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.”

WATCH LIVE: Game 3 of Sharks – Predators, Stars – Blues

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) skates with the puck against St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) during the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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The Nashville Predators hope to get back in their series now that the San Jose Sharks are visiting “Smashville.” Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars and Blues jostle for a 2-1 lead in St. Louis.

You can keep up with Game 3 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders (which is in progress) right here and on NBCSN.

Game 3 of Sharks – Predators is on USA Network and can be streamed via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Finally, Game 3 of Stars – Blues airs on NBCSN. Keep an eye out for notes if there’s overlap with Bolts – Isles (which would bump it temporarily to NHL Network), but either way, you can stream the action below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Video: Jonathan Drouin shaken up by huge Thomas Hickey hit

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Jonathan Drouin‘s strong playoff play has been a big story for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but his health is in question after taking a huge hit on Tuesday.

As you can see from the video above, Drouin was shaken up by an enormous check from New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey. It’s believed that Drouin went to “The Quiet Room” to see if he suffered a concussion; PHT will pass along whatever information becomes available.

(NHL teams aren’t exactly forthcoming with this information.)

The Islanders actually ended up with a power play from the fallout, as Hickey’s hit didn’t earn a penalty. The general reaction is that it wasn’t a dirty hit, yet some might disagree with that sentiment.

Update: Drouin didn’t come out during the beginning of the third period. He did, however, return midway through the final frame.

2016 Foundation Player Award finalists: Giordano, Martin, Subban

Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban walks away after taking with reporters during an end of season availability at the team training facility Monday, April 11, 2016 in Brossard, Quebec. None of the seven Canadian NHL teams was good enough this season to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, a dismal milestone in the home of modern hockey and the first time it has happened since the 1969-70 season. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The NHL named the three finalists for the 2016 Foundation Player Award on Tuesday: Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano, New York Islanders forward Matt Martin and Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.

The awarded is handed to “an NHL player who applies the core values of hockey — commitment, perseverance and teamwork — to enrich the lives of people in his community.”

The winner gets to hand $25K to the charity of his choice.

Video: Things get heated before Lightning – Islanders Game 3

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You know a playoff series is starting to rev up when teams can’t even peacefully share an ice surface during warm-ups.

The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to draw a red line in the sand between each other before Game 3, with the two sides exchanging a couple bumps and mean looks.

It’s … honestly a pretty amusing spectacle.

You can watch it all in the video above. Perhaps this GIF will fuel a meme or two:

Brian Boyle downplayed the exchange(s):