Five Thoughts: Boston and Tampa Bay play a Game 7 for the ages

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A Game 7 worthy of being labeled a Game 7. This isn’t your 7-0 Game 7 no show or something along those orders. In this case, Boston and Tampa Bay did the way it was meant to be done. Breakneck pace, chances for both sides, tremendous goaltending all around, and ultimately one team going home a tough loser. For Boston, their success in beating Tampa Bay 1-0 ends in euphoria for a night for the Bruins before heading into the Stanley Cup finals and dealing with the league’s best team in Vancouver. On this night, there are more than five thoughts one could have but we’ll keep it in check.

1. When breaking down what we might see in this game, the one thing we figured would be Tampa Bay’s toughest thing to deal with would be if Boston settled in and played “Bruins hockey” and sure enough that’s just what they got a massive dose of. A tight checking game, suffocating pressure from the Bruins forecheck, sticks in passing lanes, and solid goaltending from Tim Thomas. In essence, it was the absolute worst thing Tampa Bay wanted to see in this game.

There was no secret game plan from Lightning coach Guy Boucher and while the Lightning’s best players played well, no one was able to rise above the Bruins defense. You want “Bruins hockey” you saw it in textbook form tonight and it’s all thanks to Claude Julien’s due diligence.

2. Let’s get the elephant out of the room and just move along. Nathan Horton scores the only goal of the game in a game where it was questionable and highly arguable whether or not he should’ve been playing in thanks to his water bottle antics after Game 6. In my mind we all knew deep down that Horton wouldn’t get suspended, after all, it’s “just some water” and the next game was Game 7.

Of course, doing anything to fans should be an instant non-starter so allowing water to be squirted on fans, provoked or not, is something any professional athlete should most definitely know better than to do. Horton’s fortunate that the game was played in Tampa Bay where fans aren’t nearly as excitable as those in say Philadelphia or New York City. It’ll be a point of contention raised by Lightning fans from here on out but one likely to be quickly forgotten, right or wrong, from now on.

3. After everything that went down in Game 7 and with how tight these two teams were all series and all season long, it came down to one play to decide the game. One poor defensive breakdown by Tampa Bay on what appeared to be a set play by the Bruins to get Nathan Horton motoring and going full speed toward the net worked. David Krejci gets the puck at the half-boards and draws the attention of two Lightning defenders opening up the slot where Horton cruised through untouched until too late getting a perfect pass from Krejci. It’s a thing of beauty for Boston to have a play work that way and for Tampa Bay, it’s going to be a very painful replay to watch. One mistake and it turns the series. It’s incredible that this series turned out to be just that close.

4. Let’s give it up for Dwayne Roloson. He’s 41 years-old, he played like crap through most of the series against Boston, sat out of Game 5 in favor of Mike Smith to get a breather, and then played the game of his life in Game 7. Roloson stopped 37 shots in the Game 7 loss, his first loss in an elimination game in his career, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He had numerous highlight reel saves and frustrated Bruins scorers all night long. If not for that aforementioned mistake that game might still be going on now.

While we don’t know what Roloson’s future holds for him, he’s quietly had a very solid playoff career. From Minnesota, to Edmonton, now to Tampa Bay he’s had just a fantastic career as a guy who gets stuff done in the playoffs. No Stanley Cup wins will certainly hurt how people look at him overall, but what a gamer.

5. Now the Bruins’ real test lays ahead of them in the form of Vancouver, and a very well rested Canucks team by the time both teams drop the puck for Game 1 on Wednesday. The instant snap judgment on the series is that the Canucks are going to be licking their chops to get after the Bruins. Add in the possibility that Manny Malhotra could be healthy enough to suit up for them and things stack up tall against Boston.

Of course, there’s a reason they play the games and while Bruins fans have been waiting all playoffs long for Milan Lucic to snap out of things, him getting to suit up for a potential seven game series against his hometown team (Lucic is from Vancouver) should be enough to light a forest fire underneath him. Boston hasn’t had to deal with a team as deep nor as talented all around as Vancouver yet. It will be fascinating to see in action.

A look at the potential suitors for Evander Kane

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Evander Kane‘s time is apparently up in Buffalo.

And on the surface that seems kind of puzzling.

They have a clear asset that likes to score — and can score (because everyone likes to score) — seems invested in the team and the city and has no clear desire to move.

What more could a general manager want?

Apparently four pieces – draft picks and prospects, likely.

Jason Botterill may be asking the world, but as TSN’s Darren Dreger pointed out, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Still, it’s just a tad odd from a team that hasn’t drafted or developed all that well to be wanting more things they can use to struggle at drafting and developing. What happens if Alexander Nylander doesn’t pan out? Kane is a proven commodity that would like to see the Sabres grow.

Cap issues are certainly a concern, and it’s likely that Kane will command more than the current $5.25 million that he’s been earning since the days when he was with the Winnipeg Jets.

But you’d think a team looking to build around Jack Eichel would want to keep in place some pieces that make their young superstar better.

Alas.

If Kane is to move at or before the trade deadline, he’s likely heading to a contender as a rental player.

For Kane, this would soften the blow of having to move away from a place he’s happy to be.

Kane has never played in an NHL playoff game before. And for a guy who’s enjoyed the spotlight over his career, he likely won’t have any qualms about playing on hockey’s biggest stage.

So who might be his potential suitors?

The easy guess here would be teams sitting in playoff spots that could use a shot of adrenaline in the scoring column.

Of the 16 teams currently occupying spots, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the San Jose Sharks are the lowest scoring with 126 goals for apiece this season.

The Blue Jackets are getting Vezina-caliber goaltending once again this season from Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose remains one of the better defensive teams in the league after adopting the age-old policy that defense wins championships.

Whether or not those two teams are willing to make the kind of concessions that Botterill wants will depend, largely, on whether they can make a deep push and if they feel that time is now.

San Jose might even want to retain Kane’s services long-term if the fit is right.

Of the remaining 14 teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be in the mix (even if they actually aren’t).

The Pens are right up against it on the cap and would have to dump something to make room, but it’s no secret they’d like to part ways with defenseman Ian Cole.

Perhaps the Los Angeles Kings would like to throw their hat in the ring.

The Kings are sitting on a six-game losing streak where they’ve scored very little and could use the shot in the arm to regain a playoff spot in a Pacific Division where it’s up for grabs.

Could Kane and the money phone make a splash in Vegas for a couple months? The Golden Knights have cap room, and if they’re going to turn into buyers ahead of their playoff push, Kane could boost an already high-scoring offense. But Vegas isn’t jeopardizing its future to meet Botterill’s demands.

Hell, it’s unlikely any of these teams meet that asking price. It simply needs to come down (perhaps a first-rounder and a prospect with a pick that has conditions strapped to it?).

Regardless of the return, the process will be interesting over the coming weeks.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canada women shooting for 5th straight Olympic hockey gold

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Four years is a long time to wait for a second chance. For some, the chance for golden redemption has been much longer.

The United States women’s hockey team has not won Olympic gold since the sport was added to the games in 1998. The Americans have since watched their biggest rival – Canada – take home four straight gold medals.

The drought has hurt most since 2014, when the Americans blew a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game and had the puck clank off the post, just missing an empty-net goal before Canada tied it with 54.6 seconds left in regulation. Marie-Philip Poulin scored again for a 3-2 overtime win , keeping the gold medal with the country that created the sport.

”Not everyone was there in Sochi,” U.S. forward Hilary Knight said. ”We’ve got players who suffered that heartbreak once, maybe twice, and we’ve got players who’ve never felt that. They’re going to play fearless and on their toes regardless. I think all of us are there to win.”

The Americans have won four straight world championships, the last in overtime last April in Michigan . Yet Canada just doesn’t lose in the Olympics . The world’s dominant hockey powers meet in pool play Feb. 15 in a game scheduled so North America can watch at 10:10 p.m. EST on Feb. 14. If the Pyeongchang Games go as four of the past five Olympics have, they will meet again Feb. 22 with gold at stake once more.

”We’ve come up short the last two Olympics, and our ultimate goal is just play our best,” said American Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a two-time silver medalist. ”If we can do that, we truly believe we can come out on top.”

Things to know about women’s hockey at the Pyeongchang Games:

U.S. DROUGHT

Since winning it all in 1998 in Nagano, settling for silver – and bronze, in 2006 – has been a source of angst for the United States. Katie Crowley was on that inaugural U.S. team and said the drought has been surprising considering the quality of players dressing for the Americans. Crowley, now coach at Boston College, said if she had the answer to what went wrong she’d have three gold medals herself. Now she says it’s up to the current roster.

”Hopefully, they can do something about it,” Crowley said.

PRE-OLYMPIC TUNEUP

The Americans and Canadians played eight games during the fall. The United States won three of the first four, including two to take their third straight Four Nations Cup title . But Canada and coach Laura Schuler were experimenting with a roster of 28 then. Canada won the final four games, with two decided in overtime and one a shutout.

”It’s a good benchmark to see how we’re progressing,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. ”It’s extremely tough competition, and I suspect they feel the same.”

Said Schuler: ”Every time we play them, we learn what we’re good at. And we learn where we need to continue to improve.”

GOALIE EDGE

The edge in net goes to Canada: goaltender Shannon Szabados is going for her third gold and Genevieve Lacasse won her first in 2014. Lacasse also had the only shutout during the US-Canada exhibition tour .

”Shannon brings a calmness to our team, for sure,” Schuler said. ”She’s a big physical presence in the net, and obviously has a great history.”

The Americans are bringing a trio of goalies making their Olympic debuts in Alex Rigsby, Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney. Stauber played goalie himself and was the goaltender coach before being named head coach last May.

”We have trust in every single one of them, no matter who’s in net,” said defenseman Kacey Bellamy, a two-time silver medalist.

NORTH AMERICAN UPSET?

Canada has won 20 straight Olympic games since losing gold in Nagano. The United States is the top-ranked team in the world – with Canada a close second – while the rest of the world works to close the gap . Finland is No. 3 after beating Canada 4-3 in April in the preliminary round at the 2017 world championships.

KOREAN COOPERATION

South Korea coach Sarah Murray may have the biggest challenge with officials working to add North Korean athletes to her team, 22nd in the world. Although the country has had little women’s hockey success, the South Koreans hope to ride home-ice advantage to a victory – any victory – in the preliminary round. South Korea is in Group B with Sweden, Switzerland and Japan. The South Koreans help open pool play Feb. 10 against Switzerland – sixth in the world.

AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

Without NHL players, Olympic tournament is ‘wide open’

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When Willie Desjardins coached Canada’s 2010 world junior team stacked with future NHL players Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Brayden Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo and goaltenders Jake Allen and Martin Jones, it took a wild final game with John Carlson scoring in overtime to win the gold medal for the United States.

Just like Canada was the most talented team back then, Russia is likely to have that role at the upcoming Winter Olympics. Desjardins isn’t concerned about that.

”In this tournament, anybody can win,” Desjardins said.

Goodbye, NHL players. Hello, unpredictability.

No NHL participation for the first time since 1994 threatens to upset the traditional world hockey order after Canada has won the past three best-on-best tournaments: the 2016 World Cup, 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Russia is considered the favorite because it has former NHL players Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov, though Finland could make gold its sixth medal in the past five Games or Sweden could win for the first time since 2006.

Coach Tony Granato’s American team was put together with players from European professional leagues, the NCAA and American Hockey League.

”This Olympics is wide open for a lot of reasons,” Granato said. ”Russia’s got the most talented players in the world. They’re going to have the team that steps on the ice with the most talented players. Does that make them the best team for two weeks? No. We all know that. We all know how sports works. All you’re looking for is an opportunity to make the most and be the best that you can be for that period of time.”

Because it’s such a short tournament with three pool-play games, a qualifying round and then quarterfinals, it could come down to which team gels first after limited preparation time. Or maybe another goaltender will pull off what Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis almost did when making 55 saves to give Canada a scare in the quarterfinals in Sochi.

”The goaltending matters, too, in an event like this,” NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire said. ”It always matters, but I think in this one, the underdog – if you have an elite goalie – can really do some damage.”

Who’s the underdog? It’s fair to say host South Korea, in its first Olympics in men’s hockey, fits that bill, along with Slovenia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany and Norway.

Yet being in a group with Slovenia, Slovakia and Russia is no easy task for the U.S., which boasts 38-year-old semi-retired captain Brian Gionta as its most experienced player. Granato said the U.S. ”has lots of pieces that other teams and countries don’t know about” and wonders if his team will be overlooked.

Mistake-prone play seems likely, though Gionta doesn’t think there will be any lack of sizzle.

”I know there’s been some talk that not having the NHL guys in, you don’t have your high-skilled guys,” Gionta said. ”I think that’s a bad representation of the people that are going over there and competing in these games. There’s a lot of great hockey players.”

ALL EYES ON DAHLIN

One of the most dynamic and offensively talented players is also the youngest: Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who’s projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in June. Dahlin has 11 points in 29 games playing against grown men in the Swedish Hockey League and had six points in seven games at the world juniors. He’s just 17.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?

When the NHL announced it was out of these Olympics, executives from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada were quick to say every team would have 25 great stories. There are players on almost every team who are familiar because they played in the NHL at one point. Most of the rosters are made up of journeymen plying their trade in pro leagues in Europe, such as Czech Republic captain Martin Erat, Germany’s Christian Ehrhoff and Canada’s Ben Scrivens. Americans Troy Terry, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato and Will Borgen are currently playing college hockey.

”The tournament in general is going to be built with teams with lots of guys that this is the greatest event for them and they didn’t necessarily think they were going to get this opportunity,” Canada GM Sean Burke said.

BIG ICE

If the Sochi Games proved anything, it was that the international-sized ice that’s 15 feet wider than NHL rinks doesn’t create more offense. The U.S. and Canada built rosters with the bigger ice in mind, prioritizing skating and mobility and playing a more European style. That doesn’t mean European teams won’t have an advantage, but it won’t be such a stark change as when North American NHL players need a few games to get used to it.

OAR PRESSURE

The Olympic Athletes from Russia team is a favorite to win gold, which would be the first since the Unified Team in 1992. But Russia hasn’t medaled since 2002, including a disappointing showing on home ice four years ago. The chance to draw all its players from the Kontinental Hockey League should benefit Russia, which has won four of the past 10 world hockey championships. But something about this stage has made Russia play like less than the sum of its parts before, which makes even a star-studded team beatable.

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

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

The Buzzer: Pacioretty continues hot streak

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Players of the Night:

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: Here’s a name you haven’t seen often in these parts this season. But Pacioretty had two goals tonight, the opener for the Canadiens and the game-winner with 1:18 left in the third period to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. He also added an assist on Montreal’s other goal. Truth be told, Pacioretty has been sizzling lately with six goals and an assist in his past six games.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks: Gibson had a quiet night for the most part until the third period, but he was stellar when called upon and made 23 saves, including a second-period beauty (which you will see below) to help his team to a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings.

Highlights of the Night:

James Neal had all the moves to help the Vegas Golden Knights secure a point on the road in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.

John Gibson got just enough on this puck to redirect it off the post and out for quite the save:

Factoid of the Night:

MISC:

Scores:

Panthers 4, Golden Knights 3 (OT)

Canadiens 3, Capitals 2

Ducks 2, Kings 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck