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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:42 PM

By Curtis Zupke -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blake back for Ducks against Burns, Sharks

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jason Blake comes full circle Wednesday night when he returns from a 34-game absence against the San Jose Sharks.

Blake suffered a severe laceration on his left forearm Oct.14 when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns accidentally stepped on him. Blake needed corrective surgery but his return comes about two weeks ahead of schedule.

“It feels good. It feels strong,” Blake said. “You never know until you get into a game. Obviously you look back, three months ago … it’s kind of ironic. It’s a been a tough three months sitting out and not being able to play or doing anything for about six weeks there. It’s nice to get back and play hockey and obviously be around the guys.”

After that game, Burns walked out to the ambulance that transported Blake and offered his condolences. Blake appreciated it and has moved on.

“I pretty much forgot about it,” Blake said. “Stuff happens in hockey. You hate to see it happen. I haven’t even thought about that - Brent - and being out. I have the utmost respect for him, even before it happened. He’s a great player. He’s brought a lot to the San Jose Sharks hockey club. I haven’t thought about that.”

Added Burns: “You feel bad when something happens like that. I’m glad he came back. I know he’s been through a lot. Obviously when a guy’s been through a lot like that, there’s something special about him.”

Blake, 38, will resume his spot at second line left wing with Saku Koivu, 37, and the 41-year-old Teemu Selanne.

“It’s the oldest line in pro sports, I know that,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau joked.

Boudreau said he would prefer not to have to play Blake more than 14-15 minutes but “we’ll see how the game goes.”

“The one thing about Jason is that he’s always in tremendous shape,” Boudreau said. “If he’s feeling great and playing great, I’m not going to hold to that.”

New lines: Boudreau put back together the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry after he briefly did the unthinkable and split Getzlaf and Perry on New Year’s Eve against Colorado.

That means that Anaheim will have the same top two lines as in the start of the season. Blake’s return also allows Anaheim to put Niklas Hagman on the third line for more balance.

Hagman had played with Getzlaf and Perry and fared well but he is more suited for this role.

“Now, with everybody healthy, he becomes a solid third-line guy, which is where I think he fits rather than having to force him to be on the first line,” Boudreau said.

Anaheim has San Jose’s number:
Nearly a third of Anaheim’s 10 victories have come against San Jose as the Ducks have surprisingly gone 3-0 against their Pacific Division rivals.

Well, it’s not so surprising given that Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller is 5-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his last six games against the Sharks. Two of the three meetings this season have been 3-2 victories.

“They’ve been able to get to three and we haven’t,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. “I use that race-to-three all the time. Their goalie has been the first star, I think, in all three matches. He seems to elevate his game against us. So we’ll have to find a way to crack that nut.”

San Jose will start Antti Niemi, who is set to make his 13th straight start. McLellan isn’t concerned about leaning on his No. 1 too much, especially considering that this portion of the schedule allows for it.

“Not one bit,” he said. “He hasn’t played much. We’ve had three days, out of the last 12, completely off. I look around and see (Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan) Quick and Jimmy Howard (of Detroit) and those type of guys excelling the more they play. I think his game has gotten better. You ask me this question in February on a nine-game road trip then I might answer it a little different.”

Here are the projected lineups:

SAN JOSE

Benn Ferriero - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Patrick Marleau
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Andrew Murray

Douglas Murray - Justin Braun
Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason Demers - Brent Burns

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

ANAHEIM

Bobby Ryan - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Jason Blake - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Andrew Cogliano - Niklas Hagman
Nick Bonino - Rod Pelley - Andrew Gordon

Cam Fowler - Francois Beauchemin
Lubomir Visnovsky - Luca Sbisa
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Dan Ellis
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:34 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Injury, suspension could keep Carcillo out a while

CHICAGO -- Daniel Carcillo's health prognosis is still not certain for the Chicago Blackhawks, but initial reports coming from Hawks coach Joel Quenneville don't sound all that encouraging.

Carcillo was injured on Monday night at the United Center while delivering an illegal hit to Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tom Gilbert in the second period of Chicago's 4-3 loss. Both players were hurt on the play and didn't return to the game, but Carcillo's appeared to be worse -- he got his left leg caught up under the fallen Gilbert.

The Hawks haven't released any official updates about Carcillo's status since the injury happened, but in the meantime the League took action to suspend Carcillo indefinitely for the hit until a hearing about the incident is held. It's Carcillo's sixth suspension and third that he'll serve this season, but for now the potential injury is what's of most concern for Chicago.

"We're still talking about the options with him," Quenneville said. "He had some tests done (Tuesday) and we're still evaluating it."

Asked if those options include surgery, Quenneville only answered, "We'll see," after Wednesday's practice at the United Center. It was just the second game back from a suspected concussion that kept Carcillo out for six games.

He came back and played left wing on the Hawks' top line with captain Jonathan Toews at center and Marian Hossa on the right wing.

"We just got him back and Carce is playing really well with Hoss and I," Toews said. "He was bringing that physical presence and he got the crowd going the other night with a fight against (Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi). He made a couple big plays in the offensive zone, too, so we want to keep a guy like that in our lineup. He's an effective player for us and we always say if we lose one of our key guys, we'll find a way to play without him … but it's no fun when that happens."

Carcillo has scored 2 goals and added 9 assists with a plus-10 rating, including a primary assist on Monday to set up Toews for his 22nd goal of the season.

However, it's been a turbulent debut season in Chicago for Carcillo after he signed a one-year contract as a free agent last summer. He started out serving a two-game suspension for an incident that occurred between periods of his final playoff game last spring with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Then he was assessed a second two-game suspension for an illegal hit from behind on Oct. 28 against Carolina's Joni Pitkainen. A League hearing will determine how long this next suspension will last, but that penalty might have to be enforced after Carcillo gets back from a long-term absence because of an injured leg.

Carcillo has not been made available to speak with reporters, but Quenneville was asked on Wednesday what his mood is like given the circumstances.

"I would assume that he's not too happy," Quenneville said.

The Hawks are standing behind him as a teammate, but his latest hit also puts them in a difficult situation of sorts after some of them called for the League to crack down even more against illegal hits this season.

"It's tough to tell, just because you know the guy and he is a friend and he's your teammate," Toews said of Carcillo's hit on Gilbert. "Again, it is a dangerous spot. We've been talking about these suspensions and head shots and different places where we have to be careful. Obviously, maybe he has a bit of a reputation, so that might play into it ... but you stand behind him. He's a physical player. He's going out there trying to create energy for our team, so it's unfortunate both players kind of came out of it with an injury."
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Habs' home struggles go up against Jets' road woes

MONTREAL -- Something will have to give Wednesday night when one of the League's worst home teams faces one of the League's worst on the road at the Bell Centre.

The Montreal Canadiens have a League-low five wins in 18 games on home ice (5-7-6), which is a big reason why they sit 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.

Montreal is coming off a 1-5-0 road trip and this will be interim coach Randy Cunneyworth's second game at the Bell Centre since he was named to replace Jacques Martin on Dec. 17. The Canadiens play six of their next seven and 11 of their next 15 games at home.

"We didn't get the wins we needed on the road," Cunneyworth told reporters at the team's suburban practice facility. "It's time to start winning at home."

Meanwhile, the visiting Winnipeg Jets enter the game as one of the League's worst road teams, with just five wins in 17 games (5-8-4). Only Carolina, Anaheim and Columbus have fewer wins on opposing rinks, and this game marks the first in a stretch where the Jets will play 14 of their next 19 games on the road.

However, forward Eric Fehr believes that road record is a bit misleading because the bulk of those games were played prior to December, when the Jets played 12 of 14 games at home and went 10-3-1 to get themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

"It's not as accurate as it looks," Fehr said of the Jets' road record. "We didn't get off to the start we wanted, we were getting adjusted to a new coach and a new city, but that's when we had a lot of those road games. We're a different team now with a different identity."

Head coach Claude Noel -- who gave a statement in French prior to speaking to local reporters -- agreed with Fehr's assessment of the situation.

"We're becoming a team that's hard to play against," Noel said. "Some people look at that from a physicality standpoint, but I'd say we're becoming a hard team to play against from a checking standpoint. …We play a good, strong game for each other. I like the way we're playing."

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 2:56 PM

By Arpon Basu -  Managing Editor LNH.com /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Jets, Canadiens

MONTREAL -- Here are the expected lineups for tonight's game, though the Canadiens held an optional skate so changes are possible by game time:

JETS

Blake Wheeler - Tim Stapleton - Evander Kane
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Eric Fehr - Alexander Burmistrov - Chris Thorburn
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

The Jets will welcome back two players from injuries, while another looks to be approaching a return. Regular top line center Bryan Little skated with his teammates for the first time since suffering a foot injury on Dec. 17, costing him the last six games.

"It felt good," Little said. "I'd say I'm day-to-day now."

Little ruled out a return against Montreal or Thursday night in Toronto, but said it was possible in Buffalo on Saturday.

Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien remains out for the Jets, but Jones will return to the lineup after missing practically the entire season with two injuries. An ankle ailment cost him 15 games earlier this season, and then after two games in the lineup he suffered a back injury that has kept him out of the last nine contests.

Slater will also return after missing two games with an upper-body injury.

Pavelec has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.10 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and two shutouts in seven career games against Montreal.

CANADIENS

Erik Cole - Tomas Plekanec - Michael Cammalleri
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Michael Blunden
Mathieu Darche - Petteri Nokelainen - Chris Campoli

Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Hal Gill - Tomas Kaberle  

Carey Price
Peter Budaj

For the Canadiens, captain Brian Gionta skated with the team for a second straight day but is not ready to return from a groin injury that has cost him 10 games, though it appears he should be back for Saturday night's home game against Tampa.

Center Scott Gomez, wing Ryan White and defenseman Andrei Markov remain out, though Gomez and White are skating on their own.

Campoli, a defenseman, is expected to dress as a forward in the place of rookie Louis Leblanc.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 1:02 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bruins set for busy stretch up to All-Star break

NEWARK, N.J. -- Between their 4-2 loss to Dallas on New Year's Eve and Wednesday's game against the Devils, the Bruins have had a chance to have several quality days of hard, workmanlike practices. Boston coach Claude Julien knows how important those days will be with the Bruins starting a stretch of three games in four days and 12 games in 20 days before the All-Star break.

"It's not going to get any easier for us from here on in," Julien said Wednesday morning. "We recognize that as a group, and it's going to be a good challenge for us as a group."

Julien is happy with the approach of his players, too, especially because he knows how easy it could be for them to look forward to Saturday's Stanley Cup Final rematch against Vancouver at TD Garden.

"The Vancouver game at the end of the week will be a rematch, but I think our guys are really looking at one game at a time and seeing that this game is the one we have to have our focus on," Julien said. "Where probably on the outside everybody is looking forward to that Saturday game against Vancouver, we haven't talked about it in the dressing room and I haven't heard players mention it. Our focus is living in the moment."

The moment brings them to their second of four games against the Devils this season. The Bruins beat the Devils, 4-3, in Boston on Nov. 15. At the time it was their sixth of 10 straight victories to start November, but Julien remembers how difficult a win it was to get.

It took Benoit Pouliot scoring with 3:01 left in the third period for the Bruins to finally put the Devils away. New Jersey had fought back from deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 in the third period.

"They've got a reputation of being a hard team to play against, and every night it's that same challenge of battling through their defensive system, and also they're a team that has good size," Julien said. "They're a heavy team, they're strong on the puck and you look at their games, how they win battles along the boards, protect the puck and strip guys of the puck -- it's because of the heavy game they play. We have to be aware of that."
 
Here are the the Bruins' projected lines and defense pairs:

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Rich Peverley
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Andrew Ference - Adam McQuaid

Tim Thomas, who was in net for the win over New Jersey in November, will get the start. He's backed up by Tuukka Rask.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 11:50 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kovalchuk, Hedberg have small WJC wager

NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils goalie Johan Hedberg and star forward Ilya Kovalchuk have more riding on Thursday's World Junior Championship gold-medal game between Sweden and Russia than just national pride.

"Just a small cash bet, not much," Hedberg told NHL.com. "It's just more for bragging rights."

Hedberg, who is from Leksand, Sweden, said he and Kovalchuk made their bet upon arrival at Prudential Center Wednesday morning. The Russians beat Canada 6-5 on Tuesday while Sweden beat Finland 3-2 in a shootout to advance to the gold-medal game.

Russia is looking for its second straight World Juniors gold while Sweden hasn't won it since 1981.

"We're going to stand by our boys," Hedberg said. "It was pretty much a sure thing that there would be some kind of a bet on a game like that. Kovy is not the guy to back down."

Hedberg said there hasn't been any trash talking as of yet.

"Absolutely not, but Kovy is great because he has a lot of knowledge about the Russians and he takes interest in the young guys, to see who is coming up," Hedberg said. "And obviously I have an interest in the Swedes."

Hedberg and Kovalchuk will not be watching the game together. Hedberg said he'll be with his fellow countrymen, Henrik Tallinder, Jacob Josefsen, Mattias Tedenby and Adam Larsson, who, by the way, is old enough to play in the World Juniors but is instead going through a successful rookie season with the Devils.

"The Swedes are going to watch it together," he said. "We were at Jacob's (Josefsen) apartment (Tuesday) and we watched it. It was exciting. It felt like it was coming. If they kept doing what they were doing they were going to get rewarded sooner or later, and they did. I really like them. I like the way they play and I like their fighting spirit."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 11:14 AM

By NHL.com Staff -  /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Madden officially signs with Florida

The Florida Panthers have signed veteran center John Madden to a one-year contract, general manager Dale Tallon announced Wednesday.

Madden, whose potential signing with the Panthers was first reported last week, has played in 867 NHL for New Jersey, Chicago and Minnesota and won the Stanley Cup three times -- twice with the Devils and once with the Blackhawks.

Florida has been one of the surprise teams in the first half of the 2011-12 season. Tallon overhauled the roster this past summer, but new coach Kevin Dineen has his club atop the Southeast Division standings. The Panthers could also have more reinforcements in the coming days as injured players Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson both participated in the practice and weren’t wearing no-contact jerseys.

The Panthers begin the New Year with road games against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils before a three-game homestand against some of the NHL’s elite – Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Boston. They continue to lead the Southeast, but Washington has won four straight and Winnipeg is on a three-contest winning streak. The Capitals are within three points of the Panthers and the Jets are four back.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 10:36 AM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Zajac, Volchenkov out for Devils against Bruins

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils will be without both center Travis Zajac and defenseman Anton Volchenkov for Wednesday's game against Boston (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network).

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said that Volchenkov, who missed Monday's game in Ottawa with a lower-body injury, "is still resting his leg." He added that Zajac, who missed the first 30 games of the season after having surgery on his left Achilles tendon in August, is experiencing soreness and is day-to-day.

Zajac has played in every game since making his season debut against Dallas on Dec. 16, but he has been given the occasional day off to rest. He did not take part in Tuesday's optional practice either.

"He has a little soreness and we won't take any chances," Lamoriello said. "We have spoken to the doctors. There is nothing structurally wrong. He's OK, but we're going to rest him and he'll be day to day."

Lamoriello said the doctors told him that Zajac would likely experience soreness after returning to the ice. He said it's similar to what Zach Parise went through after his surgery last year to repair a torn ACL.

"This is normal," Lamoriello said. "Anybody with these types of injuries, there's going to be soreness. It's part of rehabilitation. We actually waited a week more than we had to when the doctor released him, but we're going to take every precaution possible."

Devils coach Peter DeBoer said that Tim Sestito will go into the lineup and Ryan Carter will move up into Zajac's spot to center the third line between David Clarkson and Mattias Tedenby.

"We were mentally prepared and warned that there was going to be some bumps in the road here," DeBoer said. "Obviously a real significant injury and he was coming back at the front end of the time period they had allotted for it, so I'm not concerned about it. We'll just keep moving forward."

Lamoriello also confirmed that defenseman Andy Greene (fractured foot) is out of his cast and in a walking boot, but is still a few weeks away from playing.

Here are the Devils projected forward lines and defense pairs for Wednesday's game against Boston:

Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Mattias Tedenby - Ryan Carter - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Tim Sestito - Cam Janssen

Henrik Tallinder - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Adam Larsson
Matt Taormina - Kurtis Foster

Martin Brodeur will make his fourth straight start, backed up by Johan Hedberg.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl








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Posted On Tuesday, 01.03.2012 / 11:28 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Russia up 6-5 on Canada in third period

CALGARY -- Trailing 5-1 heading into the third period, Canada has inched to within a goal of Russia in semifinal action at the World Junior Championship at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Canadians now trails 6-5 with four minutes remaining.

Dougie Hamilton converted a cross-crease pass from Mark Scheifele at 9:20. It was the first power-play goal Russia's allowed in the tournament.

Captain Jaden Schwartz struck in the same minute, cutting the lead to 6-3 after banking the puck in off Grigon Zheldakov at 9:43 of the third period.

Brendan Gallagher made it 6-4 after deflecting a point shot from Hamilton and Brandon Gormley's seeing-eye shot from the point has brought Canada to within a goal of tying the Russians.

Nikita Kucherov gave Russia a 6-1 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the third period.

Ignat Zemchenko stepped out of the box to set up a two-on-one with Mikhail Grigorenko. Zemchenko fed Grigorenko, who lost control of the puck cutting across the crease. Streaking in, Kucherov tapped the puck into a virtually empty net at 7:54.

Russia exploded for a three-goal second period to extend its lead to 5-1 against Canada.

Though Canada got on the board just 2:37 into the period to cut Russia's lead to 2-1, Yevgeni Kuznetsov answered with two goals of his own before setting up the third to give Russia a four-goal lead heading into the second intermission.

Kuznetsov scored goals 4:24 apart, first letting go a shot that hit the stick of a Canadian defenseman before going over the glove of starting goalie Scott Wedgewood, then beating Wedgewood again with a deke in alone.

After Kuznetsov's second goal, Yaroslav Kosov ploughed into Wedgewood, who had to leave the game with an injury.

Mark Visentin, the goaltender on record in the gold medal loss to Russia a year ago, didn't fare any better in relief.

Khokhlachev scored 1:48 later after Kuznetsov circled the net and found him alone in the slot for a power play goal to make it 5-1.

Russia opened the scoring in the first period. Kuznetsov took a pass from Nail Yakupov in the slot 7:26. Nikita Nesterov added to the lead at 14:01, the 2-0 lead Russia enjoyed heading into the second period.
 
If Russia is able to hold on through the game’s final 20 minutes, it will meet Sweden in the gold-medal game on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Sweden holds an overtime victory against Russia in a New Year's Eve classic last Saturday night.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.03.2012 / 11:16 PM

By Aaron Vickers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012 World Junior Championship blog

Russia up 6-3 on Canada in third period

CALGARY -- Canada had its opportunity to build a slow climb over their 5-1 deficit. When the Canadians failed to do so, the Russians capitalized.

After its 26th consecutive penalty kill of the tournament, Nikita Kucherov has given Russia a 6-1 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the third period at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Ignat Zemchenko stepped out of the box to set up a two-on-one with Mikhail Grigorenko. Zemchenko fed Grigorenko, who lost control of the puck cutting across the crease. Streaking in, Kucherov tapped the puck into a virtually empty net at 7:54.

Back on the power play, Canada struck to make it 6-2.

Dougie Hamilton converted a cross-crease pass from Mark Scheifele at 9:20. It was the first power play goal Russia's allowed in the tournament.

Captain Jaden Schwartz struck in the same minute, cutting the lead to 6-3 after banking the puck in off Grigon Zheldakov at 9:43 of the third period.

Russia exploded for a three-goal second period to extend its lead to 5-1.

Though Canada got on the board just 2:37 into the period to cut Russia's lead to 2-1, Yevgeni Kuznetsov answered with two goals of his own before setting up the third to give Russia a four-goal lead heading into the second intermission.

Kuznetsov scored goals 4:24 apart, first letting go a shot that hit the stick of a Canadian defenseman before going over the glove of starting goalie Scott Wedgewood, then beating Wedgewood again with a deke in alone.

After Kuznetsov's second goal, Yaroslav Kosov ploughed into Wedgewood, who had to leave the game with an injury.

Mark Visentin, the goaltender on record in the gold medal loss to Russia a year ago, didn't fare any better in relief.

Khokhlachev scored 1:48 later after Kuznetsov circled the net and found him alone in the slot for a power play goal to make it 5-1.

Russia opened the scoring in the first period. Kuznetsov took a pass from Nail Yakupov in the slot 7:26. Nikita Nesterov added to the lead at 14:01, the 2-0 lead Russia enjoyed heading into the second period.

If Russia is able to hold on through the game's final 20 minutes, it will meet Sweden in the gold-medal game on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Sweden holds an overtime victory against Russia in a New Year's Eve classic last Saturday night.


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I don't have a crystal ball. Predicting is a real complicated thing. If we stay healthy, have enough depth and get the good goaltending we think we're going to have, you can go all the way. But a lot of things have to happen. There's going to be a lot of teams that think the same thing. Everyone made deals. We're all are optimistic about where we'll end up.

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