PHT staff Olympic predictions: Who’s going to win gold?

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Here are the picks from Jason Brough, James O’Brien, Joe Yerdon, Ryan Dadoun, Cam Tucker and yours truly for who’ll be golden at the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi…

Brough

Gold Medal Game: Canada beats Sweden

I’m keeping this simple. The two best teams on paper playing for gold. The best team on paper winning gold. Yeah, yeah, I know the best teams on paper don’t always win, but a lot of the times they do. Like in 2010, for example. Even without Steven Stamkos, Team Canada is still stacked up front, and there’s no matching its blue line. Goaltending could be problematic, but no team is without a potential Achilles’ heel. Canada’s goaltending could also end up being quite good.

Bronze Medal Game: United States beats Russia

Not the game the hosts wanted to play in, and it will show when they lose it. The fan in me hopes I’m wrong, because the Russians playing for gold at home would be a sight to behold. I just don’t think they’ve got the depth to make it that far.

O’Brien

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

As powerful as Russia’s offense and home-ice advantage will be, Canada is so deep and dynamic that even a seasoned nitpicker would struggle to uncover sore spots.

Bronze medal game: United States beats Sweden

Several other hockey powers have receded*, so the bronze comes down to a coin toss between Sweden and the U.S. Tre Kronor’s D combo of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson should make gorgeous music, but for some reason I have trouble betting against Team USA. That reason rhymes with Patrick Kane.

* – Points at Czech Republic

Yerdon

Gold medal game: United States beats Sweden

I’ll be plain about this: I’m making a very homer pick. Deal with it. That said, Team USA has a team very capable of winning gold. The offense is solid, the defense has strengths and the goaltending is great. The Americans’ speed on the big ice will be a major factor. The Swedes will be excellent but American brawn and nastiness will win out.

Bronze Medal Game: Russia beats Canada

Am I trolling? No. Well, maybe. Still, the Russians wants payback and they’ll be angry after not getting a shot at gold. They’ll want (need?) hardware and getting out of Canada makes for a perfect script. Except, you know, in the bronze medal game.

Dadoun

Gold Medal Game: Sweden beats Russia

At home and with the advantage of the bigger ice surface, I think Russia is going to end up doing very well in this tournament. That being said, Sweden has a significantly stronger defense and a more reliable goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Losing Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin hurts, but the Swedes’ offense is still strong, making them a balanced squad.

Bronze Medal Game: Canada beats the United States

It’s 2010 all over again, but with the stakes lowered. The States’ goaltending and defense is capable of frustrating Canada, but in the end Canada’s legion of skilled forwards will be hard to contain.

Tucker

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

It would be the dream match-up. The Russians will certainly be motivated to win gold, not just because they are the host nation of these Olympics but how their competition came to an end four years ago in Vancouver. It would also pit two of the game’s best players against each other, in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Canada’s goaltending is the obvious question mark if it hopes to repeat as gold medal champions. But the depth up front and on defence should help nullify any potential short-comings in the crease.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Finland

Sweden’s lineup is as stacked as any in this tournament, even with Sedin and Franzen out due to injury. That should help the Swedes get back to the medal podium in men’s hockey in Sochi, and they’ll defeat their most fierce rivals, Finland, in the process.

Halford

Gold medal game: Canada beats United States

I’m along the same simple lines as Brough — two best teams playing for gold, though I think the Americans are better than the Swedes; more in-form snipers (Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk, most notably) and hard-skating forwards will get the U.S. to the final. In the end, however, Canada’s unparalleled depth on defense will be too much to overcome.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Russia

I saw the Russians as the fourth-best team heading into the Olympics, and that’s how I see it finishing. Major reservations about their blueline and bottom-six forwards; Sweden has the more complete team and stronger/more experienced goaltending with Lundqvist.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.