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Done deal: NHL to participate in 2014 Winter Olympics

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After a lengthy negotiation, the NHL, NHLPA, IIOC and IIHF have reached an agreement for NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our Players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere.”

Highlights of the agreement include a 16-day Olympic break (from Feb. 9-26) in the NHL schedule. The league will also be represented by seven referees and six linesmen working in Sochi, while the games will be played on international-sized rinks (60 x 30 meters).

This will mark the fifth consecutive winter games the NHL has participated in. Involvement dates back to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the first in which professional players were allowed to take part.

“The players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world’s best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “Having the opportunity to wear their nation’s sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to.”

Here are the three groups for the Winter Olympics, and the schedule:

Group A Group B Group C
Russia Austria Czech Republic
Slovenia Canada Latvia
Slovakia Finland Switzerland
United States Norway Sweden
Men’s Preliminary Round Schedule
WED, FEB 12
1 12:00 PM ET Czech Republic vs. Sweden
2 12:00 PM ET Latvia vs. Switzerland
THU, FEB 13
3 3:00 AM ET Finland vs. Austria
4 7:30 AM ET Russia vs. Slovenia
5 7:30 AM ET Slovakia vs. United States
6 12:00 PM ET Canada vs. Norway
FRI, FEB 14
7 3:00 AM ET Czech Republic vs. Latvia
8 7:30 AM ET Sweden vs. Switzerland
9 12:00 PM ET Canada vs. Austria
10 12:00 PM ET Norway vs. Finland
SAT, FEB 15
11 3:00 AM ET Slovakia vs. Slovenia
12 7:30 AM ET United States vs. Russia
13 12:00 PM ET Switzerland vs. Czech Republic
14 12:00 PM ET Sweden vs. Latvia
SUN, FEB 16
15 3:00 AM ET Austria vs. Norway
16 7:30 AM ET Russia vs. Slovakia
17 7:30 AM ET Slovenia vs. United States
18 12:00 PM ET Finland vs. Canada
Qualification play-off – TUE, FEB 18
19 3:00 AM ET TBD
20 7:30 AM ET TBD
21 12:00 PM ET TBD
22 12:00 PM ET TBD
Quarterfinals – WED, FEB 19
23 3:00 AM ET TBD
24 7:30 AM ET TBD
25 12:00 PM ET TBD
26 12:00 PM ET TBD
Semifinals – FRI, FEB 21
27 7:00 AM ET TBD
28 12:00 PM ET TBD
Bronze Medal Game – SAT, FEB 22
29 10:00 AM ET TBD
Gold Medal Game – SUN, FEB 23
30 7:00 AM ET TBD

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Four key position battles for ’14 Winter Olympics

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.