USA tops Canada to claim bronze at hockey worlds

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The United States topped Canada 4-1 to claim the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship on Sunday.

Chris Kreider led the U.S. with two goals.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”

Canada had to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.

”We wanted to win gold,” Canada forward Bo Horvat said. ”We wanted to be in the final. It’s not a result we wanted. But we have to take the positives from this experience and bring it to next year.”

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the second period, capitalizing on a mistake by Canada captain Connor McDavid.

Canada answered with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that went in between the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Sweden plays Switzerland for gold later Sunday.

Captained by McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, Canada was considered a contender for gold.

Chasing its third title in four years, Canada suffered losses in the preliminary round to the U.S. and Finland and was stunned by Switzerland 3-2 in the semifinals.

The U.S. had a great start to the tournament with six straight wins. It knocked out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals but was trashed 6-0 by Sweden in the semis.

Kane leads U.S. into semis, Canada knocks out Russia

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals to lift the United States to a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the ice hockey world championship on Thursday while Canada beat Russia 5-4 in overtime.

Switzerland pulled off a surprise by eliminating Finland 3-2 and defending champion Sweden edged out Latvia 3-2.

Kane claimed the third-period winner to take the outright lead in the scoring table on 19 points, a U.S. record, with eight goals and 11 assists and set up a semifinal against Sweden on Saturday.

”It’s my job to produce,” Kane said. ”It’s always nice to contribute offensively.”

The U.S. is looking for its first medal since picking up bronze in 2015.

”We came here to put ourselves in a position to try to win the gold,” Kane said. “We’re on the right path.”

The U.S. took control with a couple of goals in the span of 1:43 midway through the first period in Herning.

Kane beat goaltender Pavel Francouz from the right circle before Nick Bonino fed Cam Atkinson in front of the net to stretch the lead with a backhand shot.

The Czechs hit back in the second period. Michal Repik reduced the advantage on a slap shot and Martin Necas netted the tying goal on a power play.

”It’s a pity,” Czech forward Tomas Plekanec said. ”We created enough chances to win.”

In Copenhagen, Ryan O'Reilly scored 4:57 into overtime to knock out Russia while captain Connor McDavid had three assists, including on the winning goal.

Hunting its third title in four years, Canada will face Switzerland in the semis.

”Canada are a great team, they always are,” defenseman Roman Josi said after his Switzerland team beat Finland for the first time since 1972.

Defenseman Colton Parayko blasted a slap shot past goaltender Igor Shestyorkin on a power play to give Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the advantage on another power play.

But Alexander Barabanov and Ilya Mikheyev scored in the second period to tie the game.

Kyle Turris made it 3-2 to Canada in the third before Sergei Andronov leveled. Pierre-Luc Dubois put Canada ahead again but Russia answered with a goal from Artyom Anisimov.

Finland looked to be heading for victory after Markus Nutivaara‘s first-period goal, but Switzerland rallied with goals from Enzo Corvi, Joel Vermin and Gregory Hofmann in less than four minutes midway through the second.

”We didn’t start the way we wanted but we reacted in the second period and played very well from then on,” Josi said.

Mikko Rantanen cut the deficit to one goal in the third period.

”This wasn’t what we were looking for,” Finland captain Mikael Granlund said. ”They had the momentum in the second period and we were not able to turn it around.”

Sweden, which won all seven of its preliminary round games, beat Latvia thanks to goals from Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Teodors Blugers and Rudolfs Balcers replied.

Mike Fisher will not play Game 7 for Predators

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that center Mike Fisher will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of their series against the Winnipeg Jets. The team has him listed as “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury.

The 37-year-old Fisher came out of retirement late in the regular season and played in 16 games for the Predators, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He appeared in each of the team’s first 12 playoff games, scoring one goal while playing just a little under 12 minutes per night. He played just 2:58 in the Predators’ Game 6 win in Winnipeg before exiting the game after the first period with the injury.

His only goal in the series came in the Predators’ Game 3 loss in Winnipeg.

Given Fisher’s workload and role this postseason it is not a totally damaging blow to the Predators’ chances in Game 7, especially given that they already have Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and Nick Bonino playing down the middle, but it does create a hole on the team’s fourth line.

More Jets-Predators

Jets, Predators set the stage for what should be incredible Game 7

Jets, Predators lean heavily on Rinne-Hellebuyck

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Jets, Predators

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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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.

Penguins should bet on a Kris Letang rebound

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The relationship between Kris Letang and Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Sometimes it’s complicated.

For more than a decade Letang has been a No. 1 defenseman for the Penguins, and for many of those years he has been a top-10, and at times maybe even a top-five, player in the league at his position. But there’s always been a sense (at least from this perspective) that he has never really been fully appreciated for just how good he has been, and the criticisms are always the same.

Turns the puck over too much.

Not good in his own end and takes too many chances.

Makes too much money.

Gets hurt too much.

There is an element of truth to some of that, but it doesn’t mean what his harshest critics think it means. Yes, he is guilty of turnovers at times. But so is every high-level player that plays a lot of minutes and always has the puck on their stick. Take a look at the NHL’s leaders in giveaways at the end of any season. It is a list of All-Stars. He does take some chances and at times gambles, whether it be pinching in the offensive zone or trying to make a play out of his own zone. But that is also a part of what makes him the dynamic player that he is. He is capable of doing things and making plays due to his skating and skill that other players not only can not make, but probably can not even attempt.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

It basically comes down to this: He is going to make some mistakes, but as long as the positive plays outweigh the negative plays you have to to take the bad with the good.

Sometimes his freakish athletic ability makes it possible for him to wipe out his own mistake with a brilliant play of its own.

And while he has missed a significant portion of his career due to injury, he’s probably been a little underpaid given the market rate for top-pairing defenseman that play at his level.

But because the bad plays are usually the result of that aggressiveness they will stand out more. And because hockey is a game of mistakes, we tend to focus almost exclusively on that big mistake when it happens and allow it to drive the discussion around that player.

That brings us to Letang’s 2017-18 season (and postseason) for the Penguins. To be fair, it was not a great season, and it reached its low point in Game 5 of the team’s second-round series when a third period breakdown allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to score a game-tying goal just one minute into the third period, completely changing the direction of the series. The series ended with Letang trying to chase Kuznetsov down from behind on a breakaway as he potted the series-clinching goal. Viewed in the context of the Penguins actually winning the Stanley Cup a year ago without having Letang for any of the playoff games, it made him a focal point for blame when the team did not win this season (nevermind that they probably do not win that Stanley Cup the previous year without him, this is the ultimate what have you done for me lately business).

What made this season even tougher for Letang is that it wasn’t just the mistakes of aggressiveness or the Game 5 blunder against Kuznetsov that made it an off year for him. He seemed to get beat in one-on-one situations more often than usual. He also saw a pretty sharp decline in his offensive production and by the end of the year and playoffs was replaced by Justin Schultz on the team’s top power play unit.

Physically, Letang has been through hell and back in recent years due to both injury and health issues.

The most recent example was the neck injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season and all of the playoffs.

On Wednesday’s locker clean out day in Pittsburgh, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he had an inclination that the injury, surgery, and recovery in such a short period of time was probably going to be a lot for Letang to overcome.

He also talked about the inconsistency.

“He had stages of the year where he was really good for us and stages where he wasn’t at his best,” said Sullivan. “By no means does it diminish what we think of Kris as a player. He’s a guy that we think is certainly one of the elite defensemen in the league.”

Letang himself admitted that he thought it would be easier to come back and that he might have lost a little bit of his conditioning.

The thing about Letang is that for all of the struggles he had at times this year there were still elements of his game that were in place.

Fifty-one points in 79 games was a down year for him. That still placed him 17th in the league among all defenders in the NHL.

When he was on the ice the Penguins attempted more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts during even-strength play. Among defenders that played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time that was the 12th best mark in the entire league, so the team was still controlling possession and the shot chart, which should be seen as an encouraging sign. Players that help drive possession that much usually see that pay off when it comes to goals for and against. But of the top-20 defenders in the league in shot attempt percentage, Letang was one of just five that had a negative on-ice goal differential on the season. The other four (Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifan, and Brett Pesce) all played for the Carolina Hurricanes, a team with infamous goaltending issues.

Part of Letang’s issue when it came to goals for and against was his own inconsistency.

Another part of it was the Penguins’ inconsistent goaltending, both from starter Matt Murray when he was healthy, as well his revolving door of backups that all struggled. Improved play from that position would go a long way toward correcting both his and the Penguins’ 5-on-5 issues as a team (because it wasn’t just Letang that struggled in those situations for the Penguins this season).

In the end, though, he is capable of more than he showed this season, and everybody involved knows it.

That is why no matter how much criticism he takes, how many times there is a call for the Penguins to trade him, they are not going to do it. They shouldn’t do it, anyway. Because when Letang is right and on top of his game there are only a small handful of players in the NHL that are better than him at his position, and you are never going to get that upside back in a trade.

Especially now when his value is probably at an all-time low given the injury recovery and the fact he is coming off of a down year. Part of what made the Penguins such a success the past few years was pouncing on trade partners that were dealing players at lower value (Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, and Schultz all come to mind). The good player usually rebounds. The good — and smart — teams usually make sure it happens for them and not somebody else.

Given his track record there is every reason to believe he can — and probably will — get back to that level.

The Penguins should be more than willing to take that bet that he gets there next season.

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.

Forsberg continues scoring ‘unbelievable goals’ for Preds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Filip Forsberg dropped his broken stick and raced to the bench for another just as the puck slid around the boards near his skates. He grabbed a new stick from the Predators’ equipment manager, fought off Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot and kept the puck onside.

Then he skated toward Connor Hellebuyck, holding off Chiarot as he scored, then slid into the net .

The man also known as Scoresberg or Filthy Fil then helped send the Western Conference semifinal back to Nashville for a deciding Game 7 with another highlight-reel worthy goal. Viktor Arvidsson found Forsberg and the Swede slipped the puck through his legs, a movement that prompted Hellebuyck to slide away from the post to cover the empty net to his left.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Forsberg immediately flipped the puck through the sliver of an opening, causing a GIF-frenzy on social media.

With the postseason that Forsberg is having, Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne can’t settle on the best goal he’s seen from his teammate.

“I feel like these two series that already at least three or four really unbelievable goals, and it’s hard to pick,” Rinne said. “I’m just a fan when I watch him play.”

Forsberg led the Predators with 64 points helping Nashville win the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy during the regular season. He now is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in the playoffs with 15 points this postseason, bringing Nashville back for Game 7 on Thursday night against Winnipeg as the Predators seek a second straight berth in the West final. The winner of this series will host the Vegas Golden Knights for the first two games.

With Pittsburgh and Boston eliminated, Forsberg now is tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the most points scored this postseason with 15, and the Predators forward has a plus-4 rating that is a point ahead of Ovechkin with both having played 12 games each.

Forsberg looks just comfortable passing the puck through his own legs as those of a defenseman he’s undressing on his way to another goal or even just juggling the puck with his stick to give teammates time to get back onside. The 23-year-old forward from Ostervala, Sweden, said his stick skills are the result of lots of hard work.

“Natural is definitely not the word for it, but it just takes a lot of practice, takes a lot of you doing,” Forsberg said. “Just try to maybe do it in practice and stuff like that and once in a while you get time and space for it in a game, you try to pull it off.”

Some scorers tap into their natural talent, blessed with quick hands and eyes along with soft hands. Others spend hours and hours developing muscle memory. Forsberg counts himself among those who made themselves into scorers. He started as a young child using a shooting ramp his father built for Forsberg and his brother and lots of road hockey.

“I think that’s where it all started,” Forsberg said.

His skills grew as he led his junior team with 40 points in 2010-11 and helped Sweden win silver at the 2011 World Under-18 Championship. Forsberg was captain when Sweden won both the World Under-18 and World Junior championships in 2012.

The Washington Capitals made Forsberg their first-round pick at No. 11 overall in 2012. He never played a game for the Capitals before being traded April 3, 2013, to Nashville in exchange for Martin Erat and Martin Latta.

The Predators wasted no time getting Forsberg on the ice, playing him five games that same season. Forsberg spent only 13 games with Nashville in 2013-14, and he has been a fixture in the lineup since 2014-15. They signed him to a six-year, $36 million contract in June 2016.

Center Nick Bonino won two Stanley Cups with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, and he’s gotten to watch Forsberg up close this season after signing as a free agent.

“He’s very skilled,” Bonino said. “He’s one of the most skilled sticks I’ve ever seen. Practice is fun with him. Games are fun with him.”

Forward Colton Sissons sees Forsberg as having a gift that helps him see how best to move the puck instantly to execute in high-pressure moments. Sissons also is pretty sure of what might happen if he tried to mimic some of Forsberg’s scoring moves.

“I might break my ankle or something bad might happen,” Sissons said. “I’d probably just jam it in the near post, but I’ll leave the through the legs stuff to Fil and some of those guys.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey