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Finland top US, Swiss make quarters at IIHF worlds

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Finland handed the United States its first defeat at the ice hockey world championship in a 6-2 thumping on Tuesday.

The Finns supplanted the U.S. to top Group B in Herning, and will face Switzerland in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Swiss clinched a quarterfinal berth by beating France 5-1 to finish fourth in Group A in Copenhagen.

Canada shut out Germany 3-0 to secure third place in Group B and set up a quarterfinal matchup against Sweden or Russia, who will clash over the top spot in Group A.

”We didn’t leave ourselves in a great spot after the group stage but we’re going to have to play them at some stage,” captain Connor McDavid said about the potential opponents.

The Americans’ first defeat in seven games dropped them to second in the group and a quarterfinal against the Czech Republic, the third team in Group A.

”It’s not a good feeling losing,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”It could be good for us to make sure we won’t deal with this again and stay positive. We’re a good team, we’ve had a good tournament to this point.”

”(The Czechs) have some talents, it will be a tough game against them.”

Host Denmark will fight with Latvia over the last quarterfinal berth in the same group to play the winner of Group A.

Sebastian Aho scored a couple of opening-period goals for Finland and added one more into an empty net to finish the scoring to become the championship leader with nine goals and eight assists. Kane also has 17 points with six goals and 11 assists.

”We’ve played really well,” Aho said. ”We just try not to think who we play against, focus on our own system and play our game.”

Kane got a power play goal to reduce the deficit to 4-1 in the final period. Derek Ryan added another one for the U.S.

Brayden Schenn gave Canada an early goal just 20 seconds into the game. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it 2-0 in the second and Tyson Jost sealed it in the third.

McDavid had two assists and goaltender Darcy Kuemper made 12 saves for his shutout.

”Everyone played hard and everyone played really responsible, so a good momentum for us,” Kuemper said.

Gregory Hofmann, Enzo Corvi, Ramon Untersander, Kevin Fiala Simon Moser had a goal apiece for the Swiss. France replied with one from Guillaume Leclerc.

Also, Slovakia beat already relegated Belarus 7-4 in their last game.

U.S. routs South Korea, Czechs blank Belarus at IIHF Worlds

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ERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals and added three assists as the United States demolished South Korea 13-1 at the ice hockey world championship on Friday for a fifth straight victory.

The Czech Republic shut out Belarus 3-0, and Denmark closed in on a quarterfinal berth after beating Norway, also 3-0.

Also, France defeated newcomer Austria 5-2 to stay in contention.

Charlie McAvoy, playing his first game for the U.S. after being knocked out of the NHL playoffs last weekend, made his presence felt with two goals and two assists. Derek Ryan and Cam Atkinson also scored a couple each.

”It was a long day, got here a couple hours ago,” McAvoy said. ”We have such a good team. It was a great opportunity for me to go out there and just feel the puck and get ready for the rest of tournament.”

When the U.S. won its first five games in 1933, it claimed its only world championship. But there were no more games then.

Jin Hui Ahn scored South Korea’s third goal at the worlds for a 1-0 surprise lead. It was South Korea’s first lead in any of its five games.

Libor Sulak, Roman Horak and Michal Repik scored for the Czechs against Belarus. Goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped all 11 shots.

Defenseman Nicklas Jensen scored twice and Frederik Storm added one all on power plays against Norway for Denmark’s third victory in the first world championship on home ice.

The players sang the national anthem after the match along with the Jyske Bank Boxen arena crowd mostly wearing red and white national jerseys.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen made 21 saves for his first shutout.

”The crowd delivered again,” Andersen said.

The United States move into the sole lead of Group B in Herning, three points ahead of Canada which has a game in hand. Finland was four points behind, followed by Denmark. South Korea has yet to win.

The Czechs shared third place in Group A in Copenhagen with Switzerland, trailing group leader Sweden by three points and Russia by one. Then followed Slovakia, France, Austria, and Belarus.

Jets chase Pekka Rinne after 11 minutes in Game 7

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Pekka Rinne‘s Game 7 experience came to an end in the span of 126 seconds in the opening period against the Winnipeg Jets.

The Nashville Predators goaltender was pulled after the Jets built up a 2-0 lead with goals from Tyler Myers and Paul Stastny after 10:47 of play. Following Winnipeg’s second goal, head coach Peter Laviolette had seen enough and pulled Rinne in favor of Juuse Saros.

According to Sportsnet, the hook was the quickest (10:47) in NHL Game 7 history for a starting goalie.

Speaking to NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire, Laviolette said that the goalie change was a mix of saving his timeout and trying to wake his team up. It worked, somewhat as P.K. Subban would cut the lead to 2-1 five minutes after the Stastny goal.

You had to imagine Stastny was going to make an impact. Of the 26 Predators and Jets players with Game 7 experience, only the Jets forward had more than two career points. With two goals and an assist, he now has four goals and eight points in four career Game 7s. He still has a ways to go before he can challenge Justin Williams for the “Mr. Game 7” title.

Rinne has now been pulled four times this postseason and three time in this series against Winnipeg. Not a good look from the likely Vezina Trophy winner.

The Jets would pile it on to win 5-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

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

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NHL teams grind through an 82-game season to make the playoffs, but also to try to gain home-ice advantage, particularly if a Game 7 is needed.

Sometimes playing in front of a roaring crowd, getting that home cooking and the final change (plus a friendly call or two, depending upon who you ask) makes a big difference. Through six games of Jets – Predators, the edge has instead seemed negligible. So far, each team is 1-2 at home during this series.

We’ll find out on Thursday if that will remain the same when the two teams battle in Game 7 in Nashville.

(Game 7 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN Thursday.)

Here are a few considerations going into that Game 7, from home-road stats to hypotheses.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Louder than a jet engine

Going into this series, much has been made about how loud things could get between spirited fans in Winnipeg and Nashville. Sometimes it came down to splitting hairs and counting decibels. Chris Jericho also made an offer for a friendly wager with Carrie Underwood.

High decibel levels could create some positive energy for the Predators, who’ve really benefited from scoring early goals in this series (erm, aside from that squandered 3-0 lead). Then again, such energy could also help the Jets stay aggressive, which would be to their advantage as it seems like they’ve thrived when the action is faster and more end-to-end.

But, yeah, it could be really loud. There also will probably be catfish and maybe a wild offensive lineman or two.

Good Pekka/bad Pekka

During the Predators’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Rinne was all-world in Nashville and closer to a backup on the road:

Rinne in 11 games at home during 2017 run: 9-2 record, ridiculous .951 save percentage even without a shutout.
Rinne in 11 road games during 2017 run: 5-6 record, .905 save percentage despite two shutouts.

(Excuse Predators fans if they’re having bad flashbacks of some of those championship round struggles in Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, that home-road disparity has strangely flipped in 2017-18. Rinne was quite good at home during the regular season (25-6-2, .919 save percentage, three shutouts), yet was astounding on the road (17-7-2, .937 save percentage, five shutouts). While it’s naturally a smaller sample size through two rounds of the postseason, that pattern’s only become more pronounced during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Rinne in six home games during this current run: 3-3, Scott Darling-like .881 save percentage, no shutouts.
Rinne in six road games during current run: 4-2, .933 save percentage, two shutouts.

Steady as Hellebuyck

While there’s been quite a difference between Home Rinne and Road Rinne, Connor Hellebuyck‘s been surprisingly steady. The American-born netminder’s home save percentage is .922 and his road mark is .923 so far in the postseason. There’s not much of a difference in home/road play during the larger sample size of the regular season, either.

Maybe the stakes will break Hellebuyck’s steady, sometimes creepy-looking focus, yet so far he’s been as reliable as a modern goalie can be (and he could really make himself some cash with a strong Game 7, considering his pending RFA status).

*shudder*

Human nature

In some ways, the Jets theoretically enjoyed a great officiating advantage, subjectively, in Game 6 for a simple reason: refs will sometimes feel pressured to “let them play” in a Game 7 situation. Whether mistakes were made or not, the Jets received four power-play opportunities in Game 6 while Nashville only enjoyed one. It’s difficult to imagine so many calls being made with both teams’ seasons on the line.

If you ask me, there’s nothing really nefarious about the way thousands of loud fans might affect officials, even if it’s on more of an unconscious level. That human-nature edge could very well be nullified by officials leaning toward not making calls.

But, much like how an early goal one way or another might affect the noise levels at Bridgestone Arena, early calls may signal what kind of night will be in store. If officials are being pretty objective about calling infractions when they see them, then home ice could be that little edge that moves the needle for Nashville.

***

Great players or even mere clutch performances can silence a crowd in a hurry or bring them to their feet.

Game 7 between the Predators and Jets would be fun anywhere, whether it happened at a neutral site or an outdoor frozen pond. It’s actually taking place in Nashville, which should make for a fun atmosphere and also another interesting narrative: will “Smashville” help the Predators break through to the 2018 Western Conference Final?

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.

Hurricanes owner on changes, Brind’Amour: ‘Strategy is pretty overrated’

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Hope you like buzzwords. And Rod Brind’Amour.

The Carolina Hurricanes held a press conference to elaborate on their decisions to make Brind’Amour their new head coach and give Don Waddell the title of GM. There were certainly some … interesting comments from the parties involved.

Interesting, but not necessarily all that informative. Just about every “here’s our shiny new head coach” press conference keeps things fairly non-specific. It’s not like you’ll want to lay out every detail of your scheme, and sports teams often guard their ideas as if they’re precious snowflakes and not fairly obvious blueprints.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Still, with plenty of questions about (possibly meddling?) new owner Tom Dundon, it’s tough not to furrow your brow at certain comments, unless you’re a real sucker for talk of intangibles.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that strategy is pretty overrated,” Dundon said, via Canes Country. “I don’t believe the strategy differences are as important as getting the right culture and the right attitude. I think [Brind’Amour] gives us the best chance to get the most out of our players.”

This sort of old-school talk was pretty prevalent. Brind’Amour also vaguely spoke of “getting more out of players.”

That’s all well and good, and hey, you’re probably more likely to fear a coach who’s probably more ripped than just about everyone in the locker room. Perhaps the comparison is that Brind’Amour will be “tough” where Bill Peters was more … analytical? Maybe things are simply going to be more fluid for a guy who was a Selke-level two-way player but hasn’t ever been a head coach?

It’s difficult to shake the impression that the Hurricanes are going “traditional” after years of being possession-driving darlings who sputtered short of the postseason finish line. That’s how the messaging feels, at least.

That doesn’t mean that Dundon, Waddell, and Brind’Amour are guaranteed to pull a Florida Panthers-style takedown of the elements of the roster and team that inspired people to make Carolina a chic dark horse pick for years, though.

For all we know, this franchise might more progressive that it’s leading on. Dundon at least provides good lip service to progressive-leaning mindsets, as Elliotte Friedman noted in an edition of “31 Thoughts” when Dundon sought the sort of thinking that powered the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that boldly goes with analytics when it comes to approaching fourth downs and other decisions.

Wherever the Hurricanes organization falls on the spectrum of “old, stuffy, and obsessed with notions of grit” to “waves of small, skilled players who never dump the puck,” the bottom line is that goaltending will probably still determine Carolina’s fortunes.

There might be some downsides if Brind’Amour struggles tactically; it’s something we seemingly witnessed during this past season with Doug Weight and the porous New York Islanders.

On the other hand, perhaps a regime change might help Scott Darling view 2018-19 as a truly clean slate?

The Hurricanes are locked into the towering goalie for three more seasons at a $4.15 million cap hit, as it’s tough to imagine a trade happening that wouldn’t require Carolina giving up useful assets. The best course of action is to take a “nowhere to go but up” approach, and a new voice might help in that regard.

A rebound might have happened either way, as it’s tough to imagine Darling sporting a horrific .888 save percentage again. And, even if that risk is real, you’d have to hope that the Hurricanes – old school or not – will be smart enough to invest in a “1b” backup and finally move on from their “Cam Ward, shrug” days.

If the goaltending exceeds the “average” they’ve fallen short of for years and instead is downright great, then people will look like geniuses even if all of the buzzword-talk is largely hot air.

There’s also no denying the fact that Hurricanes fans really, really, love “Rod the Bod.” Granted, not everyone is optimistic.

Can Brind’Amour cut it as an NHL head coach? Will the Hurricanes start to get the bounces (more goals, more saves) after years of being on the wrong side of the PDO? Is Dundon going to be the wrong sort of meddling owner?

Today’s press conferences were never going to answer those questions. They provided interesting fodder as this franchise approaches what should be an intriguing summer nonetheless.

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.