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Jaroslav Halak is turning Brian Elliott into an All-Star backup

Here’s one for the department of “good problems to have”: the St. Louis Blues seem destined to have an All-Star goalie watching from the bench.

Brian Elliott’s been a great find for the Blues and they rewarded him with what is a very generous contract for a No. 2 goalie. It’s likely Elliott didn’t think he’d be a flat-out backup, but that seems to be the situation as Jaroslav Halak is establishing a stranglehold on the top spot. That point seems much clearer after Halak shut out the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 tonight.

Paycheck politics

In most cases when a team clearly force-feeds starts to a No. 1 goalie despite his understudy’s brilliance, I chalk it up to “paycheck politics.”

There have certainly been times this season when the Blues seemed a little too eager to put Halak in the lineup when Elliott was out-playing him, but Ken Hitchcock’s system is making Halak look like an all-world goalie again.

Halak takes advantage of St. Louis system

Three of his five shutouts in 2011-12 have come in the last five games, but it’s not like he worked particularly hard to get them. He only needed to make 22 stops against the Kings tonight, 15 against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 19 and 22 against the Dallas Stars on Jan. 16. (He also needed a mere 19 saves to blank the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 10.)

Halak must feel a bit like Martin Brodeur did in the New Jersey Devils’ best trapping days – or more appropriately like Ed Belfour in similar times for the Dallas Stars with Hitchcock behind the bench – but Elliott hasn’t done himself many favors lately.

Elliott slows down

Elliott hasn’t been a sieve by any means, but he’s just 1-2-2 in his last five games (although his one win was a shutout). It’s true that he hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any of those contests, but with Halak on fire again, it looks like Elliott will be watching most nights.

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It would all seem unfair-to-downright-tragic if it weren’t for the fact that Elliott received his well-deserved contract extension. Still, it’s tough to deny that the Blues will go as far as Halak takes them in the playoffs, instead.

Don’t believe the Blues when they say that this is just how they drew it up, though.

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 of Predators-Sharks

San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) deflects a shot from Nashville Predators' Viktor Arvidsson (38) during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinal series Friday, April 29, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Associated Press
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The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks will face-off in Game 2 on Sunday night. You can catch the game on NBCSN (8:00 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

The Sharks used a five-goal third period to squash the Predators in the opening game of the best-of-seven series. Game 2 at the Sharks Tank should be a whole lot of fun.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for the game:

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

Are there similarities between the ’14 Sharks and ’16 Ducks?

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.