, standard stuff for hockey off-season fodder; from here, it seems like a 29-year-old giant of a goalie making $4.15 million per season probably shouldn’t wait until now to address, you know, nutrition.

My girlfriend has been great. She’s a vegetarian and eats really healthy, so she’s been teaching me how to eat healthy, which I had no idea how to do.

Anyway, it’s a fun read. The most fun stuff comes when Darling discusses getting big on ‘the gram (his dog has a way to go to catch Jaccob Slavin‘s two floofy doodles), and some of the more mundane stuff like TV watching. If nothing else, it seems like Darling can be charming.

Also, the dog.

/Subscribes to The Daily Moose.

Apparently Darling is responsible for the captions, and they seem quite regal indeed.

So, if history repeats itself, people might look back at this almost-inevitable “feeling great in the off-season/best shape of my life” story and shake their heads at any optimism about Darling and/or Mrazek. There’s the chilling possibility that Darling has simply been exposed, or that last season’s failures broke his confidence. On the other hand, both goalies have enjoyed considerable success in the past, so a rebound or two is far from impossible.

If nothing else, Darling is holding down the fort when it comes to doggos.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ferland, Wild’s Kunin fined for Game 1 altercation

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Monday that Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin and Vancouver Canucks forward Micheal Ferland were fined for an incident that took place in the third period of Sunday’s game. The Wild won the game 3-0.

Kunin was fined $1,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct, while Ferland was given a $5,000 fine for spearing Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman on the bench.

“I could see it from Ferland’s standpoint,” Hartman said Monday. “He’s the kind of guy that runs on emotion. Stuff happens.”

The incident took place in front of the team benches just after Ferland finished a check on Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

Ferland started the game by fighting Foligno just two minutes into the first period.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series will take place on Tuesday night (10:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

MORE:
Wild vs. Canucks series preview
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes-Rangers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Hurricanes-Rangers stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Hurricanes and Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Hurricanes-Rangers Game 2 stream at 12 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In the first shot of the game, Jaccob Slavin scored 61 seconds in for the first NHL goal in an official game in almost five months. Sebastian Aho, who led Carolina in goals (38) and points (66) during the regular season, then scored in the second period to give the Hurricanes a 2-0 lead. The Rangers kept things close but ultimately could not overcome an 0-for-7 showing on the power play as Carolina defeated New York for the first time in five tries this season.

Perhaps the biggest development from Game 1 was the fact that the Rangers all-time winningest goalie was actually the one in net – as many expected newcomer Igor Shesterkin in that position. With Shesterkin, who watched Game 1 from the stands, deemed “unfit to play” – Henrik Lundqvist started his 128th consecutive postseason game with the Rangers – a single-team streak only bettered by Martin Brodeur (194 with New Jersey) and Patrick Roy (133 with Colorado).

Lundqvist will get the Game 2 start as Shesterkin remains out. Alexandar Georgiev will again serve as the backup.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Anson Carter
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Sopel finds post-NHL purpose in sharing story about dyslexia

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Tears streamed down Brent Sopel’s face as he watched himself on screen, summoning the courage to detail the darkest moments of his lifelong struggles with dyslexia.

The stinging memories of being taunted by classmates. The empty feelings of worthlessness that drained Sopel even while winning the Stanley Cup as a defenseman for the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.

And then there were his battles with alcohol and drug abuse upon retiring from pro hockey following a 17-career in which he played for six NHL teams, two more in Russia and lastly with the AHL Chicago Wolves in 2015.

Sopel outlined his story in a documentary, ”Brent Sopel: Here to Change the World.” The 25-minute film was recently released to promote his charitable foundation dedicated to helping others deal the challenges and stigma of dyslexia.

”It was tough. I cried through it,” Sopel said. ”It brings back a lot of raw emotions. I’ve got scars that will never go away.”

The film begins with the former player recalling the embarrassment he felt in ninth grade, when asked to read aloud during English class, which Sopel described as being ”probably one of the worst days of my life.” The documentary ends with an uplifting message, with Sopel saying: ”Hi, I’m Brent Sopel, here to change the world.”

This isn’t the first time Sopel has shared his story. Difficult as it might be for him to relive, it most certainly won’t be the last.

”No matter what battle you’re in, alcoholism, depression, dyslexia, when you’re in that battle, you think you’re alone. But I have to tell you, you’re not,” said Sopel, now 3 1/2 years sober. ”I never want another kid to feel the way I do each and every day.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, dyslexia is a learning disorder affecting the brain’s ability to process language, and leads to difficulty reading and writing. Though there is no cure for dyslexia, which affects nearly one in five people, its challenges can be overcome through tutoring, especially when diagnosed at an early age.

Growing up in Saskatchewan, Sopel didn’t know what was wrong with him. He turned to being a class clown and bully at school, something he will always regret. Hockey was his refuge.

”If I didn’t have hockey, I’d be dead,” he said.

Selected by Vancouver in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, Sopel became known for his grit and fearless shot-blocking. ”Petrified” about what his life would be without hockey, Sopel played through numerous injuries, including a broken hand.

The career highlight came with him raising the Cup in 2010, in what proved to be his second-to-last NHL season. And yet, the moment wasn’t entirely fulfilling.

”It felt great, but empty,” Sopel said.

Whatever glory he felt was washed away once his career was over and he spiraled into substance abuse and depression, with little prospect of landing a job because he lacked an education. There were days he couldn’t get out of bed.

”Drugs and alcohol became my best friend,” he said in the documentary. ”I was very close to death.”

Sopel credits family and friends for staying by him and intervening. He now has reason to get out of bed by dedicating himself to helping others, including coaching youth teams in the Chicago area.

”It wasn’t easy. But you know what, I’m here and in a better place,” said Sopel, whose now-teenage daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia in the second grade. ”I have a purpose, and I think this is my purpose, the foundation and I’m telling it the way it is.”

Sopel’s message has been heard by many, and resonated with Kaid Oliver, a 20-year-old Western Hockey League forward, who is dyslexic. Oliver was reluctant to discuss dealing with dyslexia, even with a teammate who has the disability, until an assistant coach introduced him to Sopel.

”For someone to talk openly about it, and be willing to put themselves out there, it’s awesome what Brent’s doing,” he said.

Before encountering Sopel, Oliver could never have envisioned speaking about dyslexia so publicly.

”Even my tutor, she’s basically family and I’ve been working with her since I was super young. She was surprised I’m talking so openly about it,” he said. ”It’s not something I’m proud of, but at the same time, it’s something I have to deal with, and something people should know that they’re not alone.”

He’s taken up reading books for the first time, and signed up for a college course. Once resigned to working in his family’s business after he was done with hockey, Oliver can dare to see other job possibilities now.

”I feel more comfortable with life after hockey, or thinking about that portion,” said Oliver, whose father is dyslexic.

Sopel wouldn’t change a thing about his life by sharing his experiences.

”You take a look at Kaid and Jack (Rodman), who are on the video. They both were alone until they told their stories,” Sopel said. ”That’s why I’m telling them my story. It’s for those two and every other kid and 20% of the population to connect the dots and say, ‘I’m not alone.”’

He wouldn’t trade what he’s doing today for anything – even a Stanley Cup ring, which he once tried selling.

”It was a childhood dream winning a Stanley Cup,” Sopel said. ”But without a doubt, the legacy of me and my foundation, impacting kids’ lives, is way more important.”

The Wraparound: Maurice still steamed at Tkachuk for hit on Scheifele

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• Take a look back at Sunday’s NHL Return to Play action, which included a buzzer-beater and upsets aplenty.

• Wild defenseman Matt Dumba spoke about his speech on Saturday afternoon and why he regrets not taking a knee for the Canadian national anthem after doing so for the U.S. anthem.

• Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula has been suspended for Game 2 following an illegal check to the head of Tyler Ennis.

There’s a bit of positive news on the Mark Scheifele front ahead of Game 2. (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream). According to TSN’s Sara Orlesky, the forward’s injury is not believed to be long-term. Even with that, it’s likely the Jets will be without him and Patrik Laine against the Flames Monday afternoon.

Scheifele’s injury set off his coach following Game 1. Paul Maurice took aim at Matthew Tkachuk in his postgame press conference calling the play a “filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.”

Maurice double downed on Sunday.

“I would stick by every word that I said,” he said.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I don’t know, if you sin once, are you a sinner? Sin 10 times?,” Maurice continued. “I don’t think he came off the bench and said, ‘Hey I’m going to see if I can go stab the back of Mark Scheifele’s leg with my skate.’ I think he got to that point, and I think that’s exactly what he did. But I don’t think he’s skating across the ice thinking that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I think he plays at a level, he’s on the edge. He crosses it sometimes, and he crossed it — in my mind — clearly. That’s exactly how I feel about it.”

Tkachuk called the play “unfortunate” and ” an accident.”

The NHL decided against punishing the Flames forward, but even though Tkachuk fought Blake Wheeler soon after the incident, the bitterness on Winnipeg’s end remains. Despite the increasing tension, the Jets will be without two of their best players in an important Game 2. Focusing all of their attention on getting revenge won’t serve them well.

Officials haven’t been shy about calling penalties through the opening two days of the Qualifying Round. This game will likely be called tighter given the storyline coming out of Game 1. Winnipeg has to be more concerned about avoiding falling behind 0-2 in the best-of-five series.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Hurricanes lead series 1-0): Jesper Fast will not play after taking a hit from Brady Skjei in Game 1. As for the goalie? Igor Shesterkin was on the ice for practice on Sunday but it is not known whether he will dress for Game 2. David Quinn wasn’t sure if the netminder would be ready.

Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream: Steven Stamkos likely won’t play against Washington. He’s been nursing an injury since summer training camp opened. Head coach Jon Cooper said they’ve been hopeful he would play in the first game, but not playing was always likely. “We never really in any of our plans had him playing in this first game, so not sure any of that’s really changed,” he said. “We’re always hopeful.” John Carlson, meanwhile, will be a game-time decision for the Capitals.

Round-robin: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestreamRobin Lehner will get the start for Vegas, while the Golden Knights remain without Max Pacioretty. The forward did not travel with the team to the Edmonton bubble, but has rejoined them but is still “unfit to play.” Rick Bowness would not reveal if Ben Bishop or Anton Khudobin would start Dallas’ first round-robin game.

Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Canadiens lead series 1-0): The power play was a big factor in the outcome of a number of the games on Day 1 of the playoffs, including this series. Pittsburgh went 1-for-7 with the man-advantage and failed to score on a 5-on-3. Sidney Crosby scored his 67th career playoff goal in Game 1 to move into sole possession of 19th place on the all-time playoff goal scoring list. He trails Gordie Howe by 1 goal (68) for 18th place.

Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream – (Blackhawks lead series 1-0): During the regular season, Edmonton was first in power play (29.5%) and second in penalty kill (84.4%). Chicago, meanwhile, was 28th with the man advantage (15.2%) but converted three of six opportunities in Game 1, perhaps none more important than Kubalik’s first goal of the game. Dave Tippett said Mike Smith‘s play wasn’t the issue, but did not divulge if he would turn to Mikko Koskinen Monday night.

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Flames vs. Jets, 6:45 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 3: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

Predictions for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Why your team won’t (and will) win the Stanley Cup this season
NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule