Saturday, May 31, 2014

NHL Scouting Combine continues to evolve

TORONTO -- The NHL Scouting Combine has come a long way since the days of fitness testing in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

That was evident this week when the 21st installment of the Combine was held at the Westin Bristol Place and The International Centre.

A total of 119 of the top prospects from North American and Europe did their rounds of interviews and fitness exams at one of the NHL's premier events leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28.

This year's format was revised to include a trio of more dynamic test stations for overhand pull-ups, single-leg squats (both legs) and a pro agility shuttle. Live display monitors allowed NHL personnel to view immediate results with height and weight, pro agility shuttle and vertical jump scores.

"Pro agility is kind of my specialty area, so I was glad it was added," Portland Winterhawks forward Chase De Leo told "I'm a smaller guy so I'm always trying to be quicker and faster than others. I think it went well and I felt confident in that."

While center Samuel Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2014 Draft, didn't score well in pull-ups, NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr is confident it certainly won't be held against him in the early stages of the first round.

"The fact he can play the game the way he plays the game, I think teams feel he's a pretty complete package and the combine process allows teams to fill in any blanks," Marr said. "The team that will get Sam Bennett knows what work is needed and they'll be able to put him on the proper path for development."

Bennett was glad to be given the opportunity to let teams get to know him.

"The Combine was definitely a chance for the teams to get to know me off the ice and get to see how I do in the gym and how I can push myself," Bennett said. "I did have a lot of fun this weekend and it was really cool talking to all the teams and getting to know them. I was honest and just wanted them to get to know me."

Marr, who was overseeing his third Combine, was impressed by how well the members of this year's draft class represented themselves.

"If you go back 10-15 years, they were more overwhelmed but now it's impressive how well the players get the support of their junior teams and agents prepare them for this event," Marr said. "This is a genuinely good group of kids. There used to be a time when all these prospects had that deer-in-the-headlights look and were a little apprehensive when they get here.

"Now they know what's coming because they hear from their friends who have already gone through it. I think the guys in the first testing group are more apprehensive than the others, but once they get going they're just fine."

This year's fitness venue at The International Centre was constructed in a 16,302-square foot room that was a little more than 200 feet long, up from a 12,807-square foot space last year. The size of the fitness floor not only provided more room for the prospects but for the scouts and general managers in attendance as well.

Unlike previous years, the interviewing stage of the Combine was conducted during a five-day period; the functional movement screening was held on Thursday, medical examinations on Friday and the fitness tests were completed in one day on Saturday.

"I thought the kids were well prepared but also seemed to be a little more engaging and comfortable," Edmonton Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor said. "There were a few nervous guys, but maybe not quite as many as previous years. A lot of them seemed to be comfortable in communicating which I thought was good. Overall it was a real solid group. We didn't have any real poor interviews; just a lot of good ones."

Two extra bikes were included this year, increasing the Wingate Cycle Ergometer total to three and the VO2 Max to five. The added equipment created a smoother transition between tests.

"The combine fitness segment isn't a competition or a pass-or-fail type of test," Marr said. "It allows the NHL strength coaches to see where these players are in their current state of development and identify areas for improvement."

The late E.J. McGuire was still very much in the minds and hearts of everyone at the Combine.

McGuire, who served as Director of Central Scouting for seven years, passed away on April 7, 2011, following a five-month battle with leiomyoscarcoma, a rare form of cancer. McGuire, 58, was the architect of many of the innovations Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the League's clubs with the most comprehensive list of NHL Entry Draft-eligible prospects each season. The Combine was a major part of that process.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Kings can't avoid Kane, even on off day

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings are getting tired of talking about Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane and the new line combination that's given them problems in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Final.

In fact, the Kings on Saturday were tired of talking about the Blackhawks in general. They've lost two straight games to the defending Stanley Cup champions to let a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series slip away, forcing Game 7 on Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

It will be the third straight series the Kings have been played a Game 7, making them the third team in NHL history to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs that way, the first to do it with every deciding game on the road.

They don't want to talk about that either. They just want to play it.

"Being self-driven is part of how we got here," said forward Justin Williams, who is 6-0 in Game 7s and ranks second in NHL history with six goals and six assists in them. "We're successful hockey players because we've been able to rise to the challenge every time it's come toward us. Right now we're just forgetting all this other junk that's going on. We're in Game 7. The best team's going to win tomorrow and that's that. And we're going to make sure it's us."

In order to do that, the Kings will have to do a better job containing Kane and linemates Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw, who were put together by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville to start Game 5.

Kane has two goals and five assists since then, Saad has elevated his two-way play to help open the ice for him, and Shaw is using his speed and grit to get to the front of the net for screens of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

Kane was the topic that dominated a press conference Saturday featuring Williams, defenseman Willie Mitchell and center Anze Kopitar. Kane scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 and set up the game-tying goal by Duncan Keith not too long before it, each in the third period after Chicago fell behind 3-2 before winning 4-3. In Game 5, a double-overtime, 5-4 win for Chicago, Kane assisted on the goal by Michal Handzus that won it.

"Well, I'm not going to be here and toot his horn so much," Williams said of Kane. "He's an enemy right now. He's obviously had a huge impact on the last two games, on how they ended. Let's hope that's not the case tomorrow. There's no secret on how you play him, I think. You try and limit his space is what you do."

Mitchell expanded on that sentiment.

"You know, he's a great player," the veteran defenseman said. "We all know that and he plays well in [big] games, so as a group we've got to collectively do a heck of a job against him. We did that in Games 1 through 4 and the last couple games, I think, as a group we gave him some life. So we need to do the same things we did in the first four games and not the last two … check hard and deny him the puck, and when he has the puck, give him the least amount of time as possible, because he's a very creative player and he'll create things not only for himself but for other players out there."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter was asked to weigh in on Kane. He had plenty to say, especially when asked about criticism Kane took in the media for scoring one point, an assist, in the first four games.

"I think it was what everybody was saying just because he hadn't had a point," Sutter said. "He was still very effective. We were very still every time he was on the ice. Somebody would say, 'Cover Kane,' or 'He's behind you,' or, 'That's who they're talking about,' so just because he [didn't] have a point, for whatever reason that's drifted into our game, where if you don't get a point or something, it's, 'Oh, Jeez, he's really struggling,' which is really not the case."

Sutter brought up the Kings' edge in Game 7 experience, with 18 players having played in at least three compared to only Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa having played in that many (seven).

"I just think what it does, is it can take you away from any of the anxiety of it," Sutter said. "I didn't look at it like it's Game 7. I just look at it like we're going to do everything we can to beat Chicago, just like we did last night and just like we did the night before. And somebody outside's not going to decide how we play or any of that. We'll just stay focused on what we can control and play the game."

Injured Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr, who's been out with a knee injury since Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Anaheim Ducks, has been skating on his own for a week but hasn't taken contact and is doubtful to play, Sutter said.

No pull-ups for top-ranked prospect Bennett at scouting combine

Sam Bennett had no problem scoring goals or showing his gritty side this past season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. The same can’t be said for one element of fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.

According to a report from The Canadian Press, the 17-year-old Bennett, who had 91 points in 57 regular season games for Kingston and is the top-ranked North American skater heading into the June NHL Draft, couldn’t do a single pull-up during Saturday’s fitness testing.

“I was definitely disappointed with myself,” Bennett said, as per Canadian Press. “I was wanting to do the best I can in every test. But, I guess, ultimately games aren’t won or lost if you can do a pull-up in the gym.

“I think (what sets me apart) really just a combination of my hockey sense along with my compete level … I think I compete as hard, if not harder, than anyone else.”

A left-shooting center, it seems Bennett still has some growing to do. He stands at 6’0″ and weighs 178 pounds, but doesn’t turn 18 years old until June 20 – seven days before the first round of the draft. But the way he plays the game, the “compete level” as he called it, is an element of his game scouts seem to heavily picked up on.

“He plays the kind of game you think cannot be sustained for a whole season because it’s a high-energy game and compete game at all ends of the ice,” said NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory, as per Bennett’s profile at

“He ends up playing that game for the whole year and has led his team. He just never stops, and put that with the skill package he has and how well he thinks the game, he’s pretty much a top-notch player.”

Seven questions for Blackhawks-Kings Game 7

CHICAGO -- Game 7 is the only fitting ending to this unforgettable Western Conference Final between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

The best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series is tied 3-3 with the deciding game Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Everything is on the line for these teams, who have been equals of each other in almost every available metric. Like great heavyweight boxers, they have spent the first six rounds probing the opponent's weaknesses and defending their shortcomings as best as possible.

Some knockout punches have been landed, for sure. Los Angeles scored six straight goals in Game 2 to even the series, playing 22 minutes of superior hockey out of 60 that night. The Kings followed with two wins to take a stranglehold on the series, but the Blackhawks have found ways to get up and inflict damage of their own.

In each of the past two wins, Chicago has erased a third-period deficit. Each time, Los Angeles could envision the fourth win necessary to end the series and eliminate the defending champion while gaining a spot in the Final against the New York Rangers, which begins Wednesday. Each time, the Blackhawks, led by Patrick Kane, found a way to survive.

Now the ultimate elimination game has arrived. The Kings have squandered their margin of error and Sunday will be hockey's greatest spectacle: a win-or-go-home game for each team.

Who will win? Who will go home? That will be decided during the passion play which will evolve during three or more hours at United Center.

While we wait for the answers, here are seven questions for Game 7:

1. Will 'Mr. Game 7' steal the show?

The numbers for Kings forward Justin Williams in Game 7s tell the story: six goals, six assists and six wins in six NHL Game 7s.

Williams scored the first goal and had an assist in the 6-2, Game 7 rout of the Anaheim Ducks in the second round. He had an assist against the San Jose Sharks in the first-round clincher. He delivers in these situations so regularly it is now expected of him.

Playing on the Kings' third line, he's become the top player among their bottom-six forwards, and that's an area where the Kings can gain an advantage against the Blackhawks.

2. Who is going to make history?

One of these teams is going to accomplish something no one has in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks can become the first team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a series two years in a row.

The Kings can become the first team to win three Game 7s on the road in one postseason, and the first to play the full 21 games possible and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Two teams, the 2002 Colorado Avalanche and the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs, reached this point then lost Game 7 of the conference final.

3. Which goalie will blink?

The goaltending matchup has been fascinating. Chicago's Corey Crawford and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick have taken turns playing hero and goat.

The overall numbers for them are not great. Crawford has allowed 21 goals and has an .884 save percentage, but he might have been playing some of his best hockey of the series in Game 6, denying the Kings on several great chances in a 4-3 win.

Quick has allowed 19 goals and has an .886 save percentage. He allowed two goals on three shots in the third period of Game 6, giving up a lead. He has allowed seven goals in six elimination games this season and has stopped 74 of 77 shots in two Game 7 victories.

4. Who emerges as an early Conn Smythe favorite?

The winner of this game will be favored to win the Stanley Cup. What happens in the Final always has a large bearing on who wins the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it doesn't hurt to be a top player in the first three rounds.

Chicago's best at this point are forwards Kane and Jonathan Toews. Not only are they the top two scorers on the Blackhawks in the postseason, they've each scored some huge goals. Kane has been incredible in the past two games, with seven points.

Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Anze Kopitar have essentially been co-MVPs for its entire run. Kopitar leads the NHL with 23 points and has a faced world-class center in each round, and Doughty was probably having the best postseason of any defenseman in the League before his monster Game 5 and heroics in Game 6.

5. Whose second line will reign supreme?

The Kings struck first when its second line of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Jeff Carter took over the final 22 minutes of Game 2, turning a two-goal deficit into a 6-2 victory and stealing home-ice advantage. Of the six goals, Carter scored three and Toffoli had one.

In Game 3, they did it again. Carter and Toffoli scored, and the line finished with five points in the Kings' 4-3 win. In Game 5, Pearson scored, and the Kings won 5-2 to put the Blackhawks on the ropes.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his second line looking for a solution. He moved Andrew Shaw up to join Kane and Brandon Saad. The results were immediate and stunning. Saad scored in Game 5, and Kane had a career-best four assists when his team won 5-4 in OT. Two nights later, Kane had two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist for seven points in the two elimination games.

6. How crazy will United Center be?

United Center is not the original "Madhouse on Madison," but during the past five years it has earned its legacy to venerable Chicago Stadium.

In Game 5, the Blackhawks said the support of the crowd pushed them to victory. During the fast and furious overtime period, the United Center was as loud as it has been during any point of the six Stanley Cup Final games played there since 2010.

Sunday night it will be even louder. When Jim Cornelison takes the ice to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner," the arena will be a roiling cauldron of fury designed to intimidate the Kings and inspire the Blackhawks. The noise will end only if the Blackhawks fall too far behind for a reasonable comeback to be in the cards.

7. Who will be the unlikely hero?

Game 7 lore is full of unlikely heroes.

Stephane Matteau scored one of the most famous goals in hockey history with his double-overtime winner for the Rangers in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final. Mike Rupp scored two goals for the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final against the Ducks. Countless others have been immortalized for similar contributions.

Blackhawks veteran forward Michal Handzus already has a double-overtime winner in this series (Game 5). Unheralded forward Ben Smith scored a go-ahead goal in Game 6.

Kings forward Dwight King scored the first goal in Game 6, and defenseman Alec Martinez gave Los Angeles a third-period lead.

Each of these teams is incredibly deep and willing to run four forward lines, so the candidates for an unlikely hero are bountiful.

Actions speak louder than words for Blackhawks’ Kane

When his team needed it the most, Patrick Kane stepped up and delivered.

He assisted Duncan Keith on the game-tying goal in the third period of Friday’s thrilling Game 6 against the L.A. Kings, then scored the winner with less than four minutes remaining in regulation time. With his contributions – he also got Chicago on the board in the second period – the Blackhawks defeated the Kings to force a Game 7 on Sunday.

He’s shown in the past an ability to step up in key situations. He’s averaged a point-per-game in these playoffs, with eight points in the last three games. In 92 post-season games with Chicago since 2008-09, he’s recorded 89 points. His overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 earned the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup victory since 1961.

When the game is on the line, Kane has shown an ability to thrive.

“He doesn’t say too much, but he wants to take charge and do it on the ice,” said Chicago’s head coach Joel Quenneville, as per the L.A. Times. “His actions on the ice in the last two games speak very loudly about the kind of competitor he is and what kind of player he is. He made us a couple plays in that third period that are moving us forward.

“Bigger the stage, he likes that challenge. Special player he can get it done as good as anyone in the game.”

Wild, coach Yeo agree on multi-year contract extension

It’s official now.

The Minnesota Wild have agreed to a multi-year contract extension with head coach Mike Yeo, the club announced Saturday. The news comes after reports the two sides were closing in on a new deal.

With Yeo behind the bench, the Wild qualified for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs in what was their first trip to the post-season since 2008 when they took the former Northwest Division. This year, they advanced to the second round of the playoffs, defeating the Colorado Avalanche in seven games and then taking the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to six games.

”I am very excited to continue to coach the Minnesota Wild and pursue a Stanley Cup for the State of Hockey,” said Yeo in a statement released by the club.

“Our fan support has been amazing and it went to a new level during the playoffs this season. We are all motivated to reward them.”

Added general manager Chuck Fletcher: “Mike has done a very good job the last three seasons as our Head Coach and we look forward to his leadership going forward.”

The Wild finished the 2013-14 regular season with a 43-27-12 record, good enough for 98 points and fourth in the highly competitive Central Division. Mixed in there along the way was a six-game losing streak through the end of December and into early January.

But even then, players were quick to defend their coach, and that included captain Mikko Koivu. He put the onus for their mid-season struggles squarely on the players rather than the team’s system or its coach.

Canadiens face contract decisions on Subban, others

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens' leadership group could have an entirely different look next season.

Captain Brian Gionta and alternate captain Andrei Markov are eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 1, and the possibility exists neither will be back with the Canadiens.

Gionta, 35, and Markov, 36, are nearing the ends of their respective careers, and their next contract would remain on a team's salary cap even if they retire because they are 35 or older.

Gionta recognized he probably will need to take a pay cut from his salary of $5 million per season, but he expressed a desire to return to Montreal. He said there haven't been any talks with general manager Marc Bergevin but hopes that happens soon.

"We love it here," Gionta said Saturday when the Canadiens cleaned out their lockers after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers two days earlier. "My family's been here for a while. We love the city. We love the team and believe in the team and the direction of the team, so we'll leave it up to [Bergevin] and my agent to take care of it.

"Nothing's been discussed. We have a mutual respect for each other and I'm sure we'll get together soon."

Bergevin will address the media Monday, but he has spoken glowingly in the past of Gionta's leadership qualities and character. He has shown an ability to adapt during his time in Montreal.

Gionta arrived as an unrestricted free agent from the New Jersey Devils as a player with a reputation for scoring goals, a big reason he was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract.

In his first season with the Canadiens in 2009-10, Gionta scored 28 goals in 61 games and had nine in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He followed that with a 29-goal season in 2010-11 but has not approached those totals since.

He scored 18 goals this season, and after scoring in the first game of the playoffs did not score again in the next 16 games. His value now lies elsewhere; he's an important penalty-killer and reliable forward who can be deployed against the opposing team's top players.

"Your role is always changing, depending on the makeup of the team," Gionta said. "Things change. I think my role has always been the same though."

Markov's role also remained the same, and it's an important one on the Canadiens. He makes up one of the best power-play defenseman tandems in the NHL alongside P.K. Subban; they combined for 44 power-play points in the regular season. The only tandem that had more was Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes with 53 points.

Markov did not speak to reporters Saturday, but Subban expressed his desire to see his power-play partner return.

"Obviously [Markov's] a big part of this team and he's been a big part of this organization for a long time," Subban said. "I consider him a good friend and a very good teammate so obviously I want to see him here. But hockey is a business and you just don't know what could happen. In my heart, I want to see him here and to have another chance to win championships with him, for sure."

Subban represents a more complicated problem for Bergevin.

A restricted free agent July 1, Subban completed the second year of the so-called bridge contract he signed after the 2012-13 season began, missing the first six games of the season coming out of the lockout. Subban went on to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2013 and led the Canadiens in playoff scoring this spring with 14 points in 17 games.

If he had no leverage two years ago when negotiating with Bergevin, Subban certainly does now. But he made no effort to hide that he wants to play for the Canadiens for a long time.

"Since 2007 when I was drafted by Montreal, I think I've made it pretty clear that I want to remain here and play here for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my career," Subban said. "It's a great place to play. I love playing here. I enjoy the fans. They've been completely supportive of myself and the hockey club since I've been here. We've had a lot of good years since I've been here and there's no doubt in my mind that there's a lot more to be accomplished. Hopefully I'm here a long time to do that."

Subban, 25, is one of two important restricted free agents on Bergevin's docket, the other being center Lars Eller, Montreal's top-scoring forward in the playoffs with 13 points in 17 games.

Eller, 25, had a difficult regular season with 26 points in 77 games; half of that point total came in his first 20 games. But he showed in the playoffs what kind of player he can be and hopes to show it on a more-consistent basis next season in an offensive role.

"I want to be a top-six forward, and hopefully a center," Eller said. "That's still my goal, to round up into that player that can be depended on at both ends of the ice, playing in important situations, if you're down a goal or up a goal. That's the player I want to be."

After falling two wins short of the Stanley Cup Final and with young veterans Subban, Eller, Max Pacioretty and goaltender Carey Price leading the way, the general sentiment in the dressing room Saturday was that this playoff run was just a taste of things to come.

"I look at the Montreal Canadiens winning the Cup in '93 and only being to the conference finals two times since then, and I've been to them both times," Subban said. "A lot of guys go their whole career and never make it to a conference final and get to within two wins of a Stanley Cup Final, so I understand the importance of taking advantage of those moments. It's unfortunate we didn't get that done this year, but I know that the future is bright and there's going to be plenty of opportunities for us to redeem ourselves and take that next step."

Blackhawks, Kings each have good Game 7 history

The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks each have some history on their side as they prepare for Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, to be played Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Not only will the Blackhawks have more than 21,000 fans rooting them on, they'll have the precedent of 91 wins by home teams in 155 Game 7s since the best-of-7 format was adopted in 1939. That includes Chicago's 2-1 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 Western Conference Semifinals, the Blackhawks' most-recent Game 7.

The Blackhawks are 6-5 in Game 7s, 5-2 at home. They've won their past four Game 7s in their building since losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1971 Stanley Cup Final at Chicago Stadium.

Los Angeles has won two Game 7s in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, each on the road and each in convincing fashion. The Kings defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-1 to complete a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference First Round, then knocked off the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 in the second round to advance to the conference final.

This is the seventh time this spring the Kings will be playing an elimination game; they've won each of the first six.

Home teams have won 59 percent of the 155 Game 7s in NHL history (91-64), but visiting teams have thrived in recent years. In these playoffs, road teams are 5-1 in Game 7s and are 17-11 since 2004.

Los Angeles is 6-4 in Game 7s and has won three in a row in the past two years. The Kings are 4-3 on the road, including 2-0 this year. They won the only Game 7 they've played in a conference final by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road in 1993.

Each team will be trying to make some history.

The Blackhawks are trying to become the second team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and win a conference final. The 2000 New Jersey Devils are the only team to do so; they won the final three games against the Philadelphia Flyers, including a Game 7 victory at Philadelphia.

The Blackhawks are trying to become the first team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in consecutive years after rallying to eliminate the Red Wings last spring. That was the first time Chicago had come back to win a series after losing three of the first four games.

Los Angeles is the third team to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs by playing three consecutive seven-game series. A victory would make the Kings the first team to advance to the Final by winning three straight Game 7s; the 2002 Colorado Avalanche and 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs lost in the deciding game of their conference final series.

There's some individual history on the line.

Los Angeles forwards Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams and Mike Richards each come into the game against Chicago with a 6-0 record in Game 7s. Williams has six goals and 12 points in those games; he's one short of the NHL record for goals (Glenn Anderson) and points (Doug Gilmour) in Game 7s.

A victory by the Kings will make Darryl Sutter the winningest Game 7 coach in NHL history. He is 6-3 in deciding games, including 3-0 with the Kings. Sutter shares the record with Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns. Sutter will be taking part in his 10th Game 7, matching the mark held by Claude Julien and Mike Keenan.

Toronto Marlies vs Texas Stars: Game 5, Western Conference Finals

Go marlies go, I hope this is a preview for the big club next few years.....great to see the kids doing well, great experience for them down the road......fill the net you little bastards and skate your hearts out....I want to see you sexy bitches here in st.john's to face the icacaps in the fnals and take it all! Giddy up?

Dave Morrison from the Draft Combine


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Video: Daneyko says Kings’ depth makes them team to beat

One aspect of teams going deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs that’s often talked about is depth. Being able to sustain injuries and a lack of production from players makes the run for the Cup so daunting.

Former Stanley Cup champion Ken Daneyko says the Los Angeles Kings have enough depth to make them the team to beat as he shared in his chat on Edward Jones Face Time.

The Kings face the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET from United Center in Chicago on NBCSN Sunday night. Will that depth show through or will it be all about the superstars taking control?

Doubting Thomas: Vanek laments poor finish with Habs

Thomas Vanek‘s run with the Montreal Canadiens ended on a low note and as the team packs up for the summer, he told reporters he’s got a lot to think about as he heads to free agency.

Vanek had no goals and two assists in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. Overall in the playoffs, he had five goals and 10 points with four of the five goals coming against the Boston Bruins.

So why did he struggle against New York? It wasn’t because he was hurt.

Vanek had been on a line with David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty but was eventually moved to the third line with Daniel Briere and Rene Bourque. That adjustment was apparently tough for Vanek to make.

“I was put in a position to do well here and once I got moved I struggled, couldn’t find chemistry,” Vanek said.

As for whether or not he could see himself returning to Montreal, he said he could because he wants to play for a winning team and that’s what they have there. All that said, Vanek said he’s excited for the summer and to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.

The only question now is who will come calling for him after such a disappointing finish with the Habs.

Rangers overcame tough start to get to Cup Final

NEW YORK -- This was Alain Vigneault letting his hair down for a few moments.

His tie was still done up and his shirt was still crisp, as if it had been recently pressed, but the New York Rangers coach was very much at ease and even somewhat giddy as he stood at the podium in the press conference room at Madison Square Garden late Thursday.

Vigneault was fielding questions following the Rangers' 1-0 series-clinching win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. He had already answered two questions before hearing the third.

Now Vigneault was laughing.

"In October?" Vigneault responded to the question, sounding as if he wanted to be sure he heard it correctly.

That's right, if someone gave you a phone call in October and told you the Rangers would be playing in the Stanley Cup Final in June, what would have been your honest reaction at that moment?

"Probably would have said, 'What are you smoking?'" Vigneault answered, creating a chorus of laughter in a room filled with hockey media.

Nobody around the Rangers was laughing in October. Certainly nobody in New York, or really the NHL at large, had any clue that the Rangers were capable of making the run they have made in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They will play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in either Los Angeles or Chicago on Wednesday.

"Our group isn't finished yet," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We don't want this to end. We want to continue the journey."

The Rangers looked like they were on a journey to nowhere in the first month of Vigneault's first season behind their bench.

They started the season with nine straight road games. That stretch, and the long training camp in the mountains of Banff, Alberta that preceded, it were required because of renovations at the Garden.

The Rangers were 3-6-0 with 33 goals against before they played a home game.

Rick Nash was out with a concussion sustained in the third game of the season. Carl Hagelin wasn't playing because of offseason shoulder surgery. Ryan Callahan was playing, but not 100 percent because of a similar offseason shoulder surgery.

"It got a little snakey there for a while," Rangers center Brad Richards said. "There were some down moments. It took a while to get everybody going."

Including goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who looked like a lost cause with an .890 save percentage in his first seven appearances. Lundqvist was challenging shooters outside his blue paint, something he rarely does. He was out of position and well out of his comfort zone.

"It was my toughest start in my career," Lundqvist said.

New York finally opened at the newly-renovated Garden on Oct. 28 and looked listless in a 2-0 loss to the Canadiens. Things couldn't have been bleaker.

Rangers' fans were calling for Vigneault to be fired 10 games into the first season of a reported five-year contract. They wanted John Tortorella back.

The players did not.

"I just felt the patience from the coaching staff," Lundqvist said. "They understood the process for us to be a successful team. We did change a lot of things going into the season. I think it was a time where we had to find ourselves a little bit as a group."

They put themselves in a hole in those first nine games and spent the next 69 games digging themselves out before clinching a playoff berth on April 7.

Along the way, the Rangers traded Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Martin St. Louis. They have been without a captain since, but their leadership core is as strong as ever and sparked by Richards, the team's de facto captain.

Martin Biron retired, giving way to rookie Cam Talbot to serve as Lundqvist's backup. Talbot was huge in November and December as Lundqvist struggled to figure out his game.

He did eventually rediscover that game, and finished the season with a .920 save percentage.

Through it all, Vigneault never stopped preaching his up-tempo, fast-paced, four-line, forechecking system. The Rangers finally started to get it around Christmas. They found their four-line lineup in March. They have been at their best in the playoffs.

"We lost it, we kept battling, and figured it out," Richards said. "We figured it out to get a chance to win the Cup."

That they did is a testament to Vigneault's consistently calm approach and the players' willingness to fight through the tough moments with an eye toward the light at the end of the tunnel.

The team that barely looked like it belonged in the NHL in October is now awaiting its opponent in the Stanley Cup Final.

Nobody was smoking anything.

"It's been a great ride so far," Lundqvist said.


Moore, St. Louis storylines make this Cup run special

Here are my stories from The Journal News and

By Rick Carpiniello

Great teams usually have something special among them.

Especially hockey teams. If player 20 doesn’t do his job, it might not matter what player 1 does.

And when it’s special, when there’s a bond, there often are stories behind the individuals that make up the group.

The Rangers have had their share. Two of them happened to score what, so far, are the biggest goals of the season: Martin St. Louis’ overtime winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, and Dominic Moore’s game winner in the 1-0 clincher in Game 6 on Thursday.

You know their stories by now.

Moore lost his wife, Katie, to cancer in January 2013 and sat out the entire shortened season before signing with his original team, the Rangers. St. Louis came at the trade deadline in a difficult (for both sides) trade for Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, and, with the Rangers trailing favored Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round, found out that his mother, France, had passed away.

“There’s been quite a few story lines this year, and those two are obviously big ones,” Brad Richards, a close friend of St. Louis’ from their Cup days in Tampa 10 years ago, said. “I think as you go through runs … there always seem to be little things that you can grab and build on, and that’s what makes it so special to win a Stanley Cup.”

Hockey crazy: Area fans revel in Rangers’ playoff run

Moore’s line, with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, has been the Rangers’ engine since December, providing depth, energy, some offense, tons of defense, and wearing down opponents with important shifts — none bigger than the one before Moore’s 0-0 tie-snapping goal with 1:53 left in the second period Thursday.

Moore also stepped in for Derick Brassard when he missed Game 3, and for Derek Stepan when he missed Game 4.

“Like any player on the team, you want to do your job,” Moore said. “You take pride in doing your job and doing it well. And obviously in big games like this, every little bit counts.”

It’s impossible, though, to actually count what the player means to the team, and vice versa.

“I just feel tremendously proud to be a part of this team,” Moore said. “I owe a lot to my teammates for helping me get through this last year and a half, and I feel tremendously proud to be part of this team, especially amidst the circumstances of going to the Stanley Cup final.

“There’s always ups and downs this time of year. Obviously, we’ve had some things individually that we’ve shared together — Marty’s mother passing away was something we rallied around, and Marty showed leadership, so we all rallied around him.”

St. Louis’ season was difficult before he lost his mom. His own general manager, Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, snubbed St. Louis for the Canadian Olympic team. St. Louis eventually was selected as an injury replacement, and won a gold medal, but there was a rift. He requested a trade, and wanted to come to New York, close to his Greenwich, Conn., home.

Ten years after winning the Cup, he’s back in the final, a leader who became a central figure through tragedy.

“It means a lot,” St. Louis said. “Obviously it’s been a tough year for me. This makes it pretty cool. Being somewhere for 13, 14 years and changing teams, and to get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup final with these teammates of mine, who have been nothing but great through my tough time in the past few weeks — it makes it even more special.

“I am proud to be a Ranger and do it alongside these great teammates.”

You can see that pride in Richards’ eyes when he talks about St. Louis.

“The stars have to align,” Richards said about his two teammates, “and it’s great that those guys have the feeling that someone’s watching over them and helping them out.”



The Rangers won the Prince of Wales Trophy Thursday night. They treated it like a skunk.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presented the award, which goes to the Eastern Conference playoff champ, to alternate captains Brad Richards, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi after their clinching 1-0 win over Montreal.

Staal and Girardi, having never done this before, looked to Richards — who won the Stanley Cup 10 years earlier with Tampa Bay — for advice. Most teams’ captains won’t touch the conference trophies, due to superstition and the belief that those aren’t the trophies for which teams play.

“That just happened, when we were on the ice,” Staal said. “I asked (Richards), ‘Do we want to touch it?’ He said no. So I said, ‘OK.’ So I went over, shook (Daly’s) hand, took a picture and went off the ice.”

“Marty (St. Louis) and I have been there and (with Daniel Carcillo, the only other Ranger with a ring, suspended), no one else was dressed that’s been there,” Richards said. “We won it without touching it, and it was instructed (by Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk, who did not touch it) that way when we won. … It wasn’t much debate: ‘We’re not doing it,’ and that’s where we went with it.”

For what it’s worth, in 1994, Mark Messier did pick up the trophy, pose for a photo, then put it down. That night, though, before the second overtime, Stephane Matteau had broken a skate lace and went back to the locker room. When he emerged, the trophy was blocking his way. Matteau touched it for good luck and went out for the second OT. And, well, you know what happened next.

Limited Cup final tickets: Tickets for the Cup final will go on sale Monday at noon. Extremely limited tickets will be available on Ticketmaster via and Ticketmaster charge-by-phone, 866-858-0008.

Fans will be eligible to purchase a maximum of two tickets total for all games at the Garden, the team said. All ticket orders are subject to service charges. People with disabilities should call the Garden’s Disabled Services Department at 212-465-6034 for tickets.

Notch for Vigneault: Alain Vigneault joined a club you might have guessed would be more exclusive. Four of the last six coaches to get the Rangers to the Cup final did so in his first season: Frank Boucher (1940), Fred Shero (1979), Mike Keenan (1994) and Vigneault (2014).

No news on Carcillo: Winger Daniel Carcillo had the appeal of his 10-game suspension heard by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman Friday morning, though no decision came down. It could take a few days.

Carcillo was automatically suspended 10 games for abusing linesman Scott Driscoll in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final. He has already served three games, which is the minimum for any category of abuse of officials.

Defenseman John Moore will miss Game 1 of the Cup final, serving the second of his two-game suspension for a head shot against Montreal’s Dale Weise in Game 5. He missed the clincher of the conference final Thursday. It is expected that Raphael Diaz would step in for Moore again in Game 1.

Any player who plays a game in the final gets his name engraved on the Cup if his team wins.

Twitter: @RangersReport

Photo by Getty Images.

Rangers don’t mind waiting for their opponent

The Rangers did not learn on Friday which team they will face in the Stanley Cup final, and that was fine with the Rangers.

The Los Angeles Kings had a chance to close out the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Western Conference final Friday, but the Blackhawks—who trailed the series 3-1 and fell behind 3-2 in the third period—forced a Game 7 in Chicago on Sunday with a 4-3 win at Staples Center.

The Rangers, by the way, became the first team in Cup history to play two seven-game series in the first two rounds and reach the Cup final. The Kings now have a chance to become the first team to play three seven-game series and get to the final.

The Rangers have played the Kings twice in the playoffs, winning preliminary series in 1979 (en route to the Cup final) and in 1981, a series that included a wild bench-clearing brawl. Click here to see that video, described by Jim Gordon and Bill “Big Whistle” Chadwick.

The Rangers have not played the Blackhawks in the playoffs since the 1973 semifinals. They have met five times, Chicago winning four of those series (1931, 1968, 1971—the famous Pete Stemkowski triple-OT series—and 1973), the Rangers winning one (1972).

The Rangers were off on Friday, after disposing of the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday at the Garden. They will also be off Saturday and regroup on Sunday for practice in preparation for the final. They will open on the road, in either Chicago or LA, Wednesday and Saturday, before returning home for Games 3 and 4 Monday and Wednesday.

Limited tickets go on sale Monday at noon via Ticketmaster and

Photo by Getty Images.

Limited number of individual Cup final tickets on sale Monday at noon

Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Six

From the NYR:


Monday, June 2nd – 12 PM

New York, May 30, 2014 – The New York Rangers announced today that tickets for the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals will go on-sale Monday, June 2 at 12 p.m. Extremely limited tickets will be available on Ticketmaster via and Ticketmaster charge-by-phone, 866-858-0008.

As tickets will be very limited, fans will be eligible to purchase a maximum of two (2) tickets total for all games at Madison Square Garden. All ticket orders are subject to service charges. Please call the Madison Square Garden Disabled Services Department at (212) 465-6034 for tickets for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

Photo by Getty Images.

Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002. Copyright 2014 | Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, updated September 2010.

Top prospects Bennett and Kapanen survive Combine

TORONTO -- Forwards Samuel Bennett of the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs and Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland's SM-liiga certainly had their share of good and bad moments during the fitness stage of the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine at Toronto International Centre on Saturday.

The good news is that both blue chip prospects completed all the required tests in the morning. The bad news is they each "lost it" after undergoing the grueling VO2 Max bike test that measures the endurance capability of a player's heart, lungs and muscles.

"The bikes were interesting," Bennett said. "I didn't really hear the people shouting at me too much. I was more focused on my burning legs. I guess they were there to motivate and it helped a little.

"I didn't hold down my breakfast too well."

Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, was ninth in the Ontario Hockey League with 91 points in 57 games. He led Kingston in points, goals (36), assists (55), plus/minus rating (plus-34) and power-play goals (10). He also had a league-best 25-game scoring streak in which he scored 17 goals and 46 points.

Kapanen, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of international skaters eligible for the 2014 Draft, had seven goals and 14 points in 47 games for KalPa this season.

He had a different take on the men and women yelling words of encouragement into his ear.

"I actually thought the first [Wingate Ergometer bike test] was the toughest," Kapanen said. "You've got that guy screaming at you and you just want to smack him at the same time.

"The second [VO2 bike] test is hard because you just kind of get exhausted. It's not that bad at first but then you get a little light-headed and I think I puked a little after that. It wasn't that fun."

Both players were under the microscope from the moment they stepped onto the floor to begin the four body composition tests (standing height, wingspan, body weight, skinfold fat measurements). They would eventually push through the 11 individual fitness tests designed to shake them to the very core by utilizing every ounce of cardiovascular and muscle strength available.

The tests were conducted in front of many NHL scouts and general managers looking to find any hint of weakness.

With Bennett and Kapanen, there weren't too many weaknesses to be found as both athletes proved their determination, courage and desire to be the best.

"I was pretty gassed after those bike tests but it's a good thing to have these tests to see who's in shape and who's not," Kapanen said. "The interviewing phase earlier in the week was all about the season; the same questions were asked 26 times so it was kind of frustrating, but I enjoyed the experience for sure."

Bennett was disappointed he was unable to do a pull-up, one of three new tests at the Scouting Combine this year, but shrugged it off when questioned during his post-fitness media scrum.

"My upper body isn't really my strong suit," Bennett said. "I was disappointed in myself; I always want to do the best I can in every test but I guess ultimately game's aren't won or lost if you can do a pull-up in the gym. So I'm not too worried about it."

Bennett was asked what sets him apart from the other top prospects in the 2014 draft class.

"There are so many great players in the draft this year but it's a culmination of my hockey sense and compete level," he said. "I think I compete hard, if not harder than anyone else so that's my strongest asset."

Bennett, named the Canadian Hockey League's top prospect of the year, scored 18 more goals, 33 more assists, 51 more points and went from a minus-2 to a plus-34 rating in three fewer regular-season games this season. He also showcased an edge to his game, as evidenced by his 118 penalty minutes.

"I've watched the draft for the past four or five years, so it's definitely a dream of mine to be a part of it," Bennett said. "I was always hoping someday I could be there and to think that in a month it will come true is pretty cool."

Both players are now looking forward to participating in the draft in Philadelphia on June 27-28. Kapanen, whose father, Sami, played for the Philadelphia Flyers, is familiar with the City of Brotherly Love. He was asked what the equivalent of a Philly cheese stake is in Finland.

"There isn't any of that stuff [in Finland]; we try to eat healthy and that's not working out too well," Kapanen said with a grin.

Bennett will be in Philadelphia for the first time and is looking forward to the experience.

"I'm excited the draft is in Philadelphia," Bennett said. "I think there will be between 10 and 12 family members and friends at the draft and definitely my parents and my sister [Kaitlyn] will be right beside me."


Kane's sublime setup helps Chicago stay alive

LOS ANGELES -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored the game-winner Friday in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final with an unbelievable individual effort. But that goal, which gave the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings and forced a Game 7, wouldn't have come without an equally sublime play from the superstar forward almost five minutes earlier.

Kane's exquisite assist on defenseman Duncan Keith's goal, which made it 3-3 with 8:26 remaining in regulation, was the turning point of the game -- and perhaps the series.

Game 7 is Sunday in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Kings opened the third period with a pair of goals, each coming as a result of an insanely good play by Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty. He scored the goal that made it 2-2 and set up a power-play goal by Alec Martinez that gave Los Angeles its second lead of the game.

Suddenly, Chicago's season was hanging in the balance. The Blackhawks were down 3-2 in the game and 3-2 in the series with 12:22 remaining to find two answers.

Kane helped Chicago come up with the first one 3:56 after Martinez scored. It came on his fifth assist in the past two games.

Kane took a pass from center Andrew Shaw and saw the Los Angeles defense collapsing toward him. He took the puck up the side wall a bit, saw Keith knifing forward on the attack and feathered a pass to the defenseman, who ripped a shot that beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to the short side. It was Keith's fourth goal of the postseason.

"[Duncan] did a great job of splitting through the zone there, beat the guy and made a great shot," Kane said.

Less than five minutes later, Kane silenced the Staples Center crowd with another act of individual brilliance. This time, he sensed he could not get past the defense, applied the brakes and circled back up the right side toward the Kings' blue line before curling to the center of the ice between the circles. Kane saw an opening and he took it, scoring his second goal of the game.

The Blackhawks held on from there, earning the right to defend their crown in Game 7 on Sunday.

Chicago knows it will be playing in that game because of the brilliance of Kane, who had a career-best four assists in Game 5 and two goals and an assist in Game 6.

"Us players in here, we get the privilege of playing with a guy like that every day and seeing the things he can do," Keith said. "Not everybody's going to dominate a game every single game, there's a lot of hockey, a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. But you know that when it comes down to crunch time, him and [Jonathan Toews], I don't really know if there's two other guys I'd want to have on my team."

Kings-Blackhawks series is one for the ages

LOS ANGELES -- All around Jonathan Toews, people were losing their minds, overwhelmed by the moment before them late in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Friday.

Staples Center had been rocking as loud as it ever had for hockey for the past 30 minutes as one of the most spellbinding periods played out before the fans who jammed every nook and cranny of the building. The wall of sound cascading down upon the playing surface regularly drowned out whistles and sometimes even the PA system.

What was Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks' captain, doing? Trying to stop from giggling, it seems.

"I think there was about a minute left and I think there was a stoppage in play and I almost started laughing," Toews said, explaining he was looking at teammate Patrick Kane at the time and marveling at the impact Kane had on the game. Kane set up the tying goal by defenseman Duncan Keith and scored the game-winner during a 4:41 span in the third period of a 4-3 victory.

Toews' team held a one-goal lead and was hanging on for dear life against a Los Angeles Kings team which not too long ago held a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. Toews knew he would have to win a couple of big faceoffs to help his team survive and force a Game 7 in a series for the ages. But Toews couldn't help but reflect on what had transpired in the game's first 59 minutes, and the sheer wonder of it all forced him to stifle a laugh.

It's understandable. It's hard not to at least smile, if not break out into a chuckle, while considering the wonderment that has unfolded in the first six games of this series.

These teams, the past two Stanley Cup champions, have been almost indistinguishable in their greatness.

After Chicago won the first game, the Kings staked a claim at being the greatest with three straight wins, but the Blackhawks took those shots and answered with a two-game counterattack, setting up a winner-take-all game Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

"This is the 'Wow' factor in this series, especially the last two games," said Joel Quenneville, the Chicago coach. "We've have two competitive teams that have experience, have experienced players, experience in the situation.

"You know, it's been amazing. I mean, as good as it gets."

On this night, the two teams battered each other over and over again. They exchanged the lead three times. The third period was almost as good as the first overtime from two nights earlier, a 20-minute stretch that Quenneville, a hockey lifer, said was one of the best overtimes he has ever experienced.

"It was kind of an emotional roller coaster," Chicago center Ben Smith said. He was speaking about Game 6, but could have just as easily been thinking about the series as a whole.

The ups and downs in this series have made it theater of the highest order.

The superstars have been super.

Nobody has been better in this series than Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who showed his brilliance again Friday by scoring the goal that made it 2-2 and setting up the go-ahead goal less than three minutes later. He was answered by Kane, who has been the best player across the past 72 hours and has two goals and seven points in the two elimination games.

"There were some great plays in the third period by a lot of great players," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said. "Kane made a couple. Keith made one. Drew made a couple. You know, their goalie [Corey Crawford] made some big saves."

Ah, the goalies.

They have been good and bad, sometimes in the same game. Crawford started like a Conn Smythe candidate in Game 1, but was merely mortal in each of the next three games. His counterpart, Jonathan Quick, has made some spectacular saves in each game -- but has also given up some spectacularly bad goals.

The role players have had moments as well.

Michal Handzus, at age 37, found an unexpected burst of speed and scored in the second overtime Wednesday to keep Chicago's season alive. Dwight King gave the Kings a first-period lead Friday. Smith gave Chicago its first lead in the second period, flubbing a shot but then banking the puck off the back of Quick's skates and into the net.

The coaches have never stopped pushing buttons from the opening faceoff of Game 1 until the final whistle Friday. Quenneville has changed his personnel and jumbled his lines. His decision to put Kane with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw in Game 5 looks inspired. Sutter has made adjustments, both minor and major, to counter many of the things the Blackhawks normally do well. He has rendered tame their potent power play for long stretches and has found weaknesses in a penalty kill that had dominated Chicago's first two opponents this spring.

It all culminates in what every hockey fan covets: a winner-take-all Game 7 that will be played in the United Center, which will be a madhouse of epic proportions.

Thirty-eight players, some good, some great, will take the ice and try to be the difference-maker, trying to propel their team to greater glory and a place in the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers.

For Chicago, it is a chance to try to defend the crown that has rested so comfortably on their head all year. For Los Angeles, it is the chance to be the first team in League history to win three Game 7s -- all on the road, no less -- to reach the championship round.

"Hey, it's been a great series," Sutter said. "Now it comes down to one game."

It will be one last game to savor, an appropriate exclamation point to a series that has been among the best ever played in the rich postseason history of the National Hockey League.

Doughty's big third period nearly gets Kings to Final

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez sat a few lockers down from Drew Doughty and stated what was difficult to argue.

"Drew, as far as I'm concerned, is the best defenseman in the world," Martinez said.

That was quite a proclamation considering the way the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks exchanged blows in Chicago's 4-3 win in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Friday at Staples Center. But what was left in the remnants of a Kings loss was another remarkable display by Doughty in his finest Stanley Cup Playoffs yet.

With the Kings trailing 2-1, Doughty grabbed a loose puck and wristed it past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford and into the net from the high slot at 5:32 of the third period. Tie game.

Just more than two minutes later, Doughty held on to the puck on the right side during a power play and maneuvered to set up Martinez, who wristed a shot past Crawford for a 3-2 lead.

There was also Doughty's big hit on Andrew Shaw in the second period, a hip check that would have made former Kings defenseman Rob Blake proud. Late in the game, some hockey writers jokingly tweeted that it was too late to change their Norris Trophy vote for best defenseman. Doughty was not a finalist this season; it was tough to understand how that was possible after his performance in Game 6.

"He was awesome," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "That's the kind of player he is. He can make big plays, score big goals, at both ends of the ice, have big defensive plays or big offensive plays. We've seen that from Drew. He gave us that in the third, for sure."

The Kings will need another big game from Doughty in Game 7 on Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). Doughty, who played more than 39 minutes in the Kings' double-overtime loss in Game 5, has an endless supply of energy and will, as well as a little bit of spunk on an otherwise introverted Los Angeles team.

"I'm frustrated, but I'm over it pretty quickly," Doughty said. "I know we've got another game to play. Game 7. We've had two chances to close out this series, and we're not going to blow a third one."

Los Angeles was its usual even-keeled self after the game, but it was obvious that the Kings hadn't intended to go back to Chicago. It will be their stiffest test yet in a terrific playoff series, and it will be their third Game 7 in these playoffs -- all on the road.

Doughty agreed that the Kings' mettle in Game 7s -- they won winner-takes-all games against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks in the first two rounds, not to mention numerous times in past seasons -- will help. But he indicated they will need more than aura at United Center.

"I don't know if we played enough desperate hockey these last two games, and I kind of think that's why we lost both of them," Doughty said. "It's about time we get to that type of game that the Kings can play."

Doughty won't win the Norris, but he's building a case for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs with three goals and four assists in his past five games. Of course, the Kings would need to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, and that will involve slowing down Patrick Kane, who has come alive in the past two games to help extend the series.

The Kings will play into June for the third straight season after doing so once in their first 44 years of existence. They have played 59 playoff games since 2012, most in the NHL.

The unflappable Doughty didn't seem fazed.

"I guess we can get used to it," he said. "Yeah, we don't want to be used to it. I guess if you play Game 7s throughout the whole playoffs, it's going to be pretty tough on your body. Whatever. We're in this situation. Before the series, if we were asked, 'Would you go to Chicago for Game 7 and be put in that spot, just a one-game thing?' I think we would take it."