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Sports

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Associated Press
Carolina’s Brett Bellemore, left, and goalie Cam Ward defend against Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson during the first period Tuesday in Buffalo, N.Y.
NHL

Olympics over, top teams now chasing Cup

The Sochi Olympics are over and the NHL is back after freezing its schedule so that the world’s best hockey players could compete for gold – perhaps for the last time.

Sidney Crosby won another Olympic championship with Canada. Now, Sid the Kid wants to help the Pittsburgh Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup again.

Crosby and the Penguins play host Montreal on Thursday, the third day of league games after the Olympic break, just four days after helping the Canadians beat Sweden in the gold-medal game in Russia.

“In some ways, it will help, playing at this speed in one-game elimination with desperation,” Crosby said Sunday after the final competition of the Sochi Games. “I haven’t really had this transition midseason with Olympic ice, going back to regular size, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

In the East, Boston holds a seven-point lead over Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division coming out of the Olympic break. Pittsburgh holds a 16-point lead over the Rangers in the Metropolitan.

It’s much tighter in the West, where St. Louis and Chicago are tied atop the Central Division, just five points in front of Colorado. The Ducks have the conference’s top mark and a seven-point lead on San Jose.

The NHL is going to have its fifth and sixth outdoor games of the season Saturday, when the Chicago Blackhawks play Pittsburgh at Soldier Field, and the next day in a Vancouver-Ottawa matchup at BC Place.

If the playoffs began today, the Red Wings would extend their postseason streak to 23. Detroit made it last year by only one point and the race might be as tight again with Columbus, Ottawa, Washington, Carolina and New Jersey within a win or two of moving into a wild-card spot.

“When we play teams like Montreal and Toronto, those are really like four-point games,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.

In the Western Conference, which appears to be filled with better teams, it looks like Dallas, Phoenix, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Nashville may be vying for the eighth and final spot in the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, have an NHL-low 38 points – nine fewer than the last-place team, Edmonton, in the Western Conference.

That gives Buffalo plenty of incentive to shop goaltender Ryan Miller and his expiring contract.

The Sabres are running out of time to get something in return for the face of their franchise. The NHL’s trade deadline is March 5.

Some teams that were hit by injuries during the Olympics may make moves to replace the players they lost. Others, such as Buffalo, might decide to trade talented or expensive players if it appears they have no shot to be a part of the postseason.

SABRES 3, HURRICANES 2: In Buffalo, N.Y., Christian Ehrhoff scored twice, including the go-ahead goal with 44 seconds left, in lifting Buffalo to the win in the NHL’s first game after its Olympic break.

Ryan Miller played a key role in stopping the first 20 shots he faced and 36 overall in what might be the star goalie’s final game in Buffalo before the league’s trade deadline on March 5. Miller also assisted on both of Ehrhoff’s goals.

Tyler Ennis also scored for Buffalo, which snapped a four-game skid, and won for only the third time in its past 14 games (3-8-3).

Eric Staal and Alexander Semin scored for the Hurricanes, who lost to Buffalo in regulation for the first time in seven meetings, dating to a 1-0 loss at Carolina on Nov. 18. 2011.

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