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George McPhee’s strategic moves help Vegas reach Cup Final

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — George McPhee’s endgame has always been about making the Golden Knights contenders.

Strategic moves to keep winning.

The veteran general manager has ridden his savvy all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, a stirring run by the first-year franchise and the first major sports team in Las Vegas. While the expansion draft gets most of the attention in attempts to explain the unusual success, the moves made by McPhee in late February, when the trade deadline came along, have proven just as important.

”I wanted to wait as long as we could to determine what we had as a team,” McPhee recalled. ”At the trade deadline we felt it was a very good team. But it was getting thin, we were getting banged up, guys out of the lineup, we had other guys playing hurt. We wanted to do the very best we could for this team that was playing its guts out, to help it.”

He began moving pawns across the NHL chessboard, starting with the acquisition of forward Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for three draft picks: a first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2021. Tatar brought with him a contract worth $15.9 million through the 2020-21 season.

While the Golden Knights did send Brendan Leipsic to Vancouver for Philip Holm, perhaps the biggest trade was the one for bruising forward Ryan Reaves from Pittsburgh, a move that included the Golden Knights acquiring 40 percent of Derick Brassard‘s contract. Brassard going to Pittsburgh from Ottawa meant the talented center would not be going to Winnipeg – the team Vegas just beat in a rugged Western Conference final.

Many wondered whether the trade would be worth it given Reaves’ notoriety for physical play. But Reaves brought some brawn to the Golden Knights and scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 at Winnipeg.

”We just thought when we get into the games down the stretch and we’re in the playoffs, we can have a guy that can play the game right,” McPhee said. ”Ryan did a good job of providing the line and getting us good, hard, safe minutes on some nights. Even though they’re not scoring like some of the other lines, they’re one of our better lines because they’re playing the game right. The other team isn’t getting chances, we’re keeping it deep on them and playing physical on them.”

McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant also wanted to make sure the chemistry built over the first five months of the inaugural season wasn’t disrupted. And that meant keeping most of the lineup intact.

That included unrestricted free agents David Perron and James Neal, both of whose names swirled in trade rumors, and at the beginning of the season were perceived as rentals until the deadline. Nobody saw the Golden Knights doing as well they did, so it was conceivable guys like Perron and Neal could’ve been sent to playoff contenders for future draft picks or younger, up-and-coming players by the deadline.

As it turned out, Perron and Neal were already on a playoff contender and on their way to stellar seasons. Perron registered a career-high 66 points in the regular season, while Neal piled up 25 goals, scoring at least 20 in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. The only other current players to do the same: Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Thomas Vanek.

”We knew that we weren’t moving anybody out,” Gallant said. ”We were happy with our lineup, we were happy with the group of players we got. We talked about adding players to our team, to make our team better and we definitely did that. But there was no thought about moving any of players out at that time. We had a great season, everything was going good and we wanted to make sure we had enough security for a playoff run and that’s what they did.”

The Golden Knights await the winner of the East final between Tampa Bay and Washington, with Game 7 set for Wednesday night. The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday.

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

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
Stanley Cup Final Schedule

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.

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

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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.”

PHT Morning Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury meets Bark-Andre Furry

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• Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior has helped take Marc-Andre Fleury‘s game to the next level this season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Speaking of Fleury, he got to meet a four-legged friend named Bark-Andre Furry. The Golden Knights netminder even signed the dog’s tiny jersey. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• This edition of the Washington Capitals has an opportunity to redeem themselves for all their years of playoff futility. (Japers Rink)

• This is as close as Barry Trotz has ever been to winning a Stanley Cup, but he still doesn’t have a contract extension from the Capitals. (Washington Post)

• Whether they win or lose, the Tampa Bay Lightning have different variations of a shake after every game. These shakes help the players drum up more energy, especially during a difficult playoff series. (Tampa Times)

• The ESPN roundtable looks at different reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. Whether it’s their top line, their depth up front of their stacked defense, the Bolts have a good shot at advancing. (ESPN)

Tyler Myers and Quentin Grimes can become the first set of brothers to suit up in the NHL and NBA. Myers is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, while Grimes is heading to Kansas to play college basketball. He could be in the NBA in the next year or so. (USA Today)

• Say what you want about commissioner Gary Bettman, but this postseason has shed even more light on how successful some of the expansion franchises he’s brought to life have been. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Don Waddell was working as a scout in Pittsburgh when he received a phone call that would change his career significantly. Taking a job in Carolina proved to be a very wise decision. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• If the Islanders decide to bring in Lou Lamoriello, that would likely trigger a chain of significant moves across the organization. (SNY.tv)

• Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell-Pascall will be donating her brain to concussion research. “I loved playing sports and have no regrets, but having had some concussions I would like to make sure that future generations are protected as much as possible while still being able to play sports at all levels.” (The Ice Garden)

• Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand has put together some solid performances for Denmark at the World Hockey Championship. (1st Ohio Battery)

• After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Calgary Flames will have some interesting decisions to make when it comes to their restricted and unrestricted free agents. (Flames Nation)

Chris Tanev is arguably the Canucks’ most important defenseman. Unfortunately, he played just 42 games this season, so they have to find ways to keep him on the ice. Vancourier looks at eight (funny) ways to keep him healthy. (Vancourier)

• Here’s a Q & A with the founder of the “Hockey Fights” website. He talked about NHLers using his website as a resource, where fighting in hockey is heading and much more. (Sporting Ground)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 7 between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.

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

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Buffalo Sabres to select No. 1 overall after winning 2018 NHL Draft Lottery

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Congratulations, Buffalo Sabres, you’ve won the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery and will have the opportunity to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall in June’s entry draft.

The Sabres entered Saturday night’s lottery with an 18.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick, the third time in five years they’ve held that honor. After NHL Commissioner Bill Daly revealed the top 12 picks prior to Game 2 of the San Jose Sharks-Vegas Golden Knights series, the top three were announced following the second intermission — quite a while for Marc Bergevin, Don Waddell and Jason Botterill to nervously sit around.

But for Botterill and the Sabres, it was clearly worth the wait.

Here’s the order of the top 15 picks:

1. Buffalo Sabres
2. Carolina Hurricanes
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Ottawa Senators
5. Arizona Coyotes
6. Detroit Red Wings
7. Vancouver Canucks
8. Chicago Blackhawks
9. New York Rangers
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. New York Islanders
12. New York Islanders (From Calgary)
13. Dallas Stars
14. Philadelphia Flyers (From St. Louis)
15. Florida Panthers

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Better luck next time, Sens fan.

Finally, here are the final NHL Central Scouting rankings of the top prospects in this year’s entry draft, which will be held June 22-23 in Dallas.

North American Skaters
1. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL)
2. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston University (NCAA)
3. Filip Zadina, RW, Halifax (QMJHL)
4. Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL)
5. Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
6. Quintin Hughes, D, Michigan (NCAA)
7. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. NTDP
8. Joseph Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
9. Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
10. Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)

International Skaters
1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (Sweden)
2. Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas Jr., (Sweden)
3. Vitali Kravtsov, RW, Chelyabinsk (Russia)
4. Martin Kaut, RW, Pardubice (Czech)
5. Adam Ginning, D, Linkoping (Sweden)
6. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat (Finland)
7. Grigori Denisenko, LW, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)
8. Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (Sweden)
9. Jacob Olofsson, C, Timra (Sweden)
10. Filip Johansson, D, Leksand Jr. (Sweden)

North American Goalies
1. Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)
2. Kevin Mandolese, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
3. Alexis Gravel, Halifax (QMJHL)
4. Matthew Thiessen, Steinbach (MJHL)
5. Keegan Karki, Muskegon (USHL)

International Goalies
1. Lukas Dostal, Trebic (Czech-2)
2. Jakub Skarek, Jihlava (Czech)
3. Amir Miftakhov, Irbis Kazan (Russia Jr.)
4. Justus Annunen, Karpat Jr (Finland Jr.)
5. Olof Lindbom, Djurgarden Jr. (Sweden Jr.)

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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.