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Hockey  

Panthers, Golden Knights bound by gun tragedies long before meeting in Stanley Cup Final

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers didn't have much of a joint history on the ice before meeting in the Stanley Cup Final — just 10 regular-season games before the series opened Saturday.

Off the ice, the teams were connected by tragedy just over five years ago. Within months of each other, Las Vegas and South Florida were devastated by mass shootings not far from their arenas — and the then-expansion Knights and the Panthers played a role in the healing that has followed.

The teams mourned the Las Vegas Strip and Parkland high school victims during pregame ceremonies, brought relatives to games, honored first responders and donated to family foundations. They erected permanent memorials inside their arenas — in Vegas, to its 60 victims, and in Florida, to the 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

“The idea that these two teams, impacted by gun violence at almost the same time, are now playing each other for the Stanley Cup is such a huge deal,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died at Stoneman Douglas.

“The Knights, even though they were a new team, they stepped into their community and became such an important part of helping that community heal,” he said. “The Florida Panthers, not only are they my hometown team, they are now like family to me.”

Orin Starn, a Duke University cultural anthropology professor who studies the impact sports have on society, said teams often contribute to their communities' recovery after tragedies. He pointed to the New York Yankees' first home game after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and New Orleans Saints players assisting relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

There are other examples, including the Miami Heat giving jerseys and also hosting families of Stoneman Douglas victims and the Houston Astros hosting residents of Uvalde, Texas, after last year's school shooting there.

“Tragedy, like the Stoneman or (Vegas) killings, rips apart the fabric of society," Starn said. “Returning, after proper time for mourning, to the rink or the court marks a gesture of refusing to give in to forces of violence and intolerance, and beginning to mend.”

VEGAS

On Oct. 1, 2017, the Golden Knights were finishing training camp, five days from playing the first NHL game in team history and nine days from their home opener. Vegas sports fans were abuzz about the city's first major league team.

But then a sniper opened fire from a Strip hotel's 32nd floor, initially killing 58 at an outdoor country music concert. Two more died years later. More than 800 people were wounded.

The team scrapped its raucous opening night celebration. The boards that surround the ice were stripped of ads, replaced by the motto “Vegas Strong.” The pregame focus was on victims and first responders. It culminated with then-defenseman Deryk Engelland giving an emotional speech.

”To the families and friends of the victims, know that we will do everything we can to help you and our city heal," said Engelland, who now works for the team's foundation.

During that season's home games, the Knights recognized the Vegas Strong Hero of the Game, a first responder or citizen who risked their life to save the wounded.

At the regular season's conclusion, the Knights retired the number 58 for the victims who had died to that point. The names of all 60 victims are on a banner hanging in the arena's rafters.

Amber Manka said the Knights’ lasting support has been a source of light for the tens of thousands of people affected by the Las Vegas shooting. Her mother, Kimberly Gervais, died of her wounds in 2019.

The team's work "gives people hope and reassurance that there is good in the world,” she said. “I think one good deed leads to another, and it makes a difference. That’s what they’re doing.”

That inaugural team shocked the NHL by winning its division and three playoff rounds before falling to the Washington Capitals in the Cup final. By far, it is the best performance by a modern expansion team in North America's four major sports leagues.

Forward Jonathan Marchessault, an original Knight still with the team, said it has been a “love-love situation" with the fans.

“It’s been really great to be part of this. It’s been an unbelievable run for the past six years," he said last week.

PANTHERS

When a former Stoneman Douglas student gunned down 14 students and three staff members on Feb. 14, 2018, the Panthers were in Vancouver to play the Canucks — as far from South Florida as possible within the NHL. Parkland, a well-off bedroom community just north of the team's practice facility, is home to many players, coaches and executives.

Shawn Thornton, a 14-year NHL player and the team's chief revenue officer, said owner Vincent Viola told him to do anything needed and not worry about the cost. Thornton turned to friends working for the Knights and two Boston teams, the Red Sox and Bruins, for advice as they had dealt with tragedies in their communities.

“The thing we learned is that everyone is going to grieve differently, that everybody needs support in different ways. Just sit back and listen to what's needed and not expect to know what's needed,” Thornton said, his voice breaking throughout an interview.

At the team's next home game a week after the shooting, a 15-minute pregame memorial that brought some players to tears ended with a speech by then-goalie Roberto Luongo.

“To the families of the victims, our hearts are broken,” Luongo said. “Just know that we're there for you if you guys need anything. You'll be in our prayers, and let's try to move on together.”

Eleven days after the shooting, the Stoneman Douglas hockey team — which included Guttenberg's son, Jesse — won the Florida state championship. As the Eagles prepared for the national tournament in Minnesota, the Panthers hit them with surprises.

First, the Eagles practiced at the Panthers arena, with players and Thornton, a hard-nosed brawler during his career, giving pointers — including Thornton's lighthearted lessons on fighting.

When practice ended, to the players' amazement, Thornton brought out the Stanley Cup for them to skate with — only NHL champions usually do that. The Panthers then flew the Eagles and their families on the team plane to the tournament and brought them back.

"Shawn Thornton coming out with the Stanley Cup was just surreal," said Matthew Hauptman, that team's captain. “Everything that the Panthers did for us was just very high class. It made us feel very welcomed. ... Five years later, it is still something I think about.”

On the shooting's first anniversary, the Panthers unveiled a memorial in the arena's main concourse that includes the victims' portraits and the phrase “MSD Strong.” On the recent fifth anniversary, the team wore special shirts while traveling honoring the victims, and their arena has hosted graduations and other student events.

“They have been supportive over and over through the years,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland, the group that represents most victims' families. His 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the shooting.

Florida state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, then-Parkland's mayor, hopes no other teams ever have to step up.

“There are too many opportunities for people to help one another after these awful, awful tragedies,” she said.

Fred Guttenberg said some of his happiest memories with Jaime are from Panthers games. When she was young, when the team scored he would prop her on his shoulders as they clapped and yelled.

“There is one more super fan who is there every (Panthers) game and that’s my daughter,” he said. “I have no doubt she is watching these games.”

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Rio Yamat and Mark Anderson of The Associated Press contributed to this report in Las Vegas

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Jack Eichel shows 'it hurts to win' bouncing back from big hit in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk lined up Jack Eichel and leveled him with a thunderous open-ice hit that sent him to the ice.

Eichel quickly skated off and retreated to the locker room, for more than a few moments putting a scare into the Vegas Golden Knights late in the second period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Instead of his night being over, Eichel returned for the third period and set up the fifth goal of seven in a rout of the Florida Panthers that put Vegas up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and two wins away from a championship.

The hit debated ’round the hockey world was quickly determined by all involved to be clean, and Eichel’s bounce back to play another important role in this playoff run only further exemplified a team mantra that “it hurts to win.” Players, after checking in with Eichel at intermission to make sure he was OK, repeated that phrase over and over.

“It was definitely a big collision,” Eichel said. “It’s a physical game. You’re going to get hit sometimes. You just kind of move on.”

Eichel refused to complain about the hit and even took responsibility for putting himself in that position. “Got to be aware of it, you know? You’ve got to keep your head up.”

That kind of hit used to be commonplace in the NHL but has faded with the evolution of players toward skill and away from potentially brutal contact. Tkachuk, the Panthers’ leading scorer this postseason and their emotional leader, is not afraid to throw his body around to make a difference and carries with him an old-school mentality about players protecting themselves.

“It doesn’t matter who you are: You shouldn’t be going through the middle with your head down,” Tkachuk said. “You’re going to get hit. I mean, I would get hit, too, if I had my head down in the middle. It’s nothing. It’s not a big deal. He’s a really good player, and really good players can get hit, too.”

The hit itself was made worse by Eichel losing his footing – “toe-picked a bit” – seconds before contact. He landed awkwardly and grimaced while skating off.

Eichel later conceded he got the wind knocked out of him, but it appeared worse in real time.

“You don’t want to see a guy like Jack go down,” teammate William Carrier said. “He looked bad out there, to be honest.”

Eichel didn’t think it was bad enough to writhe on the ice and wait for medical attention when he could skate off and begin the process of collecting himself.

When did he know for sure he was OK? It didn’t take long.

“I just came (into the locker room) and regrouped,” Eichel said. “I got my wits back about me and realized I was fine.”

Vegas led 4-0 at the time after chasing Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and Eichel sitting out for precautionary reasons would not have been all that unusual. But after coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed everything was all right, Eichel was back on the bench at the start of the third, providing a boost by his mere presence.

“Not only does it give us juice, but sometimes it can take away juice from the other team if they see a guy come back,” Cassidy said. “It was good for the group.”

It got better.

On Eichel’s first shift back, he won a puck battle and fed the puck to Jonathan Marchessault for his second goal of the game and the Golden Knights’ fifth.

“That’s the resiliency we have in that locker room,” Marchessault said. “It starts with your top guys and goes right through the lineup.”

The announcement of Eichel’s assist drew a louder-than-usual cheer from the crowd of 18,561. That meant a lot to Eichel, who also appreciated teammates making sure he was good to go.

“Everyone’s taken a couple hits in their career,” he said. “This is a physical game we play, so it’s all part of it.”

Not letting it derail his and the Knights’ title might make the hit and Eichel’s response part of franchise lore if they can finish off Florida and hoist the Cup for the first time in the franchise’s brief, six-year history.

Already, teammates called Eichel strong and “a warrior.” His coach was most proud of Eichel boasting the toughness of a hockey player willing to take a hit and pop right up and continue contributing.

“That’s hockey,” Cassidy said. “It’s OK to get hit in June. This is part of the journey. It hurts to win, and it’s not supposed to be easy. Good for him.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Suddenly potent power play powering Golden Knights in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Bruce Cassidy acknowledged between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final that his Vegas Golden Knights' power play has been hit or miss all season.

It's hitting now like players in a high-stakes game of blackjack — and has Vegas two wins from the Stanley Cup.

The Golden Knights got two more power-play goals Monday in their 7-2 rout of the Florida Panthers in Game 2, with Jonathan Marchessault cashing in for his team-record 11th goal of the playoffs and Brett Howden adding another in the final minutes. Marchessault also scored on the power play in the series-opening win Saturday.

“Marchy’s pretty hot — he seems to be shooting the puck well,” said Jack Eichel, who assisted on Marchessault's power-play goal. “We’re just trying to communicate and move the puck. When things break down, try to make plays and support each other. Obviously, I think that’s what happened.”

Dating to the Western Conference final-clinching victory against Dallas, which players and Cassidy have called arguably their best performance of the season, Vegas has scored on the power play in three consecutive games for the first time since late December. The unit is 4 for 11 (36.4%) in the final versus Florida.

“It’s picking a good time to get going," Cassidy said. “It’s important that it’s working because, if not, you can really lose momentum and they can gain momentum from kills, so that’s the importance of it right now.”

Of all the things that powered the Golden Knights through the first three rounds, the power play was not chief among them. They scored just 10 times on 54 opportunities, an 18.5% success rate that was ninth-best of the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs.

That was strong evidence of Vegas getting offense at even strength. The Golden Knights' 50 goals at 5-on-5 entering the final were by far the most of anyone this postseason.

“We score 5-on-5,” Cassidy said. “We’ve won a lot of games without having (the power play need) to perform at a high level, but it’s certainly another weapon or another way to create offense that is going to help.”

Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Howden all scored at even strength, chasing Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky midway through Game 2, and the Golden Knights added two more 5-on-5 goals for good measure in the third period against Alex Lyon. Martinez's goal also gave Vegas three goals from defensemen this series after it got a total of three from them through the first 17 games of the playoffs.

It's a different recipe than series against Winnipeg, Edmonton and Dallas, but it's working so far. The success getting the power play going and shots through screens and past Bobrovsky is a testament to Cassidy and his staff making important adjustments against a different opponent.

Florida got through the East despite having the fourth-worst penalty kill in the playoffs and taking the most penalties. The lack of discipline is something the Golden Knights were keenly aware of.

“You’re playing against one of the most penalized teams in the league in the regular season and the most in the playoffs," Cassidy said. “So, you’re going to get on the power play if you’re working to draw your penalties.”

Neither front has seen much improvement for the Panthers, who took 14 penalties, including six misconducts and another for abuse of officials in the blowout loss. As a result, they have a deep hole to climb out of with the series shifting to Florida for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday.

“It’s just how we play,” leading scorer Matthew Tkachuk said. “I think if we were playing physical and (winning) you guys would be like, ‘That’s the recipe for success,’ so we’re just sticking with our game. We do have to tweak a few things.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

LAS VEGAS (AP) — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including Monday night’s 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise's short six-year history.

It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche — who outscored the Panthers by nine.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

“They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights' seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he's given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

“He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey," Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

“We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

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Bobrovsky pulled, other stars struggle as Panthers fall behind 2-0 in Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two games into the Stanley Cup Final, the Florida Panthers look like an 8 seed for the first time all playoffs.

Florida was torched for a second consecutive game, losing 7-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday to fall into a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series.

And while the series may be far from over as the scene shifts to Florida for Games 3 and 4, the Panthers will need a much better effort from their contingent of stars that led them past three of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference and into the Cup Final.

“The parts of our game that we know that we can improve, we’re going to have to get to real fast. There’s no doubt about that,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ll have a pretty simple game plan. I don’t think it’s about scoring goals in this series because I think it’s about defending the rush, and we weren’t great at that tonight.”

The Panthers allowed an average of 2.6 goals through their first 16 playoff games, but have been lit up for 12 in the first two of the final. Vegas’ 12 goals match the most by a team through the first two games of the Cup Final since the NHL expansion era began in 1967-68.

Sergei Bobrovsky, the hottest goaltender in hockey going into the final, was pulled midway through Game 2 after allowing four goals on 13 shots to the Golden Knights.

It marked the first time this postseason the 13-year veteran allowed four goals in consecutive games. He also gave up four goals in each of his last two regular-season games.

Jonathan Marchessault and Alec Martinez gave Vegas a 2-0 lead in the first period. Nicolas Roy made it 3-0 just 2:59 into the second, and Brett Howden ended Bobrovsky’s night minutes later when he deked his way across the crease and tapped the puck into a wide-open net.

Alex Lyon, who opened the playoffs as Florida’s starter, replaced Bobrovsky after Howden scored 7:10 into the second.

Bobrovsky coming into the series had won 11 of 12 games and stopped 438 of 465 shots during that span for a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.

So far in the final, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage.

Lyon finished the game allowing three goals on 15 shots.

Maurice was non-committal when asked about the team’s goalie status for Game 3.

“We’ll sweat about that for the next two days,” he said. “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender. He’s been unbelievable for us, so I got him out to keep him rested.”

Then there’s MVP finalist and alternate captain Matthew Tkachuk, who has been the offensive leader for the Panthers with nine goals and 12 assists in the first three rounds. He now has more misconducts (3) than he does goals (1) in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Florida was whistled for 14 penalties, including two misconducts by Tkachuk, who insisted the Panthers are simply playing their brand of physical hockey.

“I just think we’re a big, physical team,” Tkachuk said. “That’s how we have played the last second half of the year and been successful. I just don’t think there’s teams that play as physical as we do.”

Maybe not, but the Golden Knights have capitalized on Florida’s 130 penalty minutes, going 4 for 11 (36.4%) on the power play, a major jump from their 18.5% clip through the first three rounds.

What should have the Panthers concerned is they’ve been worse on the penalty kill at home than on the road, giving up six goals on 19 chances. That 68.4% rate ranks 14th of 16 playoff teams.

Tkachuk was confident, however, the Panthers would rediscover the magic that got them past three opponents they weren’t supposed to beat.

“I think that going home and playing in front of our amazing fans and the momentum we’ve had playing there like the last month and honestly since January, we’ve been a solid home team, and we’re going to need them and hope to come out in Game 3 playing our best hockey of the season,” Tkachuk said. “I think if we do that, that’ll be a recipe for success for us, and can make this a series.”

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Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Greg Cronin spent 36 years coaching at nearly every level of hockey before he finally got his first chance to be an NHL head coach.

He believes the struggling but talented Anaheim Ducks will be worth that extraordinary wait.

General manager Pat Verbeek hired the 60-year-old Cronin on Monday to lead the Ducks' rebuilding effort out of the worst five-year stretch in franchise history. Cronin is a former NHL assistant and a former head coach in both the AHL and at Northeastern, earning widespread praise for teaching strong principles and leading young players.

For Cronin, who spent the past five seasons leading the Colorado Avalanche's successful AHL affiliate, the Ducks' combination of bountiful young talent and a patient organization are ideal — and as a surfer and long-distance runner, he should fit into Orange County's lifestyle as well.

“I think this is right (in) my wheelhouse as a coach,” Cronin said during a news conference at Honda Center. “I've worked my tail off to get to this point, and I can't emphasize enough how happy I am to be here.”

Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native with a pronounced Boston accent also played an important role in the creation of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in the late 1990s.

When Cronin's hiring became public, he began receiving texts from players he had helped across his 3 1/2 decades in the profession all the way back to the 1980s at the University of Maine, where he coached Ducks Hall of Famer Paul Kariya. Cronin has relationships at every level of hockey, and his knowledge and experience were just some of the reasons Verbeek called him “a tremendous fit” to take over a rebuilding team.

“I personally think this has been long overdue for (Cronin),” Verbeek said. “He brings a passion and an energy that is contagious. I was looking for someone that could develop a culture with high standards, work ethic and accountability. Greg has an outstanding track record in those areas.”

Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn't renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished last season in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12 and got the second overall pick in the draft lottery.

Cronin knows he's starting near the bottom, but his experience and preparation make him confident it will work.

“There are certain things that are very doable,” Cronin said. “Everybody is going to compete at an extraordinary level. That's kind of my mantra. And then you've always got to attach your compete level to your brain. You've got to be smart about how you do it.”

Just how long has Cronin been in this game? He briefly coached Eakins with the Islanders, and then he coached current Ducks center Ryan Strome during his second stint as an assistant on Long Island 15 years later.

But Cronin only got his first interview for an NHL head coaching job last year with his hometown Boston Bruins. He immediately wowed Verbeek in their first conversation last month, a scheduled two-hour interview that lasted five hours.

“I was looking for both a teacher and a coach,” Verbeek said. “Old-school principles, but new-school methods of teaching.”

Among several mentors and influences on his coaching style, Cronin cited his former Isles bosses, Mike Milbury and Butch Goring, along with Randy Carlyle, the longtime Ducks head coach who employed Cronin with the Maple Leafs.

Cronin said Milbury's no-nonsense style influenced his own dealings with players. He recalls a formative moment in the cavernous hallways under old Nassau Coliseum when Milbury confronted him about his worries over delivering tough instruction to a player.

“He brought me in the doorway and said, ‘If you’re going to sugarcoat a message, then just get in your car and drive right back to Boston,'” Cronin recalled. “That hit me right between the eyes. He followed up with: ‘It doesn’t matter where you came from or how old you are. Players want to know you care about them, you're honest, and you're going to give them a positive message.' That stuck with me. Mike would say all the time, ‘Get into a player’s soul.'”

Cronin is taking over a franchise near its nadir, but with a relatively promising future.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

But Anaheim also is loaded with young talent, with the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft joining one of the NHL's best farm systems. The Ducks' foundation includes playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish, along with several additional prospects expected to become solid NHL players.

While Cronin said he hasn't extensively evaluated the Ducks' talent base, he referred to Terry, Zegras and McTavish as the “pillars” of the new team.

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Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

MONTREAL (AP) — Cole Caufield picked up the phone and called his mother after agreeing to a lucrative extension with the Montreal Canadiens.

She couldn’t answer because she was busy at work, teaching. But once she called him back, the two shared a moment over the amount of money that’s not just life-changing for Caufield, but for his family, too.

“She was excited, started crying on the phone. It’s really so special for me and my family,” he said during a video call with reporters. “They couldn’t be more proud, and I couldn’t be more thankful for what they’ve done.

“I’m just … I’m at a loss for words sometimes just thinking about it.”

The Canadiens signed Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension on Monday, completing a key piece of offseason business.

Caufield, who said he couldn’t even have dreamed of a number such as that as a kid, wanted to sign long term instead of opting for a bridge deal both to have his family “set for a while” and because of how much he loves playing in Montreal.

“The way this organization is going, the plan that’s intact, all that stuff, it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I love being there, (it’s my) second home, first home, whatever you want to call it for me. I think it puts my family in a good place as well, all those things that kind of went into this final number and years.

“I’m very excited and very lucky to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens for a long time.”

The deal will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual value of $7.85 million through the 2030-31 season. It’s the second-richest contract for a forward in Canadiens history, trailing captain Nick Suzuki’s eight-year pact by $200,000.

Caufield said he and the team understood that Suzuki would remain the highest-paid forward on the team.

“I mean, that’s our guy, that’s our leader,” said Caufield. “I think everyone around knows that, and (I) still have a lot of money, so I’m not complaining about anything.

“I’m excited and proud to be a part of this, and to do it with him along the way will be pretty special.”

With Suzuki signed through 2029-30, Montreal has two franchise cornerstones locked up for the foreseeable future.

Caufield didn’t have any spectacular plans regarding how he’ll celebrate his new contract.

“I had a workout and skate this morning, so kind of just, maybe take a nap later,” he said.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23, tying Suzuki for the team lead in goals despite undergoing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Now in Michigan for the offseason, Caufield said he’s been skating two to three times a week and was cleared for full activity around 10 days ago.

“I really look forward to having this full summer to make sure I’m back to 100 percent,” he said. “The way things are going right now, I’m not too worried at all.”

Caufield slipped to the Canadiens at 15th overall in the 2019 NHL draft despite breaking goal records with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Caufield, from Mosinee, Wisc., then joined the University of Wisconsin Badgers for two seasons and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. men’s college hockey player after leading the NCAA in points and goals during his sophomore year.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 regular-season games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 playoff games. Only No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes has more goals among players from the 2019 draft.

Caufield’s production took off when the Canadiens replaced head coach Dominique Ducharme with Martin St. Louis in February of last year. In 83 games played since St. Louis took over behind the bench, Caufield has 48 goals and 71 points.

The success he’s had under St. Louis played a role in Caufield wanting to sign long term, he said.

“I think we got something special in the room just by having him there,” said Caufield. “Marty is going to teach me a lot and already has to this day, so obviously a big part of that was him.”

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Caufield 'excited and proud' to sign long-term extension with Canadiens

MONTREAL — Cole Caufield picked up the phone and called his mother after agreeing to a lucrative extension with the Montreal Canadiens.

She couldn’t answer because she was busy at work, teaching. But once she called him back, the two shared a moment over the amount of money that’s not just life-changing for Caufield, but for his family, too.

“She was excited, started crying on the phone. It's really so special for me and my family,” he said during a video call with reporters. “They couldn't be more proud, and I couldn't be more thankful for what they've done.

“I'm just… I'm at a loss for words sometimes just thinking about it.”

The Canadiens signed Caufield to an eight-year, US$62.8-million contract extension on Monday, completing a key piece of off-season business.

Caufield, who said he couldn’t even have dreamed of a number like that as a kid, wanted to sign long-term instead of opting for a bridge deal both to have his family “set for a while” and because of how much he loves playing in Montreal.

“The way this organization is going, the plan that's intact, all that stuff, it makes a lot of sense," he said. "I love being there, (it’s my) second home, first home, whatever you want to call it for me. I think it puts my family in a good place as well, all those things that kind of went into this final number and years.

“I'm very excited and very lucky to be a part of the Montreal Canadiens for a long time.”

The deal will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual value of $7.85 million through the 2030-31 season. It’s the second-richest contract for a forward in Canadiens history, trailing captain Nick Suzuki’s eight-year pact by $200,000.

Caufield said he and the team understood that Suzuki would remain the highest-paid forward on the team.

“I mean, that's our guy, that's our leader,” said Caufield. “I think everyone around knows that, and (I) still have a lot of money, so I’m not complaining about anything.

“I'm excited and proud to be a part of this, and to do it with him along the way will be pretty special.”

With Suzuki signed through 2029-30, Montreal has two franchise cornerstones locked up for the foreseeable future.

Caufield didn't have any spectacular plans regarding how he’ll celebrate his new contract.

“I had a workout and skate this morning, so kind of just, maybe take a nap later,” he said.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23, tying Suzuki for the team lead in goals despite undergoing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Now in Michigan for the off-season, Caufield said he’s been skating two to three times a week and was cleared for full activity around 10 days ago.

“I really look forward to having this full summer to make sure I'm back to 100 per cent,” he said. “The way things are going right now, I'm not too worried at all.”

The five-foot-seven, 174-pound Caufield slipped to the Canadiens at 15th overall in the 2019 NHL draft despite breaking goals records with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Caufield, from Mosinee, Wisc., then joined the University of Wisconsin Badgers for two seasons and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. men’s college hockey player after leading the NCAA in points and goals during his sophomore year.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has recorded 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 regular-season games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 playoff games. Only first-overall pick Jack Hughes has more goals among players from the 2019 draft.

Caufield’s production took off when the Canadiens replaced head coach Dominique Ducharme with Martin St. Louis in February of last year. In 83 games played since St. Louis took over behind the bench, Caufield has 48 goals and 71 points.

The success he’s has had under St. Louis definitely played a role in Caufield wanting to sign long-term, he said.

“I think we got something special in the room just by having him there,” said Caufield. “Marty is going to teach me a lot and already has to this day, so obviously a big part of that was him.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2023.



Golden Knights' Alex Pietrangelo gives new meaning to sacrifice, on and off the ice

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Alex Pietrangelo spoke of sacrifice Sunday, and what it takes for a hockey player to continue his journey this far into an NHL season.

With the Vegas Golden Knights up 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers, all the players’ personal lives are put on hold for the moment. Summer vacation can wait.

For Pietrangelo, sacrifice is nothing new. In November, it was his career that came to a brief halt.

During Thanksgiving, one of his triplets, 5-year-old daughter Evelyn, came down with the flu. It developed into encephalitis, an inflammation of tissues of the brain, and she lost control of her motor skills.

“And basically slept for 10 straight days,” Pietrangelo said. “Life can change like that. Sometimes you take things for granted and sometimes things like that happen and it kind of puts you back on your rear end and says, ‘Be grateful for what you have.’”

With the full support of the organization, Pietrangelo paused his career and wasn’t sure what he'd do until he knew his daughter had recovered from the ordeal.

“That was the first time I’ve ever even thought about coming back to play. Like, it wasn’t even a question,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna go back until I was ready to go back. Until I knew she was good, my wife was good, and the other three (kids) were good, I wasn’t gonna go back. So, I went back when I felt like I was ready.”

Pietrangelo credited his wife, Jayne, for being the rock through everything. She continued to hold down the household, and they prayed daily while their daughter recovered.

After a positive reaction to “a course of treatment” that helped eliminate a brain lesion one week later, Evelyn returned home within a month.

Pietrangelo said his daughter is doing better.

“It’ll take a couple years to get back to where we think she should be, but physically, she’s good,” he said.

His return to the lineup in December was certainly welcome, too. He's become a cornerstone of the blueliners since the Golden Knights signed him to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract in October 2020.

He finished the regular season fifth on the team with 54 points — 11 goals, 43 assists — and is currently tied for eighth on the team with nine points in the playoffs with a goal and eight assists.

“Seeing what he’s been through, the way he’s overcome some of those adversities is awesome to see,” Shea Theodore said. “He’s been a backbone and we’re really excited for him. The way he’s been playing has been good and hopefully him and everyone can kind of keep it up.”

And it's more than stats with Pietrangelo. It's more about efficiently using his team-leading average of 23:43 ice time. He has become someone coach Bruce Cassidy can count on to defend hard, clear the front of the net or make an effort to block shots on a consistent basis.

Cassidy, who was coach of the Boston Bruins when they lost to Pietrangelo and the Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, is glad they’re on the same team this go-round.

“He’s a high-effort player,” Cassidy said Sunday “He’s certainly got skill and makes his plays. ... I thought he was a little more the offensive-tilted guy, but he’s a full 200-foot guy: penalty kill, he’s one of the first guys over the boards, tends to clear the puck exceptionally well. Complete player. Harder player, I guess, than maybe I would have suspected watching him.

"I thought he was more the dynamic guy making the plays, but I think he does it all at both ends.”

Now vying for his second Stanley Cup ring in five years, Pietrangelo is again lending credit and recognizing Jayne as the underlying strength for his family, as the mother of their children and as the wife of an NHL player.

“I think my wife has had to sacrifice her time and energy more than I have — she gets it," he said. "She’s been down this road, so without her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now and during the season. It’s special.

“The triplets were able to sit in the Stanley Cup and they know what’s going on now, and now I’ve got my youngest. She wasn’t born yet, so it’s another opportunity to share that with another child. It’s a pretty special thing at this time of the year.”

__



Golden Knights know Panthers won't quit despite Game 1 loss

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Vegas Golden Knights were flying high after Game 1 in the 2018 Stanley Cup final, having just beaten Washington and believing they were en route to a miracle championship for the first-year franchise.

Then reality hit in a big way, the Capitals winning the next four games and celebrating on the Knights' home ice and later on Las Vegas' famed Strip after Game 5.

It's a memory that has stuck with seven current Vegas players — the six original Knights and Chandler Stephenson, who was on the Capitals at the time. That experience could be vital after the Knights opened this year's Stanley Cup final with a 5-2 Game 1 victory on Saturday over the Florida Panthers.

“I think we're a little bit more humble to the situation now,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who also played for Vegas in its first Cup final. “We know that it doesn't mean anything winning one game in one series. For us, the focus is on next game, and that's how we're going to approach every game.”

The Knights have the chance Monday to send a strong message by taking a 2-0 series lead, or the Panthers could show they're not going anywhere by pulling even to make it a best-of-five.

Florida also has folks who have been in this spot before, and players can look back to losing the first game of the first round against Boston for recent experience. Coach Paul Maurice has stayed even-keeled throughout, and that didn’t change Sunday.

“Why do I got to be in a bad mood today just because we lost the game?” Maurice said. “That also doesn’t do my team any bit of good, to be growling up here or sending messages. That’s not what that group needs from me.”

Perhaps what the Panthers need is a few more bounces and a little less truculence. They took four penalties in the first 50-plus minutes of the game and then many more, including three misconducts, in a late scuffle.

“Staying out of the box is another thing of emphasis for us,” said forward Sam Reinhart, who was held off the scoresheet in the series opener. “We got to play that line where we’re trying to play an aggressive game, an in-your-face game. And we’re trying to play on that line, for sure.”

Other teams have tested the Knights during the playoffs, and sometimes Vegas has responded in ways that has hurt its team. Other times, the Knights have chosen not to retaliate, an approach they mostly took in Game 1.

'I think it’s more about us just keeping our discipline and playing between the whistles," Cassidy said. “I don’t think we get rattled by certain things. Obviously, our team has emotion and they will play with it. I think we’ve done a good job across the line for the most part in taking it out of our game when the other teams get to use that as an advantage.”

Cassidy knows what it's like as a coach to win Game 1, overseeing the Boston Bruins team that took the initial lead in the 2019 Stanley Cup final over St. Louis. The Blues, who had current Knights Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev on that team, came back to win in seven games.

So Vegas' locker room is filled with those who understand the importance of maintaining urgency in what could potentially be a long series.

Shea Theodore talked before facing the Panthers about how that 2018 team thought it was headed for the championship after that first victory over the Capitals. Perhaps with the disappointment of that outcome still on his mind, when asked Sunday what the experience showed him, Theodore said his only focus was on Game 2.

“Every year, when you lose that last game, you take a lesson out of it,” said William Carrier, another holdover Knights player from that first year. “So all the boys who were here the first year, the first game you're not winning it right off the bat. You've got to keep pushing.”

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Paul Maurice and Bruce Cassidy coaching in Stanley Cup Final shows value of experience

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The joy Paul Maurice felt on the morning of the start of the Stanley Cup Final was also tinged with sadness. The veteran coach knew there were only at most seven more games left to play.

He had developed a greater appreciation for this moment with the Florida Panthers, 21 removed from his first trip to the final. Bruce Cassidy felt the same way being back as coach of the Vegas Golden Knights three years after falling one win short with Boston.

One of them will hoist the Cup for the first time, and their presence in the final is evidence of why NHL teams looking to win put a priority on experienced coaches. Often derided as “recycled” or “retreads,” coaches like Maurice and Cassidy provide tangible value navigating crucial situations.

“Depending on where your team’s at likely dictates to some extent the decisions that you’re going to make with respect to that position,” said Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who fired Peter DeBoer after his team missed the playoffs last year and turned to Cassidy, who was fresh off being dismissed by the Bruins. “We felt for our organization, a successful, experienced coach was the right coach for our team.”

So did the Panthers, who last season won the Presidents' Trophy as the best team in the regular season and lost in the second round of the playoffs under interim coach Andrew Brunette — in a head job for the first time. Maurice in December 2021 stepped away from his third NHL job and 24th season with Winnipeg and offered the kind of steady hand GM Bill Zito was looking for to take Florida to the next level of contending for a championship.

“You have the experience, it's invaluable,” Zito said. “Maybe you're a little more savvy. And a collective experience that breeds wisdom has significant value.”

Maurice, whose team lost Game 1 on Saturday and will look to even the series Monday, sees the value in being able to take in this experience more than in previous decades. His calm demeanor helped the Panthers go from down 3-1 in the first round to Boston to winning that series and two more to reach this point.

“I think the biggest part of experience is maybe you have a little bit of understanding of the pressures of both rooms,” Maurice said. “Over time, when you go in and play a team like Boston, what their room’s dealing with, what your room’s dealing with, what’s that room like at 3-1, what’s your room like at 1-3, so that helps.”

It helps to have the right match between players and a coach. Veteran forward Eric Staal has believed for some time, “This group needed Paul, and Paul needed this group.”

Staal would know. Maurice was his first coach in the pros back with Carolina in 2003-04. Maurice was fired after the Hurricanes won just eight of their first 30 games, and replacement Peter Laviolette coached them to the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Maurice is a different coach now. He reflected Sunday on how when he broke into the NHL in the mid-1990s, all coaches did was growl at players, whereas now it's about connecting with them and knowing what buttons to push.

“He understands not only the game but players and people and how to articulate what he’s trying to (say),” Staal said. “He’s got a tremendous skill in that.”

Cassidy possesses a similar skill, which has evolved since a failed stint in Washington as a young, green coach in 2002-04 and helped the Bruins make the playoffs six years in a row, reaching the final in 2019.They still fired him after a first-round exit last year.

He was out of a job for a week.

McCrimmon saw a coach, who like Tampa Bay's two-time Stanley Cup champion Jon Cooper, had strong depth of knowledge from spending a long period in one organization. And is good at this coaching thing.

“We’re in the winning business,” McCrimmon said. “He’d done lots of that, so that’s why we brought him in. And I think that he’s met our expectations and more along the way.”

Cassidy compared this stop — getting to know a lot of new people and making a big life adjustment — more to Washington than Boston. But he's 58 now and 20 years better than he was with the Capitals.

“Now I have a resume,” Cassidy said, “so it’s a little easier to walk into a room and sort of command the group.”

Command is exactly what he did last round when the Golden Knights, up 3-0 in their series against Dallas, lost two in a row to send the series to a Game 6. Center Chandler Stephenson said Cassidy held a meeting before that game to deliver the message, “let's close this out,” and Vegas played arguably its best game of the season, let alone the series.

Stephenson compared that to his last trip to the final, with the Capitals in 2018 when they had similarly seasoned coach Barry Trotz and beat Vegas for the Cup. The looseness Trotz displayed and the importance of it Stephenson now sees in Cassidy.

“I think just knowing what to expect, knowing what it’s like and to react and not really overreact is a big thing,” Stephenson said. “He’s been through it. He knows.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



Golden Knights' Shea Theodore finds rhythm at right time to start Stanley Cup Final

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Without a goal all playoffs, Shea Theodore found the net just when the Vegas Golden Knights needed it.

With Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final tied at 1 midway through the second period, Theodore took a pass at one side of the blue line, skated to the other side, circled back to dangle Florida Panthers forward Anthony Duclair and move into the slot before firing a wrist shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.

It was vintage Theodore. And it came at a critical juncture.

Theodore's goal ignited the crowd and, more importantly, his team. He also had an assist in Vegas' series-opening 5-2 victory Saturday night, which was something of a show of redemption for the 27-year-old defenseman.

“He’s one of our best players,” Vegas teammate Jonathan Marchessault said. “You need 20 guys every night to win at that time of the year and tonight was a good team effort and Shea took over today. He’s one of those guys that stepped up tonight and definitely happy to see him on the board.”

Theodore snapped a 27-game scoring drought dating to March 7, coincidentally also against Florida. He has 15 career playoff goals.

“I feel good about it, but right now it’s all about the next game and getting that next one," Theodore said. “I feel like a lot of us felt more comfortable tonight. It kind of showed in our game the way we attacked and the way we stayed out of scrums and I guess the score sheet as well.”

For Theodore, though, it was a coming-out party at the right time, as he didn’t necessarily look like himself through the first three rounds. If anything, he’d looked like what he was describing all week when speaking about Vegas when it lost in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, saying the Knights appeared overwhelmed in what was a magical run in their inaugural season.

Coming into the Cup Final, he had seven assists and was averaging just one shot every 12 shifts.

Saturday he averaged at least one shot every eight shifts. He was among the best Vegas players in shot attempts for, compared to those given up to the Panthers.

“Shea’s a huge part of our group,” Vegas forward Jack Eichel said. “It was good to see him get rewarded there, but he’s been doing so many other things for us and the way that he transports the puck up the ice, he can be a one-man breakout at times. He does so much for our team.

“He’s been on a little drought and I’m sure it feels good to find one, hopefully, it boosts his game the next few.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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