Olympic playoff preview: Czechs and Slovaks put star power on display

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The Game: No. 7 Czech Republic vs. No. 10 Slovakia. Tuesday, 12 p.m. ET at Shayba Arena.

How they got here: The Czechs had a dysfunctional opening round, winning just one in three tries amidst questionable player selection (see here), illness (see here and here) and a curious distribution of ice time (see here). But for as dysfunctional as the Czechs were, the Slovaks were equally disappointing — hammered 7-1 by the U.S. in the opener, then stunned by minnows Slovenia in their second game. Slovakia did manage to save face with a good effort against Russia in the finale, losing 1-0 in a shootout.

Who’s hot: Marek Zidlicky has been a major bright spot for the Czechs. He’s playing staggering minutes (26:28 TOI per game) and leads the team in points, with three. Zidlicky also shares the team goalscoring lead with Jaromir Jagr (two).

For the Slovaks, it’s goalie Jan Laco. Laco’s story is pretty neat — he came into the tournament as Slovakia’s No. 3 netminder, behind St. Louis’ Jaroslav Halak and Montreal’s Peter Budaj. But after Halak and Budaj (Halak especially) played poorly in the opening two games, head coach Vladimir Vujtek made the bold decision to play Laco, who didn’t even dress in the first two contests, against Russia in the final group affair.

Laco responded by stopping all 36 shots faced in regulation and overtime, before losing in the shootout. He’ll reportedly start against the Czechs.

Who’s not: Take your pick, really. There are a number of underachievers from both sides, but we’ll focus on a pair of forwards. For the Slovaks, Marian Hossa has worked extremely hard but has no goals and just one assist to show for it. For the Czechs, former 35-goal man Milan Michalek has been invisible, going pointless over three games while averaging a little over 12 minutes a night.

X-Factor: Star power. Mentioned in the headline, but it bears repeating — of the four opening playoff games, Czech Republic-Slovakia boasts significantly more NHLers that the rest, with some true stars in play. This is a key factor in single elimination games. The Slovaks haven’t been good defensively this tournament, but couldn’t that change in one night by, say, playing Chara close to 30 minutes?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.