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Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the St. Louis Blues, we pick…goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Over the past two seasons, St. Louis has been content with the one-two goalie punch of Halak and Brian Elliott. For the most part, it’s served the team well — Halak and Elliott combined to win the Jennings in 2011-12 for fewest goals allowed and have backstopped the Blues to consecutive playoff appearances.

But is appears the timeshare is over.

As per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Halak will head into this season as the club’s No. 1:

The Blues believe Jaroslav Halak has to be their man. Gone in St. Louis is the politically correct spin that the Blues have two capable netminders and both will battle for starts.

The Blues have made a collective, organizational decision that this season is Halak’s to win or lose. They’re handing him the keys, perhaps for the last time, being that Halak is a UFA after the season.

Halak rededicated himself in the offseason, staying in St. Louis to focus on his workouts instead of going home overseas, and showing up to camp dropping his body fat from 14 percent to 8 percent.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

While Elliott’s been a nice story — arriving on a two-way deal barely above the league minimum, playing himself onto the 2012 All-Star team — Halak was always thought to be the No. 1, partly because of what St. Louis gave up to get him (Lars Eller, Ian Schultz) and partly because of what it paid him ($15 million over four years).

Oh, speaking of that contract…

As LeBrun mentioned, it expires at the end of this season, another reason why Halak’s under immense pressure. At 28, he’s still yet to establish himself as a bell cow-type netminder, one that can log an extensive workload and withstand its rigors.

(Plagued by hand and groin injuries, Halak’s never appeared in more than 57 games in a single season; what’s more, since his lone “bell cow” performance — literally carrying Montreal to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals — he’s won exactly one playoff game.)

So Halak’s auditioning for the No. 1 gig, playing for a new deal and, let’s be honest, shouldering a large portion of St. Louis’ expectations.

The Blues spent over $100 million this summer securing the services of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and Jordan Leopold, a sign they believe their core group is ready to compete for a Cup.

(Editor’s note: Some have noticed we also did an Under Pressure: Alex Pietrangelo earlier this week, which begs the question — why two Blues? Well hey, there’s a lot of pressure in St. Louis this year. Also, the duplicate has nothing to do with a possible snafu in PHT’s editorial schedule that might’ve had two different authors covering the same team. Nope, that definitely did not happen. We hope you’re enjoying the series and are looking forward to next week’s Under Pressure: Barret Jackman.)

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Just for Men: Sidney Crosby

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People love star athletes because they can do amazing things. Even so, people also often love to see the occasional moment of weakness.

Aside from the occasional injury hiccup, Sidney Crosby‘s been as advertised after being a super-hyped No. 1 overall pick. He has that “Golden Goal,” two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup ring and plenty of individual accolades.

… Yet he can’t really grow much of a beard.

Granted, his facial hair is thicker now that he’s “Sid the star nearing 30” rather than “Sid the Kid,” but no one will confuse him for Brent Burns and his living-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods beard.

For some, especially Crosby-haters, it’s fodder for mockery.

For the rest of us, it’s merely comforting to see that people like Crosby are human and actually have a few flaws.

Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives,’ says Caps’ Beagle

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Not many people expected the Capitals-Penguins series to be over in five games, but there’s a chance that could happen before the end of the week. After their 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, the Capitals are one loss away from being bounced from the 2016 playoffs.

The Capitals failed to take advantage of the fact that Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4 because of his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Letang is now set to return for Game 5 which makes Washington’s task even more difficult.

“We didn’t take advantage of it,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per NHL.com. “One thing I said to the guys coming into this, and we talked it about it yesterday, was when Kris got his suspension, is that they’re going to rally. Their whole team, their forwards are going to come back. They talked about they didn’t play their best game (in Game 3) and now they have Letang out and everybody had to step up on their side, and I thought they did.”

If you look back at the regular season, the Capitals were head and shoulders above the rest of the Eastern Conference and the league for a good portion of the season. Washington finished 11 points ahead of second place Dallas in the league standings and it looked like they had the team that would finally take them over the hump.

Although things look gloomy, it’s important to realize that the series is far from over. Many NHLers would tell you that the fourth win is always the hardest to come by in a best-of-seven series, and by no means is anyone expecting the Capitals to wave the white flag.

“Whenever you lose a game, it’s obviously an opportunity missed, but it had nothing to do with them missing some of their players,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle, per NHL.com. “We’re looking forward. Our back’s against the wall and the most important game of our lives is coming up.”

Game 5 goes Saturday night in Washington.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial:

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.