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NHL chief Gary Bettman: ‘Hockey is thriving in California’

It’s not what the San Jose Sharks would want to hear after being eliminated Tuesday, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman praised the state of hockey in California during the Kings’ 2-1 victory over the Sharks at Staples Center.

“To be here tonight and see the crowd, it all demonstrates that hockey is thriving in California. And that’s great to see,” Bettman told The Times. “If we were trying to be a little trite, we could say we’ve gone from the Golden Seals to a Golden Era.”

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The Western Conference semifinals marked only the fourth time two California teams faced each other in the NHL playoffs.

BOX SCORE: Kings 2, Sharks 1

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“I was only an hour flight away on other business so why not take the opportunity to be at a Game 7?” said Bettman, who had been in Phoenix, helping move along the sale of the Coyotes.

While on the topic of team and/or executive departures…

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Did Tim Leiweke’s unexpected exit from AEG change Bettman’s relationship with AEG or, specifically, Kings owner Phil Anschutz?

“Phil and I have always had a strong relationship going back to when he first bought the club. And I’ve known [new AEG Chief Executive] Dan Beckerman for years,” Bettman said. “Everybody loves Tim and I’m sure Tim will be missed, but AEG has always been, and is always going to be, in strong hands. Phil wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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Meanwhile, Bettman will keep on moving from arena to arena.

“This is like my 11th game of the playoffs,” he said. “The games have been exciting. They’ve been entertaining. I think we’re in for a great conference finals and a Stanley Cup Finals that will be terrific.”

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Stoll still sidelined

Kings center Jarret Stoll sat out his sixth consecutive game because of a concussion.

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He participated in the team’s Tuesday morning skate and even took some faceoffs but still went without contact.

Stoll said he was “fairly close” to returning.

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“It’s just one of those things where you can’t cheat it and you can’t not be honest with yourself,” he said. “It’s one of those injuries. It’s just a matter of being 100%. Don’t want to risk if I’m not.”

And, of course it’s not easy being sidelined.

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“It’s a lot easier when we win, a lot tougher when we lose,” he said.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan


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