Kovalchuk to captain Russians at Worlds

Ilya Kovalchuk will captain the Russian national team at the World Hockey Championships, which begins Friday in the Czech Republic.

Kovalchuk said coach Oleg Znarok gave him the captaincy role on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old, who left the NHL in 2013 to join SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, last participated at a World Championship in 2013 where he had eight goals and 13 points in eight games as Russia finished sixth.

A knee injury forced Kovalchuk to miss last year’s tournament.

Kovalchuk has captained the Russians previously, but was overlooked in favor of Pavel Datsyuk at last year’s Olympics in Sochi.

Related: NBCSN to air every Team USA game at Worlds

Babcock won’t discuss future yet, but sees challenges ahead for Wings

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Are the Detroit Red Wings a team moving up courtesy of a young core led by Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Danny DeKeyser, and Petr Mrazek? Or are they a fading dynasty having already lost former leaders like Nicklas Lidstrom and on the brink of watching the two stars they have left head off into the sunset?

“Who’s going to replace Pav?” head coach Mike Babcock asked, per NHL.com’s Аrpon Basu. One of the best two-way forwards in the game, Pavel Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. Henrik Zetterberg will celebrate his 35th birthday in October.

“Our team is not as good as it was,” Babcock also noted, according to Postmedia News’ Michael Traikos.

That’s hard to dispute. Detroit has only won a single playoff series in its last four campaigns after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years in 2008-09. They won it all in 2008. Once Zetterberg and Datsyuk are gone or even just less effective, will the Red Wings start missing the playoffs entirely? Do they have anyone on their roster capable of filling that massive void?

Certainly the future isn’t all fire and brimstone for Detroit. The players mentioned off the bat have proven to be solid contributors and with their help, Detroit both made the playoffs and gave Tampa Bay a run for its money in the first round. The fact that the Red Wings came within a hair of advancing can’t be just brushed under the rug.

That being said, Babcock has raised legitimate points, and it will only add fuel to the speculation that the highly regarded coach will walk as a free agent this summer. Babcock didn’t confirm anything tonight, but Edmonton, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, and likely others would certainly be eager to sign him if he’s available.

Your Red Wings-Lightning Game 7 officials are…

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Per Scouting the Refs, they’ll be referees Kevin Pollock (No. 33) and Wes McCauley (No. 4), linesmen Derek Amell (No. 75) and Derek Nansen (No. 70.)

Standbys are projected to be referee Jean Hebert and linesman Pierre Racicot.

Some notes on tonight’s zebras…

• This will be the first time Pollock and McCauley have worked together this postseason, also per Scouting The Refs. McCauley worked Game 2 of this series; Pollock hasn’t called a Red Wings-Lightning game this spring.

• Pollock recently worked the close-out Game 6 of the Minnesota-St. Louis series (in which only five total penalties were called.) McCauley worked the close-out Game 5 of the New York Rangers-Pittsburgh series (in which only six total penalties were called.)

As for the history Tampa Bay and Detroit have in Game 7s…

• Tampa Bay owns a 3-1 all-time record in Game 7s, including a 2-0 mark at home, while Detroit is 14-10 in Game 7s, including a 3-5 clip as visitors. All four of the Lightning’s Game 7 appearances have been decided by one goal; five of the Red Wings’ last six Game 7s have featured one-goal margins.

• The Lightning have a combined 33 games of Game 7 experience; the Red Wings have combined to play in 68 such games.

• Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk leads all players with seven Game 7 appearances, going 4-3 in those contests. Teammate Henrik Zetterberg paces all players with 3-6—9 in six career Game 7s.

• Three Lightning players own unblemished records in Game 7s: Anton Stralman (5-0), Brian Boyle (4-0) and Matt Carle (3-0).

Cooper says ‘just a matter of time’ before Stamkos scores versus Wings

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He had eight shots in Game 1, one in Game 2, and two in Game 3.

That’s 11 shots total, and for a guy with a pretty good shot. Yet Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos is still searching for his first goal against the Detroit Red Wings.

Stamkos had 43 goals in the regular season, second to only Alex Ovechkin and his 53.

“He’s had a couple of good looks in this series,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, per the Detroit News. “If you go down the list of some of our players who haven’t scored, he’s had a couple of helpers (assists). These guys that have done it on numerous occasions, there’s a little more weight on their shoulders.

“Does Stammer wish he has a goal or two in this series? For sure. Do I think Detroit will keep him down the whole series? I don’t. It’s just a matter of time.”

The big challenge for Stamkos — especially in Detroit, where Wings coach Mike Babcock can deploy his troops with the last change — is trying to get chances matched up against Pavel Datsyuk, a.k.a. one of the best two-way forwards in the game.

In Game 3, Stamkos was on the ice for 11:18 at five-on-five. For 9:01 of that, Datsyuk was on the ice too, per war-on-ice.com.

Detroit leads Tampa 2-1 in the series. Game 4 goes tonight at Joe Louis Arena.

2015 Lady Byng finalists: Datsyuk, Kopitar and Hudler

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the 2015 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on Tuesday: Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames.

To refresh your memory, the award is handed out to the player who “exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Voting comes down to members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

If you gauage award chances by past victories, then Pavel Datsyuk stands as a heavy favorite. The Red Wings star won it four times in a row from the 2005-06 season through the 2008-09 campaign.

Hudler and Kopitar haven’t won a single Byng in their careers, on the other hand.

Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly took the 2014 award.

Here are some quick factoids about each finalist via the NHL: