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U.S. rides Zapolski, college kids to Olympic quarterfinals

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Tony Granato knew going into the Olympics that Ryan Zapolski would be his goaltender and that the college kids on the Team USA roster would be counted on to supply offense.

It’s worked just like Granato and the late general manager Jim Johannson had hoped, and just in time: Zapolski stopped 21 shots in his best game of the tournament and NCAA players Ryan Donato and Troy Terry dominated offensively in a 5-1 win against Slovakia that put the United States into Wednesday’s quarterfinals against the Czech Republic (Tues., 10:10 p.m. ET, CNBC).

”Jimmy, like we said since Day One, this is his plan,” Granato said Tuesday’s win. ”It’s been a really nice mix.”

Zapolski and Donato both took hits to the head against Slovakia, and both said they were fine afterward.

It looked worrisome at the time.

In a frightening play, Ladislav Nagy crashed into Zapolski’s head and the goaltender was down on the ice for several minutes. Needing to be on top of his game in the Americans’ first elimination game, Zapolski was, even after jamming his neck.

”My hands and feet went numb a little bit, so it just kind of pinched my nerve, I guess,” Zapolski said. ”I think I just needed time for the feeling to come back. It took a little bit. It was a little bit of a scary thing for me kind of losing feeling in your body for a little bit, but it went away pretty quickly.”

Donato took a shoulder to the jaw from 6-foot-4 Slovakia defenseman Michal Cajovsky, who was ejected, and didn’t miss a shift despite a bloody nose he thought might be broken. On the next play, he set the screen on James Wisniewski’s 5-on-3 power-play goal in a game that helped the U.S. get its offensive groove back.

”He’s a really tough kid, and you see how much just of a natural goal-scorer he is,” Terry said of Donato. ”He’s fun to play with, and if I get the puck to him I know it’s got a pretty good chance of going in.”

Donato and Terry have had fun and made some magic playing on a line with former NHL forward Mark Arcobello, who Granato joked was the happiest person at the Olympics because of his skilled linemates. Arcobello, who scored his first Olympic goal against Slovakia, knew at the first practice how good Donato and Terry would be.

”You could just see the talent they’ve got,” Arcobello said. ”They look like pros. They don’t look like college players. They’re poised and they do the right things. They’re smart players. So I knew right away they were going to be pretty good.”

Johannson and Granato wanted to bring three to seven college players and hoped they’d be this good. But their first conversation about a player was about Zapolski, a 31-year-old journeyman with no North American professional experience above the ECHL.

Zapolski is among the best goaltenders in the Kontinental Hockey League but conceded ”maybe things weren’t going the way I had hoped the first few games” when he allowed a few soft goals. There were none of those against Slovakia.

”In a tournament like this, you only win if you have a good goalie,” Wisniewski said. ”You’re going to have to have a good power play and a good penalty kill, but your best penalty killer is going to be your goalie. With his numbers he’s had in the KHL, he’s come in ready to play every game, which has been huge for us.”

It’s huge for the U.S. to get its power play and offense going. And to no one’s surprise, Harvard’s Donato, University of Denver’s Terry and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway are at the forefront.

”You see it more and more in the NHL with these young kids coming in and making a huge impact,” Wisniewski said. ”They come in guns a blazing, they get every opportunity and they want you to make plays. The game has changed and you can see with the guys on our team.”

The U.S. came into the game scoring only four goals in three games. Scoring five against the team Granato called perhaps the best defensive team in the tournament has the Americans feeling good going into the quarterfinals.

”I think people saw tonight we have a very fast team and a team that can play good hockey,” Terry said. ”So we have a lot of belief in our team and we’re excited to keep going.”

Despite a 4-0 loss to the Russians to wrap up group play, Granato and his players believe they’ve gotten better each game and see a benefit in playing the extra qualification-round game to keep improving. The Czech Republic is up next for the U.S.

”There’s some different weapons that we’ll have to be aware of,” Granato said. ”I think what we learned from our team is it doesn’t matter what the other team does. We have to attack, we have to get in on the forecheck, we have to use our offensive players that we do have, the skillset that we do have.”

Elsewhere in the qualification round:

– Norway eliminated Slovenia 2-1 in overtime for its first Olympic win since 1994. Norway will face the Russians on Wednesday in its first Olympic quarterfinal appearance, while Slovenia played without Ziga Jeglic, who was suspended for doping.

– Finland eliminated South Korea with a 5-2 win, advancing to play Canada on Wednesday night.

– Germany eliminated Switzerland 2-1 in overtime, advancing to play top-seeded Sweden on Wednesday night.

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    Bruins sign Olympic standout Ryan Donato to entry-level contract

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    The Boston Bruins have a plethora of young players coming through the pipeline, including Ryan Donato who they signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on Sunday night.

    The Bruins drafted Donato in the second round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The 21-year-old spent each of the last two seasons at Harvard. In 2017-18, he finished the year with 26 goals and 17 assists in 29 games with the Crimson.

    Donato also represented the United States at this 2018 Olympic Games, where he had had five goals (tied for the tournament lead) in five games.

    The team has already announced that he’ll join them right away. He’s eligible to suit up in tomorrow’s game.

    “It came together in pretty short order,” GM Don Sweeney said, per the Bruins’ Twitter account. “We had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school…I think it was an opportunity on both sides to explore with Ryan and see where he’s at.

    “He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details he’s gonna have to work on – all young players do. But he’s a player that has hard skill. We’re looking forward to having him…get immersed and get a taste.”

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

    Nathan MacKinnon delivered another MVP-like performance on Sunday


    Not only is Nathan MacKinnon involved in a tight playoff race, he’s also in the thick of the MVP hunt. His performance in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings certainly didn’t hurt his chances of winning the award.

    MacKinnon finished the night with two goals, an assist and 11 shots on goal in 18:05 of ice time. Oh, and one of his goals looked like this:

    The 22-year-old is now riding an 12-game point streak. He’s racked up an incredible 24 points during that stretch. The Avs forward has also racked up 28 points in his last 15 outings.

    The Avalanche went 4-4 during MacKinnon’s eight-game absence between Feb. 1-16. With him in the lineup, they’re 35-21-8. That’s quite a difference.

    “If we get in the playoffs, for me, he’s the MVP,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said of MacKinnon, per the Denver Post. “I can’t imagine there is another player who means more to their team, and doing more for their team, than Nate’s doing for us. That’s just the way I see it. He is the driving force to our offense. And it’s consistent. It’s multiple-point games — seems like every night.”

    Of course, his biggest competition will come in the form of Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a few others.

    It’ll be difficult not to give MacKinnon the award if the Avs qualify for the playoffs. They’re currently sitting in the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but they haven’t clinched anything just yet.

    On a positive note, they’re also just three points behind the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division.

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

    WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks

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    Projected Lines

    St. Louis Blues

    Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
    Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlexander Steen
    Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
    Nikita SoshnikovIvan BarbashevChris Thorburn

    Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
    Vince DunnColton Parayko
    Joel EdmundsonRobert Bortuzzo

    Starting goalie: Jake Allen

    [Check out the PHT Preview of the game]

    Chicago Blackhawks

    Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
    Matthew Highmore – Nick Schmaltz – Vinne Hinostroza
    Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAlex DeBrincat
    Patrick SharpDavid Kampf – John Hayden

    Duncan KeithJan Rutta
    Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook
    Jordan OesterleConnor Murphy

    Starting goalie: Jean-Francois Berube

    NHL Playoff Push: Another huge day ahead for Western Conference race


    Entering play on Sunday there are six teams in the Western Conference that fighting for three playoff spots (the third spot in the Pacific Division, both Wild Cards). Those teams are all separated by just four points.

    Five of those teams are in action on Sunday.

    First, here is a look at how the standings look entering the day.

    The Kings lost on Saturday to New Jersey and failed to gain any ground on the rest of the pack, while the Blues were able to get a huge win against the New York Rangers and set up another big game for them on Sunday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks. You can catch that game on NBCSN at 7:30 p.m. ET.

    On Sunday the Avalanche are hosting a Detroit team that is just circling the drain down the stretch and have a great opportunity to pick up two more huge points. The other Wild Card team at the moment, Dallas, is trending in the wrong direction down the stretch having won just five of their past 16 games. They are in Winnipeg on Sunday to play a Jets team that has one of the most powerful offenses in the league.

    The Ducks, meanwhile, who can climb into the third spot in the Pacific Division with a point on Sunday, are hosing the Devils team that knocked off the Kings on Saturday.

    The other team in that mix is Calgary. The Flames are the team that probably have the longest odds in this group, sitting four points back with all of the aforementioned teams sitting ahead of them. They are in Vegas to take on one of the best home teams in the league this season. The Flames, for what it is worth, have been one of the absolute best road teams. Given the standings and deficit they are facing the Flames have almost no margin for error the rest of the way.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    In the East, New Jersey has a chance to to move up a couple of spots in the standings with a win and some help.

    A Devils win in Anaheim, combined with a Flyers loss to the Washington Capitals, would put the Devils into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. Even if the Flyers win and maintain their hold on the No. 3 spot in the Metro the Devils could still leapfrog the Blue Jackets for the first Wild Card spot.

    The other game in the Eastern Conference on Sunday with playoff implications is Tampa Bay hosting the Edmonton Oilers.

    The Lightning have seen its lead in the Atlantic Division dwindle down to just two points after losing to the Boston  Bruins on Saturday night while the Bruins still have a game in hand. The Lightning could reclaim that four point lead with a win. The Oilers have been playing a bit better as of late, thanks almost entirely to Connor McDavid making a late season push for the scoring title.

    If The Playoffs Started Today

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
    Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
    Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
    Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

    Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars
    Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
    Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
    San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

    Sunday’s Key Games

    Detroit Red Wings vs. Colorado Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET
    Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 4 p.m. ET
    Edmonton Oilers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 5 p.m. ET
    Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 5 p.m. ET
    St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 7:30 p.m. ET
    Dallas Stars vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m ET
    New Jersey Devils vs. Anaheim Ducks, 9 p.m. ET

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