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Penalties Power-play Goals Skyrocket Early In Nhl Playoffs

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Players take note: Referees aren’t swallowing their whistles so far in the 2018 NHL playoffs.

Penalties are up more than 17 percent over the same time a year ago and are playing a substantial role in several series. Through 19 games in the first round, there have been nearly 10 penalties per game. Last year, there was an average of eight penalties called through 20 games.

“The penalties that have been called in the series so far is an indication of how the referees are calling the game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said Monday. “They’re calling it as they see it. I think discipline is of the utmost importance.”

While the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions haven’t been perfect in that regard against Philadelphia, they haven’t been derailed by a lack of discipline. Around the rest of the NHL, penalties and the ensuing power-play goals are making a big difference: There have been 38 power-play goals through Sunday’s games compared with just 21 in 2017.

The NHL wants officials to call playoffs at the same standard as the regular season, which is happening with penalties actually going up from the first period through the third. Each of the 10 pairings of referees working the playoffs has at least one who has worked the Cup Final, so the hope is having that experience helps maintain consistency.

The Washington Capitals blew two-goal leads in back-to-back overtime losses on home ice to Columbus because of ill-advised penalties and go into Game 3 on the road (7:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, NBCSN) knowing it’s a problem that needs immediate fixing.

“We need to be a little smarter,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We need to play with better discipline — especially when we have the lead twice. … It’s obviously going to hurt you in the playoffs. That’s the way it is. It’s just fact.”

Nine of the 14 regulation goals in the Washington-Columbus series have come on the power play. The Blue Jackets, who surged into the playoffs by not taking a lot of penalties to tax one of the worst special teams units in the league, lead the playoffs in penalty minutes per game.

Coach John Tortorella said the Blue Jackets “have to cure that” because it’s too dangerous to keep taking so many penalties. His players know it even if they’re unsure of the standard.

“We need to stay out of the box, but you never know what’s a call and what’s not anymore,” forward Cam Atkinson said. “But that’s the game right now.”

In the West, where Winnipeg leads Minnesota 2-1, the teams realize how tight things are being called.

The Wild took five penalties in the first 31 minutes Sunday night and stymied the Jets’ power play in a 6-2 comeback win. The teams combined for 19 penalties — including some fights and misconducts — in the second game of their series.

“We’ve just got to watch taking penalties,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Both teams were really emotional at the beginning and you’ve got to worry about taking penalties and getting behind the eight ball.”

It’s chippy between the Golden Knights and Kings, too, with Vegas up 3-0 going into Game 4 (10:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, NBCSN) in Los Angeles. All three games so far have been decided by a goal, L.A. defenseman Drew Doughty was suspended for an illegal check to the head of William Carrier and Kings coach John Stevens is none too happy about a missed call on Vegas forward Erik Haula for hitting Anze Kopitar in the face with the butt end of his stick Sunday night .

“We get a guy suspended for making a hockey play, and he butt-ends one of the best players in the world in the face,” Stevens said. “That’s an intent-to-injure play.”

COMEBACK KINGS?

Los Angeles is the most recent team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, doing so in 2014 against the San Jose Sharks on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. Stevens, who was an assistant four years ago, said his team has “had some resilience all year,” and the tightness of the games against Vegas combined with the excellence of goaltender Jonathan Quick certainly makes an turnaround possible.

INJURIES

The Jets lost Tyler Myers to a lower-body injury that coach Paul Maurice thought was avoidable, and the big defenseman’s status is uncertain going into Game 4 (8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, CNBC). Young Tucker Poolman could draw into the lineup in place of Myers if necessary.

The Capitals won’t have forward Andre Burakovsky for at least Games 3 and 4 in Columbus because of an upper-body injury. Coach Barry Trotz said Burakovsky is going to “miss some time” after being crunched into the boards by Boone Jenner in Game 2. Speedy winger Jakub Vrana, a surprise scratch for Washington on Sunday, goes back in for Burakovsky.

WHO STARTS?

Trotz said he has decided who will start in goal for the Capitals in Game 3 but hadn’t yet told Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. After Grubauer allowed eight goals on 49 shots before being yanked at the second intermission of Game 2, the smart money is on Holtby, the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner.

BARTON OUT

Linesman Steve Barton, who was injured when he inadvertently clipped skates with Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson and had to be helped off the ice by trainers, dislocated his kneecap and tore a quadriceps muscle in his left leg. Barton will require surgery but didn’t tear ligaments in his knee, which doctors said is good news because they expect him to make a full recovery.

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

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More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Santi Cazorla Set To Return To Arsenal For Decision On Future… But Arsene Wenger Is Unsure If He’ll Play Again

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ARSENE WENGER says Arsenal could yet offer Santi Cazorla a new contract – if he finally returns from his injury hell.

But Wenger is still waiting to see if Jack Wilshere will accept a new deal on a reduced wage.

Getty Arsene Wenger has not seen Santi Cazorla since Arsenal’s League Cup final defeat to Manchester City

On Cazorla, who has been sidelined by a horrific Achilles problem since October 2016, the Arsenal boss said: “I have not seen him since the League Cup final because he has gone back to make his rehab.

“But the last news I heard is that he is doing very well, so I hope that certainly he will come back before the end of the season and we can make a check-up of where he stands.

“Can he play again in the Premier League? I don’t know, I have to see how he responds to his injury.

“I hope yes, but I don’t know.”

REUTERS Arsene Wenger admits he does not konw if Santi Cazorla will play again

If Cazorla proved he was fit to play at the top level again, though, would Arsenal be prepared to offer him a new contract to replace the one which expires this summer?

Wenger said: “Yes, of course. We miss him a lot.

“I never spoke about it or not many times, as he was not the subject of the day.

“But we have missed him a lot in our game.

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Sharks Ride Depth Jones To First-round Sweep Of Ducks

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Very little separated San Jose and Anaheim in the regular season, with the Ducks edging out the Sharks by one point for second place in the Pacific Division.

Their first-round series wasn’t nearly as competitive.

The Sharks rode their superior depth, potent power play and stellar goaltending from Martin Jones to the second sweep in franchise history, knocking out the Ducks with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night.

“We’re playing well going into the second round,” defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “Everybody is contributing if it’s offensively, blocking shots, taking a hit. Everybody is doing what they have to for us to win.”

After jumping on Anaheim early to win the first two games on the road, the Sharks earned a lopsided win in Game 3 thanks to undisciplined play by the Ducks and then withstood a strong push to end the series in Game 4.

Jones kept Anaheim at bay for long stretches in the second and third period before finally allowing a tying goal to Andrew Cogliano. San Jose then took 1:16 to answer and scored the eventual series-clincher when Vlasic’s point shot deflected off Tomas Hertl and into the net.

“The response goal was huge,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We were on our heels. They were pressing. It’s tough to play an elimination game when you get an opportunity to sweep a really good team like that.”

The Sharks were in control for most of the series, outscoring the Ducks 16-4 in their most lopsided series in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

San Jose got as many goals from its fourth line in the series as Anaheim had from its entire team with Marcus Sorensen scoring his third of the series to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead in the first period of the clincher. Eric Fehr also had a goal from the fourth line in the series.

“Every night they hopped over the boards with energy and grabbed momentum for us, drew penalties,” DeBoer said. “They were fantastic, but I’ve said from Day 1 we need to be a four-line team if we’re going to have success. And I think the teams that are moving through are. I watched Vegas a little bit last night. They’re a four-line team.”

The expansion Golden Knights are also the next team in the Sharks’ way. The two will meet in the second round starting sometime next week in just the second series in the past 22 years featuring teams coming off sweeps in the previous round.

Vegas finished off the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, part of a record-setting inaugural campaign that included a Pacific Division title in the regular season.

The Sharks will likely need another strong defensive effort next round led by Jones. He was brilliant in the clincher, making several tough saves against Corey Perry. He also had a shutout in Game 1 and set a San Jose playoff record with 45 regulation saves in Game 3.

He finished the series with a .970 save percentage, helping the Sharks earn their second sweep in franchise history after also doing it in the first round against Vancouver in 2013.

“Goaltending wins this time of the year,” forward Logan Couture said. “He was fantastic. He made a lot of Grade A saves. He was our best penalty killer. They had some really good looks. Perry had a lot of chances that Joner made some big saves on.”

By extending their season another round, the Sharks may be able to get star center Joe Thornton back in the lineup. Thornton has been out since injuring his right knee on Jan. 23. He has resumed skating and took part in warmups throughout the series but has said he doesn’t want to return until he knows he’s healthy enough to help the team and make it through what he hopes will be a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Sharks have time now to figure that out.

“That’s all hypothetical,” DeBoer said. “That doesn’t even cross our desk. Those decisions will be something if he is healthy we’ll make then. Sometimes those things sort themselves out. I’m just really proud of our group, the resiliency, the composure.”

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More AP NHL: apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Nfl Ace Rob Gronkowski Buys Into His Namesake Racehorse Who Is Set To Run In The Kentucky Derby Next Month

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NFL ace Rob Gronkowski has bought a share in the horse named after him as he goes for glory in the Kentucky Derby.

Gronkowski could be tasting a different kind of success on May 5 if Gronkowski – the horse – takes glory in the $2million race.

Reuters Gronkowski is set to be at Churchill Downs to watch his horse run

The three-year-old, trained by Jeremy Noseda and owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds has won his last four starts in England and is on track for the ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs.

Two-time Super Bowl winner Gronkowski has been attracted by growing attention in Noseda’s runner and said on www.gronknation.com: “This horse is a winner and I love a winner.

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“When I heard about the racehorse being named after me, I started watching and got really stoked when he started winning. He’s won his last three races and is now headed to the Derby.

“I’m all in: Welcome to the Gronk Family, Gronkowski the Horse!”

He added: “I really can’t think of anything cooler than having a top-class thoroughbred named after me. Except maybe having him win the Derby.”

It is expected New England Patriot’s star Gronkowski will be at Churchill Downs to watch his horse race.

New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski interrupts Sean Spicer at press briefing

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