Mike Halford

Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) celebrates his empty net goal against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Monday, March 9, 2015. Detroit won 5-2. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Datsyuk’s agent shoots down reported KHL deal

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The agent representing Pavel Datsyuk says reports from Russian “sports portal” Sportfakt.ru — ones claiming Datsyuk will sign in the KHL after playing in the world hockey championships — are false, adding that his client still intends to meet with Red Wings management following the tournament.

The Sportfakt report claimed Datsyuk had agreed in principle to a two-year deal with SKA Saint Petersburg. It was believed the club wanted to get Datsyuk’s deal done now, amid rumblings that two of its top scorers — Vadim Shipachyov and Evgeny Dadonov — were asking to be released from their contracts, in order to secure new deals elsewhere.

(Shipachyov, currently tearing it up at the worlds for Russia, is receiving a ton of NHL interest, per Eilliotte Friedman.)

Earlier this month, we passed along news that Datsyuk would, as his agent said, return to Detroit following the worlds and discuss his playing future with Wings GM Ken Holland.

Based on today’s development, that plan still appears intact.

Hornqvist (hand) in Pens lineup for Game 4

Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist, left, celebrates his goal with teammate Conor Sheary (43) during the first period of a first-round NHL playoff hockey game against the New York Rangers in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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First-line winger Patric Hornqvist will be back in the mix tonight as the Pens look to take a 3-1 Eastern Conference Final lead on Tampa Bay.

Hornqvist, who was shook up after getting hit in the left hand by a shot on Wednesday night, was declared “available” for Game 4, per head coach Mike Sullivan (by way of the Post-Gazette).

Hornqvist has six goals and nine points through 14 games this postseason, and is Sidney Crosby‘s running mate on the top unit. So needless to say he’s an important contributor for Pittsburgh.

The 29-year-old Swede was especially good in the opening round against the Rangers, with five points in five games.

Hoffman: Boucher hire ‘a bonus’ in extension talks with Sens

Mike Hoffman
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Mike Hoffman has led Ottawa in goals in each of the last two seasons — scoring 56 all told — which should play a key factor in negotiations for a contract extension this summer.

Know what else might play a role?

The presence of Guy Boucher.

Boucher, Ottawa’s new bench boss, coached Hoffman in the QMJHL Drummondville a few years back. After a tough rookie campaign, Hoffman responded with a banner 52-goal, 97-point campaign in 2008-09.

Not surprisingly, the two are quite fond of each other.

Upon being hired, Boucher told reporters he was excited about getting to work with Hoffman again and, in speaking with the Ottawa Sun this week, Hoffman shared similar sentiments.

“This is awesome,” Hoffman said. “I’m looking forward to having him behind the bench and leading us.”

Hoffman, 26, pulled in $2 million last season. Theoretically, he should be in line for a sizable raise. He found the back of the net 29 times last year despite clashes with former head coach Dave Cameron, and the Sun went to far as to suggest Hoffman is “the one forward on the team capable of posting a 40-goal season.”

In that light, it’s interesting to note how both Hoffman and Sens GM Pierre Dorion referred to Boucher’s presence as a “bonus” in terms of contract negotiations.

“I think it’s a bonus,” Dorion said on Ottawa radio earlier this month. “I think our fans know that the relationship between Mike and the previous coaches wasn’t the greatest.”

“Obviously I want to play in Ottawa, that’s my first priority,” Hoffman told the Sun. “Having him as a coach is obviously a bonus.”

Video: Backes proves his worth to Blues

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The St. Louis Blues are the only team David Backes has ever known.

And now, in what could be his final season with the club, he’s marking arguably the biggest impact of his career.

Backes, who has spent all 10 of his NHL seasons with the Blues — and the last five as team captain — is enjoying a terrific postseason and scoring at an unprecedented clip. The 32-year-old leads St. Louis with 13 points through 16 games and has three game-winning goals, putting him on par with Joe Pavelski for the playoff lead.

The way Backes has scored his goals has become a story.

At 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds, he has the ideal frame to be an effective net-front presence… which is exactly what he’s done. Backes has done most of his damage atop the blue paint, tipping point shots and banging in rebounds.

It’s something his head coach, Ken Hitchcock, has come to admire.

“First of all, he’s a baseball player, [so his] hand-eye coordination is a little bit different than other people,” Hitchcock told Sports Illustrated. “He’’s good at it. As he said to us, it’s like taking batting practice. That’s what he did as a kid. He was obviously a good ballplayer. He feels that the more he does that, the more confident he is.

“I think the other thing [is]…I haven’t coached many players that hang in there on the shot. Most of them jump out of the way.”

The Blues could certainly use some of Backes’ goalscoring at the moment. They’ve been shut out in consecutive games by the Sharks, and now trail the two games to one in the Western Conference Final.

If this is Backes’ last season in St. Louis, he’ll want a better ending than this.

Which means he might need to rediscover those baseball skills once again.

U.S., Canada, Russia, Finland advance to worlds semis

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 19:  Alexander Ovechkin #8 of Russia celebrates his third period goal against Germany with teammates Yevgeni Kuznetsov # 92 and Roman Lyubimov #23 at Ice Palace on May 19, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Russia defeated Germany 4-1.  (Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images)
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The final four is set at the 2016 World Hockey Championships.

The United States, Canada, Russia and Finland all advanced by way of their quarterfinal victories on Thursday — a near identical scenario to last year’s semifinals, save Finland replacing the Czech Republic.

The U.S. will now play Canada on Saturday at the Ice Palace in Saint Petersburg, while Russia will take on the Finns at the same venue.

A rundown of today’s games:

U.S. 2, Czech Republic 1 (SO)

Auston Matthews provided the heroics, scoring the lone American goal in regulation before netting the shootout winner. Keith Kinkaid was terrific in goal, stopping 31 of 32 shots, as the U.S. scored the biggest upset victory of the quarterfinal round. The Czechs came into this game having captured Group A with an impressive 5-1-1-0 record, outscoring opponents 27-12 over that stretch.

The Americans, meanwhile, lost four games en route to finishing fourth in Group B.

Canada 6, Sweden 0

Canada rebounded from a disappointing 4-0 loss to Finland in their Group A finale to rout the Swedes. Six different players scored — Matt Dumba, Max Domi, Derick Brassard, Mark Scheifele, Mark Stone and Brad Marchand — while Cam Talbot kicked aside all 24 shots faced for the shutout.

Russia 4, Germany 1

The powerhouse host side proved too much for Germany and netminder Thomas Greiss. The Russians out-shot the Germans 37-20 and got goals from Alex Ovechkin, Yevgeni Dadonov and a pair from Vadim Shipachyov.

The Germans actually held a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period, only for Russia to score four unanswered.

Finland 5, Denmark 1

Finland remained undefeated at the worlds with an easy win over Denmark. Mikael Granlund led the way with two goals, while Jussi Jokinen, Jarno Koskiranta and Patrik Laine — the projected No. 2 pick at this year’s draft — added singles.

The Finns now have eight wins from eight games, have outscored opponents 34-7 and have emerged as the class of the tournament, setting up a tantalizing matchup with the host Russians on Saturday.