Zdeno Chara of Slovakia waves as he carries the flag as he leads the team during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

PHT’s Pressing Olympic Questions: Can Slovakia surprise again?

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Not much was expected from Slovakia four years ago in Vancouver, and not much is expected heading into Sochi.

But if the Slovaks showed anything in 2010, it’s that expectations don’t mean much.

Despite star power in defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and Zdeno Chara and forwards Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, and Marian Hossa, the team lacked the depth of the major powers and was put in a tough group in Vancouver (Russia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia). Slovakia turned a lot of heads though, beating the Russians in the group stage, edging Sweden 4-3 in the quarterfinals, then dropping hard-fought decisions to Canada and Finland in the semifinal and bronze medal games. The fourth-place finish marked Slovakia’s highest ranking since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics.

So…what will the Slovaks do for an encore?

Let’s put it this way — it would be a far bigger Cinderella story if they finished fourth this time around.

There are a few reasons for that. For one, their top scorer in 2010, Demitra, passed away tragically in the Lokomotiv air disaster. Gaborik, meanwhile, will miss the games due to a broken collarbone and the Slovaks don’t have anyone new on their roster to fill the offensive void, putting tremendous pressure on Hossa to essentially lead the charge on his own.

Slovakia will also be without Visnovsky, the Isles blueliner who returned from a concussion on Jan. 27, but doesn’t feel up to playing in the tournament. Consequently, Slovakia has just four NHL defenseman on the roster, though one of them — Andrej Sekera — is having a banner campaign.

Finally, as challenging as their ’10 group was, the Slovaks drew perhaps even tougher competition this time around as they’ll have to face both Russia and the United States. In the end, their only victory might be against Slovenia, which didn’t even qualify for the 2010 games and only has one NHLer in Anze Kopitar.

All hope isn’t lost, though. When Slovakia was surprising opponents in 2010, goaltender Jaroslav Halak was at the center of it. He turned aside 36 of 37 shots in regulation against Russia and finished with a tournament-high 173 saves.

Following the Vancouver Games, Halak carried the eighth seed Montreal Canadiens past the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 playoffs with some spectacular goaltending performances.

He was traded to St. Louis that summer and while he’s had some good seasons with the Blues, injuries have prevented him replicating the playoff success he had as a Hab. This will be our first real chance to see if he’s truly a big game goaltender… or if it was just one magical year.

For his part, Halak doesn’t seem to think Slovakia’s success or failure will come down to him specifically.

“Hopefully we can get it together and play as a team,” Halak told IIHF.com. “We’ll see what happens. We have to play one game at a time. That should be the whole approach.”

So basically they need to be more than the sum of their parts — because when you do the math, they just don’t add up to much.

Hellebuyck debuts with victory as Jets best Wild

Connor Hellebuyck
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Dustin Byfuglien had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 14 saves to win his NHL debut and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled left winger Zach Parise‘s return from a knee injury by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Friday.

Mathieu Perreault added his second goal in two games and Nikolaj Ehlers‘ goal late in the third put the game away.

The Jets won on the road for the first time in their last seven tries and for just the third time in their last 11 games.

Ryan Carter scored for Minnesota, finally getting a shot past Hellebuyck that made it 2-1 midway through the third period.

Hellebuyck was college hockey’s top goalie in 2013-14 and the goaltender on the U.S. team that won a bronze medal in the 2015 world championships.

Minnesota finished with a season-low 15 shots, which was also a season low in shots allowed for the Jets.

Wild fans at the Xcel Energy Center let out a roar when it was announced before the game that Parise would start, but not even his return could spark Minnesota.

After Jason Zucker was whistled for an elbowing penalty behind the net, Perreault took a pass from Byfuglien and zipped it past Devan Dubnyk to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead with 3:34 left in the second period.

Byfuglien made it 2-0 early in the third when his odd-angle shot hit Dubnyk in the back of the skate and went in for his seventh goal.

Carter’s goal bounced off of Winnipeg defenseman Mark Stuart and past Hellebuyck to give Minnesota some momentum.

The rookie didn’t get rattled, however, stopping a big shot from Jason Pominville with 3:11 to play.

Just 11 seconds later, Ehlers got loose on a breakaway and put the game away.

Winnipeg’s defense came into the game ranked 29th in goals allowed, but had little problem preventing Minnesota from generating quality scoring chances.

The Wild have just one win in their last six games. Parise was Minnesota’s leading scorer when he sprained a knee ligament on Nov. 5.

NOTES: Wild F Justin Fontaine missed his 11th game with a sprained MCL, but has a chance to return for Saturday’s game against Dallas according to coach Mike Yeo. … The Wild went 4-3-1 without Parise. … Jets RW Blake Wheeler had an assist and now has points in 18 of 24 games.

Blackhawks baffle Ducks with late magic; Kane’s streak at 18 games

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The Chicago Blackhawks may not be at peak-level right now, but they’re still a tough team to finish off.

For most of Friday’s game, it seemed like the story would be about John Gibson possibly elbowing into the Anaheim Ducks’ No. 1 role, continuing that franchise carousel.

Instead, it was about yet another tremendous comeback for Chicago, as the Blackhawks scored two goals in the final two minutes of the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit. Artem Anisimov than scored the OT GWG.

Stunning stuff … though definitely not unprecedented.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Patrick Kane grabbed an assist on Duncan Keith‘s 2-2 goal. Kane extended his point streak to 18 games, tying a record for America-born players.

For the Ducks, it’s yet another gut punch, one that makes you wonder how they’d fare in another playoff series against Chicago (if they can even get there … a big if).

Bruce Boudreau is bummed:

Tyler Johnson’s injury: One of several ominous signs for Tampa Bay

Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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The gloom only seems to lift from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s cloudy season in small drizzles.

Sure, they’re on a three-game winning streak, but the Washington Capitals seem to be on the verge of ending that with a thud (they’re currently up 3-0 going into the third period).

Update: Washington managed a 4-2 win, giving the Capitals a four-game winning streak.

That’s the least of the Bolts’ concerns right now, really, as Tyler Johnson left Friday’s game seemingly injured.

The word seemingly comes into play because details are scarce, as reporters note.

/ominous music plays

If you look at Tampa Bay’s upcoming schedule, things could get downright stormy.

They face the Islanders at home, but they do so tomorrow so they won’t be well-rested. It gets worse from there.

Dec. 2 – 6: Three-game road trip against the California teams

Dec. 10 – 12: Two home games (one vs. Ottawa, one vs. Washington)

Dec. 14-18: Another three-game road trip

Long story short, they close up a back-to-back set at home tomorrow and then play six of eight on the road.

/even more ominous music

The end of 2015 looks friendlier, but for a team that seems to be cratering here and there … things look a bit morbid.

We’ll see if they can keep fighting, perhaps with a comeback tonight?

The ghost is here: Another OT-winner from Flyers’ Gostisbehere

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Here’s an easy way to remember how to spell Shayne Gostisbehere’s maddening last name (and even his first name can trip you up).

Ghost-is-be-here, without the h.

Not too bad, right?

If you’re more of the slogan type, it’s getting to be the point where “Tough to spell, tougher to stop” may be a pretty good one-liner.

The Philadelphia Flyers phenom has made a habit of scoring overtime game-winning goals on the power play lately. Friday’s version was the decisive tally in a 3-2 OT win against the Nashville Predators, which you can watch up top.

As you can see in comparing that goal with the one below (which made the difference against the Carolina Hurricanes), opposing coaches may want to make it a point to emphasize stopping this setup, even if it means writing “Don’t let that Ghost kid free.”

All three of his goals are on the power play so far.

Will he breathe life back into the Flyers’ man advantage at this rate?