Mike Halford

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19: Auston Matthews #34 of USA celebrates his second period goal against Czech Republic with teammates Noah Hanifin #15 and Kyle Connor #18 at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)

Matthews stars as U.S. upsets Czechs at worlds


MOSCOW (AP) Auston Matthews scored one goal in regulation and one after it Thursday to give the United States a spot in the semifinals of the hockey world championship with a 2-1 shootout win over the Czech Republic.

Loaded with young talent, the Americans came into the game as underdogs after losing four times in the round robin stage. But they managed to eliminate an experienced Czech team that had won its preliminary round group.

Matthews, still only 18, scored in the second period to tie the game and later scored the only goal in the shootout, sliding the puck between Czech goaltender Dominik Furch’s legs.

“I just wanted to open his legs, go five-hole,” Matthews said. “I was able to sneak it in there, so it worked out.”

Matthews is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in next month’s NHL draft.

“He almost presses too hard sometimes, you know. I talked to him, I said `You know, your moment’s going to come,’ and sure enough it comes in the shootout,” teammate Nick Foligno said. “He’s just young and he’s learning but he’s got all the tools and all the talent.”

Tomas Zohorna gave the Czechs the lead with a penalty shot after Patrick Maroon was penalized for hooking Zohorna on a U.S. power play.

American goalie Keith Kinkaid saved all three Czech shots in the shootout.

The U.S. was outshot 29-20 in regulation, including 8-2 in the first, but piled on the pressure in 10 minutes of four-on-four overtime, forcing Furch to make seven saves, including a stick save on a shot from Chris Wideman.

The United States will next play either Canada or Sweden in Saturday’s semifinals.

Finland also secured a place in the semifinals with a 5-1 win over Denmark. The Finns will next play either Russia or Germany.

Bolts sign Memorial Cup hero Cirelli

QUEBEC CITY, QC - MAY 31:  Anthony Cirelli #22 of the Oshawa Generals celebrates his goal with teammates during the 2015 Memorial Cup Championship against the Kelowna Rockets at the Pepsi Coliseum on May 31, 2015 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Another of Tampa Bay’s bright young prospects has signed on the line that is dotted.

Anthony Cirelli, the 75th overall pick at the 2015 draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal with the club, Tampa Bay announced on Thursday.

Cirellia, 18, led OHL Oshawa with 38 assists and 59 points in 62 games this year and served as the club’s captain. But it was his theatrics in last year’s Memorial Cup Final that he’s most remembered for — he scored both goals in the championship win Kelowna, including this dramatic OT winner:

Cirelli got his first, albeit brief, taste of pro hockey this season, appearing in three games for Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse.



Video: Kucherov’s sharpshooting on display

Last year, Nikita Kucherov finished second on the Lightning with an impressive 10 playoff goals.

This year, he’s scoring at an even better clip.

Kucherov has nine markers through 13 games thus far, a major reason why the Bolts are playing in their second straight Eastern Conference Final. The Russian sniper is tied with San Jose’s Joe Pavelski for the playoff scoring lead, and has been one of the most active shooters in the postseason (43 shots on goal in 13 games).

Widely regarded as one of the most accurate and lethal shooters in the NHL, Kucherov’s marksmanship has won him accolades from a number of people — including his assistant coach, Steve Thomas.

“His ability to get pucks on and off his stick is amazing,” Thomas told the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s 80 percent (of) shooting the puck, the art of deception.

“He just has an unbelievable hockey IQ. That allows him to see the ice the way he does and anticipate plays.”

The issue now, of course, is that Kucherov has yet to find the back of the net through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final. It’s his longest scoring slump of this postseason, and a big reason why the Bolts trail the Penguins two games to one.

But given how Kucherov can shoot the puck, don’t expect that slump to go on much longer.

Stars sign towering d-man prospect Martenet

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 27:  Chris Martenet reacts after being selected 103rd overall by the Dallas Stars during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember yesterday, when we discussed how much Dallas loved its young blueline prospects?

Well, you can add another one to the pile.

On Wednesday, the Stars inked OHL London d-man Chris Martenet to a three-year, entry-level deal. Martenet, listed at 6-foot-7, 200 pounds, was Dallas’ fourth-round pick in 2015 and is coming off a campaign in which he racked up 12 points, 85 PIM and a plus-44 rating with the Knights.

Martenet’s frame will remind some of another Dallas blueliner: Jamie Oleksiak, the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder that’s appeared in 78 games for the Stars over the last four years.

Now, it’s feasible Martenet could actually replace Oleksiak as resident skyscraper — Oleksiak, a restricted free agent, has been mentioned in trade rumors for a while now, largely because the Stars have so many defensive prospects in the system.

It’s worth noting size is something that GM Jim Nill values on the blueline. The Stars aren’t exceptionally big, and Nill alluded to this upon inking 6-foot-3, 215-pound Steven Johns to an extension during the season.

“Stephen did a tremendous job leading in Cedar Park for Texas all season long,” Nill said in a release. “He brings size, physicality and skating to our group of defensemen, and we fully expect him to contribute at the NHL level for years to come.”

NHL loses bid to dismiss concussion suit

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, right, speaks at a news conference before the NHL Awards show Wednesday, June 24, 2015, in Las Vegas. At left is Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. The NHL is officially exploring expansion. The league is opening a formal expansion review process to consider adding new franchises to its 30-team league, Bettman announced Wednesday, June 24, 2015. Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City are the markets that have expressed the most serious interest. (AP Photo/John Locher)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) A federal judge in Minnesota has denied the NHL’s latest attempt to throw out a class-action lawsuit by former players filed over head injuries.

The league had argued that the suit should be tossed because the issues raised by the former players were covered under the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson wrote in a 47-page opinion that the CBA does not pre-empt legal action, in part because the players are retired and no longer subject to the CBA.

Dan LaCouture, Michael Peluso, Gary Leeman, Bernie Nicholls, David Christian and Reed Larson represent former players who say the NHL did not sufficiently protect or inform the players of the dangers when it comes to head injuries they suffered when they played.