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The LA Kings are one win from the Stanley Cup

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The LA Kings are one win from the Stanley Cup

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After Jonathan Quick put Los Angeles on the brink of its first NHL title with yet another shutout, the Kings' unbeatable goalie wore pretty much the same placid expression he sports after exhibition wins in September. Almost nothing bothers Quick, including nearly all of the New Jersey Devils' 72 shots in the Stanley Cup finals. Nothing affects his poise in the crease or his focus on the next victory -- and that's the only goal remaining for the Kings near the end of a playoff run with few equals in NHL history. "We're just trying to win one game here, that's all we're trying to do," Quick said. If they do, he'll get to drink from the Stanley Cup. Maybe that will put a smile on this goalie's face. Quick made 22 saves in his third shutout of the postseason, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each had a goal and an assist, and the eighth-seeded Kings beat New Jersey 4-0 Monday night to take a 3-0 series lead in front of a sold-out arena daring to believe in the end of a 45-year championship drought. Alec Martinez scored the opening goal several minutes after Los Angeles killed a key 5-on-3 disadvantage. Jeff Carter and Williams added late power-play goals for the Kings, who improved to an astonishing 15-2 in the postseason. Only the 1988 Edmonton Oilers can compare with their 16-2 run to the Cup. The Kings can match them with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday night. "I don't think we're too surprised," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who has scored in every game of the finals. "We know we have a great team in here. Before this game, it easily could have been 2-0 for them. It is a tight series, but at the same time, we are really confident with the team we have in here." And with good reason: Los Angeles has jumped to a 3-0 lead in its fourth straight series -- a feat never accomplished in NHL history before these seemingly charmed Kings steamrolled every opponent in their path. Yet there's not much excitement yet among the Kings, who realize the folly of celebrating anything that isn't the Cup. Captain Dustin Brown didn't pick up the Campbell Bowl after winning Los Angeles' second conference title, and nobody was touching any speculation about the Cup. "We're obviously not going to be stone-faced if we do something we've been waiting our whole lives for," Williams said. "We're going to keep pushing forward. We're a focused group right now. We're not going to let anything get in our way. We certainly don't want to get back on that plane." Martin Brodeur stopped 17 shots, but the Devils couldn't beat the impenetrable Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games, or his penalty-killers, who turned aside six power plays -- none bigger than a 60-second kill during 5-on-3 play late in the first period that left the Kings' fans standing and roaring. "I think the (penalty-kill) was the difference in the game," Quick said. The relative youngster in black has outplayed the 40-year-old Brodeur, and New Jersey must accomplish just the fourth comeback from an 0-3 series deficit in NHL playoff history to win its fourth title. "It's not the best situation," Brodeur said. "It's probably the worst situation you could be in -- no, it is the worst situation you could be in. But we believe in ourselves. We're going to compete as hard as we can, and the result will be there one way or another. ... We're just facing a team right now that's doing everything right." The Devils had never lost three straight Stanley Cup finals games in the franchise's five appearances. New Jersey hadn't lost three straight games this season since late February. New Jersey has been pretty good in the finals, but nothing has been able to slow these Kings, who seem destined to become the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup. "We felt like the way we were playing, we were going to get one, but it just didn't happen," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "It's frustrating when everyone has been playing well, and we find ourselves down three-nothing." The Kings could celebrate their first title at home, but their only speed bump in this dynamic postseason has been Game 4. They're 10-0 on the road in the postseason, but failed to close out Vancouver and Phoenix at home in Game 4s. No team has won the Cup with a sweep since Detroit wiped out Washington in the 1998 finals. After opening their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 19 years with two overtime victories in New Jersey, the Kings relied on Quick and their penalty-killing in Game 3 before their offense got rolling. The Kings had to survive their early nerves from playing in front of their title-starved fans, and they barely hung on at times against the Devils' dynamic forechecking in the first two periods. After Carter took a 4-minute penalty for high-sticking Adam Henrique while Los Angeles already was short-handed in the first period, Los Angeles killed one minute of 5-on-3 play before Marek Zidlicky lopped two more minutes off the power play with a penalty of his own to prevent a breakaway by Mike Richards. Martinez scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period on a goalmouth scramble that Brodeur felt should have been whistled dead, and Kopitar followed about 10 minutes later with his third goal in four games off an impressive pass from Brown. The Kings went ahead when Dwight King created a scoring chance with a big hit, eventually hacking at the puck underneath Brodeur's pad in front. Martinez joined the effort with Trevor Lewis and got credit for the goal when the puck finally trickled in, scoring his first goal in his 23rd career playoff game. "I had the puck, I covered it with my stick, and the guy just pushed me," Brodeur said. "I think the referee was in the wrong position, so I guess it was tough for him to make the call." Late in the period, Kopitar extended the lead on a stellar rush by the Kings' top line. Williams moved the puck into the zone and found Brown, who feathered a cross-ice pass to Kopitar for the Slovenian star's eighth goal of the postseason, giving Los Angeles its first two-goal lead since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. In the third period, the Kings finally got something from the power play that has been their weakest feature during the postseason, going 6 for 77 before a 2-for-2 effort in Game 3. Carter scored his sixth goal of the postseason on a splendid setup pass from Richards, his longtime teammate, early in the third period -- and Williams followed 2:32 later with a slick goal in the slot, practically blowing the roof off the sold-out building. "We're a confident group right now," Kopitar said. "As we all know, the fourth one is the toughest one. We want to make sure we're ready for the start on Wednesday, try to get another win." Staples Center was packed to the rafters well before Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the ceremonial opening faceoff. Los Angeles' long-suffering hockey fans hadn't seen a Stanley Cup finals game since Gretzky got them there in 1993, enduring two trips to the finals by the rival Anaheim Ducks in the previous decade while the Kings moved into their 44th season of play without a championship. The Kings got another boost from the return of left wing Simon Gagne, who hadn't played since Dec. 26 while recovering from a concussion. Gagne is a seven-time 20-goal scorer in his first season in Los Angeles, carrying ample playoff experience from his decade with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals. NOTES: The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win the Stanley Cup finals. The other 24 teams facing the deficit have lost the Cup. ... The crowd of 18,764 was the largest in Staples Center history for a Kings game. Hundreds of fans in black jerseys gathered in the plaza outside several hours before game time, chanting slogans and carrying inflatable Cup replicas. ... Gagne played just over 6 minutes on 10 shifts.

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5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson finally made his season debut on Tuesday after his 20-game suspension was reduced to 14 games. The suspension was reduced by neutral arbitrator Shyam Das, who issued his decision Tuesday in a 42-page ruling.

Wilson was originally suspended for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

Just as Bettman did in the first appeal, Das sheds light on several fascinating aspects of the process and various arguments used. Here are my five biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s ruling.

Think Sundqvist hit shows that Wilson is a dirty player? No one else seems to

Wilson has developed a bit of a reputation among some fans for being a dirty player and many have used this incident as evidence of that. Behind closed doors, however, it seems like everyone is in agreement that Wilson was making a hockey play and just missed.

Das wrote, “The NHLPA stresses that Wilson had no intent to injure or target Sundqvist's head, as [head of the Department of Player Safety George Parros] acknowledged. It is agreed that he was making a hockey play. His hit, even assuming it was a violation of Rule 48 -- which the NHLPA disputes -- was off ‘by inches,’ as recognized by the DPS.”

It used to be fairly common for a player who cut across the middle in the offensive zone to get blown up by the opposition. It’s not that way anymore, but there’s nobody seems to question that Wilson was simply back checking and going after the puck carrier and not simply head-hunting.

Careful what you put in an email

In a footnote, Das detailed how the NHLPA tried to argue both Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly attempted to influence the DPS’s decision of whether or not to suspend Wilson.

The NHLPA cites an email Daly sent to Parros at 5:05 p.m. on September 30, 2018 stating: "Looks like a big one. The Emergency Assistance Fund [which receives forfeited salary of penalized players] is going to be happy." Immediately prior to sending this email, Daly had been copied on five emails sent to Parros by other DPS personnel all stating that in their opinion Wilson had violated Rule 48. The NHLPA also cites Parros' testimony that the day before the DPS hearing on this incident he was at an unrelated meeting at which the Commissioner said something to the effect: "You're going to do the right thing or Do the right thing.

Conspiracy theorists are going to run away with this as proof that the NHL is somehow out to get the Caps, but I think it is important to note that the neutral arbitrator—the key word being neutral—did not buy the NHLPA’s argument. Das wrote, “The evidence as a whole, including Parros’ testimony, does not establish that the DPS was improperly influenced by the cited comments of League officials.”

Patrick Kaleta mattered a lota

Who is Patrick Kaleta? Kaleta is former player with an extensive history of supplementary discipline. His name appears 34 times in Das’ ruling so you know he must be important.

The NHLPA argued Kaleta was the “most appropriate comparison” to Wilson because he was suspended three times and fined once over the course of 94 games and with less total ice time. Despite his extensive history, the DPS issued a suspension of only 10 games in 2013 for a hit he delivered to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. That 10-game suspension was reached by doubling his prior suspension of five games.

The DPS made a point of saying that because Wilson was facing discipline for the fourth time in 105 games, his history was “unprecedented.” The reason why the DPS felt that way was because it drew a distinction Wilson was suspended all four times whereas Kaleta was fined once in his four violations during the comparable period and it was not taking the fine into account. Once you add that in, it is easy to see the argument as to why the length of Wilson’s suspension seems extreme in comparison.

How the suspension went from 20 to 14

How the DPS reached 20 games for the suspension was detailed in Bettman’s ruling, but here’s a quick refresher. Parros took Wilson’s last suspension of three games and doubled it to account for the weight of a playoff game (6), tripled that number because Wilson is a repeat offender (18) and added two more games because the hit caused an injury (20).

The sticking point for Das was tripling the last suspension which Das said there was no precedent of the league doing in the past.

“I conclude that Wilson's suspension should be reduced to 14 games,” Das wrote. “I have arrived at this length by treating his most recent prior 3 playoff game suspension as the equivalent of 6 regular season games, as Parros did, doubling that based on all relevant circumstances to 12 games -- which certainly constitutes more severe punishment consistent with the CBA -- and adding 2 games, as Parros did, based on the injury to Sundqvist.”

The change was that instead of multiplying the past suspension by three, Das though it appropriate to double it instead just as the league did with Kaleta.

This wasn’t a win for Wilson

Getting Wilson back was good news for the Caps and it saves him $378,048.78 that he would have otherwise had to forfeit, but let’s be clear, this was not a win for Wilson.

A 14-game suspension is still a significant suspension and it would have felt massive had the league originally given him 14 games on Oct. 3. It just doesn’t seem that way now because the original suspension was for 20 games.

The neutral arbitrator ruled that Wilson’s hit was illegal and worthy of a significant suspension. The only issue was basically that he didn’t like the NHL’s math. Das’ ruling should in no way be considered vindication for Wilson. Everything that has been said about Wilson in the wake of the suspension remains true. He still has to change the way he plays because the next suspension will be greater. Even if the NHL is beholden to the double modifier Das determined to reach 14 games, the best case scenario for the next suspension will be 24 to 28 games depending on if the DPS takes into account the extra two games tacked on for injury or not. That’s the best case scenario. Neither he nor the team can afford that.

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3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

The Washington Wizards still have John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. The Cleveland Cavaliers no longer employ LeBron James. That makes Wednesday’s first meeting of the season between the Eastern Conference foes curious. The radical change for the visitors also requires a preview. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Sustaining the surge

Monday’s 117-109 victory over the Orlando Magic extended the Wizards’ winning streak to a season-high two. Don't knock the modest uptick after a 2-9 start. John Wall’s stat line took a big leap over the last three games: 24.0 points, 10.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers. Beyond the numbers, the point guard appears to have knocked off the remaining rust physically. We’re used to his aggressive end-to-end pushes, but now Wall is firing up the court immediately after makes or misses, helping Washington quickly enter its offensive sets. Another strong outing from the five-time All-Star could propel the Wizards to their first three-game winning streak since Feb. 10-22.

Bench support

Starters Wall, Beal, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris had solid games against the Magic, but it was the Wizards’ second unit playing above previous season norms. All five reserves finished with a plus-minus of plus-8 or better. Jeff Green continued his sizzling shooting, sinking 4 of 5 from beyond the arc en route to 18 points. The 6-foot-9 forward is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall. Backcourt partners Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky, slow to develop chemistry this season, showed increased comfort during the winning streak. Washington needs more from the pair to help keep minutes for Wall and Beal at reasonable levels. That Green and Rivers, in particular, have provided steady help has contributed to Porter sitting out the fourth quarter in three consecutive games.

Cleveland doesn’t rock

From four consecutive NBA Finals appearances to the NBA’s worst record (2-11, tied with Phoenix). Yeah, the Cavaliers miss LeBron James just a little. They also are down Kevin Love (toe surgery), leaving Jordan Clarkson (15.2) and Rodney Hood (12.9) as Cleveland’s top scorers. That’s not ideal. The Cavaliers are 27th in scoring (103.3) while giving up 113.1 points per game, which is better than Washington’s league-worst 118.5. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, is filling in for the injured George Hill. Sexton is averaging 17.0 points over the last three games.

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