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Preds see no reason to mess with success in chase for Cup

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators see no reason to make any major changes to a roster that won the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy, not with a group that has been so very close to that elusive Stanley Cup the past two seasons.

”It didn’t work out in the playoffs the way we wanted,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. ”But we truly believe this team can win a Stanley Cup, and that’s why we want to keep this team together.”

The Predators lost the 2017 Stanley Cup Final in six games to Pittsburgh and followed that up with the best regular season in team history. But Nashville’s quest for a repeat run to the Final ended in the first Game 7 on home ice in the Western Conference semifinals with a loss to Winnipeg , the team that finished second overall behind the Predators in the regular season.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm said a Game 7 can go either way. The Predators know the rest of the Western Conference keeps loading up with talent through trades and signings. That makes just reaching the playoffs a challenge in the West, much less repeating either as conference or Central Division champs.

”It’s a privilege we are together still, and we barely had any change on our roster,” Ekholm said. ”I see that as a very positive thing.”

Some other things to know about the Predators this season:

NET QUESTIONS

Pekka Rinne is coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning season, his first in his fourth time as a finalist for the award for the NHL’s top goalie in the regular season. He was at his best carrying the Predators to the Presidents’ Trophy, going 42-13-4 with eight shutouts, a 2.31 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. He also earned his 300th career victory on Feb. 22. Rinne turns 36 in November and is going into the final season of his current contract.

The Predators also signed Rinne’s backup, a fellow Finn in Juuse Saros who was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie team for the season. Saros, 23, signed a three-year extension after going 11-5-7 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

”There’s more skill on the ice than ever before, the same goes for goalies,” Rinne said. ”You really have to take care of yourself, and I feel like I had a good summer. I’m healthy and energized and feel really good so looking forward to this season.”

ROSTER TWEAKS

Center Mike Fisher retired again, this time for good after coming out of retirement to rejoin the Predators in late February. Veteran forward Scott Hartnell also was let go with his experienced replaced by signing Dan Hamhuis, a defenseman Nashville drafted at No. 12 in the 2001 entry draft. Defenseman Alexei Emelin also was allowed to leave for the KHL.

NASHVILLE KEEPERS

Along with an extension for Saros, general manager David Poile also signed forwards Ryan Hartman and Miikka Salomaki to extensions keeping the restricted free agents around. The biggest deal of the offseason for Nashville easily was signing defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year deal worth $50 million that keeps him under contract through the 2026-27 season. Ellis still had a season remaining, so Poile kept the defenseman’s status from hanging over the Predators. The move also keeps three of Nashville’s top four defensemen – Ellis, P.K. Subban and Ekholm – signed through the 2021-22 season.

YOUNG HOPES

Eeli Tolvanen couldn’t have come to the NHL with much higher expectations after setting a scoring record as an 18-year-old for Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League, and he also tied for the second-most points by an under-19 player for Finland at the Winter Olympics with nine points in five games. He played three games down the stretch for Nashville. Rinne said European media were disappointed Tolvanen didn’t have a hat trick in his opener, but the goalie believes the teen made the right move to get acquainted with the Predators last spring.

”I’m expecting big things out of him,” Rinne said.

Ryan Johansen

The Predators sure could use a big step forward in the regular season by the big first-line center. Johansen ranked fourth on the team in points in the regular season with 54 in 79 games. Then Johansen scored better than a point a game with 14 points in 13 games in the postseason, and the center looking a bit more at the net than passing could provide a boost across the top line with Filip Forsberg.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 4 stream at 4 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jeff Petry scored from a sharp angle by banking it off Matt Murray’s helmet early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner once again in this series for the Habs. Petry became the seventh defenseman in NHL history – and fourth in the modern era (since 1943-44) – to score two game-winning goals through his team’s first three contests in a postseason.

The Penguins have now lost eight of their last nine playoff games dating back to the 2018 Second Round.

Tristan Jarry will replace Matt Murray in goal for Game 4.

Although the Habs netminder allowed more than two goals for the first time this series, Carey Price had another solid performance in net, turning aside 30 of 33 shots faced. When the Habs tied the game in the second and then took the lead in the third, Price elevated his game to help preserve the win.

Through three games this series, Price has a .937 SV% and a 2.19 GAA.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Barzal, Beauvillier help Islanders eliminate Panthers

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The Panthers had no answers for Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal in Game 4. The Islanders duo combined for three of their five goals during a 5-1 series-clinching win.

The 23-year-old Beauvillier put Florida on their heels midway through the first period with a pair of goals 3:38 apart. He surprised Sergei Bobrovsky on his first goal, whipping a backhand from just below the circle towards the unsuspecting netminder.

“Mistakes is mistakes,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s a game of mistakes.”

Beauvillier, who finished the series with three goals and five points, doubled the lead minutes later when he connected with a fantastic saucer pass from Barzal.

“I just think right now that Beau is enjoying playing good hockey and he’s getting rewarded for it with production,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. “He is skating on the puck, he’s working, he’s just focused on his job in that moment.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Panthers would get one back late in the first, but Brock Nelson answered midway through the second. Not long after the Islanders reinstated their two-goal lead, Aleksander Barkov had a great chance to cut the lead to one, but Ryan Pulock had other ideas.

“You look back on it, it should’ve been a goal 10 times out of 10,” Barkov said afterward.

Semyon Varlamov bounced back from a Game 3 defeat to stop 24 out of 25 shots faced.

New York has won a postseason series for a second straight year, and it’s only their third series victory since 1992-93. Who they will play in the First Round next week is still up in the air, but it will be one of Tampa, Philadelphia, Washington, or Boston.

The loss extends the Panthers’ postseason woes. Florida has not won a playoff series since their 1995-96 run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the longest active drought in the NHL.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI win series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders 5, Panthers 1

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Not just Price is right: Canadiens have Penguins on brink

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It seemed like any hope the Montreal Canadiens had of beating the Pittsburgh Penguins rested on the shoulders of goaltender Carey Price.

Price has shouldered a big load in net, but he’s not the only reason the high-powered Penguins are on the brink of elimination, down 2-1 in the best-of-five qualifying round series. Montreal has held star Russian center Evgeni Malkin to zero even-strength points with one power-play assist through three games and can knock out Pittsburgh with one more victory in Game 4 Friday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).

“Pricey’s been really solid: He’s making some key saves for us,” center Phillip Danault said. “But yeah, he’s not alone in this and it’s important for him to know. We show some character, we go toe to toe. We embrace the challenge.”

The Eastern Conference’s 12th (and lowest) seed has shut down the NHL’s best team that didn’t get the luxury of a bye into the traditional first round of the playoffs. Beyond Price’s 104 saves on 111 shots to match the lofty expectations for his game, the Canadiens have held the Penguins to three power-play goals in 15 chances and bottled up an opponent that won the Stanley Cup twice in the previous four seasons.

Two-time playoff MVP Sidney Crosby has scored twice and added an assist, though Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are also tied with him for the most points on the Penguins with three. The team defense in front of Price has been suffocating and explains why the Canadiens are a win away from advancing.

“We’re definitely aware when Malkin’s on the ice or Crosby’s on the ice and we try and limit their chances and take their space away as quick as possible,” Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot said. “But they’re world-class players and they’re going to get their opportunities, and that’s when Carey steps in and does what he’s been doing for us. It’s five of us out there working together, playing defense and we’re just trying to keep it as tight as possible when those guys are on the ice.”

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Coyotes-Predators stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 4 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After winning Game 1 by scoring four goals, Arizona did the same in Game 3, coming away with a 4-1 victory on to take back the series lead. Darcy Kuemper made 39 saves in Game 3; he made 40 saves in their Game 1 win.

The Coyotes wore their retro Kachina jerseys Wednesday and will continue to wear them in all “home” games (including today) throughout the playoffs.

A win in Game 4 will give the Coyotes their first series win in eight years. Since moving to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes franchise has won just two playoff series – both in 2012, when they defeated Chicago in the opening round and the Predators in the second round.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule