Slovenia

‘It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey’

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The Slovenian Olympic hockey team is in the midst of something unforgettable.

Just ask the players.

With a country featuring just 148 registered senior players, seven rinks and only one professional team, Slovenia has done the unthinkable in Sochi by advancing to the tournament quarterfinals after Tuesday’s 4-0 playoff win over Austria. To a man, the Slovenes almost all acknowledged the enormity of what they’ve accomplished.

“It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey,” said Ziga Jeglic, per NHL.com. (Jeglic has played a crucial role in writing history; he leads the Slovenes in scoring and assisted on Anze Kopitar’s game-winner against Austria.)

The magnitude of the win immediately resonated. Slovenia’s postgame reactions were a mix of happiness with the effort against Austria, and several remarks about how unfathomable this scenario was at the onset of the tourney.

Goalie Robert Kristian, who now has 87 saves on 93 shots for a .935 save percentage, couldn’t believe what transpired.

“The way I feel right now, I’m just speechless,” he said, per the Olympic News Service. “This is a dream come true for everybody, for all the people in Slovenia. Nobody believed that we could accomplish what happened today.”

“I know we were a little bit lucky against this opponent but that doesn’t matter. We’ve showed everyone that we can play hockey and you have to count us. This is the biggest thing in our hockey career.”

At this point, the Slovenes really are living the dream. Getting to the quarterfinals means a guaranteed top-eight finish at the Olympics — crazy, considering Slovenia is playing in the second tier of the 2014 World Hockey Championships — and they’re gaining huge recognition from the hockey world, evident by this anecdote from IIHF.com:

Kopitar said: “Yesterday I was talking to a certain someone who knows a lot about the game of hockey and he said that he’s been following us the last couple of years and he said we’ve done a tremendous work. You can just tell it’s a huge jump from where we were five years ago. To hear that from a guy like that, it’s unbelievable.”

Asked to identify the “certain someone,” Kopitar said: “A guy named Steve Yzerman.”

Following the Austria game, Kopitar expressed huge pride in what he and his teammates had accomplished.

“It means a great deal to me, a huge deal to me,” he said, per ONS. “To represent your country like we are now, it’s great.”

Ducks give Bruins first loss under Cassidy, putting … Islanders in wild card

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 22:  Korbinian Holzer #5 of the Anaheim Ducks pushes David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins during the second period of a game at Honda Center on February 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Wednesday was a night of futility in the Eastern Conference wild card races, so it make sense that a team that didn’t even play ended up grabbing the second spot.

To recap:

  • The Florida Panthers began the night in the second wild card spot. However, they were knocked down the totem pole when they lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers.
  • The Boston Bruins inherited the second wild card spot from Florida, but the Anaheim Ducks just gave them their first loss under Bruce Cassidy. With that defeat coming in regulation, it meant that the Bruins’ stay in the East’s top eight lasted mere hours.
  • So, congrats to the New York Islanders, who enjoyed the rare tiebreaker treat of climbing into playoff position even though they didn’t even play on Wednesday.

(The Philadelphia Flyers were out of reach here, but they didn’t do themselves any favors in losing to the Washington Capitals.)

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were kept off the board as Jonathan Bernier won one for the Ducks, who stay right behind the Edmonton Oilers in a battle for second in the Pacific.

Despite Pastrnak’s -3 rating in this one, Marchand probably had the toughest night thanks to Bernier and Josh Manson:

This one hurts, but it’s also a reminder that there will probably be plenty of twists and turns in the races for the lower spots in the East and Atlantic Division. With that in mind, the Bruins have to shake it off and get ready to face the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.