David Backes, Jonathan Toews

NHL on NBCSN: Blackhawks and Blues are Cup favorite rivals

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Chicago and St. Louis have been at each other’s throats since the Blues arrived in the NHL in 1967. Now they’re both favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They’ll face each other on Rivalry Night at 8 p.m. on NBCSN. You also can watch it via NBC Sports Live Extra.

One thing you can count on when the Blackhawks and Blues face off is a game played with a lot of angst. With the Detroit Red Wings off in the Eastern Conference, these two teams are now the rivals who’ll battle to take the Central Division year in and year out.

This season, they’re both teams who are considered to be favorites to win the Stanley Cup. That should only help step up the hostilities.

St. Louis has seen their season get off to a roaring start going 2-0-0 and outscoring opponents 11-2 in those games. Their defense led by Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester is as good as advertised. Jaroslav Halak’s play in goal has also been outstanding. What’s most surprising is the offensive output.

Goal scoring was thought to again be an issue for the Blues, but early on they’re showing it’s the least of their problems. Five players have three points already and another five more have two. Only Alex Steen has more than one goal, he’s got two, and the rest of the offense comes in waves.

Editor’s Note: ProHockeyTalk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $4,000 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Wednesday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 8pm ET. Here’s the link.

That should all be a lot for Chicago to handle, but if there’s a team capable of it, it’s them. The Blackhawks’ offense hasn’t been nearly as prolific as the Blues to start, but Brandon Saad is off to a roaring start with two goals and two assists in their two games. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson has been a setup man with three assists and Patrick Kane has two goals.

The one guy who needs to improve is Corey Crawford. In his two starts he’s given up six goals in 48 shots. The save percentage and goals-against average aren’t much to write home about, but if there’s a team he can figure it out against it’s the Blues. In his career, Crawford has gone 9-1-2 against St. Louis. The only team he has a better record against is Detroit.

That should set the table nicely for tonight’s tilt from Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
AP
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure, sometimes, can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of exactly that. They’d change the plan when things didn’t go their way. They’d play too much as individuals. They’d play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”