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U.S. past ‘miracle’ stage in Olympic hockey (except vs. Canada)

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SOCHI, Russia – This seems to be the Olympics when everyone around United States hockey officially got sick of the Miracle on Ice. Well, it was inevitable. With the Olympics being in Russia, with famed Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak (who was pulled in the Miracle) lighting the torch, with my generation reaching the age of cloying nostalgia and with the U.S. men’s team looking for its first Olympics hockey gold since that 1980 team, everything pointed to overkill.*

*Which I happily participated in.

Thing is, hockey in America is nothing like it was in 1980. This was the point the U.S. hockey team kept hammering. Everything has changed. Now, professional hockey players are at the Olympic. Now, the U.S. team has some of the best players in the world. Now, the U.S. team has speed and size and depth that is the envy of almost every hockey-playing country in the world. When the U.S. team played Russia this time around, it was the Americans who were favored, and the Americans who played the villains when they got a favorable call and won in a gritty shootout.

So, yes, everybody was ready to move on from the constant reminders about a bunch of college hockey players who won a gold medal 34 years ago.

Trouble is, to get people to stop talking about the Miracle on Ice, you have to stop losing one-goal games to Canada when it matters most.

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s 1-0 win

The U.S. did lose another one-goal game to Canada in an Olympic semifinal Friday … this after the U.S. women one day earlier lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game … this after the U.S. men lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver, one of the most famous hockey games ever played.

To be fair, the United States’ 1-0 loss to Canada was different from the others. It felt cleaner and did not leave much room for regret. That’s because the Canadians pretty thoroughly outplayed the Americans. Was it not for some head-stand saves from Jonathan Quick – “our best player tonight,”  U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said – the score easily could have been 3-0 or 4-0.

Meanwhile the “0” on the American end of the score was more or less locked in. It is hard to imagine a team playing more suffocating defense than Canada played Friday. The U.S. power play was rendered all but useless. And other than a couple of moderate chances early and Paul Stansny’s point-blank shots in front in the second period, the U.S. rarely even threatened to score.

VIDEO: U.S. can’t find an empty net in final minute

The game was played at a high level—the speed on the ice was mesmerizing — and it was entertaining in its own way. But it really was quite a let-down from the famous gold medal game of four years ago. Well, for one thing that was a gold-medal match, while this was a semifinal just to see who would play Sweden for gold. That was a quirk in the seeding, and it definitely altered some of the emotion.*

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Photo credit: AP

Then there was the quiet. Here you had the two best hockey teams on earth – two of the most talented hockey teams ever put together – and it was so eerily quiet in the Bolshoy Ice Palace. Every now and again, a hearty soul would try to start up a U-S-A chant or beg the Canadians to finish one of their numerous goal-scoring chances and then it would dissolve into stillness.

Much of the time, the arena was quiet enough to read bedtime stories aloud.

So strange … but then maybe not. No event at these Olympics brought so much pain to the host country as hockey. The Russian hockey team lost to the U.S. in the aforementioned shootout that was, for many Americans, the emotional peak of these Olympics and was for Russian fans the very symbol of fraud. A goal-ahead goal by the Russians was nullified because the cage of the net was slightly off its mooring. Russians who even conceded the point that the net WAS off still believed that U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick had been the one to knock it off. Angry fans demonstrated in Moscow. Television networks replayed the disallowed goal again and again.

Then, more disconcerting, the Russian team disappeared in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland that featured no controversy and also no life from a gifted collection of Russian players who never quite came together.

So, it is logical that there simply wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the sport. Tack on the Russians’ famous reticence – something that various non-Russian figure skaters noticed during their soundless programs – and what you had was a striking lack of energy and volume. We grow so used to the biggest sporting events being loud and the tension being almost tangible.

But Friday, early in the second period, Canada’s Jay Bouwmeester – a tough defenseman not necessarily known for his playmaking abilities – slapped a pass that Jamie Benn deflected over Quick to give Canada that 1-0 lead. And then the rest of the game just kind of melted away almost unnoticed. Those sounds you associate with a close and important hockey game – the roars for developing chances, the groans when shots slip wide, the gasps when the winning team narrowly escapes – were largely nonexistent. It was a bit like being in a Vegas casino with no clocks. Time just gushes away.

VIDEO: Jamie Benn’s shot the only goal

In any case, the U.S. never came especially close to tying the game, and Canada came very close to extending the lead and it was clear, on this day anyway, that there’s still a gap between Canadian and American hockey. Maybe this is as it should be considering how intently Canadian life revolves around the sport (some 80 percent of Canada watched at least part of the 2010 gold medal game).

But it is a blow for a United States still trying to move past the Miracle on Ice. Bylsma made the point after the game that U.S. hockey is at a place now where it hardly needs a miracle to win a gold medal. He’s right, of course. All the U.S. really needs is a couple more goals against Canada. Thing is, that’s the proving to be about as elusive as miracles.

Smith tears into Coyotes after ‘blah’ performance in Edmonton

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 21:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes sprays water in his face during a break from the second period of the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on December 21, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Oilers defeated the Coyotes 3-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Last night in Edmonton, the Arizona Coyotes did what they normally do.

They lost.

But unlike previous losses this season, this one felt different. And afterwards, their veteran goalie really let them have it.

“You could feel it on the ice,” Mike Smith said after the 3-1 defeat, per Reuters. “We were just playing, and it was blah. It was blah. And you can’t expect to play like that and compete against a really good hockey team. That’s what we did tonight. We have to learn from it. Sooner or later, this organization’s got to move forward and not continue to have games like this.”

At 13-24-6, the Coyotes are already out of the playoff race. It’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 26-7-6 to qualify for the postseason, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Smith wasn’t alone in lambasting his team last night. The head coach, Dave Tippett, said it was “as poor as we’ve played” in the last month.

Suffice to say, it has been a disappointing season for the Coyotes. Though outside expectations were not particularly high for this group, they were much higher internally.

“Our team is looking to try and make the playoffs this year,” forward Max Domi said back in October. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun. The new faces are going to help us out a lot and some guys coming back are going to do the same things they did last year and more.”

Alas, the “new faces” have not been able to make the Coyotes competitive. Alex Goligoski was the big offseason addition. But the 31-year-old defenseman got off to a frustrating start with his new team, and though things have improved slightly since, the jury’s still out on the decision to give him a five-year contract worth $27.375 million.

With pending unrestricted free agents in Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Ryan White, and Michael Stone, the Coyotes should be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches.

That being said, this is not an organization that needs more prospects, more draft picks. This is an organization that needs to start turning the corner.

“It’s a privilege to play in this league and put the Coyotes sweater on,” said an exasperated Smith. “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I can talk for myself, and know that every game I go into I want to give myself the best chance to play at my best. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but we’ve got too many guys who aren’t doing enough to push this thing along.”

Related: Keller, Strome to meet in gold-medal game at World Juniors 

B’s cancel practice after ‘unacceptable’ loss to Isles

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Head coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins gives instructions to Brandon Carlo #25 during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 2, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s fair to say not a single Bruin involved in yesterday’s 4-0 home loss to the Isles was happy with the performance.

Patrice Bergeron called it “unacceptable,” head coach Claude Julien said the B’s were “totally out of whack,” and David Backes said the game was “as frustrating as it gets.”

Sounds like the team in need of a break.

So on Tuesday, it took one:

These are trying times for the B’s. The club’s struggled to find any sort of consistency since the calendar turned to 2017:

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Consistency, or a lack thereof, seems to be the biggest issue. Wins are almost always followed up with losses and, just one game after the victory over Philly — a game in which the B’s said their offense was finally “starting to connect” — they failed to put a single puck past Thomas Greiss.

Despite all this, Boston still sits in reasonably good shape standings-wise. The Bruins are second in the Atlantic Division, on 51 points, but are only three clear of three teams in their rear view: Toronto, Ottawa and Florida, http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/bruins/bruins_insider/2017/01/bruins_fall_flat_in_matinee_loss_to_islanders

Landeskog saying all the right things as trade speculation heats up

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on during a break in the action against the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Landeskog knows his name is out there in trade rumors. But until he’s dealt — if he’s dealt — all he can do is keep doing his thing as captain of the Colorado Avalanche.

And for the record, he doesn’t want to be traded.

“Whether my name is floating around or not, I’m still approaching the game the same way,” Landeskog said Monday, per the Denver Post. “And that is to spread energy, be a good teammate, work hard and try to get better every day. Me being in trade rumors, that’s nothing I can control.”

It’s been reported that the Avs are asking a big price for the 24-year-old winger, a former second overall draft pick. It remains to be seen if they’ll be willing to lower it. Not too long ago, Landeskog was an untouchable in Colorado. In 2012, he was made captain at 19 years old, just after he’d been named the NHL’s rookie of the year.

But the Avs have fallen off a cliff since Landeskog put up a career-high 65 points in 2013-14, the same season Colorado shocked the hockey world and won the Central Division. So far this season, he has just 14 points (8G, 6A) in 31 games, and the Avs are the NHL’s worst team.

Landeskog is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of almost $5.6 million. The assumption is that the Avs will use Landeskog or Matt Duchene, or even both of them, to fix a defense that badly needs fixing, then rebuild around forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Tyson Jost.

That will be easier said than done, but the Avs (13-27-1) have to do something, because whatever they’re doing now isn’t working.

Related: Fixing the Avs through trades will prove tough

Video: Ward takes huge hit, but sets up goal

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Sharks coach Peter DeBoer wanted a lot more out of his team following a lackluster shutout loss to St. Louis. Joel Ward more than delivered.

Ward had a short-handed goal and took a hard hit to assist on Timo Meier‘s score, helping San Jose beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 on Monday for just its third win in eight games.

“That’s the commitment we talk about,” DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play scores the goal. We need that. Joel’s a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That’s what it’s going to take at this time of year in order to have success.”

Brent Burns and Chris Tierney also scored and Joe Thornton had an empty-netter as the Sharks bounced back nicely from a 4-0 home loss to St. Louis on Saturday. Martin Jones made 26 saves, allowing two late goals after the game had been decided.

Josh Morrissey broke up the shutout with 2:36 to play and Mark Scheifele added a goal in the final minute after Jones tried to shoot the puck toward the empty net but hit Scheifele instead.

“That’s the first time I’ve tried, and probably the last, too,” Jones said.

Michael Hutchinson made 27 saves for the Jets, who have dropped four in a row.

The Sharks broke open a close game with two goals in the first half of the second period, starting when Mark Stuart jumped up into the play and flattened Ward on a clean hit in front of the Jets bench.

Ward’s head slammed against the ice but the Sharks took advantage of Stuart’s aggressiveness with a breakaway when Chris Tierney played the puck ahead to Meier, who beat Hutchinson for his second career goal.

“It was a hockey play. It was a good hit,” Ward said. “I tried to get the puck out obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off. I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”

Ward was taken off for observation to make sure he didn’t have a concussion. By the time he returned midway through the second, the Sharks had added to the lead.

Paul Potsma was penalized for closing his hand on the puck and Burns made the Jets pay when his point shot hit off the back boards and then deflected off an unsuspecting Hutchinson’s skate and into the net for Burns’ 18th goal of the season.

“The third goal was just one of those bounces you get when you’re going through a rough patch,” Hutchinson said. “It got shot through a screen and I felt it hit my skate and as soon as that happened I kind of kicked it pretty hard.”

The Jets had some good chances early but Jones robbed Shawn Matthias twice in the opening minutes of the first period and Blake Wheeler hit a post later in the first.

Winnipeg also got the first power-play chance when David Schlemko was called for a high stick, but the Sharks scored when Dustin Byfuglien couldn’t keep the puck in the offensive zone. Ward went in on a partial breakaway and beat Hutchinson with a shot from the top of the circle to make it 1-0 just 15 seconds into the man advantage.

“You can’t give up so many grade-A chances and expect them all to be saved, we have to help our goaltenders,” Scheifele said. “We’re just getting away from our game.”

Tierney took another high-sticking penalty for the Sharks, but the Jets couldn’t score on the 15-second two-man advantage or either power play.

NOTES: All three of Thornton’s goals this season have been empty-netters. … Stuart fought with Micheal Haley in the first period…. Sharks F Joonas Donskoi missed a second straight game with an upper-body injury.

UP NEXT

Jets: Host Arizona on Wednesday.

Sharks: Visit Los Angeles on Wednesday.