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Blues captain Backes on Halak: ‘Best I’ve ever seen him’

The St. Louis Blues came into this year challenging Jaroslav Halak to take the No. 1 goaltending gig and run with it.

He’s accepted the challenge so far — and then some.

Halak’s a perfect 3-0-0 with a .948 save percentage and 1.33 GAA, earning high praise from his captain, David Backes.

“Best I’ve ever seen him,” Backes told NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “He’s dialed in, he’s competing and his work ethic every day — even at practice — is up a few notches.”

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 backstopped the Blues to consecutive playoff appearances.

But for this season, the timeshare was nixed.

As per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Blues pushed Halak to be their 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.

And just in case there were any lingering questions about who’s net it is in St. Louis, the Blues are giving Halak his fourth consecutive start on Saturday against the Rangers.

According to head coach Ken Hitchcock, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Halak starts six straight to begin the year, though that’ll depend on if he can continue his hot play.

Just another big game for Filip Forsberg

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Filip Forsberg‘s bid for a hat trick in three consecutive games didn’t quite pan out Saturday. Fear not, he still had a three-point night.

The 22-year-old Forsberg has been lighting it up of late for the Predators. He had back-to-back hat tricks already this week, the first player to do so since 2010. He then helped lead the way against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over the best team in the NHL.

That’s nine points in the last three games and 10 points in the last four games for Forsberg. The win pushes Nashville back into third in the Central Division — two points better than St. Louis and 12 points back of second place Chicago.

Of course there was animosity late in the game when it appeared the Predators were too far out of reach of the Capitals, as Tom Wilson decided to fight Mike Fisher.

After falling behind in the second period, the Capitals thought they had closed the gap early in the third period only to have video review from a coach’s challenge determine Alex Ovechkin was just offside at the blue line, overturning the original call.

 

Video: Manning crushes Guentzel with massive hit

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The Penguins were up in arms after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning crushed Jake Guentzel with a hit that appeared both high and late during the second period of Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.

There was no call on the play — the main objection from Pittsburgh’s bench immediately after the hit.

Guentzel had just moved the puck to a nearby linemate as the play transitioned into the neutral zone when Manning threw the hit, sending Guentzel hard to the ice.

Guentzel, for now at least, appears to have gotten the last laugh. He returned and recorded the primary assist on Nick Bonino‘s goal, which gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.

Philly has since cut into the Pittsburgh lead.

Quick wins in his return, Kings rally versus Ducks

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar, of Slovenia, and goalie Jonathan Quick congratulate each other after defeating the Dallas Stars in an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Kings won 3-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Welcome back, Jonathan Quick.

Starting for the first time since Oct. 12 — an absence of 59 games due to a groin injury — Quick was solid in his return against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. He stopped 32 shots, allowing for the Kings to eventually find some offense in a 4-1 victory over their California rivals.

The Kings trailed going into the third period, but came alive with four unanswered goals for an important win in the Western Conference playoff race. Tyler Toffoli scored twice and Jeff Carter secured the win with his 30th goal of the season — after he appeared dazed in a fight with Ryan Kesler earlier in the game.

In typical fashion, tempers boiled over between these two teams. In typical fashion, Corey Perry was once again at the center of the mayhem. He tripped Anze Kopitar in the second period, leading to a melee before Brayden McNabb and Nate Thompson paired off in the main event.

“I think the game kind of led to the third. I thought we were playing great leading up to it,” said Quick, per LA Kings Insider.

“We were creating chances, played hard, heavy and I think if we don’t play like that in the first two periods we don’t get four in the third so we got rewarded for our work over 60 minutes.”

Again, this is a big win for the Kings.

Getting back into the top three in the Pacific Division seems like a tall, if not impossible order with 21 games remaining on their schedule and only four wins in their last 10 games. Anaheim, third in the division, is 10 points ahead.

But this win does help the Kings in their bid for a wild card spot.

They are only three points back of St. Louis for the final playoff spot in the conference. Nashville was victorious over Washington a few hours after L.A. defeated Anaheim, so the Predators move into third in the Central.

Quick winning in his return is huge news for the Kings. But more importantly, the players they rely on for offensive production came through. Kopitar had two assists. Carter had a two-point night. Ditto for Toffoli. Tanner Pearson had three assists.

It’s been a lack of production from top players that coach Darryl Sutter has lamented during his team’s recent struggles.

“It’s the only way we’re going to make the playoffs. Those guys held scoreless or shut down or outplayed by the other team’s top guys, we won’t make the playoffs,” said Sutter.

“They have to.”

WATCH LIVE: Flyers at Penguins from Heinz Field

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins go toe-to-toe prior to fighting during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins are going to take their rivalry outside on Saturday.

The Flyers visit the Penguins in a Stadium Series clash at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the action on NBC or online with the NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

NHL On NBC: Penguins, Flyers meet in Stadium Series

Giroux: ‘It’s all business’ between Penguins and Flyers at Heinz Field