Couture once again steps up for Sharks in postseason

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Logan Couture got San Jose started in the opener of the Western Conference final against St. Louis by finishing off a 2-on-1 rush. He sealed the win with an empty-net goal, and in between, he did everything else the Sharks needed on both ends of the ice.

Just another typical standout performance from Couture, who always seems to be at his best at this time of year.

”Logan Couture, if he’s not the top two-way center in the league, he’s in that conversation,” coach Peter DeBoer said after Couture had two goals and one assist in a 6-3 win over the Blues in Game 1 on Saturday night.

”Plays a 200-foot game, always on the right side of the puck, always making the right reads. When your center is like that, he drives the guys around him to play an honest game like that.”

Couture and linemates Timo Meier and Gustav Nyquist once again led the way for the Sharks, with Meier also having two goals and an assist, Nyquist getting two helpers and the trio combining for a plus-seven rating.

This is Couture’s time of year. Ever since his first postseason as a rookie in 2010, he has shined on the big stage. His 45 goals in the playoffs since making his debut that season are second most in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin‘s 50. He leads the NHL this postseason with 11 goals and 17 points and is one of six active players with two postseasons with at least 10 goals.

But four of those other players have won the Stanley Cup – a goal that has eluded Couture and the Sharks despite making it to the conference finals for the fourth time in his 10 seasons.

”We haven’t won,” he said. ”So I don’t care what my numbers get to be. I could go this whole playoffs and have zero points and if we win the Stanley Cup I’ll be the happiest guy in this room.”

Couture led the NHL with 30 points in the 2016 playoffs, when the Sharks got to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, and he scores at a higher rate in the playoffs than the regular season despite the tougher opponents and more defensive approach.

He has eight game-winning goals in the playoffs and two in overtime, earning the reputation as a clutch player.

”His biggest thing is he doesn’t change his game no matter what the situation is,” teammate Erik Karlsson said. ”I think we all know that these games are more important than the regular season, but that doesn’t mean that the game of hockey is changing. You still have to do the same thing out there to be successful. He’s really good at doing that. No matter what happens out there, he doesn’t let anything affect him, and he’s not trying to do things that aren’t normal.”

While the goals and the points get the attention from outsiders, his team respects him most for aspects of his game that don’t always show up on the scoresheet.

He plays in all situations, including the penalty kill, often matches up against top lines, takes faceoffs, blocks shots and is a leader in the dressing room.

”I think Logan is the consummate ‘I’m not going to tell you, I’m going to show you what my commitment level is,”’ DeBoer said. ”He brings that every night. … I know everybody looks at the goals and where he is in the scoring and the production and what he’s brought offensively. For me, he walks the walk at both ends of the rink. Those are the type of guys you can win with.”

TARASENKO’S STRUGGLES

While Couture delivered for the Sharks in Game 1, the Blues know they will need more from one of their top forwards if they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the team with 33 goals in the regular season, was once again mostly a nonfactor in the conference final outside of an assist on St Louis’ first goal. Tarasenko managed just one shot on goal and was on the ice for four of San Jose’s goals.

Tarasenko also struggled the last time the Blues made it this far in the postseason back in 2016, when they lost to the Sharks in six games. He had no points and a minus-four rating in the first five games before finally scoring twice in the third period of a 5-2 loss in the clincher.

”Vladi’s got to work without the puck a lot harder and he will,” coach Craig Berube said. ”He’s got to get more involved. You can’t just wait for things to happen, especially in the playoffs. You’ve got to go get it and you’ve got to go make it yourself. It’s about working and it’s about working with your line.”

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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.