Wild say ‘everything’s a go’ with goalies Backstrom, Harding

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Yesterday, Brough wrote about the state of Minnesota’s goaltending and how it will rely on the trio of Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper for next season.

On Thursday, GM Chuck Fletcher shared some good news about the two veterans of the group.

From the Minnesota Star-Tribune:

“Everything’s a go with both goalies,” Fletcher said of Backstrom and Harding. “Everybody seems to be feeling pretty good, and at this stage, knock on wood, all of our players who were banged up at the end of the season is feeling better. Josh has felt good. Right now we’re not expecting any issues for anybody with respect to passing training camp medicals.

“Now’s the time of the year, with about a month to go, you want to reach out and make sure there’s no issues you don’t know about so if there is something you have time to help the process. With Josh and Nik, you’re just trying to reach out and see how they’re doing. They’re both doing really well.”

Harding, 30, was brilliant through the first three months of last season and a legit Vezina candidate (not to mention the Wild’s MVP). But complications from multiple sclerosis forced him from the net in late December, and he didn’t play at all in 2014.

Backstrom, 36, was below average in just 21 appearances last season and finished with a .899 save percentage. The veteran Finn has had injury problems and underwent season-ending core muscle surgery in March.

The timing of Fletcher’s comments about the health Backstrom and Harding are interesting, though. The Wild are currently at a contract standstill with Kuemper, who’s an RFA and appears to be angling for a certain type of deal — one Fletcher suggested he’s not ready to put on the table.

“Darcy certainly has great potential and played very well in stretches for us this season, but at the end of the day I think he’s played around 30 games in the NHL,” Fletcher told the Star-Tribune earlier this month. “Usually this isn’t the time to fight for the big contract. We feel Darcy right now is trying to establish himself in the league and once he does that it’ll be a little simpler to come up with terms.”

Fletcher said he hasn’t spoken to Kuemper’s camp recently, and one wonders if declaring Backstrom and Harding fit isn’t strategic with regards to the Kuemper negotiations.

Panthers’ Luongo gives emotional speech about Florida school shooting

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Prior to Thursday’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Florida Panthers honored victims of last week’s shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, which claimed the lives of 17 people.

Being that the high school is located about 14 miles from the Panthers’ BB&T Center, it’s not surprising that many players were highly emotional during the ceremony. Remarkably, Roberto Luongo gave an outstanding speech about his love for the Parkland area, where he’s spent 12 years of his life, and how the shootings affected his family and the community at large.

You can see a full transcript of Luongo’s emotional speech here and watch it in the video above this post’s headline.

NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika noted earlier today that Luongo’s son experienced a scare last week:

That’s just one of Cotsonika’s tweets about this emotional night; his full feed is worth your time.

The Panthers projected names of the victims on the ice during the pre-game ceremony, and also provided this beautiful tribute:

It says a lot about the composure of Luongo and the Panthers to go from such an emotional ceremony into a game against the Capitals, especially considering moments like these:

For more information, particularly how to support those affected, the Panthers’ website is a great place to start. You can also find out more about the Panthers’ tribute in this earlier PHT post.

Sadly, nights like these have been far too common lately, but credit the NHL and its teams for heartfelt responses to tragedies. Much like the Vegas Golden Knights opening their inaugural season without ads on the boards and with an emotional presentation, the Panthers handled this situation with class.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canada, Russians get dream draw to reach gold-medal game

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Informed Germany had upset top-seeded Sweden and would be Canada’s semifinal opponent, Eric O’Dell’s unfiltered reaction didn’t last long.

”Oh yeah? Perfe – it doesn’t matter,” he said, abruptly changing what he was going to say. ”We’re ready for any team, and every team from here going forward’s going to be tough. It really didn’t matter for us, but we’ll be ready.”

Many Canadians share O’Dell’s initial surprise and happiness to face underdog Germany instead of Sweden, and the same can be said for Russians at least relieved to get the Czech Republic and not the faster United States. They have perhaps the best draws they could have imagined on a crash course to the gold-medal game at this Olympic tournament with no NHL players.

The two traditional hockey powerhouses have been clinical but not perfect in getting to this point and should have one final chance to get their games in order for what would be a tense final between two longtime rivals. But Canada overlooking Germany and the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” overlooking Czech Republic would be a mistake.

”They belong in the semifinals,” Canada captain Chris Kelly said of the Germans. ”They’re playing well. They’ve won two overtime games and last game they were in control. They were up 3-1 in the third period, so we need to be at our best against them. We need to stay in the moment and focus on them. We can’t look too far ahead.”

Slovakia coach Craig Ramsay said before the tournament that if the Germans get good goaltending they can do some damage. They’ve gotten that from Danny aus den Birken, who has a 2.43 goals-against average and made 31 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory over Sweden.

Germany had never before beaten Sweden at the Olympics, and after doing so even coach Marco Sturm conceded his team’s expectations and goals have changed throughout the tournament.

”It’s our dream and we’re allowed to dream,” said Sturm, who played 14 NHL seasons before moving into coaching. ”I think all the athletes who are at the Olympics are allowed to dream and our dream came true and now we’re in the top four, so it can’t be better that.”

The two favorites came in expecting this, and after beating Norway in the quarterfinals, Russian captain Pavel Datsyuk said, ”Our dream’s still on.” The Czech Republic stands in their way, and the Russians watched it beat the United States and the defensive-minded team has improved every game.

”They are good,” former NHL player Ilya Kovalchuk said. ”They’re really strong, they won their group, they beat the Americans who is a really good team, so we need to be prepared.”

The Czech Republic will certainly be prepared and have no shortage of belief after knocking off the United States in a shootout. It has gotten similarly strong goaltending from Pavel Francouz, who has stopped nine of 10 attempts in two shootouts, including in the quarterfinals to eliminate the United States. The Czechs have a handful of former NHL players in Roman Cervenka, Jakub Nakladal and captain Martin Erat.

It’s starting to feel familiar to Hockey Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek, who led the Czech Republic to the gold medal in 1998 in Nagano by beating Canada and Russia.

”They don’t have as many stars as we did in Nagano, but they have some skilled players and they play like a team,” Hasek said by phone. ”It reminds me a little bit (of) our team in ’98. We didn’t have as many stars as Americans or Canadians, but we play as a team the best hockey.”

Canada has played some of its best hockey, too, and will likely have former New York Islanders goaltender Kevin Poulin in goal against Germany after he replaced injured starter Ben Scrivens during its 1-0 quarterfinal shutout of Finland. General manager Sean Burke called Scrivens day-to-day with a shoulder/collarbone injury and expects the veteran to return. Scrivens did not practice Thursday.

Burke, 51, was a goalie for 15 NHL seasons but isn’t eligible to suit up.

”It’s not me,” he said. ”Hopefully it’s somebody better than me.”

U.S.-Canada women’s hockey classic makes us forget NHL

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Who needs the NHL?

We’re good with Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson pulling off the sickest of moves – her shoulders dipping to and fro, her blades cutting this way and that, her magic wand of a stick guiding the puck past a helpless Canadian goalie who had been reduced to a pretzel.

We’re good with Maddie Rooney making one last stop – squeezing shut the tantalizing gap in her pads as the shooter swerved in front of the net, swatting away a puck that lingered perilously in the crease, throwing up her arms and disappearing into a dog pile of blue-clad teammates near the blue line.

Certainly, this was the only gold medal hockey game that matters at these Winter Olympics.

When it was done – three thrilling periods of regulation, another free-wheeling 20 minutes of overtime, a shootout that went six tension-filled rounds – the Americans littered the ice the sticks, gloves and helmets, whooping it up in a raucous, fitting celebration of their 3-2 triumph over the heartbroken Canadians .

Some will surely say this was a victory for women’s hockey.

That would be selling it short.

This was a victory for all of hockey.

”They played great. We played great,” Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin said, her voice barely above a whisper. ”It just shows how much women’s hockey is growing. We want to keep going, keep getting better.”

When the NHL decided to sit out the Pyeongchang Games, its stars were replaced in the men’s bracket by minor-leaguers, European professionals and only a smattering of recognizable names.

But the Olympics got the undisputed best of the women’s game, monopolized by two North American powerhouses that are the bitterest of rivals and the only real challenge to each other.

The U.S. claimed the first Olympic title, before Canada ripped off four in succession. The two countries have divvied up every women’s world championship since that tournament began in 1990, leaving the rest of the world to scramble for the crumbs. The asymmetrical balance of power must change if the sport is to really grow, but there was no question about the quality of play on Thursday.

Dazzling.

The Americans jumped ahead in the first period. The Canadians claimed the lead with two goals in the second. That set up a crucial sequence with just under 7 minutes left in the third.

Canada’s Laura Stacy swooped in all alone on Rooney, looking to put a capper on another gold medal with a shot into the top left corner. But the 20-year-old goaltender nicked the puck with her blocker, just enough to send it wide of the bar and careening around the boards. Kelly Pannek picked it off in front of the American bench and spotted teammate Monique Lamoureux-Morando – Jocelyn’s twin – breaking free behind the Canadian defense.

The pass was right on the mark. Lamoureux-Morando glided in on the breakaway, holding the puck as long as she could before lifting a shot over the glove of Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados.

It stayed 2-2 through the rest of regulation, setting up a 4-on-4 overtime period. Even with one less skater per side and all that open ice, neither team was able to break through with the winning goal. The gold medal would be decided with a shootout, which is generally a less-than-satisfying way of settling such an important matter .

This was the exception.

First, Gigi Marvin pulled off a brilliant recovery to put the Americans ahead. Beginning to fall and the puck slipping away, she somehow managed to flick it past Szabados before crashing into the side of the net.

Then it was Melodie Daoust giving Canada the upper hand with a stunner of a move. She looped through the right faceoff circle, darted down in front of Rooney to drag her across the crease, before reaching back to bury a one-handed swing of a shot.

Rooney and Szabados had their moments, too, making three saves apiece to send the shootout to sudden death.

Lamoureux-Davidson went for the Americans. As she bore down on Szabados, the toying began.

A fake to the right. A deke to the left. Finally, back to the right again – the sort of ankle-breaking tactic one might expect from Steph Curry. Szabados desperately flailed her body in front of the net, even losing hold of her stick, but she didn’t have a chance.

Canada sent out Meghan Agosta, who had beaten Rooney earlier in the shootout with a shot to an upper corner – top shelf, they call it – but the young American foiled a repeat by venturing far out of the crease. Agosta sliced to her left and thought she spotted enough of an opening in the pads to slip one through the five-hole. Rooney knew what was coming, sealing off the gap with both her stick and pads.

She didn’t totally stop the puck, but got enough of it to leave it about a foot short of the goal line. Rooney knocked it away just in case. The celebration was on.

”It shows how tight our teams are,” U.S. forward Hannah Brandt said. ”Obviously, it’s tough for it to come down to a shootout like that. But just a great game. I hope everyone had a good time watching it.”

The NHL?

Not needed here.

Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press

Trade: Bruins send Frank Vatrano to Panthers

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

After acquiring Nick Holden from the New York Rangers earlier this week the Boston Bruins were busy again on Thursday by completing their second trade of the week.

Let’s take a look at the deal.

The trade: Bruins trade forward Frank Vatrano to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2018 third-round draft pick.

Why the Bruins are making this trade: There was a time when Vatrano seemed like he was going to be a big deal for the Bruins but it simply has not worked out. They have had a wave of young talent come through the organization in recent years and Vatrano has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. He was not getting regular playing time, his production has not been great when he has played, and it just seems like he might need a fresh start in a new situation. The Bruins were able to pick up a pick for him that they can maybe use as trade bait in another move or to help replenish the cupboard after making other moves leading up to the trade deadline (such as the one where they traded a pick for Holden).

Why the Panthers are making this trade: It is a good low-risk, potentially high-reward move. Even though things did not work out for Vatrano in Boston he is still a player that has some talent and has shown flashes of ability in the past. During the 2015-16 season he scored 36 goals in 36 AHL games and scored another eight in his first taste of NHL action that season in 39 games. He came back last season and scored 10 goals and eight assists in 44 games with the Bruins. So there is some ability there. The Panthers probably are not going to make the playoffs this season, even after their recent surge, but it never hurts to add a young player with some potential for a small price. That is exactly what they did here.

Who won the trade? It was pretty clear Vatrano was not going to work out in Boston any longer so they were able to get something back in return, but there is a good chance that Vatrano will contribute more to the Panthers than whoever they would have selected with that third-round pick, and he is still young enough to potentially be a player for them going forward. Maybe a slight edge to the Panthers?

[Related: Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers]

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.