Angry Wings look to go Shark hunting tonight

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If Canucks vs. Blackhawks has emerged as the No. 1 playoff rivalry in the Western Conference, Red Wings vs. Sharks has to be No. 1a. The two teams have met in back-to-back postseasons with San Jose eliminating Detroit both times — something Red Wings players and coaches are quite cognizant of as they prepare to face the Sharks tonight at Joe Louis.

“There’s no rivalry or anything, right?” Jimmy Howard asked Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

“These don’t make up for the playoff losses, don’t ever kid yourself,” coach Mike Babcock added. “But they’re coming in here, and we’d like to beat them. They’ve got a good team, we like our team, so let’s see what happens. Let’s have fun.”

Adding to the Sharks-Wings intrigue is the personnel that’s switched allegiances in recent years. Sharks coach Todd McClellan used to be Babcock’s assistant before taking the San Jose job in 2008 and two Wings defensemen — Brad Stuart and Ian White — both logged time in the Bay Area.

All were on hand for last year’s classic Western Conference semifinal, where the Sharks raced out to a 3-0 series lead before Detroit rallied to force an epic Game 7, which you can re-live here:

That Pavel Datsyuk backhand was a nasty piece of business, wasn’t it?

Speaking of Datsyuk, he’s just one of the many Detroit forwards struggling at the moment. The group as a whole has combined for just three goals and six assists in the first seven games and the top line of Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary has just 10 points all told.

The lack of production has made Babcock grumpy, as detailed by Fox Sports Detroit:

Seven days ago, the Red Wings were cruising along with a perfect 5-0 record. They had back-to-back shutouts, balanced scoring and a favorable schedule, which put them in their customary spot — at or near the top of the NHL standings.

Two losses later — to the elite-level Capitals and the hapless Blue Jackets, by a combined score of 11-2 — Detroit coach Mike Babcock is in a cantankerous mood.

“This should have been an off day, they should’ve gone for coffee with their wives,” Babcock said after Wednesday’s up-tempo, physical practice.

“I’ve said this to you guys a million times: It’s a real honest and fair game. If you stand on the right side of the puck, the puck comes to you. If you cheat, you never get any offense. You don’t work hard, you don’t win.”

Angry coach + rivalry game = good times. Should be a fun one tonight at the Joe.

Russians win hockey gold with 4-3 OT win over Germany

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Olympic anthem was merely background noise, the doping scandal the farthest thing from their minds.

As the white flag with the five Olympic rings rose toward the rafters Sunday following the gold medal game in men’s hockey, the champion Russians in their nondescript red-and-white uniforms joined their fans cloaked in red, white and blue and belted out the ”State Anthem of the Russian Federation,” drowning out the recorded song that was required as part of International Olympic Committee sanctions.

This Olympic title meant so much more to the Russians, no matter that the tournament was missing NHL players and the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” were all here only after months of scandal.

Joyous players tossed coach Oleg Znarok in the air at center ice as fans let out the same ”ROSS-I-YA” chants that filled the arena in Sochi four years ago, where home ice meant nothing as the Russians lost in the quarterfinals. There was no such disappointment this time as the Russians triumphed in the tournament they were favored to win, capturing gold with a 4-3 overtime victory over Germany after Kirill Kaprizov’s power-play goal capped a classic final and gave the nation a jubilant moment following weeks of disappointment.

”We understood the whole thing from the start so we were calm about it,” coach Oleg Znarok said. ”Russia is in our hearts.”

The win came only a few hours after the IOC decided against allowing the Russians to march under their flag in the closing ceremony Sunday night after a curler and a bobsledder had positive drug tests during the games.

It didn’t seem to matter to the Russian players that they couldn’t wear the Russian Coat of Arms on their chests or that they won their first hockey gold medal since 1992 under the same circumstances as 26 years ago: playing under a neutral flag with the NHL opting to stay home after participating in the past five Olympics.

”The medal is the same with or without the NHL,” said defenseman Slava Voynov, who scored the opening goal with 0.5 seconds left in the first period. ”Maybe the tournament was a little different, but the emotions and happiness are the same.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a telephone call to Znarok after the victory, which gave the country its second gold and 17th overall medal of the Olympics.

Even with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Bobrovsky back in North America, this gold medal was particularly sweet because of the backdrop of sanctions and the Russians’ almost three-decade drought. After International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel put the first Russian hockey medals of any color since 2002 around the necks of each player, Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak – a three-time Olympic gold medalist and Soviet Hall of Fame goaltender – gave out handshakes and hugs.

Winning this gold medal at his fifth Olympics meant more to 39-year-old captain Pavel Datsyuk than the two times he lifted the Stanley Cup.

”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.”

The dream Russia couldn’t reach with NHL stars finally happened with Kaprizov scoring the winner on the power play 9:40 into overtime as Patrick Reimer sat in the penalty box for a high-sticking infraction.

A silver medal gave Germany its best finish at the Olympics after capturing bronze in 1932 and 1976.

”We all thought we would be sitting at home watching that final on the couch at home, but here we are,” Germany coach Marco Sturm said. ”The boys are going to bring silver home, and they should be very proud.”

Beating Germany, which stunned eventual bronze-medalist Canada to reach the final , gave the Russians their first gold medal in hockey since 1992 in Albertville when they competed as the Community of Independent States.

This one was expected all along.

Stocked with former NHL players – Datsyuk, Voynov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Nesterov – the Russians were by far the most talented team in the tournament. U.S. coach Tony Granato said they may be as good as 20 of the 31 NHL teams.

Oddsmakers made the Russians the favorite, and they showed it after an opening loss to Slovakia, getting better as the tournament went on, which was a complete reversal from Sochi.

”It means a lot,” said Kovalchuk, who was voted tournament MVP. ”This was my dream from when I was 5 years old when I started to play.”

The skill primarily from the Kontinental Hockey League was on full display with the gold medal at stake – and the Russians needed it against disciplined, opportunistic Germany, which had all of its players from leagues in its homeland.

Voynov, at the Olympics because he was banned from the NHL in 2015 for a domestic abuse conviction, scored what could’ve been a back-breaking goal with 0.5 seconds left in the first period, but Germany got a good bounce on a fluky tying goal by Felix Schultz midway through the second. That set the stage for a wild third period.

Russia’s Nikita Gusev scored when his shot bounced in off the helmet of Danny aus den Birken, but Dominik Kahun answered 10 seconds later. And when Jonas Muller slid the puck past Russian goaltender Vasily Koshechkin with 3:16 left and then Russia took a high-sticking penalty, it appeared like a major upset was on tap.

Instead, with Koshechkin pulled for the extra attacker to make it 5-on-5, Gusev scored again to help send the game to overtime. A penalty on Reimer gave Russia a power play and Kaprizov scored one of the biggest goals in Russian hockey history.

The Russians and Germany gave viewers something to remember to wrap up a tournament that was otherwise forgettable because of the lack of NHL stars and tepid interest in a nontraditional hockey country.

As dejected German players stood waiting for their silver medals, Russian players skated a lap around the ice to wave at and thank the fans who came to support them at an Olympics where they seemed like outcasts.

”With the support of our fans and loved ones, a big thank you,” Datsyuk said. ”It is not an easy time for us and it means a lot to us.”

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker and James Ellingworth contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno at https://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: Gold for Russia (OAR), goalie interference fun

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Russia (O.A.R.) wins gold in overtime against Germany

Germany was an overtime goal away from a huge upset (note: miracle is loosely translated as “wunder” in German). Instead the Olympic Athletes of Russia will take their clunky name to a redemptive gold medal after beating Germany 4-3 in overtime thanks to a power-play goal.

With memorable moments like Ilya Kovalchuk being shut down on a heart-stopping semi-breakaway chance in OT, two Russian forwards were especially deadly.

Kirill Kaprizov scored “the golden goal” on that power play after racking up three assists during regulation. His partner-in-crime was Nikita Gusev, who generated two goals and two assists of his own.

Kovalchuk finally got a taste of Olympic glory, while Pavel Datsyuk joins the “Triple Gold Club.”

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Quite a tournament for Kaprizov, Gusev, and a certain Nashville Predators prospect named Eeli Tolvanen (more on him here).

Players of the Night

  • No Auston Matthews? The Maple Leafs wouldn’t respond “No problem,” but they might note that it gives other players a chance to step up. Lately, Mitch Marner has been on an absolute tear. He played a huge role in Toronto’s 4-3 win against Boston on Saturday, getting involved in all four goals (one goal, three assists).

This burst pushes Marner past Matthews for the team lead in scoring with 51 points. The splendid scorer has 14 points during an eight-game tear.

  • The Washington Capitals took care of business against the Sabres on Saturday, and Evgeny Kuznetsov led the charge with one goal and three assists of his own. He had been quiet before this outburst, only managing a goal in his previous five games. Kuznetsov has 59 points in 62 games this season.

So much goalie interference review fun

The Maple Leafs beat the Bruins after a goalie interference review went their way, which you can read more about here. The Oilers ended up holding off a mad Kings rally because of another really weird one. Ah, the NHL must love all the attention these nightmares are generating.

Highlight of the Night

A patently ridiculous save by Andrei Vasilevskiy:

Factoids

Taylor Hall cannot be stopped, and this time it even translated to a win for the Devils against the Islanders:

The team success hasn’t been there as much lately for Henrik Zetterberg, but he’s climbing some lofty heights from an individual standpoint:

Patrik Laine turns 20 on April 19, by the way.

Scores

Flyers 5, Senators 3
Flames 5, Avalanche 1
Jets 5, Stars 3
Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 3
Lightning 4, Canadiens 3 (SO)
Red Wings 3, Hurricanes 1
Panthers 6, Penguins 5
Capitals 5, Sabres 1
Blue Jackets 3, Blackhawks 2
Devils 2, Islanders 1
Coyotes 2, Ducks 0
Oilers 4, Kings 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins go from Nash trade rumors to loss, Bergeron injury

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

There are times when the Boston Bruins have looked downright unstoppable. Saturday serves as a harsh reminder that things can change in a heartbeat, or at least that the threat is basically always hovering.

Consider this: earlier today, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Bruins were becoming frontrunners to trade for Rick Nash. Such a deal is still plausible, although John Shannon (also of Sportsnet) reports that Nash’s $7.8 million cap hit could cause some challenges, even this late in the season.

Either way, the Bruins’ outlook seemed shiny: they’re already a tough team to deal with thanks to an absolutely bear (sorry) of a top line in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. The B’s have been so impressive, they even seem to be a threat to win the Atlantic.

Things went sour in multiple categories hours later.

The Bruins lost to their hated rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3. That game ended in regulation, and the decisive goal brought about everyone’s favorite hockey thing: a goalie interference review. This didn’t go in Boston’s favor, and while some shrugged their shoulders, Tuukka Rask wasn’t thrilled:

With that, the Atlantic Division thing seems far less promising. To start, the Lightning managed a 4-3 shootout win. Even worse, the Maple Leafs took second place in the Atlantic by beating Boston.

If that wasn’t enough, the most integral part of the Bruins’ dominance is in danger. Reporters including NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty noted that Patrice Bergeron was seen in a walking boot:

On the bright side, all three situations could still turn out nicely for the Bruins.

  • The Bruins might actually be more justified in going after Nash if Bergeron’s a little banged up. Granted, a more severe injury might leave them more conservative at the deadline.
  • Games in hand make optimism easier to come by in the Atlantic positioning races. The Lightning have 87 points in 62 games played while the Maple Leafs are at 83 in 64. The Bruins are at 82, yet with only 59 games played, there’s plenty of time for the B’s to either regain home-ice advantage over Toronto or even push for the top spot in the division.
  • As you can see from Haggerty’s tweet, Bergeron’s issue might not be too bad, either.

So, this isn’t a doom and gloom situation for the Bruins, but it still stands to mention how bumpy things became for at least a while there. The B’s have to hope that most of this stuff sorts itself out, Nash or not.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Panthers boost playoff hopes, end Penguins’ streak

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

For quite some time, it seemed like the Metropolitan Division would send five teams to the playoffs while the top-heavy Atlantic would only generate three.

The Metro still dominates the wild-card picture, but with all apologies to the scrappy Red Wings, the Florida Panthers stand as the one Atlantic team with a shot at crashing the party. For all of the front office upheaval, the past few nights provide evidence that they could do some damage if they walk in that door.

Maybe it’s fitting for an up-and-down team to see some extreme highs and lows in an eventual 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite some strong work from Evgeni Malkin, the Panthers went into the third period with a 4-2 lead. That wouldn’t end up being enough, as the two teams traded blows during a frantic, five-goal final frame. The Penguins briefly tied the contest up at 5-5, pushing for a seventh straight win, but it was not to be.

Ultimately, Evgenii Dadonov (first career hat trick) trumped Evgeni Malkin (two goals, one assist) in getting the late game-winner. Perhaps the Panthers will try to lift up a community rattled by tragic shootings, as this is the second straight game where they’ve notched decisive goals late in front of home fans.

(Thursday’s win against the Capitals was even more dramatic, as they rallied late after Roberto Luongo‘s stirring speech before the game.)

Now, the Panthers might not seem like much of a threat with 62 points, as the Columbus Blue Jackets currently hold the East’s final wild-card spot with 67. Games played paint a brighter picture, though.

Here’s how the wild-card races look, updated following the Devils’ win against the Islanders, which is a nice boost for Florida overall:

Devils (beat Islanders in regulation): 72 points in 62 games played, first WC
Blue Jackets (won tonight): 67 points in 62 GP, second WC

Islanders (lost to Devils): 65 points in 63GP
Hurricanes (lost tonight): 64 points in 62 GP
Panthers: 62 points in 59 GP
Red Wings (beat Canes): 61 points in 60 GP
Rangers: 59 points in 62 GP

On one hand, the Panthers’ situation isn’t that different from the Red Wings,’ at least if Florida doesn’t get hot. On the other hand, consider that the Panthers have a few games in hand on everyone ahead of them. The margin could close rapidly … or they could fade.

Credit the Panthers for making things interesting, and if things go well, making their competition sweat.

That’s the power of “Dadonov Strength.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.