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Penguins say all the right things ahead of potential Columbus sweep

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — One more win and the Pittsburgh Penguins sweep their way to the next round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One more loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the best season in franchise history comes to an abrupt end.

The Penguins enter Game 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena with a comfortable 3-0 lead. But as much as they would like a sweep, the Penguins know it’s dangerous to bring out the brooms too early.

“I think it’s going to be the toughest game of the series,” Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel said.

Stream Game 4 online here

Pittsburgh knows it will be facing a team fighting for survival in its home rink. Columbus missed a breakthrough opportunity on Sunday night, letting go of a 3-1 lead and losing 5-4 in overtime on Guentzel’s third goal of the game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is taking his usual cautious approach to Game 4 in what so far has been a competitive series despite Pittsburgh’s three wins.

“We haven’t done anything to this point,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve got to make sure we approach (Tuesday’s) game just like we approached the first three.

“We’ve got to be ready to play. We’ve got to be ready to win a hockey game. We can’t dwell on the past. We can’t live in the future. We’ve got to stay in the moment.”

The Penguins expect the Blue Jackets’ best shot. And Columbus hopes to give it to them now that its two options are win to send the series back to Pittsburgh or start summer vacation in April.

“There really is no special recipe,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “It’s just do or die right now. We’ve played good hockey. It’s unfortunate we’ve put ourselves in this situation.

“We have a chance to go out and play for all that we need to. I think that might bode well for us where we really have nothing to lose and I think it’s going to allow us to let our game go.

We have a chance to go there and try to make a series of it.”

Foligno and his teammates have to be kicking themselves for letting a win get away on Sunday. After the Blue Jackets roared out to a 3-1 lead after one period, the Penguins seized the momentum in the second and came back to tie, then take the lead in the third and eventually win in overtime.

“It’s the stomping on the throat, as graphic as that may sound, to finish the game,” Foligno said. “Really, that’s what we got away from. In the second period, we let them crawl back. In this series or in the playoffs, when you’re up 3-1, you’ve got to find a way to shut the door and lock it down, and we just didn’t do that.”

The Blue Jackets will welcome back forward Matt Calvert from a one-game suspension, but they will be without standout rookie defenseman Zach Werenski.

Werenski took a puck to the face in the second period on Sunday, left the ice bleeding profusely and then returned for several shifts in the third until he could no longer see well enough to play. The gruesome facial injury will sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs.

That makes the Blue Jackets’ uphill climb even steeper against the defending Stanley Cup champions, but veteran forward Scott Hartnell reminded his teammates Monday that the deficit is not insurmountable.

In 2010, Hartnell played a role in the Philadelphia Flyers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins to win a first-round series.

“We’re still in this thing,” Hartnell said. “We’ve still got another game to play. I don’t think any of us envisioned this. I thought we deserved a better fate. We’re playing good enough to win. There is a belief in (the locker room). There were good vibes that were positive. We’ll still here and putting on our skates.”

Related: Sedlak to replace Hartnell

U.S. women’s hockey team to play NWHL team in Olympic tune-up

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s national team will play two exhibitions against some familiar faces from the National Women’s Hockey League next month in a final tune-up for the Olympics.

The games are set for Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, Florida, where the national team has been training.

Eleven players currently on the U.S. roster competed in the NWHL during the 2016-17 season, USA Hockey said Thursday. The pro league enters its third season with teams in New York, Boston, Buffalo and Stamford, Connecticut.

”(The NWHL) continues to play at an elite level and does a great job of exposing the game in different markets,” USA Hockey women’s director Reagan Carey said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Megan Bozek and Emily Pfalzer helped the Buffalo Beauts win the NWHL championship last March.

”The NWHL is honored to be welcomed by USA Hockey and to participate in this pair of important exhibition games,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. ”Our players, coaches and staff are excited to have this opportunity.”

U.S. national team captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Alex Carpenter and Amanda Pelkey played for the Boston Pride.

Amanda Kessel (New York Riveters) and Haley Skarupa (Connecticut Whale) also played in the pro league.

Many of the players on both rosters are either ex-teammates or completed against each other in college and the pros.

”The NWHL will do its best to give the players some strong competition so they’re ready to bring home the gold in February,” Rylan said.

The U.S. team won gold at the first women’s hockey event, at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Since then, the team has earned three silvers and a bronze in losses to Canada.

”We want to make sure the ’98 team has some company with the gold medal,” Carey said.

The Americans and Canadians will finish their six-game exhibition series with two games this weekend. The U.S. has a 1-3 record so far, but beat its rivals twice at The Four Nations Cup and won the title.

The teams have drawn good crowds in Canada and U.S. stops in Boston and St. Paul, Minnesota. They drew 9,000 flag-waving fans on Dec. 3 in a 2-1 overtime loss at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

”It’s been great to see so many young girls and hockey teams,” Carey said. ”You can really see the growing landscape for young girls.”

The U.S. plays Canada on Friday night in San Jose, California. The Americans wrap up the series on Sunday night at Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, in a game televised on NHL Network.

Oilers need healthy Talbot to give them a spark during upcoming crucial stretch

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At the start of the season, the Edmonton Oilers were one of the favorites to win or at least make it to the Stanley Cup Final. But through 32 games, their season has looked more like a train-wreck than a victory parade in-waiting.

Only the Arizona Coyotes are below the Oilers in the Western Conference standings right now, which is still kind of surprising.

One of the biggest reasons they’ve struggled in the first third of the season is because of goalie Cam Talbot. First, he wasn’t very good at the start of the season. Talbot wasn’t providing his team with the solid goaltending he had given them last year.

Second, just as he was rounding into form, he suffered a upper-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since the end of November.

Prior to getting hurt, the 30-year-old had won three games in a row while allowing two goals in each of those outings. During his absence, Laurent Brossoit went 3-4-0. The Oilers backup netminder gave up three goals or more in four of those seven games.

On Friday, the Oilers (finally) got some positive news, as they activated their starting netminder from the injured list. According to head coach Todd McLellan, he’ll be between the pipes for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Now, they just have to hope that he can pick up where he left off before landing on IR.

Earlier this season, Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was in a similar situation to Talbot’s. Price was awful out of the gate and the Canadiens were struggling. Nothing was going right for them. But after missing roughly three weeks with an injury, Price returned in tip-top shape. Even though Montreal is still outside of a playoff spot right now, they play of their goaltender has allowed them to get back into the race.

McLellan has to hope that Talbot’s “break” allowed him to get better and re-focus on the task at hand. Connor McDavid is still the face of the franchise, but he clearly can’t get the job done by himself.

Edmonton is about to jump into a crucial stretch of their season. After tomorrow’s game in Minnesota, they’ll play seven of their next eight games on home ice, where they have an ugly 5-10-0 record. If they want to get back in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to start racking up the wins at Rogers Place.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Maple Leafs help SickKids Foundation make giant cookie for Santa (Video)

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It’s always special to see NHL teams give back to their communities in original ways. The Toronto Maple Leafs found a pretty unique way to help out the SickKids Foundation. It even involved putting on a hairnet.

The Leafs made their annual visit to the SickKids Foundation earlier this month and some of them took part in a special tradition that involves making a giant cookie for Santa “no-trade” Claus (sorry).

Mike Babock, Wendel Clark and a few of the current members of the team worked hard to make sure that the finished product was all quality.

Babcock barking out orders in the kitchen is hilarious. Him emphasizing “cream your sugar” is pretty good, too.

“I come here on a regular basis and the people here are stars,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Star. “If you think of your children getting diagnosed with something, let’s say cancer, it’s an awful thing and you want to go to the best place, with the best doctors, so you can feel the best. To me that’s what this place is all about.

“Sometimes when things are going really good in your life you need to take a step back, take a deep breath to understand how lucky you are.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It’s supposed to be pretty cold during tomorrow’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa

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We’re just over 24 hours away from the “NHL 100 Classic” outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators at TD Place in Ottawa. Don’t forget, you can watch that game online tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. ET via the NBC Sports app.

If you’re considering watching the game at home, that’s probably a wise move considering it’s going to be freezing in Ottawa on Saturday night.

According to the Weather Network, it’s supposed to be mainly clear. It’s also going to be 7 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’ll feel more like minus-4 because of the wind-chill factor.

“There are going to be moments we wish we were inside,” Sens captain Erik Karlsson said, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

And Bobby Ryan is a little confused:

“I can’t even pronounce the thing that goes over your head,” Ryan told TSN Radio’s Ian Mendes. “It’s sounds like a dessert — a balaclava or whatever.”

As fun as this might be, it’s still a huge game between two Atlantic Division rivals. The Canadiens are two points behind Boston for third in the Atlantic and the Sens are five points behind Montreal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.