Getty

Swiss stun Canada, Sweden crushes U.S. in ice hockey semis

4 Comments

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Switzerland stunned title favorite Canada 3-2 to reach only its third final of the world ice hockey championship on Saturday.

The Swiss will play the gold medal game on Sunday against defending champion Sweden, which strode into the final by crushing the United States 6-0.

Canada and the U.S. will play for bronze.

”We obviously got motivated a lot playing them,” Switzerland defenseman Mirco Muller said. ”They’re the best country in the world, hockey-wise, and they have a great team here. It was a great battle for us.”

Canada goaltender Darcy Kuemper made some fine saves in the first period before Tristan Scherwey scored the go-ahead goal for Switzerland with 1:19 remaining in the first period.

Bo Horvat tied it in the second but Switzerland proved resilient, and Gregory Hofmann restored the Swiss lead on a power play.

Gaetan Haas struck again on a power play in the third, redirecting into the net a shot by Sven Andrighetto from the point.

Colton Parayko blasted a slap shot past Swiss goaltender Leonardo Genoni to reduce the lead with 2:07 left in the final period as Canada pulled Kuemper for an extra attacker in vain.

”Switzerland played an unbelievable game,” Canada defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. ”From the drop of the puck they came at us hard in every facet.”

Genoni stopped 43 shots.

”It’s important that we win the last game,” Canada captain Connor McDavid said. ”We’re up to do it.”

Switzerland’s best results have been runner-up in 1935 and 2013. Sweden is going for a third world title in six years, and 11th overall.

”We’re the big underdogs (against Sweden),” Swiss forward Reto Schaeppi said. ”We have a chance if we play a really good game.”

Sweden beat Switzerland 5-3 in the preliminary round.

The Swedes set up their victory over the Americans with three goals in a 3:07 span midway through the second period.

”We didn’t play our best game but we put up a lot of goals,” forward Patric Hornqvist said. ”We still have some improvement to do for the game tomorrow.”

Viktor Arvidsson led Sweden with two goals and goalie Anders Nielsen made 41 saves for the shutout.

Trailing 1-0 in the second, the U.S. had a four-minute power play but allowed a short-handed goal by Magnus Paajarvi, who scored on a rebound after goaltender Keith Kinkaid stopped Mikael Backlund on a breakaway.

Hornqvist stretched the lead to 3-0 on a power play, and Sweden underlined its control when Mattias Janmark made it 4-0 just 11 seconds later.

Arvidsson added his second into an empty net in the final period, and Adrian Kempe finished it off with the sixth. Sweden earned its ninth win from nine games in this championship.

The U.S. pressured in the opening period, outshooting Sweden 16-8 and 41-19 overall. But it was the Swedes who went ahead. Arvidsson knocked in a loose puck in the crease following a shot from above the right circle by Filip Forsberg.

U.S. captain Patrick Kane, the overall scoring leader, failed to register a point for the first time in the championship.

”We just made too many mistakes and they capitalized,” Kane said. ”They’ve got a lot of good players over there and made us pay for those mistakes.

”It’s gonna be tough to regroup (for the bronze medal game) … but we have to do it.”

Long-term extension would make sense for Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson

Getty
3 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are in talks about a possible eight-year contract extension that would carry a cap hit of a bit more than $8 million per season, according to Craig Morgan of ArizonaSports.com.

Do note that, whether a deal is actually close to be agreed upon or the situation is fluid, an extension wouldn’t become official until July, when “OEL” is first eligible for such a contract. (He’ll enter the final year of his current deal in 2018-19).

So, things could fall apart between now and then.

Still, such an extension could make a lot of sense for both the Swedish defenseman and the fledgling Coyotes. Let’s dive in under the assumption that an eight-year deal would cost (slightly?) more than $64M, which is essentially the extension Brent Burns signed with the San Jose Sharks in November 2016.

Peace of mind (and maybe some control?) for OEL

Ekman-Larsson (26, turning 27 on July 17) is currently on a deal with a $5.5M cap hit and $7M salary heading into 2018-19. OEL’s contract lacks a no-trade or no-movement clause, so if negotiations fell through, he could find himself in a less-than-desirable situation as a “rental.”

By signing a deal in that Burns range, he’d carry one of the biggest cap hits of any NHL defenseman, at least as of this writing (trailing P.K. Subban, but slightly more than Burns, Shea Weber, and Aaron Ekblad). Of course, as of this writing is the key phrase, but we’ll get to that in the Coyotes’ section.

OEL opting to sign that contract brings plenty of benefits:

  • Not needing to answer a bunch of questions about his contract year.
  • Avoiding the risk of an injury derailing/lowering his prospects of getting a new deal. Eight years is the maximum term, so OEL would land the most security possible, covering the next nine years of his career.
  • Speaking of years, the Coyotes are the only team that could sign him for eight. This could be advantageous for Ekman-Larsson even if things actually turned sour with Arizona, especially if he …
  • Possibly gets a no-trade or no-movement clause, gaining more say in his future, even if he loses the ultimate freedom of exploring the free agent market.

Yes, there’s a lot to like from OEL’s standpoint. So, what about the Coyotes?

Getting ahead of the gold rush for defensemen

Now, it’s worth noting that some key moments for soon-to-be-richer defensemen could happen in late June by way of trades at or around the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22. For all we know, Erik Karlsson could be traded from Ottawa, possibly accelerating his own schedule to sign an extension.

Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are far from the only prominent defensemen who will enter 2018-19 as contract years (assuming they don’t sign extensions themselves). Karlsson and Drew Doughty aren’t shy about possibly driving up their own prices, maybe together. Ryan McDonagh isn’t setting the world on fire with the Lightning, but the market could still send piles of money his way consider the demand for defensemen and the scant supply of capable ones. Ryan Ellis is another defenseman worth watching if he rides things out with Nashville next season.

From OEL’s perspective, he’d avoid the threat of a potential buyers’ market. The Coyotes, on the other hand, might look at the very real potential for Doughty and Karlsson to command deals at or above Jack Eichel‘s extension, thus making $8M a reasonable, risk-reducing price.

Question of worth

Now, it’s fair to wonder if OEL would actually be worth $8M per season. Ekman-Larsson’s mostly been a strong possession player on a bad team, and his 85 goals since 2013-14 ranks second among defensemen. Still, he’s only passed the 50-point plateau once (2015-16), so he hasn’t necessarily had that “huge” year one might demand from a player seeking that big payday. (None of this is to say that he isn’t very good; instead, it’s just a reminder that big cash inspires big-time nitpicking.)

It’s tough to imagine him not being worth it for the Coyotes, though, so the debate feels a bit moot. Perhaps they’d be on firmer ground to grind something out if they won the draft lottery, but the fifth pick likely means adding another nice piece rather than a revolutionary one as Rasmus Dahlin is hyped to possibly be.

The Coyotes showed that they wanted to make the next step by trading for Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, and Niklas Hjalmarsson last summer. While the results weren’t quite what they hoped for in 2017-18, would they really want to take a step back by letting their best defenseman/player* go after next season?

Yes, with just about any big extension or contract, there are risks to consider, especially in a sport where a career-derailing injury could always be one hard collision away. It’s also plausible that Ekman-Larsson might buckle under the pressure of such a contract. Being labeled an “albatross” can really mess with an athlete’s head, even if they don’t get the reference.

All things considered, if the Coyotes and OEL agree to a deal along the lines of what Morgan reports, it would probably rank as an “everyone wins” situation.

Bonus points if Ekman-Larsson can actually, you know, help the Coyotes start winning.

* – Hey, for all we know, Clayton Keller could become “The Guy” in Arizona by next season.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Sabres clinch top odds in 2018 NHL Draft Lottery

Getty Images
20 Comments

Congratulations to the Buffalo Sabres! With Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, Phil Housley’s gang has clinched the top odds for the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery, which will be held on April 28.

With two games remaining in their season, the Sabres are 31st in the league on 62 points and now have an 18.5 percent chance of earning the right to draft projected No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin, a defenseman from Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. Via the NHL, the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery will consist of three drawings: the first Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting first overall, the second Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting second overall and the third Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting third overall.

The Sabres were guaranteed at least the second-best odds considering their record heading into the Ottawa game. This is the third time Buffalo had held the top odds for the lottery in five years and they’re hoping to finally come away with a win.

Here’s a look at just how rough the Sabres have had it this season:

  • Third-worst goals against average (3.29)
  • Worst goals per game average (2.35). Only NHL team under 200 goals scored (188)
  • Tied for 30th in shooting percentage (7.7 percent)
  • Worst in the NHL in regulation/overtime wins (24)
  • 31st in the NHL in even strength goals (114)
  • 34 losses when opposing team scores first

Dahlin’s addition would certainly help, but that roster needs major changes, which means a busy summer ahead for general manager Jason Botterill.

Here’s a look at the updated draft lottery standings:

1 – Sabres (18.5 percent), 62 points, 80 games, 24 ROW
2 – Senators (13.5), 67 points, 80 GP, 26 ROW
3 – Canadiens (11.5) 69 points, 80 GP, 26 ROW
4 – Coyotes (9.5), 69 points, 80 GP, 27 ROW
5 – Canucks (8.5), 70 points, 80 GP, 30 ROW
6 – Red Wings (7.5) 72 points, 80 GP, 25 ROW
7 – Oilers (6.5) 74 points, 80 GP, 30 ROW
8 – Islanders (6.0) 76 points, 80 GP, 30 ROW
9 – Blackhawks (5.0) 76 points, 80 GP, 32 ROW
10 – Rangers (3.5), 77 points, 80 GP, 31 ROW
11 – Hurricanes (3.0) 81 points, 80 GP, 32 ROW
12 – Flames (2.5) 82 points, 80 GP, 34 ROW (*Pick owned by NYI)
13 – Stars (2.0) 90 points, 80 GP, 37 ROW
14 – Panthers (1.5) 90 points, 79 GP, 38 ROW
15 – Blues (1.0) 92 points, 80 GP, 40 ROW

As Adam Gretz pointed out this afternoon, the previous two times Buffalo failed to win the lottery, they ended up with the No. 2 pick. Those selections were used on Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel after missing out on Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Playoff Push: Ducks, Kings can clinch tonight

Getty
4 Comments

Only three games on the NHL schedule Wednesday night but all of them have some level of importance, even if it is for very different reasons.

When it comes to the playoff races all of the big games are taking place in the Western Conference with the St. Louis Blues hosting the Chicago Blackhawks (you can watch that game on NBCSN) and the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Minnesota Wild.

Let’s see why it all matters.

First, the standings.

After winning six in a row (and eight out of nine games) the St. Louis Blues have dropped three games in a row and really need to pick up two points against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. They are getting a bit of a break in that game because not only have the Blackhawks won just five of their past 17 games, they will be without Jonathan Toews on Wednesday night and will be starting Jean-Francois Berube in net.

[NHL On NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

Of the Blues’ remaining three games two of them are against this Blackhawks team (Wednesday and Friday) and then they close the regular season at Colorado (the team directly ahead of them in the standings for the second Wild Card spot as of Wednesday afternoon) on Saturday. They also still have that game in hand on the Avalanche. So while they open the day on the outside looking in, they are still in control of a lot. The matchups are also pretty favorable in the sense that they are getting two games against a struggling team and a head-to-head against the team they are chasing. The Avalanche are also without Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson in their remaining two games (as well as most, if not all, of the playoffs if they make it) due to injury.

For that reason the Avalanche will almost certainly be keeping a close eye on the outcome of the Blues-Blackhawks game on Wednesday.

They will not be the only team.

The Los Angeles Kings will be watching closely as well.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

A Blues loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday night would officially clinch a playoff berth for the Kings.

A St. Louis loss would also open the door for the Ducks to get in as well if they can also beat the Wild. Anaheim is one of the teams that have been hit hard by injuries over the past few days and will be without its top defenseman, Cam Fowler, and starting goalie, John Gibson.

The Wild are also without, Ryan Suter, their top defenseman due to an ankle injury.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Wednesday’s Key Games

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET
Minnesota Wild vs. Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET

The Tank Watch!

Well, we said all three games on Wednesday are important, and that is kind of true. It is just that the third game is important because it could impact the NHL draft lottery. The two worst teams in the NHL — the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres — will be facing off in Buffalo and a Sabres loss would clinch the worst record in the league, guaranteeing them a top-five pick in the draft and the best odds to win the No. 1 overall pick and the right to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

It would be the third time in five years the Sabres would finish with the worst record in the league. The previous two times they did not win the draft lottery, ending up with the No. 2 pick both times. They selected Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, missing out on Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.

Maybe this will be the year, Buffalo. Maybe this will be the year.

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets make it 8 in a row; Rinne continues Vezina push

Getty
2 Comments

Players of the Night

Cam Atkinson and Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and extended their current winning streak to eight games in a row on Monday night with a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Boston Bruins, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. It was Cam Atkinson that scored the winner in overtime to get them the win.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek had a big night for the Blue Jackets with a goal and an assist in the win.

Columbus is now just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and just four points back of the Washington Capitals for first place.

The Blue Jackets go for their ninth consecutive win on Tuesday night when they visit the New York Rangers.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: For the longest time it seemed like Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to run away with the Vezina Trophy this season, but right now it is looking like it might be becoming Pekka Rinne’s to lose. He recorded his league-leading eighth shutout of the season on Monday night by stopping all 35 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He is now 40-9-4 on the season and has a .931 save percentage that is tops among all goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games.

He has been especially dominant since Jan. 1. Since the start of the new calendar year Rinne is 21-2-1 with a .939 save percentage that is also tops in the league. During that stretch only two goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then have a save percentage higher than .930.

Ryan Donato, Boston Bruins: His team ended up losing in overtime, but we have to give him some credit for scoring a goal in his NHL debut and adding two more assists. He also finished with six shots on goal, the second highest total in the game behind only the eight that his teammate, Brad Marchand, recorded. You can watch his first goal here.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: After dropping some recent games to teams out of playoff contention the Florida Panthers needed to come through on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They did that with a 2-0 win that saw Roberto Luongo record his third shutout of the season by stopping all 28 shots he faced. It was also the 76th shutout of his career.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter continued his strong play since returning to the lineup with a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to help lift the Kings to a huge win over the Minnesota Wild. Read about it here.

Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes: The Arizona Coyotes are playing much better over the past few weeks and playing spoiler. They picked up another win on Monday night with a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames thanks to a pair of goals from teammates Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson ended up getting the game-winning goal late in the third period. It was also the 100th goal of his career.

The Canadiens are officially eliminated, and the Flames are in trouble

Not that the Montreal Canadiens were going to make the playoffs at this point, but it became official on Monday night with their 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers that they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

It was also a brutal night for the Calgary Flames as they lost to the Arizona Coyotes (who continue their improved play late in the season) and continued their late season slide. They remain six points out of a wild card spot with three teams ahead of them. With only eight games remaining on their schedule, while every team ahead of them still has games in hand, it is looking like their playoff hopes are disappearing.

Highlight of the Night

Aaron Ekblad had a big night for the Florida Panthers, getting into a fight in the first period and then scoring this slick goal to give them a 1-0 lead.

That is Ekblad’s 15th goal of the season.

Factoid of the Night

More Pekka Rinne information! His 40th win of the season puts him into some pretty elite company among all-time goaltenders. Yes, he played in the shootout era and certainly benefitted from that but it is still an impressive number, even in the shootout era.

Scores

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Nashville Predators 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Florida Panthers 2, Montreal Canadiens 0

Los Angeles Kings 4, Minnesota Wild 3

Arizona Coyotes 5, Calgary Flames 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.