Aleksander Barkov is quick to point out the NHL is so popular in Finland that tickets to two games in Helsinki sold out in less than five minutes.“It shows how much they love the game Montreal Canadiens Hats Authentic
,” the Florida Panthers captain said. “There’s good reason to do that every year.”The NHL is planning just that after Commissioner Gary Bettman announced initial plans for a 2019 season-opener in Prague, two regular-season games in Stockholm and exhibitions in Germany and Switzerland. The Panthers and Winnipeg Jets played the 24th and 25th regular-season games outside North America on Thursday and Friday at a packed Hartwall Arena in the Finnish capital.As the league sows seeds of interest in new markets like China, it is also continuing to cultivate interest in established hockey countries like Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. And there’s a modest proposal for continuing to stoke the interest in the sport in Scandinavia and across Europe.“One thing that I know former players have been talking about is maybe more games earlier on the weekends so they can actually watch,” said Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who is Swedish. “Prime time here is middle of the night there. To make it more popular in Europe and Sweden, I think more games in the middle of the day on the weekends would be great. That’s how you can get it more popular.”A crowded sports calendar in the U.S. with the NFL and college football going on during the first half of the season makes that a challenge. Not counting the three games this season taking place in Europe, just 127 regular-season NHL games — roughly 10 percent of the full schedule — start early enough in North America that fans in places in Western and Central Europe can watch before a late evening bedtime.Even with games on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights to fill prime-time spots in the U.S., traditional Sunday afternoon kickoffs have helped the NFL become bigger in Europe. Games at Wembley Stadium in London feature fans in jerseys of just about every team, not just the two playing Custom Montreal Canadiens Jerseys
, and the influence goes beyond England.“In Denmark, the NFL (became) quite popular like 10, 15 years ago because they started games in the afternoon, so people could start watching at dinner time and they could just keep watching a new game,” Capitals center Lars Eller said. “I would welcome more afternoon games.”The “NHL on NBC” games that start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday largely after the American football season ends fit that bill. And with more teams choosing to skip morning skates altogether, afternoon starts wouldn’t throw off game-day routines to the point that there’s pushback from players.“Whenever that happens, games at 12 or 1 p.m. Eastern time, it’s like 7 o’clock in Finland or (nighttime) in Europe, so people can see,” Barkov said. “Of course there’s a big audience there.”Bettman said he is not sure hockey can grow more in places like Sweden and Finland where there are already strong domestic leagues and a steady flow of talented players reaching the NHL.“What we need to do is continue to work to keep it at the extraordinarily high level that it’s at,” he said.Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly brushed aside the idea of basing an NHL team in Europe www.officialpredators.com
, saying it would need to be a group of teams and that no one has come up with a viable plan. They said staging an outdoor game in Europe is a possibility but not something likely to happen soon.More likely is a regular schedule of “Global Series” games across Europe. Since the NHL opened the 1997-98 season in Japan, 24 of 31 teams have played overseas. The Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Vegas Golden Knights and defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals are the only ones left. Probably not for long.“We’re happy to share our game,” Bettman said in Helsinki. “We’d like to continue to encourage the enthusiasm, support and development that hockey gets by bringing the world’s best players and the world’s best league over here.” RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Greg McKegg made his Carolina debut one to remember.McKegg had a goal and an assist in his first game with the Hurricanes, and Carolina defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Friday night.McKegg was recalled from Charlotte of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis earlier Friday after Carolina placed Jordan Staal on injured reserve. Playing in his first NHL game since November 2017 Nashville Predators T-Shirts Authentic
, the journeyman center assisted on a goal in the first period and scored the decisive goal in the second to lift the Hurricanes to their third straight win.“He’s a pro,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We did a nice job getting him in our organization. He had a great training camp and he was right there. This was an easy call-up. He’s obviously trying to stay here. I love it.”It was the first multi-point game of McKegg’s six-year career. It came after he got word of his call-up late Thursday, made a two-hour drive from Belleville, Ontario, to Toronto, caught an early flight and arrived in Raleigh late Friday morning.“Obviously it’s special,” McKegg said. “You never know when (a call-up) is going to come and you just have to keep grinding away. To contribute at this level at any point in your career is special. “Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton and Sebastian Aho added goals for Carolina. Curtis McElhinney stopped 22 shots in his second straight win after four consecutive losses.Oliver Bjorkstrand and Artemi Panarin scored 25 seconds apart in the second period for the Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky surrendered three goals on 16 shots before being pulled midway through second period.“I always think a hockey team should get better each and every game,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “And tonight there were just way too many passengers.”McKegg, playing for his fifth team in six seasons, helped propel Carolina to an early 3-0 lead.Ferland’s one-timer from the left faceoff circle put Carolina up 5:16 into the first period. Less than 90 seconds later Nashville Predators Hoodies Authentic
, Hamilton made it 2-0 when his wrist shot from the left point deflected off Bobrovsky’s glove and trickled into the net.After setting up Hamilton’s goal with a drop pass, McKegg found the net in the second period.Brett Pesce fired a pass for McKegg breaking down the middle toward the goal, and McKegg redirected the puck into the net — again off Bobrovsky’s glove — to make it 3-0.“You just kind of want to put your best foot forward and contribute any way you can,” McKegg said. “To chip in at this level is obviously special. To cap it off with a win was pretty awesome.”Joonas Korpisalo replaced Bobrovsky shortly after.“I’m not giving assessment on the goaltending,” Tortorella said. “Korpi played well. He was one of the few guys who played well.”Bjorkstrand and Panarin’s quick goals late in the period pulled the Blue Jackets within one heading into the third, but McElhinney stopped all seven shots he faced in the final period and Aho scored an empty-netter with two seconds remaining to secure the Carolina victory.“We came out great. I thought the guys to a man were on it,” Brind’Amour said. “Every part of our game was pretty solid.”NOTES: Columbus captain Nick Foligno missed his second straight game to tend to his newborn daughter, Milana, who had heart surgery last week. He remains on indefinite leave. … Carolina F Saku Maenalanen recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Hamilton’s goal. … McElhinney appeared in 85 games for Columbus from 2013-17.UP NEXTBlue Jackets: At Florida on Saturday.Hurricanes: At Ottawa on Sunday.