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As youngsters lead way, U.S. not intimidated by Russians


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

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk were dominating the NHL before Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway even started playing organized hockey.

”I think I dreamed about playing against those guys one day,” Donato said.

Dream becomes reality Saturday when Donato, Terry, Greenway and the United States face Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and the Russians in a much-anticipated game that could determine who wins the group and advances directly the Olympic quarterfinals. With three players in their early 20s leading the way, the Americans are young and inexperienced but say they aren’t intimidated by the team of Russian athletes that blew out the same Slovenia team the Americans lost to in overtime.

”It’s exciting as opposed to the fear of, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re on the ice with these guys,”’ coach Tony Granato said after the U.S. beat Slovakia. ”They’ve been in the big situations before.”

Terry, 20, conceded he has to get over the fact that he’s facing Datysuk, who at 39 is old enough to be his father. Terry has already figured out how he can succeed at the Olympics – using his young legs to generate the speed that not a lot of older players possess – to gain an upper hand.

Facing the favored Russians is another mental obstacle.

”Just realize that I belong here and I can make a difference,” Terry said. ”I think the more that we just kind of settle in and not make too big a deal out of the game and just know it’s another hockey game is the biggest thing for us.”

It is kind of a big deal. The U.S. leads Group B with four points, followed by the Russians and Slovakia with three each and Slovenia with two, and would avoid the qualification round with a regulation victory.

Granato and captain Brian Gionta, the only U.S. player with previous Olympic experience, told players they have an opportunity in front of them. The Russians’ opening loss to Slovakia created as many questions as the U.S. losing to Slovenia, but there’s no way anyone underestimates them after winning a game 8-2.

”We know they’ll be at their best,” Granato said. ”But I think there’s also things that we know amongst ourselves that we think we can compete with and play with them.”

Chief among those things is young skill, something the U.S. hoped it had in its four college players: Donato (Harvard), Terry (Denver), Greenway (Boston University) and defenseman Will Borgen (Notre Dame). Borgen could make his Olympic debut against Russia, though his NCAA colleagues are already making an impact having scored three of the Americans’ four goals so far.

”The college guys that we have on our team have been doing really well, have been pulling their weight,” Greenway said. ”We’re just trying to have every impact we can for the team.”

They could continue to have a big impact against the Russians, four years after these two countries met in an epic showdown that culminated in an eight-round shootout won by T.J. Oshie. As if Terry doesn’t have enough pressure on him already as the youngest U.S. player, he was the shootout hero en route to gold at the 2017 world junior championship and has been getting tweets about reprising that performance at the Olympics.

”I really hope that we don’t have to go to that,” Terry said. ”I’m ready if it comes.”

The ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” put themselves in contention to be one of the top four teams going into the medal round by crushing Slovakia behind three goals from Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov and two from Kovalchuk.

”The whole team played great,” Kaprizov said. ”Everyone was excellent. But there is room to grow.”

The same is true for the young Americans, who are not just building for this game but the road ahead.

”It’s a long tournament, and every little shift and every little game matters,” Donato said. ”We’re going to have to stay focused and not worry about that, but I think we’ve just got to worry about our own game and hopefully it’ll turn out in our favor.”


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The Buzzer: Kopitar scores four, McDavid’s four-point night and Olczyk cancer-free

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Players of the Night:

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Two words: career night. Kopitar scored four goals, becoming the first Kings player in 25 years to do so, and thus, setting his own career-high in the process. The Kings decimated the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 in the process.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky made 33 saves en route to a shutout victory, the Blue Jackets’ 10th in a row in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers, who have been red-hot themselves.

Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals: Grubauer has been solid in relief of Braden Holtby down the stretch as the Capitals’ No. 1 gets some rest before a playoff push. He won his fourth start out of his past five since March 10, stopping all 39 shots that came his way in the shutout.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He’s not playing for a playoff spot, and he shouldn’t get too many votes for the Hart Trophy. But McDavid still has his eyes set on Mr. Art Ross. McDavid had two goals and two assists in a 6-2 win for the Oilers over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. McDavid’s 94 points  (36 goals, 58 assists) are now just one shy of Nikita Kucherov for the NHL lead.

Highlights of the Night:

Above all else, this:

Hard work pays off:

Kopitar’s fourth:

Not everything is pretty when it comes to the Canucks. This is though:

Factoids of the Night:

Things you don’t see very often:

Poor Cam Ward:


Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

Oilers 6, Senators 2

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 7, Avalanche 1

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks drop Golden Knights 2-1 in overtime

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If the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s fixing to be one hell of a series,

Thursday’s meeting cemented that. The game had all the ingredients that make up that playoff feel — tight play, tight checking, great goaltending and low scoring. There was urgency from both teams, despite both being near locks to make the postseason.

And it came right down to the last shot of the game.

Logan Couture scored 39 seconds (ironically, Couture’s jersey number) into overtime to clinch a 2-1 win for the Sharks on Thursday night.

The Sharks gained a single point on the Golden Knights and are seven points back of Vegas for first in the Pacific Division with eight games remaining. Perhaps most important, they remained four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings, who leapfrogged the Anaheim Ducks with a 7-1 win against Colorado. San Jose owns a game in hand on L.A.

Catching up to Vegas seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The two teams play each other for the last time next week.

The loss was bittersweet for the Golden Knights, who set record No. 2321778 for a club in their inaugural season.

Malcolm Subban made 42 saves, a career-high after being thrust into action following an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tomas Tartar got the ball rolling in the game 3:47 into the first period to give the Golden Knights an early lead.

That lead lasted for roughly a period.

Brent Burns tied the game 1-1 at 3:27 of the second period with the slickest of wrist shots from the point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Eddie Olczyk declares he’s cancer-free


It’s the news every hockey fan wanted to hear.

On Thursday night’s Chicago Blackhawks broadcast on NBC Sports Chicago, Eddie Olczyk, who was diagnosed last summer with colon cancer, told the hockey world some great news.

“I got the call on March 14 at 5:07 p.m. letting me know my scans were clear,” an emotional Olczyk said as he stood next to long-time broadcast partner Pat Foley. “I’ve never heard a better phrase in my life. I’m now 10 days on with the rest of my life.”

Olczyk, 51, had surgery after his diagnosis and had his last chemotherapy treatment on Feb. 21.

“All the cancer is gone – we beat this thing,” Olczyk said, thanking a handful of people, from colleagues at NBC to the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL to his family members, wife and four kids. “And I say ‘we’ because it has been a team effort. We all beat this and I’m so thankful for all the support and prayers. They worked. I’m proud to stand here before everybody and say we beat this thing.”

Foley called Olczyk’s battle with cancer, “heroic.”

Olczyk was scheduled to have a scan in April to see how his chemo treatments had gone, but that scan was moved up due to emergency hernia surgery, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve had enough crying to last me a lifetime,” Olczyk said. “I can’t emphasize enough just the support out there… just the texts, the email, the letters. I’ve received thousands and thousands of mail. I won’t be able to thank everybody, but I just want everybody to know on behalf of Eddie Olczyk and his family, we’re forever grateful for the support and the prayers and well wishes we received over the past seven months.”

Olczyk said one thing he realized through his battle is that he found out he was way tougher than he thought he ever was.

“If I can inspire one person to stay away from this, then I guess it was well worth it going through it,” he said.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings

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If you were looking for a barn-burner, this game wasn’t that.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders combined for 13 goals, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes scored 11 in total, the Washington Capitals and their hosts, the Detroit Red Wings, played 60 minutes with just one goal between them.

It wasn’t nearly as exciting in the goal-scoring department, but the win for the Washington Capitals put a bit of separation between themselves and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, who the Caps (93 points) lead by four points now.

Brett Conolly’s third-period marker at 6:41 was all the Capitals needed for their

Andreas Athanasiou appeared to make it 1-0 in the first period on a nice wrister, but a goaltender interference challenge by Washington was successful after Tyler Bertuzzi was judged to have made contact with Grubauer. This one was pretty cut and dry, as far as GI calls go.

The loss for the Red Wings meant they were officially eliminated from playoff contention, something that had been known for a while but hadn’t happened in the mathematical department.

Grubauer was solid, making 39 saves for his third shutout of the season. At the other end of the rink, Jimmy Howard wasn’t too shabby either, stopping 25-of-26. All he needed was a bit of run support.

Prior to puck drop, the Red Wings announced that defenseman Mike Green, who was hampered by a neck injury back in February, will go under the knife, ending his season.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck