Jason Brough

AP

‘No possibility’ 2018 All-Star Game will be canceled for Olympics

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Earlier this week, when Tampa Bay was awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, it was seen as a further blow to the chances of NHLers participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That’s because the last three Olympic years (2006, 2010, 2014), there has been no All-Star Game. For the NHL, it’s been go to the Olympics or host an All-Star Game.

Today, commissioner Gary Bettman was asked if Tampa’s All-Star Game could potentially be canceled if the NHL strikes a last-minute minute deal to go to South Korea.

“No possibility,” Bettman replied, per the Tampa Bay Times. “I think we’ve been about as clear on this subject as we can. The announcement six weeks ago, I reaffirmed that on Monday. I know there’s a lot of people saying, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the IOC, even the players’ association, ‘Oh no, this can still happen.’ No it can’t. We’ll be here, looking forward to being here, and the Olympics should not be a concern.”

Still, many will continue to hold out hope until the league’s 2017-18 schedule is released later this month. After all, there were All-Star Games in 1998 and 2002, and the NHL went to the Olympics both those years.

The 2018 Winter Olympics run Feb. 9-25 in South Korea, starting just two weeks after the 2018 ASG is scheduled to be played (Jan. 28).

Preds need to smarten up, stay out of the penalty box

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PITTSBURGH — Peter Laviolette wants his Predators to play with a lot more discipline when the Stanley Cup Final shifts back to Nashville for Game 3 on Saturday.

The Preds spent much of Game 2 shorthanded. And though the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to score on any of their seven power plays, all that time Nashville spent killing penalties would’ve been better spent trying to beat Matt Murray.

“We have to be more responsible with our actions,” said Laviolette. “We cannot go the penalty box. We killed them, but it just drains the bench, it takes the flow out of the bench. Our five-on-five game was really good and all of a sudden we’re losing sync because we keep going to the penalty box. Even though they didn’t score, it definitely factored into the way the game played out.”

In all, the Preds spent 11:26 down a man in the 4-1 loss. Captain Mike Fisher took a needless interference penalty in the first period, while his team was on a 5-on-3 power play no less. Cody McLeod carelessly got his stick up in the second period, then took another minor at the end of the game. And remember, McLeod’s only been playing because Colin Wilson can’t.

Meanwhile, Mattias Ekholm was lucky he didn’t get called for anything, because he easily could’ve been. On one occasion, he punched Jake Guentzel in the side of the head after the whistle had blown. On another, he slashed Matt Cullen in the back of the legs, after Cullen had leveled him with a clean hit.

That’s not the kind of hockey that got the Predators to their first Cup final. And if they don’t smarten up, it’s going to be a short series against the Penguins.

Related: ‘You just have to bury these two games and move ahead,’ says Pekka Rinne

Rinne: ‘You just have to bury these two games and move ahead’

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PITTSBURGH — He came into the Stanley Cup Final as the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite.

But Pekka Rinne isn’t the favorite anymore. If anything, his struggles the past two games — Wednesday night in particular — are the single biggest reason the Predators are going back to Nashville trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0.

Rinne allowed four goals on 25 shots in Game 2, a 4-1 Nashville loss. The first goal, Jake Guentzel slipped the puck past Rinne, who normally would’ve been able to seal the side of the net. The second goal, coming just 10 seconds into the third, Rinne kicked out a juicy rebound to Guentzel, who fired it home to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

Then, moments after the Predators’ second own goal in as many games, Evgeni Malkin ended Rinne’s night with a top-shelf snipe. Backup Juuse Saros came in at the 3:28 mark of the third, making his first appearance of the playoffs. But by that point, the game was all but over.

“I felt we played a strong game, created a lot of chances, the first two periods especially,” Rinne said afterwards. “Come the third period, a quick goal. After that, two odd-man rushes in a row.”

This is not the first time the Penguins have made a well-regarded goalie look bad this postseason. They did it to Vezina Trophy favorite Sergei Bobrovsky in the first round. They did it to the reigning Vezina winner, Braden Holtby, in the second round. Pittsburgh is an opportunistic team with the talent to convert on its chances.

In the dressing room after Game 2, Rinne’s teammates took their share of the responsibility for the result.

“It’s not his fault by any means,” said captain Mike Fisher. “We need to be better in front of him.”

“He’s been unbelievable for us in the playoffs. We wouldn’t be here without him,” said defenseman Roman Josi, whose failed pinch at the start of the third period led to Guentzel’s game-winner. “We’ve got to do a much better job in front of him.”

Head coach Peter Laviolette sang a similar tune.

“Pekka’s been terrific through these entire playoffs,” said Laviolette. “I think there’s things that we can do better. All three goals in the third period, we could’ve done something better. I believe all of them were odd-man rushes.”

Still, Rinne had been so good the first three rounds. He was 12-4 with a .945 save percentage entering the Cup final. His teammates were calling him the backbone of the Preds.

Against the Penguins, it’s been such a different story. The defending champs have eight goals on just 36 shots against the 34-year-old Finn. That’s a save percentage of .778.

“You have to put it behind you,” said Rinne. “I treat this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I played a long time for a chance to play for the Cup. You just have to bury these two games and move ahead.”

Game 3 goes Saturday in Nashville.

Expect same lineups for Pens and Preds in Game 2

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Penguins and Predators could have the same lineups for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, two nights after a bizarre start to the series that few could have expected.

Forward Colin Wilson did not take part in Nashville’s morning skate Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena after missing Game 1 on Monday night because of a lower-body injury. Likewise, winger Carl Hagelin is expected to be a healthy scratch again for Pittsburgh.

The teams come off a bizarre Game 1 that featured a questionable offside review wiping out a goal by P.K. Subban, a Predators fan throwing a catfish onto the ice and the Penguins enduring a 37-minute shot drought and scoring the winner on the next shot they took.

Related: The Pens have sure been ‘opportunistic’ in this postseason

Penguins wary, Predators confident as Game 2 looms

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The winning team went nearly two full periods without a shot. The hottest goaltender in the playoffs was only tested 11 times in 58 minutes – and lost.

No wonder Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan described his team’s 5-3 victory over Nashville in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as “bizarre.”

And that doesn’t even include the catfish tossed onto the ice by a Predators fan at PPG Paints Arena in the middle of a second period. The fish that splatted on the Nashville blue line earned the thrower three misdemeanor charges and also came as close to Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne as anything the Penguins managed during 20 minutes in which the highest-scoring team in the league couldn’t even muster a single shot.

“It’s not always pretty,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “We don’t get points for style. But what I love about our team is that we find ways to win, we compete.”

True, though for the majority of Game 1, the competition was pretty one-sided. The Predators controlled the pace and the puck, just not the scoreboard. It left the guys from “Smashville” in a new position for the first time since they began their mad dash to the final a month ago: chaser instead of chasee as Game 2 looms on Wednesday night.

“Now we face a little adversity,” said defenseman Ryan Ellis, who scored the first Stanley Cup Final goal in team history. “We see what kind of group and character we have to bounce back.”

The Predators haven’t dropped consecutive games in the postseason and their four previous losses were pretty easy to explain. What happened on Monday night was not. The only area where Nashville wasn’t markedly better than the defending Stanley Cup champions is the only one that really matters.

“Everything was there that we liked but the result,” Ellis said.

Ellis described the Predators as more disappointed than mad. You can probably add baffled to the list. Nashville became the first team since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1957 to hold a team without a shot for an entire period during the Stanley Cup Final. The gulf actually stretched 37 minutes in all, which sounds like a perfect way for the opponent to win.

Read more: A ‘weird game’ and a tough loss, but Preds feel good about their chances

Except the streak was bookended by goals. The first, a ricochet off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm, gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead with 17 seconds left in the first period. The second, a sniper shot by Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel exactly 37 minutes later, put Pittsburgh back in front to stay at 4-3.

The angst Nashville felt isn’t new to those who face the Penguins. Pittsburgh was outshot throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. It didn’t stop the Penguins from knocking off Columbus in five games and Washington in seven. There’s a bit of a changeling quality to this group as opposed to the one that beat San Jose in six games to win the Cup last spring.

Sullivan calls it the ability to “win games different ways,” but what happened in Game 1 seems borderline impossible. The Penguins understand they were equal parts lucky and good. They also understand they can’t afford to have their offense go dormant for nearly two periods.

Only a handful of Penguins participated in a skate on Tuesday, though the video room was crowded while they searched for ways to make sure a funk like that doesn’t happen again.

“We know that’s not necessarily the way you want to play the game every night,” Crosby said.

Read more: The Penguins have sure been ‘opportunistic’ this postseason

The Predators are more focused on the process than the end product. Save for a bumpy stretch near the end of the first period where the Penguins scored three times, Nashville did exactly what it wanted to do. Defenseman P.K. Subban pointed to the response after falling behind by three as proof the stage is not too big.

“It’s easy in a Stanley Cup game to come back in the room, everybody is quiet, nerves,” Subban said. “But that’s not our hockey club. We know how good we can be. The way we responded was typical Nashville Predators.”

Typical for everyone except Rinne. The 34-year-old goalie is the main reason Nashville’s season will extend into June for the first time. Yet his iffy play in Game 1 continued a troubling trend. He came into the series 1-5-2 with a .880 save percentage and 3.57 goals-against average in his career against the Penguins, numbers that ticked in the wrong direction even though he spent a majority of three periods standing in his crease with nothing to do while his teammates were at work at the other end of the ice.

Rinne’s teammates rallied to his defense. They’re well aware that without him they likely would have traded their sticks for golf clubs long ago.

“Looking back since I came here a couple years ago, he’s been the best player in almost all of the games played,” Filip Forsberg said. “We have all the belief in Pekks we can ever have. I’m looking forward to see him play next game.”

Related: Preds still unconvinced Forsberg was offside