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Around the rink – February 15; Philly and Tampa face off in East showdown

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Boston

Phil Kessel has been playing better of late without the stats to show for it, but facing off with the Bruins in Boston might be the exact wrong thing for him to deal with at the moment. The fans in Boston hate him and now the Leafs begin life without Kris Versteeg after dealing him to Philadelphia yesterday. The Bruins will be happy to not be facing the Red Wings who beat them in back-to-back games over the weekend. Given how poorly Toronto’s done against Boston of late, this game isn’t shaping up to be any good for the Leafs.

7:30 p.m.

Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay

It’s the top two teams in the Eastern Conference and while the Lightning handled them easily the last time they met, the Flyers will be likely bringing Kris Versteeg into action for the first time. Tampa Bay is in the midst of their 12-game home stand and they’ve gone 5-2-0 so far on it. Being able to put one over on the Flyers in this game means they could, if they win in regulation, get within two points of the Flyers for the top spot in the East.

Buffalo @ Montreal

Different things on the line here for both teams. Buffalo would like to put their awful loss to the Islanders behind them and catch Atlanta for ninth in the East standings and move within two points of Carolina for eighth. The Canadiens would like to get the shot at passing the Bruins for the lead in the Northeast Division. The Habs are just one point behind Boston and while the Bruins are also playing tonight, at the very least keeping pace with them should be the key. If the Habs bring the same intensity they brought in their 3-0 win over Toronto, the Sabres are going to have a rough night. The big wonder for the Sabres is whether or not Ryan Miller will get a rest after getting shelled for seven goals against the Isles in his last start.

NY Islanders @ Ottawa

Well, someone’s got to watch this game, don’t they? Ottawa is hoping their win over Edmonton in their last game will help them permanently snap out of their funk. Going up against a game and gutsy Isles team doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. What to look for here: Whether or not Michael Grabner can keep his tremendous play going for New York as the rookie has 24 goals now to lead the team. John Tavares and P.A. Parenteau trail him with 21 each. Who’d have thought the Isles would have three 20-goal scorers at this point in the season?

8:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Nashville

The Sharks look to get back on the good side of things against a team they know all too well by now. After dropping two in a row against the Devils and Panthers, heading into Nashville to deal with the always tough Predators sounds like a rude awakening for the Sharks. Nashville has won two in a row and three of their last four. They’re hoping that the Sharks will be busy looking ahead as it’s their last game of a seven game road trip. The Sharks have gone 4-2-0 on this road swing as it is helping them fight their way into the mix for the Pacific Division lead.

Vancouver @ Minnesota

After such a tough loss to St. Louis last night and losing defenseman Andrew Alberts to a broken wrist the Canucks will call on Yann Sauve to join their vastly depleted defensive corps for the time being. With the Canucks having to deal with their kryptonite-like nemesis in the for of the Wild, it shapes up to be another rough ride for the Canucks. The Wild seem to play their best games against Vancouver and with the team playing even better of late, expect life to be rough on Vancouver in St. Paul. The Wild roll into this game winners of three straight and seeking to keep up with the joneses in the wild Western playoff races.

9:00 p.m.

Dallas @ Edmonton

Could the Oilers be the slump buster the Stars have been hoping for? Dallas had better hope so, but it won’t be easy for them. Top scorer Brad Richards is out with an injury. For Dallas it could be a view of what life would be like without their top playmaker if he was to depart the team as a free agent during the summer. Losing to Edmonton would hammer home how important Richards is to their success. Beating the Oilers would make for a tremendous confidence boost given how the team has struggled lately. For Edmonton, they’d like to get some pride back after losing to Ottawa over the weekend.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
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When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.

Update: Clarke MacArthur suffers concussion

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the game against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on October 8, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/ Getty Images)
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Update: As many feared, Clarke MacArthur suffered a concussion. The Ottawa Senators announced that he will be “evaluated daily.”

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Rough news for the Ottawa Senators on Sunday: forward Clarke MacArthur needed help off the ice following a big hit during a team scrimmage.

The hit was delivered by Patrick Sieloff, prompting an immediate response from Bobby Ryan, according to The Hockey News’ Murray Pam.

MacArthur has been hoping to return to NHL action after some serious concussion issues, so this is a troubling situation. More than a few people wonder if this might end his career.

Update: Here’s a GIF of the hit.