Slovakia shocks U.S. men in shootout to advance to Olympic semifinal

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ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Image

The United States men’s hockey team finished group play with a perfect 3-0 record, but the run of perfection came to a screeching halt early Wednesday morning. Slovakia, perhaps the most captivating story of the men’s tournament thus far, took down the U.S. by a score of 3-2 in the shootout to advance to the men’s semifinals at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Slovakia trailed the Americans 2-1 in the final minute of the game, but with just 43.7 seconds remaining in regulation, Slovak forward Marek Hrivik scored with his team’s net empty to tie the game and ultimately force overtime.

Despite both the U.S. and Slovakia managing to generate numerous quality scoring chances, neither team was able to score in the highly-eventful 10-minute OT period. Goals were just as hard to come by in the shootout, but when a puck finally did hit the back of the net, it came off the stick of Slovakia’s Peter Cehlarik.

“You watch the goalie from previous games and I called his move in the warm-up. I tried it in the warm-up and I believed in it,” said Cehlarik.

“Our goalie coach gave us pre-scouts and watched some clips on him, and I made (the) move.”

Slovakia goaltender Patrik Rybar didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout, stopping the Americans on all five of their attempts. Rybar finished the tilt with 33 saves on 35 U.S. shots.

Strangely, Matty Beniers, who was outstanding for the Americans throughout overtime, was never given an opportunity in the shootout.

The U.S. got off to a solid start against the Slovaks, outshooting them 5-0 in the early portion of the opening stanza. But not long after the period’s midway point, Slovakian sensation Juraj Slafkovsky netted his tournament-leading fifth goal to break the ice. The 17-year-old was left completely unguarded in the slot and fired a laser past U.S. goaltender Strauss Mann to give his squad the early advantage.

Slafkovsky may be the youngest player competing in the men’s tournament, but he already appears to be a budding star. He is eligible to be selected in the upcoming 2022 NHL Entry Draft in July, and after his strong showing at the Olympics, it’s virtually a lock that he’ll have his name called very early.

The Americans eventually responded with a goal of their own with just 45 seconds remaining in the first period. Nick Abruzzese potted his first marker of the tournament thanks to some gorgeous puck movement from Kenny Agostino, Steven Kampfer and Beniers on the rush. Better late in the period than never.

Despite the clear momentum shift at the end of the game’s first 20 minutes, the middle period was far from ideal for the Americans. Slovakia outshot them 13-6 in the second frame and generated several quality scoring chances. Mann, however, was able to keep all of their opportunities out of the net. The Greenwich, Connecticut native was stellar all game long, stopping 34 of the 36 shots fired in his direction.

While the Slovaks had the clear advantage in the shots department during the middle stanza, Sam Hentges managed to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead just before the game’s midway point for his first goal of the tournament.

Unfortunately, Hentges’ tally ended up being the last goal the Americans would score at the 2022 Games. The U.S. had a golden opportunity to extend its lead in the third period with a 5-on-3 power play that lasted 1:22, but they failed to convert. In fact, the power play was completely ineffective all game, going scoreless in 6:38 of time on the advantage.

“We’ve got to do a better job at that,” said Kampfer. “We could definitely have put our foot down on them but they killed it well and we didn’t capitalize when we needed to.

“Hockey is a game of inches. They played well, they stuck to their identity and when it comes to a shootout there isn’t really that much you can do.”

For the second consecutive Olympics, the U.S. men will be watching the semifinals from home.

Slovakia was not considered a favorite to advance to the semifinals in the men’s tournament by any means, but with NHL players not taking part in the Olympics, the playing field was evened out significantly. Now, the Slovaks and their teenage wunderkind are suddenly the top story of the tournament.

The Slovaks will play their semifinal game against the ROC Thursday night at 11:10 p.m. ET.

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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.