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Russians to face surprising Germany in Olympic hockey final


GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Russians expected to play for the Olympic men’s hockey gold medal for the first time in 20 years.

Their opponent is quite the surprise: Germany will play in its first Olympic hockey final on Sunday hours before the games conclude.

Patrick Hager’s power-play goal at 12:31 of the second period wound up the game-winner as Germany stunned two-time defending gold medalist Canada 4-3 Friday night to set up a very unexpected gold medal game. Germany has only two bronze medals in hockey in its history – the last in 1976.

After upsetting top-seeded Sweden and pulling off their latest amazing win, an elusive gold medal suddenly isn’t so far-fetched.

”Who knows? Who knows?” German goalie Danny Aus Den Birken said with a big smile. ”If we keep fighting like this, we have nothing to lose.”

The Germans may believe in each other, but this is a country that didn’t even qualify for the Olympic men’s tournament four years ago at Sochi. They finished 11th in Vancouver, and they had to qualify for this tournament.

Coached by former NHL player Marco Sturm, the Germans scored two power-play goals against backup Canadian goalie Kevin Poulin with Ben Scrivens out injured. This wasn’t the Canada team that won gold in 2014 in Sochi or 2010 in Vancouver with a roster stocked with NHL stars.

”We didn’t know what to expect,” Sturm said. ”Everyone, the best players should be in Olympics. All the NHL guys should be in the Olympics. That’s just what the event is for and hopefully in the future they will be back on Olympic ice.”

For now, the Germans have capitalized in their biggest win yet. They had a bunch of German athletes in the Gangneung Hockey Center cheering them on.

After Canada’s last flurry was ended with the puck sent out of the offensive zone, the Germans hugged and huddled in celebration with the Canadians simply standing around in disbelief. Even the Germans on the ice may need a few hours to realize exactly what they’ve done, and Winnipeg native Brooks Macek said this win is huge.

”Everybody talks about 1976 and winning bronze medal, and now for the next 50 years they’re going to talk about us,” German defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. ”That’s why it’s the greatest day in German hockey.”

Matthias Plachta had a goal and an assist, Frank Mauer and Macek each had a goal for Germany. Gilbert Brule had a power-play goal for Canada before being ejected for a high hit on David Wolf. Mat Robinson and Derek Roy also scored for Canada.

Next up for Germany is a powerhouse Russian team that has looked every bit the favorite. Veteran goaltender Vasily Koshechkin stopped all 31 shots he faced to put the ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” into the final with a 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic earlier Friday.

Russia last reached the Olympic final in 1998 when it lost to the Czech Republic and hasn’t won gold since 1992 when it played as the unified Community of Independent States team.

”It would just mean everything to us,” forward Mikhail Grigorenko said of trying to end the 26-year drought. ”It’s huge for us, for the players, for Russian hockey and the whole country.”

Playing in front of raucous, flag-waving fans as they have all tournament, the Russians were not overly powerful but certainly as opportunistic as they were in a 4-0 victory over the United States in group play. They scored only twice on 19 shots against Czech goalie Pavel Francouz and Koshechkin did the rest.

Koshechkin improved to 3-1-0 with a 1.08 goals-against average and .951 save percentage after getting the nod as the No. 1 goalie over NHL prospects Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shestyorkin. He’ll almost certainly start the final Sunday.

”He’s been our best player this tournament,” Grigorenko said. ”He’s been playing (almost) every game and he’s just making a lot of saves. He made some huge saves tonight, and he was good.”

Kontinental Hockey League star Nikita Gusev and Vladislav Gavrikov scored goals 27 seconds apart in the second period on plays Francouz had little chance of stopping. Kirill Kaprizov jumped in to screen Francouz on Gusev’s goal that was upheld after a goaltender interference challenge. Gavrikov put the puck into an empty net on a 2-on-1 rush with Ivan Telegin.

Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk added an empty-netter with 20.9 seconds left.

”We are here for one reason,” Kovalchuk said. ”And I think we deserve to be in the final.”

In a tournament without NHL players, the Russians brought a roster almost entirely made up of players from SKA St. Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, the top two teams in the KHL. That includes Kaprizov, a Minnesota Wild prospect who has been one of the best players in the tournament and could be in the NHL as soon as next season.

The Czech Republic has a chance for its first bronze medal since 2006, when it beat Russia in Turin. Bronze will be important, but the Czechs outshot the Russians 31-19 and went 0 for 4 on the power play.

”It’s very tough when you don’t score any goals,” assistant coach Jaroslav Spacek said. ”It’s tough to win.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

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

Dundon, Hurricanes suspend search for new GM: report


The Carolina Hurricanes’ search for a general manager is on hiatus.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported Saturday that the process of replacing former GM Ron Francis is being put on hold for the time being, citing that owner Tom Dundon needs more time.

“Tom hasn’t had the time he needs to do face to face interviews and feels that waiting will pay off,” Shannon wrote in a tweet.

Francis was removed from his post as GM on March 7 and “promoted” to a new role as president of hockey operations. There was only one catch: whoever replaced Francis would bypass the Hurricanes’ legend and report directly to Dundon.

The search, thus far, hasn’t been going that well, with three potential targets already withdrawing any interest they were thought to have had.

Part of that problem could be how hands-on Dundon appears to want to be. Part of it could just be timing. Fenton, for instance, could be on his way to a Stanley Cup ring this year in Nashville.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on the situation in a recent 31 Thoughts column.

“I think what I’m looking for, is we have to be comfortable with each other. That’s the most important thing,” Dundon told Friedman when asked what he wants in a new GM. “I actually like to disagree and argue. I don’t want someone to come in and just do what I say, and I don’t want to make decisions. Someone to create a structure of how something is a good idea, and now we are going to get it done.”

You can add Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin to the list:

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Dundon wanting his hands all over the team — including whatever the GM is doing — isn’t the best selling point.

There’s some good, young talent on the Hurricanes for a new GM to come in and build around, but there’s also some dead weight, including what’s turned into a bad contract with goalie Scott Darling.

No GM wants to play puppet for an owner.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes will suspend their search until the summer when a larger crop of candidates reveals itself.

Still, you have to wonder who’ll be willing to take that plunge. Someone will, of course, but people haven’t exactly been lining up to fill the role.

UPDATE: On Headlines on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that the salary being offered to a prospective GM in Carolina is $400,000, to which he said he doesn’t see any GM taking as it’s too low. Friedman, meanwhile, believes the search for a new GM is not on a complete hiatus.

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

St. Patrik Laine has Jets looking like perennial contender

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The Winnipeg Jets can thank their own St. Patrik for their success this season and potentially for years to come.

Patrik Laine was the consolation prize in the 2016 NHL draft behind generational talent Auston Matthews. But he has been a cause for celebration in Winnipeg as a franchise-changing superstar at age 19.

Mathieu Perreault saw the power Alex Ovechkin had to alter the direction of the Washington Capitals and turn them into a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender. When Laine arrived from Finland, the winger started doing the same things in Winnipeg.

“The organization wasn’t having a whole lot of success, and then they get Ovi as a young kid and he starts scoring goals, and all of a sudden the team starts winning,” Perreault said.

“They became a very dominant team for many years. So you kind of sense that here, where the team’s been struggling for many years, not making the playoffs. And then you get this young kid coming in and scoring goals for your team and helps your team win games. I think coming up in Winnipeg we’ll have a dominant team for many years.”

That’s because Laine is already a dominant player. With 16 goals and eight assists in his past 14 games, Laine has the longest point streak by a teenager and already passed Wayne Gretzky for the most goals by a player before turning 20.

The best part for the Jets? Laine is just getting started.

“It’s really impressive when you factor in he’s still learning the game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “His scoring has taken off of late, but so has his game, his all-around game. … He’s an impressive young man at 19. At any age, those numbers would be elite. But at 19, that’s pretty exciting because there’s lot of room as he physically matures, for his game to change and become a power forward and a big, strong man who can score off the rush. Take pucks to the net. There are lots of places Patty is going to improve over the years.”

Laine is drawing comparisons to Ovechkin for his shot, which teammates and opposing goaltenders say is even more deceptive than the Russian 600-goal scorer ‘s blast. Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has taken Ovechkin shots in practice for years, said Laine’s long stick changes the angle of where the puck is going.

“He shoots it, he pulls it in a little bit weird – long stick – and makes it really hard for us to read,” Grubauer said.

As much as Laine looked up to Ovechkin as a kid, the respect is now mutual. When Ovechkin scored twice Monday to reach 600 and get to 42 this season, Laine answered with his 41st and showed he has what it takes to go goal-for-goal with hockey’s best.

“He’s a great talent and still young and still can produce lots of dangerous (chances),” Ovechkin said.

Laine said it has always been a goal to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and he’s in the race to do that. Entering Saturday, he’s one behind Ovechkin and one ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s always been one of my dreams to win it,” Laine said. “It’s good motivation for me.”

Laine is also motivated by trying to help set the Jets up for the playoffs and make a long run this spring. Winnipeg has been banged up and secondary scoring has been hot and cold, but Laine’s scoring pace has his teammates believing anything is possible.

“You give him one opportunity and it’s in the back of the net,” Perreault said. “Right now every shot it seems goes in. It helps us win games when he scores like that. It’s been fun to see.”

Maurice doesn’t know what he sees as Laine’s ceiling, but doesn’t think it matters. As Laine’s game rounds out, he’ll face different kinds of defensive challenges, and then it’ll be up to him to prove he can sustain scoring the way Ovechkin has over the past decade-plus.

“The overall game Patty will play will become far more important than whether it’s 40, 50 or whatever that number (of goals) ends up being,” Maurice said.

“At some point, Patty is going to play 20 minutes a night. Maybe not at 19, but when that happens, he’ll be playing against the `A’ group. It’s not as easy to keep scoring like Ovechkin has when you move up the lineup and you play more minutes and you play against the other teams’ best.”


This stick save by Roberto Luongo is absolutely incredible


The Florida Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and desperately trying to make an improbable run for one of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Great goaltending will go a long way toward getting them there, and Roberto Luongo is still one of the best in the business even in his age 38 season.

On Saturday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers he made one of the saves of the year when he did this to help the Panthers hold on to a 2-1 lead in the second period.

That looked like it was going to be a sure goal for Anton Slepyshev.

Luongo has been limited to just 26 games this season but has been absolutely spectacular when he has played, carrying a .926 save percentage into Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Panthers that save by Luongo was not enough on Saturday as they ended up giving up three consecutive goals to fall, 4-2.

The Panthers entered the day three points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on the teams they are chasing. They are still 16-5-1 win since Jan. 30, but if the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets pick up wins on Saturday their playoff chances are going to take a pretty significant hit, even with the games still in hand.



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