Sakic has Avs trending up after two straight playoff seasons

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Back in his Colorado Avalanche playing days, Joe Sakic’s approach was pretty much title or bust.

As the team’s general manager, a similar feeling is beginning to develop.

Sakic and the Avalanche took a little time for reflection following a Game 7 loss to San Jose in the second round. That page has been turned.

The Hall of Fame player turned executive has his full focus on improving a team that’s been to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since he was on the ice.

High on Sakic’s to-do list: A deal for restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen and preparing for the draft, where the Avs possess the fourth overall pick (courtesy of Ottawa) and the 16th selection. There’s also a multitude of players to consider retaining , which includes unrestricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

”You’ve got to keep building and getting better,” Sakic said Tuesday. ”As great as the end of the year was, we still didn’t accomplish the end goal. We’ve got to find a way to get better.”

In 2018, Colorado was simply content with getting into the playoffs and lost in the first round to Nashville. This season, the Avalanche expected to make some noise, which they did by upsetting Calgary, the top seed in the West. It was the first time since 2008 they had advanced out of a series. But their run came to a halt with a 3-2 loss to the Sharks.

”Someone had to lose that series – unfortunately it was us,” Sakic said. ”Our guys learned a lot in that series.”

It’s easy to see why securing Rantanen remains high for Sakic: The forward is coming off a regular season during which he set career bests in points (87), goals (31) and assists (56). Rantanen paired with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog to form one of hockey’s most lethal line combinations.

”We want to make sure we have him signed,” Sakic said.

Sakic plans to meet with the coaching staff to make evaluations involving players under contract, restricted free agents (Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot head the list) and those with expiring deals (such as Derick Brassard, Colin Wilson, Patrik Nemeth and Gabriel Bourque).

As free agency approaches, the Avalanche already have some players in mind.

”We’ll be more aggressive this year with that, but if it doesn’t work out with the players we want to talk to, we’re not just going to go spend on anybody,” Sakic said. ”We want the right players and the right fit.”

Other topics Sakic addressed:

– On a possible extension for coach Jared Bednar, whose deal is up after next season: ”We’ll get to that at the appropriate time. … There’s a good respect and good relationship the way he handles the players and the way the players respond to him.”

– On Nathan MacKinnon banging into the boards with his shoulder early in Game 7 at San Jose: ”He’s getting better every day. He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

– On the possibility of bringing back Varlamov, who’s been with the Avalanche since 2011-12: ”We’ll see what happens July 1 with him. … We’ll be in communication.”

– On working out a deal with defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is a free agent after ’19-20: ”All I can tell you is he’s an incredible player. He was a driving force down our stretch and with what we saw with him, Cale (Makar) and (Samuel) Girard I’d be very, very comfortable starting the year with that group.”

As for the draft, Sakic doesn’t plan on dealing the No. 4 pick. Although, he’s open to offers.

The last time Colorado drafted at No. 4 was 2017 when they took Makar, who led Massachusetts to the Frozen Four final before signing with the Avs soon after and joining the team for Game 3 of the Calgary series. The rookie provided a big boost in the postseason with a goal and five assists.

”He’s going to be an incredible player,” Sakic said. ”There’s a lot of excitement about this team. We’ve got to keep building and try to get to the next level.”

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WATCH LIVE: Rangers vs. Bruins on Hockey Day in America

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boston looks to be headed to its fourth straight postseason and potentially its first division title since 2013-14, when they won the Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points. They have finished second in the Atlantic in each of the previous two seasons behind the Lightning.

New York sits seven points out of the East Wild Card and enters this matchup on a season-high four-game winning streak after a 3-1 victory at Columbus on Friday to close a three-game road trip. On this run, the Rangers have scored three-plus goals in each game and allowed just six goals total.

After scoring a hat trick against Montreal on Wednesday, David Pastrnak scored again against Detroit on Saturday. He leads the NHL with 42 goal this season and is second in the league with a career-high 82 points. He’s the first Bruin to surpass the 40-goal mark since Glen Murray scored 44 in 2002-03 and Pasta is now on pace for 58 goals – which would be the most by a Bruin since Phil Esposito led the league in goals in 1974-75 (61).

Igor Shesterkin has opened eyes in recent weeks as the potential heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist. After starting his career in the KHL, Shesterkin had been with the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) this season before the Rangers called him up in early January. Shesterkin won his first two NHL starts and has gone 6-1-0 with a 2.18 GAA & .941 SV% thus far in his Rangers career, making 40+ saves in three of his six wins.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 16, 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Bruins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciKarson Kuhlman
Anders BjorkCharlie CoyleDanton Heinen
Joakim NordstromSean KuralyChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon

Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak

RANGERS
Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Phil Di GiuseppeFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenGreg McKegg

Brady SkjeiJacob Trouba
Brendan SmithMarc Staal
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexander Georgiev

NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Coverage shifts to NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET for a Central Division battle as Ryan O’Reilly and the St. Louis Blues head to Music City to battle Roman Josi and the Nashville Predators.

Hockey Day in America pre-game coverage begins at noon ET on NBC from the plaza outside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Host Liam McHugh and analysts Keith Jones, Anson Carter, and Brian Boucher will anchor pre-game, intermission, and post-game coverage throughout the day.

Military veterans take to the ice with ‘Sled Preds’

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

United States Marines Ben Maenza, Joseph Woodke, and John Curtin met while recovering from serious injuries sustained in the line of duty in Afghanistan. After leaving Walter Reed Military Hospital and going their separate ways, Joseph and John moved to Nashville to bring the group back together.

The trio fully committed to sled hockey playing for the Nashville Sled Preds and have gone from novices in the sport to Paralympic hopefuls. From the hospital bed to the elite ranks of American sled hockey, the men share a bond that looks a lot more like family than close friends.

The “Sled Preds” represent another compelling story as part of “Hockey Day in America.”

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Michaels and Tirico recall ‘Miracle on Ice’ in NBCSN special

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Al Michaels may never get tired of talking about “The Miracle on Ice,” and can you really blame him?

NBC Sports will debut a 30-minute special – “Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary” – featuring Mike Tirico’s conversation with Michaels on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Michaels and Tirico look back at the U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team’s gold-medal run at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

As you can see from the video above, Michaels and Tirico set the scene, depicting a tough time in America. That stunning victory gave the country a boost, and created an enduring memory. You don’t get much more “Hockey Day in America” than the “Miracle on Ice.”

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships: ‘The ultimate event in grassroots hockey’

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

The 15th anniversary edition of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships took place in January. Judging from the video above, the festivities earn the tag “the ultimate event in grassroots hockey.” Clearly, pond hockey carries the spirit of “Hockey Day in America.”

The 2020 edition drew 300 teams and 2,400 players. The sheer variety of players is something to behold, including pond hockey participants from Great Britain and Australia.

One of the highlights of the video profiles Reagan Rust, who uses the cheeky Twitter handle @RonaldReagan__. Rust learned about the opportunity to play via Instagram. Noticing that “The Mighty Drunks” of Nashville needed a player, she pounced on the chance to play pond hockey. As a former Beanpot tournament star, Rust fit right in.

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – 
John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.