Previews - Winter Olympics Day -4

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Are expectations too high for Russia?

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SOCHI, Russia — Canada got the job done in Vancouver. Can the Russians in Sochi?

For Alex Ovechkin, it’s a question he’s faced countless times already, the frequency of the queries growing higher and higher as the most important international tournament of his career drew closer.

Last month, he said he was trying not to dwell on the daunting task facing him and his Russian teammates.

“I don’t think about it because I don’t want to take pressure right now on me,” Ovechkin said. “But it’s kind of hard to do. Every time when I go to the news and on the Internet, I just see about the Olympic Games.”

Well, Ovechkin arrived Monday in the Black Sea resort city, where he’ll be the host country’s face of the Games, for better or worse. If the pressure of the Olympics was tough to ignore before, it’s mission impossible now.

Earlier this week, Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov tried to downplay the burden of expectations.

“I think our players, they have good experience,” said Bilyaletdinov. “I don’t think they will feel bad, I mean will feel big pressure. They’re strong players, good players. I think they’re OK.”

And with star forwards like Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Ilya Kovalchuk, there’s certainly no shortage of top-end talent. Just imagine the first-unit power-play. Goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Semyon Varlamov, whichever one is between the pipes, should be tough to beat as well.

But while the expectations are the same for Russia in 2014 as they were for Canada in 2010 – it’s gold or bust, just to be clear – there’s reason to wonder if the final results may be dramatically different. Instead of a celebration like the one that Sidney Crosby’s golden goal set off in Vancouver and across the entire Great White North, the Russians could very well be left heartbroken and searching for answers, just like they were four years ago.

Two big question marks for Russia are depth and the blue line.

On the subject of depth, nine KHL players were named to the Russian side. No disrespect to that league, but it’s not the NHL. Currently among the KHL’s leading scorers: former middling NHLers Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes and Kyle Wilson.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for having players who are used to the bigger international ice surface, and maybe the KHLers can provide an element of surprise. But when Canada’s depth – not to mention the Americans’ and the Swedes’ — includes legitimate NHL stars, it stands to reason there are going to be some mismatches should Russia ever come up against the defending gold medalists.

The defense, meanwhile, will be led by NHL veterans Andrei Markov and Fedor Tyutin, along with the younger Slava Voynov. All good players, but compared to Canada’s star-studded blue line, well, there’s just no comparison.

“Play D,” Tyutin said Monday when asked what he and his fellow blue-liners have to do to be successful. “Simple as that.”

Also no doubt lingering in the minds of the Russians is their humiliating quarterfinal exit in 2010, a 7-3 loss to Canada that led goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to deliver the famous line: “They came out like gorillas out of a cage.”

Bryzgalov expanded: “It’s really simple, we lost all the battles.  We turned the puck over too much. We lost every aspect of the game. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. We lost the battles around the walls. It’s a simple game, hockey, you know.”

Four years later, Russian sports writer Igor Rabiner believes it’s imperative to take advantage of playing at home.

“We’ve been going backwards,” Rabiner told the New York Times. “In Albertville in ’92, before NHL players could join the team, we won. Since then, and now that all the best players in the world are at the Games, look at what has happened. We’ve done worse and worse. In Nagano, second place. In Salt Lake City, third place. In Turin, fourth place. In Vancouver, sixth place. So there is a feeling that, this time, with home ice, this is the only way.”

In 2010, after that devastating loss to Canada, Ovechkin pleaded, “Don’t judge our team by one game. We are still strong.”

And now, finally, here’s his chance to prove it.

“Of course I think about [winning gold at home],” he said Monday after practice. “Of course I want to do that. But it’s still a long way. It’s going to be hard way. But it’s my dream.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

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After three full days without NHL action, the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks will get underway tonight. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

San Jose at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 1 will be on NBC. To stream the contest using the Live Extra app, click here.

We wrote a lot about this series over the weekend. If you haven’t taken a look yet, here are the relevant links:

Penguins or Sharks? PHT makes its Stanley Cup Final picks

Penguins, Sharks discuss bumpy road to Stanley Cup Final

Yes, Thornton and Marleau have been dreaming of a run like this

Sharks and DeBoer ready for Pittsburgh, ‘the fastest team in the league’

Fleury: Now’s not the time to think about future in Pittsburgh

Should Lightning trade Bishop and hand the torch to Vasilevskiy?

Pittsburgh Med: Bonino ‘fine,’ Letang MIA and Daley not ruling out a return (Update)

Matt Nieto should be available to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

Subtle but effective offseason pushed Sharks to next level

Report: Semin will stay in KHL for 2016-17

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 11:  Alexander Semin #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on October 11, 2015 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-1.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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It seems there will be no NHL comeback attempt by Alex Semin. At least not in 2016-17.

Instead, Semin has inked a one-year extension with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, according to Sport-Express writer Igor Eronko.

At 32 years old, Semin still could have a lot of years left in him as a professional hockey player, but at this point it wouldn’t be surprising if he has played in his last NHL game. Early in his career his talent was clear and demonstrated by some great showings offensively, but he was plagued by inconsistency. In recent years though, he wasn’t so much inconsistent as he was underwhelming.

After being limited to six goals and 19 points in 57 games with Carolina in 2014-15, the one-time 40-goal scorer was bought out of his five-year, $35 million contract just two seasons into it. Montreal took a chance on him for 2015-16, but he only appeared in 15 games with the Canadiens before they put him on unconditional waivers on Dec. 9.

He’s fared better in the KHL though, with five goals and 14 points in 20 regular season games followed by another seven markers and 15 points in 23 playoff contests.

PHT Morning Skate: Predicting the 2016 Stanley Cup Final

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski celebrates after scoring a goal against the Minnesota Wild duyring the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 4-3. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Among the 21 NHL.com and NHL Network experts offering their prediction for the Stanley Cup Final, 17 of them are choosing the San Jose Sharks. (NHL.com)

The majority of ESPN’s experts are also picking the Sharks. (ESPN.com)

For CBS Sports, Adam Gretz and Chris Peters are split on the outcome. (CBS Sports)

Tickets for the first Stanley Cup Final in San Jose appear to be going for significantly more than their Pittsburgh Penguins counterparts. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Inspired by John Scott‘s comments, here’s the start of a World Cup All-Snubs’ team. (TSN)

Peter DeBoer said that then New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello fired him from the Devils’ head coaching job late at night on Christmas. The news then broke on Dec. 26. (Tom Gulitti)

Vegas tabs Joe Pavelski as Conn Smythe frontrunner

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Joe Pavelski #8 of the San Jose Sharks awaits a face off against the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are Vegas favorites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup, but the odds lean toward a San Jose Sharks player capturing the Conn Smythe.

Bovada released a variety of odds on Sunday after others surfaced on Friday.

Joe Pavelski is pegged as a +400 favorite as a winner, edging some other top candidates such as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Matt Murray.

Here’s the full list:

Pavelski +400
Crosby +500
Kessel +500
Murray +500
Logan Couture +500
Martin Jones +600
Brent Burns +700
Joe Thornton +900
Evgeni Malkin +900
Kris Letang +1400

Bovada also released prop bets, including how long the series might last. Check that out here.