Columnist predicts 2014 U.S. Olympic team

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It’s never too early to start thinking about the Winter Olympics, especially if you’re a fan of Team USA. They managed to surprise a lot of people by winning the silver medal in 2010. Can they do one better in 20 months?

Washington Times writer Stephen Whyno offered up his early picks for the 2014 Olympic Games. While these are obviously subject to change – the NHL hasn’t even committed to playing in the Olympics yet – it does provide us with a fair idea of where they stand.

Goaltenders

This is probably Team USA’s greatest strength. Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller headline the list, but Corey Schneider might also make the team if he’s settled into a starting role by then.

One interesting X-factor is Tim Thomas. He isn’t sure if he wants to play for Boston next season, but he wants to play in the Olympics. If he doesn’t play in the NHL in 2012-13, then it’s hard to see them picking him over some of the other fine choices they’ll have. But what if the NHL decides not to participate in the Winter Olympics? Would Tim Thomas stay out of the league and in the hopes that he could be the veteran leader in the Olympics? It sounds far-fetched, but can you really put anything by Thomas at this point?

Defensemen

Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk, and John Carlson might end up as their top-four defensemen. Beyond that, they got plenty of good choices, such as Brooks Orpik, Ryan McDonagh, Tim Gleason, Dustin Byfuglien, and Keith Yandle.

Erik Johnson is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, but he certainly has the potential to turn his career around and if he does, he might make the squad.

Forwards

They’re not going to match a team like Canada in terms of raw offensive power, but they will have some excellent all-around players like Ryan Callahan, Dustin Brown, David Backes, and, if he bounces back from a rough 2011-12 campaign, Brandon Dubinsky. Throw in Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, and Bobby Ryan and Team USA should have a very serviceable core of forwards.

James van Riemsdyk is certainly someone to keep in mind. He didn’t have the breakout season that everyone expected of him, but of course, there’s still plenty of time before the Olympics.

Think anyone got snubbed from the list? Is there anyone flying under the radar right now that you think will break out in time for Olympic consideration?

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.