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Predators brace for physical series vs Jets in 2nd round

Predators brace for physical series vs Jets in 2nd round

The Nashville Predators are done dealing with the speed of Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche. Next, they get the physicality of Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets . There's no easy test this time of year. 'They've got size. They've got skill. They've got speed,' forward Austin Watson said Sunday night after Nashville beat the Avalanche 5-0 in Game 6 to clinch the series. 'Get our rest and get prepared.' Nashville looks every bit like the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final a season ago and won the Presidents' Trophy this season. The Predators are hitting their stride heading into the Winnipeg series. They had 11 forwards notch at least a point in the Colorado series. Not to be outdone, the Jets had a balanced scoring attack in closing out Minnesota, 4-1. 'We saw how the regular season went against them. They're good hockey games,' said Watson, whose team went 3-1-1 against the Jets during the year. 'We're excited.' This goaltending showdown should be worth the price of admission: Pekka Rinne vs. Connor Hellebuyck. One Vezina Trophy finalist against another. Both are coming off a solid series, with Rinne stopping 22 shots in a 5-0 win Sunday to close out the series with Colorado. Hellebuyck had a 1.94 goals-against average in eliminating the Wild. 'Moving into the second round, I think you want to be playing very good defensive hockey against Winnipeg,' Rinne said. 'One of the better teams in the league. They have a lot of firepower, a lot of talent up front. Also, like ours, their 'D' is a big part of their game. I think it's going to be very exciting, good series.' The Western Conference semifinals feature a little bit of history: This marks only the third time the final four in the conference are all chasing after their first Stanley Cup since the introduction of conferences in '74-75, according to information provided by the league. The scenario also occurred in 2012 (the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Cup) and in 1984 (Edmonton). In the other semifinal matchup set to get underway, expansion Las Vegas faces San Jose. 'Anytime you win a series you're feeling confident,' Predators forward Nick Bonino said. 'We're going to be as confident as we can going against Winnipeg. We know how good they are.' That's a sentiment shared by forward Filip Forsberg, who scored four goals against Colorado. 'It was a good test for us. These guys have been flying around for six games, playing really fast hockey,' Forsberg said. 'We've been trying to play as fast as we can as well. If we can bring that speed into the next round that will be good.' The Nashville defense will have its hands full with the likes of Jets forward Patrik Laine, who scored 44 goals in the regular season, and Blake Wheeler (91 points). Still, the Predators enter on a high after posting a shutout victory in a series-ending game for the first time in franchise history. They joined Vegas and Winnipeg as the third team to accomplish the feat this postseason. 'It's better to end it this way than hanging on at the end,' Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. 'There are other teams on the ice that are pretty good hockey teams. You see it in other series going on. It would have been great if you win (the series) 4-0 but that wasn't the case. We had an opposition that was young, skilled and fast and they had nothing to lose, and they played that way. There were times in the first five games it didn't look like it was just going happen — we were going to have to work for it. 'It was nice tonight to play a game we were comfortable with.' The Avs take some pride in knowing they gave the Predators fits at times. 'We made them fight for it,' Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. Exactly. 'The way Colorado works and battles and plays the game fast, it definitely challenged us,' Predators center Colton Sissons said. 'It was a good experience for us going forward.' ___ More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Torres called up, and more top prospects could soon follow

Torres called up, and more top prospects could soon follow

The latter part of April is a good time to check in on some of baseball's top prospects. The New York Yankees hope they have a good one in Gleyber Torres. Torres made his anticipated debut for the Yankees on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, and although the 21-year-old infielder went hitless , his arrival drew plenty of attention. Torres' promotion occurred late enough that he isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2024 season. It made sense for his major league debut to come now, especially after he hit .347 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A few other top prospects remain in the minors, but they're also worth keeping an eye on: —Ronald Acuna, Braves. Acuna hit .432 in 44 spring training at-bats for Atlanta this year, and although he started slowly at Triple-A Gwinnett, a three-hit day Sunday lifted his average to .217. —Nick Senzel, Reds. Cincinnati is a major league-worst 3-18 and already fired manager Bryan Price . In other words, the addition of a top prospect could certainly improve the mood around, but Senzel hasn't done much to force the issue. The 22-year-old third baseman is hitting .241 at Triple-A Louisville. —Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez, White Sox. These two jewels of Chicago's system are certainly on the radar for White Sox fans. Kopech has a 2.40 ERA through three starts at Triple-A Charlotte. Jimenez is 0 for 10 in three games for Double-A Birmingham — but the outfielder hit .353 in 18 games at that level last year. He's been recovering from a pectoral strain. —Willy Adames, Rays. Tampa Bay acquired Adames when it traded ace David Price in 2014. He hit well in spring training and is now batting .300 for Triple-A Durham. He spent last season at Triple-A as well, so he's built up plenty of experience at the top level of the minors. Some more developments from around the majors: TAKING ADVANTAGE Milwaukee has won six in a row — all against the last-place Reds and Marlins — to pull within percentage points of first-place St. Louis in the NL Central. The Brewers lost All-Star closer Corey Knebel to a hamstring injury earlier this month, but they nonetheless have the second-best bullpen ERA in the National League, behind NL West-leading Arizona. FOR THE BIRDS Baltimore lost 87 games last season and allowed the second-most runs in the American League. Pitching is still an issue for the Orioles, but now they're also hitting a major league-worst .215. The result is a 6-16 record that already has Baltimore 11 ½ games out of first place in the AL East. HIGHLIGHT Yes, that really happened: San Francisco's Brandon Belt kept hitting foul balls against Angels right-hander Jaime Barria before finally lining out to right field on the 21st pitch of the plate appearance Sunday. The interminable at-bat occurred in the first inning. Belt faced Barria again in the third and singled on the eighth pitch of that plate appearance. Barria was lifted that inning after 77 pitches. Honorable mention highlight: Bryce Harper's broken-bat home run for Washington on Monday night against the New York Mets. LINE OF THE WEEK The first no-hitter of the 2018 season went to Oakland left-hander Sean Manaea, who blanked Boston 3-0 on Saturday night. Manaea struck out 10 and walked two in what was also his first complete game in 58 big league starts. ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball ___ Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Crosby, Penguins keep 3rd straight championship in sight

Crosby, Penguins keep 3rd straight championship in sight

Sidney Crosby tormented the Flyers just as he has from the start of his NHL career. Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were clutch when needed in pivotal games. And Matt Murray? Oh, just two shutouts and the type of outings that show more zeros on the board are possible in the second round — and maybe, beyond. But with the game on the line and facing a Game 7 on home ice where they already lost twice, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned to a blossoming postseason star to lead the way. Jake Guentzel was just the player to bail out the Pens. He scored the tying and go-ahead goals in Game 6, then scored two more — all four in succession — to put the game away and lift the Penguins to an 8-5 Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. The Flyers are headed home, as usual, with a Stanley Cup drought that dates to 1975. The Penguins are nestled in a familiar spot, in the second round for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons. But a bigger prize looms for the Penguins — a third straight Stanley Cup. The Penguins have won nine straight playoff series, which ties a franchise record and are the most in the NHL since the Detroit Red Wings also won nine from 1997 to 1999. The New York Islanders are the last team to win 10 straight, in fact, they won 19 consecutive postseason series (1980 to 1984) that included four Stanley Cup championships. Now comes the hard part. Pittsburgh has reached the same round as the last three teams going for a threepeat (1989 Oilers, 1993 Penguins, 1999 Red Wings) — and all three lost in the second round. The Penguins say, bring it on. 'Things are never going to always go your way, especially in the playoffs,' Murray said. 'We got the job done. This time of year, it doesn't matter how, it just matters that you get the win.' Crosby had a hat trick in Game 1 and matched a postseason-high with four points in a Game 3 win in the Philadelphia arena where fans stuck his photo on the inside of urinals. He shook it off — as if he was ever bothered by the activity — and scored six goals and had 13 points in the series. 'Sid loves to compete. When he goes to hostile environments, he's at his best,' coach Mike Sullivan said. 'He's a high-stakes player. He has 'it'. 'It' is what helps you perform in those big moments. It's hard to explain 'it'. You know 'it' when you see it. Sid is one of those guys.' Crosby has been the dominant and reliable Penguin over the course of a career that includes three Stanley Cups. But this season brought new challenges to the franchise. The Penguins have crafted a new identity after the departures of Chris Kunitz, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen, all vital pieces of Pittsburgh's 2016 and 2017 titles. 'I think we have a bunch of capable guys that can play for us here. It's kind of the next man up and the guys did a great job,' Guentzel said. Sure, four goals is a bit ridiculous, but Guentzel will need to be a key contributor again especially if Malkin isn't ready to go. Malkin, who scored three goals in five games, sat out Game 6 with a leg injury. He missed the final four minutes of the first period in Game 5 after Philadelphia's Jori Lehtera fell on it when the two got tangled in the corner. Malkin returned to start the second period. But he was hurt to the point where he sat out Game 6, and all it takes is one nagging injury to slow down the road toward completing the Stanley Cup trilogy. If he plays or not, there are still enough playoff-tested Penguins to keep them rolling. 'We've been through a number of these elimination games over the last couple of years so it's not a surprise to any of us,' Sullivan said. 'My hope moving forward is we can learn from those experiences and hopefully we have better success.' ___ More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey

Cavs downplay effects of Pacers' Stephenson The Cavaliers insist Lance Stephenson's antics won't influence their focus after run-ins with the Pacers guard. "It's not worth it to give that extra energy to him," Cavs forward Jeff Green said.