Halak on Montreal return: “It’s going to be emotional”

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For the first time since guiding the Canadiens to an improbable Eastern Conference finals appearance, Jaroslav Halak is going back to Montreal.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis netminder will face his former club at the Bell Center for the first time since being traded in June of 2010, and will likely receive a hero’s welcome upon hitting the ice. To give you an idea of Halak’s popularity in Montreal, consider this, from NHL.com:

 Not too long after Halak was shipped to the Blues for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, he decided to honor a charity appearance to which he had already committed. Just a few hundred people were supposed to get one last glimpse of the hero who played a major role in upsets of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in that unforgettable postseason run..

However, in Montreal, few things are as simple as they seem when it comes to hockey.

Halak showed up for the session to benefit Ste. Justine Children’s Hospital at La Capsule Sportive store inside Fairview Mall in Pointe-Claire, Quebec expecting maybe 500 or so fans to attend and fork over $20 for a quick hello and an interview.

Estimates were a bit low, it seems. Organizer got their 500 fans — times 10.

That’s right, 5,000 fans lined up five-plus hours before the session began, forming a line stretched for a mile and doubled by the day’s conclusion. Halak stayed 90 minutes past his departure to meet the demand, yet security guards needed to eventually shut it down because of the closure of the mall. By day’s end, Halak helped raise $22,000.

Halak acknowledged Tuesday’s game will be an emotional affair.

“It was a great time [in Montreal],” he said. “I got traded and we didn’t have to go there last year. They came here [to St. Louis] and I think that was perfect. It’s going to be emotional, but at the same time, probably less than it would have been last season.

“I still have a few friends [in Montreal], but when we play against them, there’s no friends on the ice. I’m looking forward to seeing some friends off the ice. We’ll see how it goes. I can’t wait to go back in the building.”

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, Ken Hitchcock is astutely aware of the situation at hand. The St. Louis head coach has been splitting goaltending duties between Halak and Brian Elliott, but made no bones about Tuesday being Halak’s start — even though Elliott is coming off a shutout.

“This is once in a lifetime,” Hitchcock said. “Ideal situation, you want to support the shutout…I mean, come on, first time going back. I think in fairness to Jaroslav he had a heck of a time there. I think it would be dismissive of me to not recognize that.”

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.