Boston’s potential strategy to deal with Vancouver? Play like Predators

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In taking a look at how the Stanley Cup finals shape up, the way the Vancouver Canucks have improved each round. After being pushed to overtime in Game 7 of the first round against Chicago, they went six games with Nashville, and just five against San Jose in the Western Conference finals. While the Bruins don’t have any former Blackhawks to work as a potential bogeyman for Roberto Luongo to have nightmares over, there’s another solution the Bruins could use to try and find a way to slow down the Canucks. They can play like the Nashville Predators.

While the Predators ultimately folded against the Canucks, one thing they were able to do was shut down the Sedin twins. Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin combined for two goals and five assists over the six games and while that’s still OK production, it’s not like the kind of numbers we saw from the pair against either Chicago or San Jose. The Predators key to shutting them down was to have a pair of stellar defenders in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter shadow them for the majority of the series.

As it works out, the Bruins have a pair of defensemen playing spectacular themselves in the form of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. While Chara is the main focus of the defense, Seidenberg has been the sleeper hit of the playoffs for the Bruins. With the two of them paired up together, they were able to make life miserable on Tampa Bay and Philadelphia’s forwards. While Tampa forwards had a bit more success scoring, the work Chara and Seidenberg did throughout the Eastern Conference finals was outstanding. To beat Vancouver, those two will have to take a page out of Nashville’s book on how to stop the twins.

After seeing what Henrik Sedin did against San Jose scoring one goal and adding 11 assists, while Daniel Sedin added two goals and four assists of his own while helping linemate  Alex Burrows come away with three goals and three assists of his own, the defensive capabilities of not just Chara and Seidenberg will be tested but also those of potentially Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly.

Bergeron and Kelly are two of Boston’s better defensive centers with Bergeron being perhaps the best on the Bruins roster. Figuring out how to shadow both the Sedin line and Ryan Kesler’s line will be something coach Claude Julien will have to figure out. Nashville was able to shut down the Sedins but Kesler abused the rest of Nashville’s defense on his way to single-handedly dominating the series and vaulting himself to the top of the Conn Smythe Trophy consideration list.

If the Bruins can get all of their forwards as well as their defense to stick together and play “Bruins hockey” to help neutralize the Sedins, the series shapes up to be much more interesting than it appears on first glance. Taking the Sedins out of the scoring mix makes these teams a lot more similar than they already are and for Boston, taking that elite level of talent out of the mix would be a huge win for Boston. Asking Chara and Seidenberg and the rest of the Bruins to do that for up to seven games makes for quite the tall order.

Kovalchuk reiterates desire to return to NHL next season

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Ilya Kovalchuk made a bit of news after he won the Olympic gold medal with the Olympic Athletes from Russia. The 34-year-old winger confirmed that he wants to return to the NHL next season.

He last played for the New Jersey Devils during the 2012-13 season, but he’s been with SKA St. Petersburg for the last five seasons.

Kovalchuk, who put up five goals and two assists in six games during the Olympics, has put up some relatively impressive numbers over in Russia, so there should be no shortage of interest from teams in North America. But according to Sports Express’ Slava Malamud, he’ll prioritize winning a Stanley Cup ahead of money.

Malamud added that teams from the New York area, the state of Florida and the city of Los Angeles will be the favorites to land him. Would the Devils take him back? How close are the Rangers and Islanders to winning the Stanley Cup? Maybe playing with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov is interesting for him, but teaming up with Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning might be too much to pass up. The Kings would also be in the mix.

Kovalchuk’s rights belong to SKA St. Petersburg until the end of this season. Once his contract runs out in the KHL, he’d remain property of the New Jersey Devils until July 1st, but he’d hit the market with all the other free agents on that day, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas hockey team wins state championship

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The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School varsity hockey team can now call themselves state champions, 11 days after a gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others on the Parkland, Florida campus.

Their 7-4 victory over Jesuit High School capped off a Sunday that saw them upset top-seeded East Lake High School 3-1 in the semifinals. Stoneman Douglas lost to both teams in the round-robin phase of the tournament on Saturday. Their three losses in the early stage put them as the lowest-seeded team heading into the elimination games of the Statewide Amateur Hockey of Florida High School State Championship tournament held at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida.

According to NBC2’s Joe Putrelo, some Stoneman Douglas players dyed their hair yellow to honor a friend of the team, Joaquin Oliver, who died in the shooting.

The state title now means that Stoneman Douglas will take part in the high school hockey national championship tournament next month in Minnesota.

“We came into the game knowing we had to give it our all to get the win and that’s what we did, and now we get to bring the trophy back to the best high school in America,” said forward Joey Zenobi.

MORE: Panthers’ Luongo gives emotional speech about Florida school shooting

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Datsyuk: Olympic gold medal means more than Stanley Cup

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Seconds after the Russians won their first Olympic hockey gold medal since 1992, Pavel Datsyuk couldn’t contain his joy at what he considers the peak of his career.

Even though Datsyuk won the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and 2008, the 39-year-old said capturing gold at the Olympics in his fifth try was his greatest accomplishment, even in a tournament without NHL players and even when called “Team Olympic Athlete From Russia” because of sanctions over state-sponsored doping.

“When you play for your country and I win this medal, this special time, it’s more important,” Datsyuk said. “I have accomplished my dream. Now I have no dream.”

Datsyuk, who took home a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002, had six assists to help the Russians capture Pyeongchang gold as captain and one of their best players.

“There are a lot of nice feelings now in my heart, but at the same time I can’t believe it yet.”

Datsyuk went home to Russia in the summer of 2016 citing family reasons after putting up 314 goals and 604 assists for 918 points in 953 regular-season games over 14 seasons with the Red Wings. Datsyuk, who was the oldest men’s hockey player in the Olympics, still hasn’t decided whether to retire after this season.

He accomplished his dream with the help of Ilya Kovalchuk, who went back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League despite being just three seasons into a $100 million, 15-year contract with the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk had five goals and two assists and was voted tournament MVP.

Kovalchuk and Nikita Gusev, who led Russia and the tournament with 12 points including two goals in the gold-medal game, were great. Datsyuk was Russia’s captain and leader.

“Our hearts almost stopped beating,” Datsyuk said of the back-and-forth final, “but we recovered and the team showed character.”

Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for completed deals as the Feb. 26, 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Brandon Bollig and Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Sharks for 2018 sixth-round pick.

Feb. 25 – Nashville Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Toronto Maple Leafs acquire Tomas Plekanec* and Kyle Baun from the Montreal Canadiens for Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel and Toronto’s second-round draft pick in 2018. (*The Canadiens will retain 50 percent of Plekanec’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 25 – The Boston Bruins acquire Rick Nash* from the New York Rangers for a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, Matt Beleskey*, Ryan Spooner and the rights to Ryan Lindgren. (*The Rangers will retain 50 percent of Nash’s salary, while the Bruins are retaining half of Beleskey’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 24 New York Islanders acquire Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 23 – Vegas Golden Knights acquire Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa Senators acquire Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – New Jersey Devils acquire Michael Grabner from New York Rangers for 2018 second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from Boston Bruins for 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 21 – Washington Capitals acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Feb. 21 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Tobias Rieder* and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. (*Arizona retains 15 percent of Rieder’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – Boston Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – San Jose Sharks acquire Eric Fehr from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2020 seventh-round pick.

Feb. 19 – Washington Capitals acquire Michal Kempny from Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional* 2018 third-round pick. (*Chicago will receive the higher of Washington’s own third-round draft choice or the third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Washington acquired the Toronto draft pick from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Marcus Johansson trade on July 2, 2017.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 19 – Philadelphia Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek* from Detroit Red Wings for a conditional* 2nd round pick in 2018 or a 3rd round pick in 2018 or a 4th round pick in 2018 and a conditional* 3rd round pick in 2019 (*Red Wings retain half of Mrazek’s salary. *The 2018 fourth-round pick turns into a third-round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games during the regular season. That pick will become a second rounder if the Flyers win two playoff rounds and Mrazek wins six games. The 2019 third rounder becomes Red Wings property if Mrazek signs with the Flyers.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 15 – Chicago Blackhawks acquire Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa Senators for Ville Pokka.

Feb. 15 – St. Louis Blues acquire Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2019 fourth-round pick.

Feb. 13 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Dion Phaneuf*, Nate Thompson from Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. (*Senators retain 25 percent of Phaneuf’s salary.) | PHT analysis