Olympic playoff preview: Underdog Norway faces tall task in host Russia


The game: No. 5 Russia versus No. 12 Norway. Tuesday, 7:30 a.m. ET at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

How they got here: Russia didn’t capitalize on the three-point regulation win in the group stage, going to shootouts against the U.S. (loss) and Slovakia (win). As such, Russia failed to earn a quarterfinal bye despite going undefeated in regulation and OT.

Norway, meanwhile, seemed to get worse as the tournament went along — after opening with a gritty 3-1 loss to Canada, the Norwegians were blown out by Finland and lost to Austria, finishing 12th out of 12 teams.

Who’s hot: Evgeni Malkin leads the Russians with three points through three games (along with Alexander Radulov), and Pavel Datsyuk deserves mention for his virtuoso performance in Saturday’s loss to the Americans. Despite being hampered by a suspected knee injury, Datsyuk scored both goals against the U.S., won 14 of 22 faceoffs and scored in the shootout while logging nearly 21 minutes.

For Norway, ex-NHL forward Patrick Thoresen has been solid, scoring 1G-1A during the group phase while putting a team-high 12 shots on goal.

Who’s not: In spite of good production, it’s been a tough tournament for Radulov, who came under great scrutiny after taking a pair of bad penalties against the U.S. Speaking through a translator, Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov singled out Radulov after the game and suggested that he should be scratched “among other things.” (He didn’t scratch Radulov vs. Slovakia, though.) It’s also worth noting that Alex Ovechkin scored 77 seconds into the opening game of the tournament… and hasn’t found the back of the net since.

As Norway’s lone NHL player, Mats Zuccarello was expected to produce. He hasn’t. “The Hobbit” went scoreless through the first three group games and hasn’t been much of a factor at all.

X-Factor: The Crowd. If Norway is going to pull off a stunner — and, let’s be honest, it’s extremely unlikely — it needs to keep this game tight for as long as possible. That’s going to be difficult, because Russia has been energized by partisan support at the Bolshoy all tournament long, often using it to generate quick starts (scoring twice in first four minutes versus Slovenia, outshooting the U.S. 13-10 in the first period). The Russians are going to look to bury the Norwegians early and snuff out any ideas of an upset.

Canucks say Markstrom (hamstring) out another week — could it be longer?

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Bit of uncertainty out of Vancouver regarding the health of backup goalie Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, a late drop from the Canucks’ 5-1 opening-night win over Calgary, has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined for another week, the club announced on Thursday.

With Markstrom out, backup duties will stay with AHL call-up Richard Bachman, who served as Ryan Miller‘s No. 2 on Wednesday.

Now, the focus turns to how long Bachman keeps those duties.

Per a Sportsnet report, Markstrom could miss up to three weeks of action with his injury. If that’s the case, Bachman will almost certainly be called into action; the Canucks will play eight games in 17 nights starting with Saturday’s home-opener against the Flames, which includes back-to-backs in Los Angeles and Anaheim on Oct. 12 and 13.

It would be asking a lot of the No. 1, 35-year-old Ryan Miller, to shoulder that entire load.

Bachman does have some NHL experience, with nearly 50 games to his credit. That includes a 3-2-0 record with the Oilers last year, in which he posted a 2.84 GAA and .911 save percentage.

McDavid will center Hall and Slepyshev

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid said he didn’t have any trouble falling asleep on the eve of his professional debut.

But when he woke up on Thursday he said it finally hit him.

“In the days leading up I wasn’t really thinking about it too much,” McDavid said. “Kind of when I woke up this morning, I guess that’s kind of when it hit me that I’ll be playing in my first NHL game. I think that’s when I first realized.”

When the Oilers play at the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the most hyped player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby of the Penguins made his debut a decade ago.

Speaking in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday following his team’s morning skate, the soft-spoken rookie admitted to having some butterflies but said he felt pretty good and was excited to get going.

“It’s just special,” McDavid said of his NHL debut. “I’m living out my dream, so there’s nothing better than that. I’m just really looking forward to tonight.”

McDavid will be centering the Oilers’ second line against the Blues with Taylor Hall on the left wing and Anton Slepyshev on the right. Hall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, while Slepyshev will also be making his NHL debut on Thursday night.

“We all see what he can do in practice and the games,” Hall said of McDavid. “It’s important to remember he’s 18. I’m 23 and I still have bad games. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and still has bad games. There’s going to be some trials and some errors, but I think that he’s in a position to succeed and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow.”

Oilers coach Todd McLellan, hired in May after spending seven seasons with the San Jose Sharks, has already gotten accustomed to receiving questions about McDavid.

The first few questions McLellan was asked on Thursday were about the NHL’s most popular newcomer.

“What I’ve found with him is he’s working really hard to just be himself and fit in,” the coach said. “He doesn’t want to be special, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently but he obviously is. He’s trying to adapt to that and he’s doing a very good job of it personally and collectively I think our team has done a good job around him.”

McLellan said there are three levels of pressure surrounding him.

The first is McDavid’s individual expectations, which he is sure are extremely high. The second comes from the rookie’s teammates, coaching staff, organization and city of Edmonton.

“But where it really changes is the national, international and world-wide eyes being on him,” McLellan said. “How does that compare to some of the other players I’ve been around? I haven’t been around an 18-year-old who has had to deal with that. It’s new to all of us.

“I did spend some time talking to Sid (Sidney Crosby) about his experience and even since then the world’s really changed as far as media and social media and that type of stuff. This is a new adventure for everybody involved. I know Connor has the tools to handle the pressure and we’ll do everything we can to help him.”