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Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman earned accolades for making the boldest moves in improving Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup aspirations at the NHL’s trade deadline in February.
Evander Kane [url=http://www.newyorkgiantsteamonline.com/saquon-barkley-jersey]Cheap Saquon Barkley Jersey[/url] , however, might have been the biggest beneficiary after being dealt by eventual last-place Buffalo to San Jose on Feb. 26. Kane couldn’t contain his glee on his Twitter account a week ago in posting a message which read : ”(hashtag)playoffmode it’s about time!”
It took him nine years and four cities – from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Buffalo and now San Jose – since being selected with the No. 4 pick by the then-Thrashers in the 2009 draft to finally prepare for his playoff debut. It will happen Thursday, when the Sharks open their Pacific Division first-round series at Anaheim.
”It makes it easy to come to the rink. It makes it easy to play with this group of guys,” Kane said. ”I’m having a lot of fun right now.”
The Sharks, who gave up a prospect and two conditional draft picks, including a potential first-rounder, might not be in this position without Kane. The 26-year-old picked up the offensive slack on a team that closed the season minus star Joe Thornton. Kane scored nine goals, including two game-winners, and added five assists in 17 games.
In closing the season at 12-7-1, the Sharks’ 25 points ranked in a tie for 10th among NHL teams since the trade deadline.
”He’s a crucial part of our team,” center Chris Tierney said of Kane. ”Just gives us an extra layer of everything.”
Kane wasn’t the only late-season addition to provide his new team a boost.
Yzerman added offense, defense and leadership to an already elite team by acquiring New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in one of the final trades completed. Miller led all players traded on Feb. 26 by scoring 10 goals and piling up 18 points in 19 games.
”When you add two players like that and give up what they did, it’s you know: They’re in it to win it,” former player and NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said of the Lightning.
Fellow analyst, Pierre McGuire looked to the moves made by Nashville.
The Predators gave up a first-round draft pick in adding size and versatility to acquire forward Ryan Hartman from Chicago. They welcomed back veteran Mike Fisher, who signed out of retirement. They also signed forward Eeli Tolvanen , after the rookie first-round pick’s Kontinental Hockey League season ended last month.
”You look at everything Nashville has done, they never messed with the roster integrity that was created at the beginning of the year by David Poile and Paul Fenton,” McGuire said [url=http://www.texanscheapshop.com]Texans Cheap Jerseys[/url] , referring to Predators management. ”So I think Nashville quietly, whether it’s at the deadline or just before, did some amazing things.”
The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators (15-4-2), Winnipeg (15-4-1), Columbus (14-4-2) and Boston (13-5-4) led the NHL in points since Feb. 26.
Columbus jumped from 19th in the overall standings to 14th in a run that coincided with the additions of forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole.
Paul Stastny scored four goals and 13 points with playoff-bound Winnipeg, after being traded by St. Louis for a first-round pick. The Blues, by comparison, closed 10-7-2 and missed the playoffs with a season-ending loss to Colorado. And don’t forget Patrick Maroon, who had three goals and 10 points in 17 games for New Jersey, which acquired him from Edmonton.
The Capitals filled secondary defensive needs by adding Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek just before the trade deadline.
”We had holes to fill this year and we filled them with guys that aren’t as high-profile, but are just steady, and provided the things we needed for our team,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said.
After appearing in just 31 games in Chicago, Kempny played 22 in Washington while securing a role alongside Norris Trophy-candidate John Carlson.
In Philadelphia, goalie Petr Mrazek held the fort in going 6-6-4 in place of injured starter Brian Elliott. Elliott returned in time to win the final two games including a 17-save shutout in a season-ending, playoff-clinching 5-0 win over the Rangers.
Not all the trades paid off down the stretch.
Rick Nash missed Boston’s final 12 games with an upper body injury after being acquired in a trade with the Rangers.
Tomas Plekanec managed just two assists in 17 games with Toronto after being acquired from Montreal.
Tomas Tatar had four goals and six points in 20 games with Vegas, which landed him in a deal with Detroit.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, in Washington, and sports writers Josh Dubow, in San Jose [url=http://www.seahawksauthorizedshops.com/authentic-byron-maxwell-jersey]http://www.seahawksauthorizedshops.com/authentic-byron-maxwell-jersey[/url] , and Teresa M. Walker, in Nashville, contributed to this report.
More NHL hockey: This was not exactly the same shot from Kevin Durant.
Game 3 of the NBA Finals again, yes.
Left wing pull-up, yes.
Back in Cleveland, yes.
Final minute again, yes.
But this one was deeper than his dagger was a year ago – and it cut deeper as well. And on a night where Stephen Curry couldn’t shoot and Klay Thompson wasn’t much better, Durant put the Golden State Warriors on his slender shoulders and carried them to the brink of becoming back-to-back NBA champions for the first time.
Durant’s 33-footer was the final act in his 43-point night, and the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-102 in Game 3 of the finals on Wednesday night to take a 3-0 lead in the title series for the second straight season. A year ago, his shot from a bit closer – 26 feet, officially – put the Warriors ahead to stay in what became a five-point win. This time, the longer one put Golden State up by six and sent fans starting to head toward the exits.
”Different game, different season, different feel,” Durant shrugged afterward, knowing full well how similar it was to the one he hit last season and knowing what it means right now. ”Just a different vibe around the team.”
No, it isn’t.
That team had a championship vibe. Soon, maybe Friday, maybe not until Monday, this team will have the same.
This was why the Warriors needed Durant [url=http://www.eaglescheapshops.com/cheap-authentic-dallas-goedert-jersey]Cheap Dallas Goedert Jersey[/url] , and this is why Durant needed the Warriors. He was an elite player before he went to Golden State. He’s now about to be a two-time champion because he went to Golden State. And it’s a reminder to the rest of the NBA that when the free-agency shopping kiosks open on July 1, this is the team to be chasing.
They did not have a super regular season. They are a Superteam, without question.
To win any NBA Finals game, on the road, when LeBron James has a triple-double, when they trailed most of the night, when the deficit was as many as 13 early, when Curry and Thompson shot a combined 7 for 27 … only a Superteam can pull that off.
”It’s almost like playing the Patriots,” Cleveland superstar LeBron James said Wednesday night. ”You can’t have mistakes. They’re not going to beat themselves. You know, so when you’re able to either force a miscue on them, you have to be able to capitalize and you have to be so in tuned and razor sharp and focused every single possession. You can’t have miscommunication, you can’t have flaws … because they’re going to make you pay.”
James had a triple-double. He’s three rebounds shy of averaging one in this series. He even had the highlight play of the series, a shot (which was really a pass) off the backboard to himself that he rebounded and viciously dunked. And he’s still down 3-0.
He’s not conceding. But he is clearly tipping his cap to the Warriors, his nemesis in each of the last four Junes and a team that’s one win shy of beating him in three of those series.
”That’s what championship teams do,” James said. ”That’s what championship players do. They rise to the occasion, and that’s what Golden State has done the last four years.”
Durant has made quite a career out of rising to the occasion.
He was amused earlier in this series by a question that suggested the defining moment of his career was the 3-pointer in Game 3 last season. (”You know, I had a pretty solid career before I hit that shot, I felt,” Durant said.) He will be equally amused when he gets asked if the shot he made Wednesday will also be a defining moment. He’s been an MVP, a Finals MVP [url=http://www.miamidolphinsteamonline.com/albert-wilson-jersey]Authentic Albert Wilson Jersey[/url] , an Olympic gold medalist already.
This is just what’s next.
”I was definitely excited,” said Durant, who tends to try and keep emotions to himself. ”It’s hard to make shots at this level in the NBA and I understand that. But at the same time I knew the game wasn’t over.”
It may as well have been. Cleveland got within four on the next possession after Durant’s dagger, but never any closer.
”They have a number of guys that can bail their team out on any play, any game, any possession,” Cleveland’s Kevin Love said. ”And he’s been that for them a number of times. Defenses try to plan for him, but when you’re 6-11, 7-feet and you’re shooting a lazy pullup on the left wing from 27 feet that’s pretty tough to guard.”
For the record, Durant made every effort to defer the credit Wednesday night. He didn’t think his shot was the biggest of the game. He thought Curry’s lone 3-pointer in 10 tries – one that put the Warriors up by four with 2:38 remaining – carried more weight, and he might have been right.
But Durant finished it off. The game. The season. The title, basically.
”You know, we’ve got a lot of depth,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. ”We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, and they’re all chipping in. But we should probably go back to Kevin Durant, shouldn’t we? That was amazing what he did.”
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Reach him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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