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Olympic hockey: Men’s semifinals preview

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Throughout the entire 2018 Winter Games, NBC Olympics staff will preview the upcoming slate of hockey games.

Olympic Athletes from Russia vs. Czech Republic, 2:40 a.m. ET, NBCSN | LIVE STREAM

After an opening loss to Slovakia caused many to declare the men’s tournament “wide open,” the Olympic Athletes from Russia have firmly reestablished themselves as gold-medal favorites. OAR rebounded with three dominant victories over Slovenia, the United States and Norway to cruise into the semifinals. Well-rested and featuring three of the top 10 point-scorers in the Games—Nikita Gusev, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kirill Kaprizov—the team undoubtedly expects to be playing for gold this weekend.

However, OAR has something the Czech Republic doesn’t: a loss. The undefeated Czechs may not have the star power of their opponents, but they have played as well as any side in the tournament and will not consider themselves underdogs heading into the semifinal showdown.

Canada vs. Germany, 7:10 a.m. ET, NBCSN | LIVE STREAM

Canada may be looking for its third consecutive Olympic gold, but without the services of countless NHL All-Stars that led the roster in Vancouver and Sochi, the team has not looked like a juggernaut by any stretch. Having said that, the Canadians have only lost one game in PyeongChang—a 3-2 overtime defeat against the Czech Republic—and their defense impressively contained Finnish superstar Eeli Tolvanen in Canada’s 1-0 quarterfinal win.

Meanwhile, Germany is the Cinderella story of these Olympics. The team is guaranteed at least a shot at a medal, which would be the country’s first in ice hockey since 1976. The Germans were far from impressive in the preliminary round, barely eking out a single victory in overtime against winless Norway in their final group game. But they made it a habit in the knockout stages, beating Switzerland in overtime and doing the same to Sweden in the quarterfinals. Germany will skate with confidence, and it will feel even better if the game isn’t decided in 60 minutes.

Mikaela Shiffrin wins final slalom for best career season (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 12th World Cup race this season and seventh slalom, both personal bests, at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, who clinched her second World Cup overall title and fifth slalom season title before the last races of the campaign this weekend, prevailed by 1.58 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener. PyeongChang gold medalist Frida Hansdotter of Sweden was third.

“The slalom has always been really close to my heart,” said Shiffrin, who won the last two slaloms this season after a shocking fourth-place finish in PyeongChang. “To finish with a run like that was super special.”

Full results are here.

Shiffrin matched Lindsey Vonn‘s American record for World Cup wins in one season — 12 — with one more race Sunday. Only Swiss Vreni Schneider has more women’s World Cup wins in a single campaign with 14.

Shiffrin, who turned 23 on Tuesday, also moved into solo fifth place on the women’s World Cup wins list with 43, including 23 victories in the last two seasons.

If Shiffrin keeps it up, she can move into the top three next season, though Lindsey Vonn‘s record 82 is a ways off.

“I’m not thinking about that so much,” Shiffrin said. “It’s way too soon to set that as my goal.”

Shiffrin is also three World Cup slalom wins shy of the record 35 held by retired Austrian Marlies Schild, whom Shiffrin supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier in 2013.

The World Cup Finals conclude Sunday with the women’s giant slalom. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second run at 7:30 a.m. ET.

“After today I’m really looking forward to going to the start one more time this season and hammering down,” Shiffrin said.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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