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NHL Network to provide exclusive coverage of U.S. National team, will also carry Dec. 23 Caps-Pens game

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While NHL Center Ice and Game Center can really complete the picture, a hockey fan can really cobble together an excellent week of hockey viewing if that person subscribes to Versus, NHL Network, their local stations (and starting with the Winter Classic, NBC).

In fact, I’ve noticed a weird trend: whenever there’s a bigger-than-usual game on a night in which Versus isn’t covering an NHL game, NHL Network often adds coverage of that contest. That’s because the network has a “flex” schedule, making it more than just a great place to find random top 10 lists and the typically strong highlight show On the Fly.

The U.S. version of the NHL Network flexed its programming muscles today, adding two great bits of hockey in the next couple months.

For fans of the pro game only, NHL Network will carry a Winter Classic preview this week, as the league announced that this Thursday’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals game will be televised on the channel. The game takes placed at 7 pm ET on December 23 and will be available in high definition, according to a press release from the league. There also will be a brief pregame show featuring frequent On the Fly hosts Kevin Weekes and Bill Duffy.

Another great bit of news comes for fans of the sport as a whole (and really, with all the high-end talent in these tournaments, any puckhead should give the World Junior Championships a try). The U.S. version of the NHL Network will provide exclusive coverage of Team USA’s journey to win back-to-back gold medals in the 2011 World Juniors in Buffalo, New York. Here’s the lowdown from the press release.

NHL Network U.S. will provide exclusive live coverage of the U.S. National Junior Team games at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. NHL Network also will televise all medal-round games and five additional preliminary-round match-ups, airing a total of 15 games in high-definition from the tournament, and provide nightly re-caps in its signature show “NHL On the Fly.”  All USA games will be NHL Network original broadcasts.

The tournament’s popularity stems from its reputation as a showcase for the game’s best up-and-coming young players from around the world. Many current NHL stars have played in the tournament; an abbreviated list includes Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla for Canada; Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan for the United States; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk for Russia; Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins for Sweden; Martin Havlat, Milan Hejduk and Tomas Kaberle for the Czech Republic; Teemu Selanne and the Koivu brothers for Finland and Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Jaroslav Halak for Slovakia.

Many players who will take to the ice in this year’s tournament are very close to realizing their dream of an NHL career — no fewer than 25 players who played in last year’s competition already have made their League debut.

The broadcasting team will include former ESPN hockey announcer Gary “Goooooal!” Thorne as well as Billy Jaffe, Fred Pletsch and Dave “Please, no David Bowie jokes” Starman.

Along with being a great hockey tournament in a vacuum, the WJC tournament is the closest thing the sport has to March Madness: a preview of things to come for promising prospects in a highly competitive atmosphere.

Personally, I cannot wait for the Winter Classic warm-up or the WJC tournament. It’s the kind of news that makes my next enormous cable bill much easier to digest.

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.