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Luongo feeling ‘pretty good’ after shutout win… so, who starts vs. Finland?

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Roberto Luongo didn’t make Mike Babcock’s life any easier on Friday.

The Canadian head coach, already lamenting tough lineup decisions — “it’s no fun,” he said of having to scratch players — now has another difficult one to make for Sunday’s clash against undefeated Finland.

Who starts in goal: Carey Price, or Luongo?

Babcock artfully dodged answering after a 6-0 rout of Austria, saying Saturday’s off-day would give him time to think, but it’s clear Luongo gave Babcock plenty to mull over after pitching a 23-save shutout against the Austrians, his first win in nearly three weeks as Vancouver entered the Olympic break on a seven-game winless skid.

“I feel pretty good after tonight,” Luongo said, when asked how he felt about his game. “Obviously, coming in we had lost seven in a row as a team. It’s tough to feel good about yourself. But I’ve been working hard this week, trying to work on my game as much as I can, especially with the adjustments on the wider ice, and I was happy with the results tonight.”

It’s worth noting that, when asked to evaluate his game prior to Sochi, Luongo replied “I don’t know.” He said it was tough to gauge because Vancouver was losing so much.

Funny what a win can do.

Luongo’s improved mental state could end up playing a role in Babcock’s decision because, as far as Canada’s opening two game went, there wasn’t much to analyze. Norway and Austria are the minnows of Group B and posted relatively low shot totals (and even fewer scoring chances). On paper, you could argue Luongo’s shutout was superior to Price’s 19-save effort against Norway, a game in which his puckhandling error led to the lone Norwegian marker.

But that’s on paper.

Looking back, it’s clear Luongo has an edge in big-game experience. He’s played in a gold medal game (which he won, in OT) and a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 (which he lost); Price, meanwhile, has never made it past the Eastern Conference Final and is making his Olympic debut.

Luongo said he’s learned from playing in pressure situations, but noted there’s a catch.

“Unfortunately, you learn more from the bad ones than the good ones,” he explained. “You just have to relax out there, have fun and enjoy the game. Sometimes things are going to happen and you can’t control them, but if you start thinking too much, that’s when bad things happen.”

There was some thought the Canadian brass wanted Price to take the No. 1 gig in Sochi and run with it, thus explaining why he was given the tournament-opening start. Luongo has, if nothing else, now given the decision makers something to think about — but to hear him explain it, both he and Price are ready to put aside personal desires for the benefit of the team.

“It doesn’t matter. We’re both ready. We both want to play,” he explained. “But at the end of the day, it’s their decision and whatever that is we’re fine. We’re not here for our personal agendas.

“We’re here to play for Canada. We’ll do whatever it takes to help them win. “

WATCH LIVE: Canada-USA (IIHF World Hockey Championship)

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A huge tilt on day one of the World Hockey Championships, as Canada and the USA clash in Russia. You can watch the game online using the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Canada came away with a gold medal in last year’s tournament while the United States took home the bronze. Of course, each team’s roster changes significantly every year.

The USA’s next game is tomorrow against Belarus. Canada will play Sunday against Hungary.

PHT Morning Skate: Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom

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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.

–Here’s a feel-good story. Canucks prospect Brock Boeser is taking a girl with Down syndrome to prom. (Sportsnet)

–NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire does a lot of traveling during the playoffs. (Sports Illustrated)

–It sounds like ESPN’s Mike Wilbon isn’t a fan of the Coyotes’ latest front office hire. (ESPN)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Stars and Blues. (Top)

–Former referee Kerry Fraser wants the old charging rule to make a return. (TSN)

–Hockey is becoming more common in the North Carolina Sports Hall-of-Fame. (Charlotte Observer)

–Leafs prospect Mitch Marner’s family home caught fire prior to Game 1 of the OHL final. (Sportsnet)

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”