The showcase game of the Olympic preliminary round goes this evening in Sochi, as the United States meets the host Russians at the Bolshoy Ice Dome. Here are three things to watch, besides the hostile crowd.
1. Jonathan Quick: Will make his second consecutive start for the U.S. after allowing just one goal in Thursday’s 7-1 win over Slovakia. With another solid outing, the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner should get the nod once the win-or-go-home games begin. But what if he isn’t so solid? Ryan Miller, the Americans’ best player in the 2010 Games, is waiting in the wings, and his NHL numbers this season are actually better than Quick’s. The U.S. plays its last game of the preliminary round tomorrow versus Slovenia. Head coach Dan Bylsma might be planning to start Miller in that one anyway, if only to avoid Quick playing three games in four nights. But — and this is pure speculation — if Quick has a rough outing versus the Russians, Miller could be auditioning for the starting job versus the Slovenians.
2. Top-end talent versus depth: The Russians have the edge in the former, with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Semin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov comprising their top six forwards. However, the Americans have the edge in the latter, at least based on what they displayed versus Slovakia. Bylsma was particularly complimentary of his fourth line, made up of Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty, and that trio could even see some time against the top Russians.
3. The officiating. The referees will be American Brad Meier and Swede Marcus Vinnerborg. If they call it tight, Russia’s loaded power play — which went 1-for-3 versus Slovenia — could be a big factor. Nothing against all the talented scorers on the Americans, but “blue-collar” teams who prides themselves on being “tough to play against” — Bylsma’s words — don’t typically want tightly officiated games.
You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.
After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.
“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.
“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”
After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.
“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”
And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.
—Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta
Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.
Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.
Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:
“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”
To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.
This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.
The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks will face-off in Game 2 on Sunday night. You can catch the game on NBCSN (8:00 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra app.
The Sharks used a five-goal third period to squash the Predators in the opening game of the best-of-seven series. Game 2 at the Sharks Tank should be a whole lot of fun.
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Here’s some reading material to get you ready for the game:
—Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1
—Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1
—Are there similarities between the ’14 Sharks and ’16 Ducks?
The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.
The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.
With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.
Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.
Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.
Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.
The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.
That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.
Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.