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No NHLers would leave Olympic tourney with familiar, old look

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If the NHL doesn’t send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang will look familiar.

It will look a lot like the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, Albertville in 1992 and Calgary in 1988.

Maybe even a little like 1980 in Lake Placid, site of the “Miracle On Ice.”

With a year before the opening ceremony, the league, players union, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee still don’t have an agreement to send NHL players to their sixth consecutive Olympics. There is still time — an agreement last time around came in July before the 2014 Games in Sochi — but everyone is forming a Plan B just in case.

Read more: IOC chief calls it a priority for NHLers to be at Olympics

Russia might have Alex Ovechkin if he makes good on his intention to go no matter what. But the United States, Canada and other countries are preparing for life without the best players in the world.

If the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jack Eichel and Ryan Suter aren’t available, USA Hockey will look mostly to the college ranks. If Hockey Canada can’t take Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Carey Price, it will try to defend the gold medal with a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA.

“It’s a big world, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. “Should the NHL choose not to go, we’ll make sure we’re ready, willing and able a year from now.”

The U.S. has a fresh set of heroes after shootout star Troy Terry, defenseman Charlie McAvoy and goaltender Tyler Parsons won world junior gold last month. Mix them with top college players like Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork and Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and ex-NHLers Keith Aucoin and Nathan Gerbe who are playing in Europe, and the Americans will have plenty of youth and experience.

Dave Starman, a former coach in the minors and now an analyst for CBS Sports, said USA Hockey’s priority should be scoring, scoring and more scoring.

“You can’t win unless you can score,” Starman said. “It’s got to have a ton of speed, it’s got to have a really high skill level, it’s got to have defensemen who can get in the play. You need a little bit of dog on bone in your lineup, but I don’t think you can sacrifice skill guys for toughness.”

No problem there for Canada, which has plenty of big, tough skill players and hasn’t waited for the IIHF to set any 2018 parameters as it prepares its contingency plan. Canada’s team for the December Spengler Cup in Switzerland could serve as a blueprint: minor leaguers Cory Conacher and Zach Fucale and European recent NHL players Daniel Paille and Nick Spaling.

While IIHF President Rene Fasel would like a final decision sooner than later to plan for South Korea, Renney said Hockey Canada could put a team together quickly. Like USA Hockey, Canada can pull from its national junior team but has more veteran talent in Europe and the American Hockey League to choose from. Former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey league is an option, for example, as is journeyman Michael Leighton, who is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Though Leighton firmly believes NHL players will go, the 35-year-old said he would “train as hard as I possibly can to get that job” if they don’t. AHL president and CEO David Andrews expects his league to be open to allowing players to go to the Olympics as long as NHL teams give individual minor leaguers permission.

“I think it’ll be an interesting question, though, for a lot of general managers because the player that is going to be asked for is going to be probably their No. 1 player outside the NHL club,” Andrews said. “They kind of face that question of, `Do we want our No. 1 call-up to be in South Korea for two or three weeks?”‘

Some NHL owners might even give their elite players permission to go, and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals has said repeatedly he’d let Ovechkin, Swede Nicklas Backstrom and Canadian Braden Holtby represent their countries, though Holtby said he would never leave the Capitals midseason. The IIHF might set roster parameters to prevent NHL players from participating, too.

“We want to have that opportunity,” two-time U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk said. “If that’s taken from us and we don’t have that right anymore, at least it gives other guys an opportunity.”

Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe would be fine with that. After winning a silver medal playing for the U.S. in 1972, he supports amateurs because he feels the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” victory over the Soviet Union had a greater impact on the sport than professionals playing in the Olympics.

“Probably the greatest victory I think I’ve ever seen in hockey was when the 1980 team beat the Russians,” Howe said. “There was some guys on that team that never had a chance to play in the NHL or impact the NHL. That was their two weeks of fame. A guy like Mike Eruzione, Jimmy Craig – they’re phenomenal stories.”

True, but 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian John LeClair is worried about a talent discrepancy next winter if Russia put Ovechkin and dominant KHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against American college kids.

“You get different variations of who’s playing and who’s not,” LeClair said. “You’re getting back to what it used to be where Russia had all their pros. You want everybody on an even (playing) field.”

Related: Bettman points finger at IOC

Evander Kane ejected for cross-checking Bellemare in the head

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The first game of the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs turned out to be a total dumpster fire for the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.

Not only were they completely dominated from the opening faceoff by the Vegas Golden Knights, they also lost their composure, taking nine penalties and giving Vegas two separate 5-on-3 power plays on the night.

The second two-man advantage happened because Sharks forward Evander Kane got himself thrown out of the game for cross-checking Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the face after the whistle.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That came with Vegas already trailing 5-0 on on the scoreboard. Vegas converted twice on the ensuing major penalty to open up a 7-0 lead.

This could have quite an impact on the series because that will probably get a serious look from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a potential suspension. The league has already issued four suspensions this postseason and we have only completed one round of the playoffs. Keep in mind there was only one suspension throughout the entire postseason a year ago.

Acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL trade deadline, Kane entered play on Thursday with three goals and an assist in the Sharks’ first four playoff games. He scored 29 goals and had 54 total points during the regular season in 78 games. Nine of those goals and five of those assists came as a member of the Sharks.

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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.

Vegas jumps all over Sharks with four first period goals

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The Vegas Golden Knights magic does not appear to be running out.

After stunning the hockey world by winning the Pacific Division in their inaugural season, Vegas easily dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round with a clean four-game sweep, setting the stage for a second-round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

That second-round matchup opened on Thursday night and Vegas continued to do what it has done all season — jump all over teams early and with no mercy.

The Golden Knights opened the game with four consecutive goals in the first period from four different players as Cody Eakin, Erik Haula, Jonathan Marchessault, and Alex Tuch all scored goals.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Tuch’s goal was especially beautiful as he effortlessly cut through four Sharks defenders

Just in case you have forgotten, the Golden Knights ended up getting Tuch because the Minnesota Wild gave him to them to convince them to take Haula in the expansion draft, and they were able to get Marchessault from the Florida Panthers for taking on Reilly Smith‘s contract. A lot of general managers around the NHL made bad decisions to help build this team.

Along with the offensive outburst, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 15 shots he faced in the period.

Related: Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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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.

Penguins stun Capitals with Game 1 comeback

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins entering Game 1 of their second-round series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, it looked like a great opportunity for the Washington Capitals to jump on them early.

Through 45 minutes it seemed like that was going to happen.

Braden Holtby was stopping everything in net. Alex Ovechkin scored 25 seconds into the third period to give the Capitals a two-goal lead. They were in a great position to take the first game of the series.

Then, for already the third time this postseason, the Capitals allowed a two-goal lead to turn into a loss when the Penguins scored three consecutive goals in four minutes to storm back for a 3-2 win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Pittsburgh comeback started with a Patric Hornqvist deflection of a Justin Schultz shot to finally beat Holtby.

Then the Sidney CrosbyJake Guentzel connection took over.

Crosby tied the game just three minutes after Hornqvist’s goal when he one-timed a shot off the rush that beat Holtby through the five-hole, and then Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead when he was able to get his stick on a Crosby shot to beat Holtby. Both Crosby and Guentzel have seven goals on this postseason, while Guentzel has factored into eight of the Penguins’ past nine goals over the past two games. He has scored five of them. Overall this postseason he has 15 total points (seven goals, eight assists) in seven games. This after after leading the league in postseason goal-scoring a season ago.

The Penguins have now won consecutive games without Malkin after taking Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday. That game also saw the Penguins erase a two-goal deficit thanks to four third period goals. Malkin traveled with the team to Washington, skated with the team on Thursday, and could be available for Game 2 on Sunday afternoon. The extra day off between games could be helpful for him.

Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tremendous when he needed to be on Thursday night and played a huge role in the comeback, even if it might get lost in the third period goal-scoring outburst. The two goals he gave up were on odd-man rushes following defensive breakdowns in front of him (including one just 17 seconds into the game when Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to walk in alone), but other than that he was nearly flawless the rest of the way, stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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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.

NHL reportedly asked Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players

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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman regals readers with many great nuggets in his regular “31 Thoughts” column, but this bit on how the NHL reportedly responded to Brad Marchand‘s obnoxious kissing/licking of Leo Komarov from Game 1 (see the video above) might just take/taste the cake:

22. After Game 1 of the Toronto/Boston series, the Bruins got a, “We’d prefer if you could tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people” phone call from the NHL.

Seems fair enough?

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

That said, you wonder if the NHL might have sent the Boston Bruins pest a better message by, say, handing him a fine for unsportsmanlike conduct? The league could have attached a helpful message, such as: “There are better ways to tell Leo Komarov that you like his cologne.”

(One can only imagine how harsh the discipline might have been if Sean Avery was the one committing this … infraction.)

As a reminder, Marchand addressed his actions after that Game 1 win, not exactly apologizing for his actions:

You could say that Marchand had the last laugh being that the Boston Bruins ended up winning the series in Game 7 thanks to last night’s 7-4 win. Then again, Komarov didn’t get to dress for that game, so it doesn’t seem totally fair.

The bottom line is that Marchand revels in this sort of controversy, even as he’s gone from a good player with bad habits to an elite one who still makes questionable decisions.

Even last night’s Game 7 was an example of the kind of competitor he is. While Kasperi Kapanen shook him off for a memorable shorthanded go-ahead goal, Marchand got the last laugh, celebrating after an empty-netter that sapped any remaining drama from the game.

While Marchand surely gives the Bruins headaches with his antics and sometimes suspensions – don’t forget that there were years of rumors that his behavior might get him traded, at least before he jumped another level or two – he’s a huge part of a dominant line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. For all we know, Marchand wouldn’t be the same player if he avoided some of the uglier stuff. Hockey is a violent, emotional sport, after all.

Still, if you’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, you must be wondering: “Could we be the team to get the better of Marchand?” Few teams have the firepower to match that top line (not to mention a defender to make life tougher for them in Victor Hedman), so maybe the Bolts will find a way to push Marchand closer to becoming a net-positive?

One thing’s for sure: the NHL will be keeping an eye on what Marchand does, so he better … watch his mouth.

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.