Olympic playoff preview: Austria, Slovenia battle for top-eight finish

The Game: No. 8 Slovenia versus No. 9 Austria. Tuesday, 3 a.m. ET at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

How they got here: By recording historic wins in the group stage. Slovenia scored a stunning upset of Slovakia on Saturday, earning its first-ever win at the Olympics. Austria got its first Winter Games victory in 12 years with a 3-1 win over Norway on Sunday. Those were enough to propel Slovenia and Austria into the eighth and ninth seeds, respectively, which is a big deal — the winner is now guaranteed a quarterfinal berth and top-eight Olympic finish in the process. That’s pretty good, considering Slovenia’s never placed; eighth would be Austria’s highest finish at the Olympics since 1976.

Who’s hot: For Austria, Michael Grabner. The Islanders forward leads the tournament with five goals and has either scored or assisted on all but one of Austria’s seven goals this tournament.

For Slovenia, it’s Ziga Jeglic, who leads the team with three points. After scoring twice in the tournament-opening loss to Russia, Jeglic assisted on Slovenia’s first goal in the aforementioned upset over Slovakia.

Who’s not: Slovenia’s best player and lone NHLer, Anze Kopitar, left Sunday’s loss to the U.S. in the second period and didn’t return, finishing with just 11:31 TOI. After the game, head coach Matjaz Kopitar — Anze’s dad —  said his son was suffering from a stomach illness and “had no power.” The elder Kopitar said Anze was held out for precautionary reasons and would be good to play against Austria, but given how significantly illnesses have hit teams this tournament (the Czechs lost Radko Gudas and Patrik Elias to one), it could be an issue.

Austrian captain Thomas Vanek’s had a tournament to forget. He has no goals and just one point through three games, and made headlines by openly criticizing goalie Bernhard Starkbaum following an 8-4 loss to Finland.

X-Factor: Since we just mentioned it, goaltending. Austria made the change from Starkbaum to Mathias Lange during a 6-0 loss to Canada and Lange’s been very good in relief, allowing just one goal on 50 combined shots from the Canadians and Norwegians. Have to think Lange gets the call on Tuesday.

Slovenia’s Robert Kristian was solid in the first two games — stopping 57 of 63 shots against Russia and Slovakia — and should return to the net after getting a break against the U.S. (backup Luka Gracnar played, and allowed five goals on 28 shots).

Oilers get Kronwall’d – in more ways than one

Niklas Kronwall
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When someone gets clobbered by Niklas Kronwall, they get Kronwall’d.

(His detractors may insist that the definition require the words “dirty” or “illegal,” but that’s a debate for another day.)

It’s easy to get lost in those thunderous hits and forget that the  Swedish defenseman also brings some skill to the table.

He made a big impact – literally and figuratively – in Detroit’s 4-3 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

First, the Kronwalling:

Next, Kronwall’s overtime-winner:

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Red Wings are leaning on guys like Kronwall and Dylan Larkin to stick with it.

Tonight’s win extends their point streak to six games (4-0-2), with five of those contests going to overtime.

Dubinsky – Crosby’s nemesis – gets the last laugh on Friday

Sidney Crosby, Brandon Dubinsky
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Brandon Dubinsky isn’t a household name like Sidney Crosby is, yet for all the hype that Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin gets, Dubinsky is the sort of guy who truly rankles No. 87.

It’s been getting that spotlight since the Columbus Blue Jackets faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a brisk playoff series, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the bad blood stemmed to Dubinsky’s days with New York.

To some, Dubinsky’s cross-check on Crosby will resonate far more than the end result of this game:

The bottom line is that he’ll get the last laugh, at least for now. (In-game, that moment merely drew a minor penalty.)

That’s because Dubinsky set up the overtime game-winner, and the cherry on the top of that spite sundae came with Crosby being on the ice when it happened:

They’re not just rubbing the Penguins the wrong way.

Even Dubinsky kind of sort of admits that he may have been in the wrong.


More and more, the Blue Jackets are looking like a nuisance … possibly one that will grind their way to an unlikely playoff berth. They improved to 8-4-0 in November after a disastrous 2-10-0 October.

In other words, there’s at least a chance that we may see these increasingly bitter rivals butt heads in another playoff series.

Eichel’s sweet snipe helps Sabres snap six-game skid

Jack Eichel
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The Buffalo Sabres probably deserved better during at least some chunks of their six-game skid, yet Jack Eichel swooped in on Friday to remind fans that there’s a light shining at the end of the tunnel.

You can watch his goal from tonight’s eventual 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in the video above.

That’s not necessarily the absolute height of his on-ice magic, yet it clearly gave his team a lift:

Call this a healthy reminder that Eichel has the ability to change games, something Buffalo fans hope to get used to.

Report: Likely no suspension for Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan

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Alain Vigneault went there in comparing Matt Beleskey‘s hit on Derek Stepan to the notorious check Aaron Rome delivered on Nathan Horton many moons ago, but the league seems to disagree.

While Rome sat through that memorable Stanley Cup Final between Boston and Vancouver, it sounds like Beleskey won’t face any further discipline, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

In the unlikely event that anything changes, PHT will make note.

The next game between the Rangers and Bruins takes place at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. Will these bad feelings linger?