Blues’ trip to Yale to support Schwartz all ‘about family’

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. – In the dressing room of the Yale women’s hockey team, No. 17 still hangs in its proper stall. One day a year, the jersey is brought out rinkside and hung behind the home bench at Ingalls Rink, a reminder that Mandi Schwartz is always present at her team’s hockey games.

Friday night in New Haven, the Schwartz family presence was never greater. For the first time, Mandi’s brother Jaden was there in the rink his sister loved – and the kid brother brought a posse. Every one of Jaden’s St. Louis Blues teammates, along with coach Ken Hitchcock and GM Doug Armstrong, took a timeout from their four-game road trip to attend the “White Out for Mandi,” the annual Yale game that honors Jaden’s late sister, a Bulldog hockey player who died in 2011 following a 28-month fight with a rare form of leukemia.

Call it an unconventional way for St. Louis to celebrate an important bounceback win at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, or to prepare for a road-trip finale at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. All that seemed almost trivial to the Blues players who perched in a corner section of Ingalls, wearing their road white jerseys for the White Out and chatting up awestruck youth hockey players – many of whom had been at the rink for hours after watching the Blues practice there in the afternoon.

Whether those youth players or the Blues were more pleased to be there, it was sometimes hard to tell.

“It’s fun to have these little breaks in the season, break the routine a little bit,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the New Rochelle, N.Y., native who scored the tiebreaking goal to beat the Rangers on Thursday, and who played youth hockey himself at Ingalls Rink. “But more than anything, to be here for [Jaden] and help him out and help his family out – really, we’re not doing much, we’re just trying to be a great supporting cast for Jaden.”

Jaden Schwartz was drafted by St. Louis in June 2010, some 10 months before his sister succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells for which Mandi needed, but never could find, a donor match for a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.

This season, Jaden, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound winger, has 16 goals and 35 points as a 21-year-old – Thursday’s was his 100th NHL game – for a Blues team that is by all indications a Stanley Cup contender. So when the NHL schedule came out last summer, his parents, Rick and Carol, set out to plan the fourth annual White Out – which raised funds for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation – around the Blues’ visit to the three New York-area teams. (New Haven is about 70 miles from New York City.)

“We expected maybe two or three buddies to come and join us for a game,” Rick Schwartz said. “But when Doug Armstrong said the whole team’s coming, and they’re going to be supporting Jaden … I see them here together, I’m glad they’re here by Jaden’s side today. This is a tough day for him.”

Jaden, meanwhile, was “shocked” by his teammates’ gesture. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I knew I was going to come, and maybe I’d bring some teammates, but it just kind of escalated, and one day, the whole team is coming. Yeah, shocked. And it means a lot.”

In between the Blues’ practice and the Yale game (a 2-2 tie with Brown), Jaden spent his first trip to Mandi’s campus on a Rick-and-Carol-guided tour of his sister’s dorm, and some of her classrooms. While the attention drawn to Mandi’s foundation, as well as the marrow donor drives she inspired, in conjunction with the “Be The Match” registry, is welcome, Jaden said he was looking forward to a bit of quiet reflection, to sit by Mandi’s locker that the team still keeps intact, “to get away and walk around.”

The Blues’ own getaway takes them to Long Island on Saturday, where a victory would give them a 3-1-0 road trip and help wash away the taste of Tuesday’s 7-1 thumping in New Jersey. Or maybe that sour taste is already gone.

“I think all of us, we get used to the [NHL] lifestyle, and at times you lose sight of other factors that are important in life,” Armstrong said while his Blues practiced before about 300 fans. “To get to come here, you realize what this is for, what this means.”

“You know, we first started looking at [Jaden] when he was 17 years old,” Hitchcock said. “We watched him play at Colorado College, we’ve watched him grow up in the organization. He’s a teammate, he’s a friend. This is about family.”

(Photo credit: Sam Rubin, Yale Sports Publicity)

Talbot torments Ducks as Oilers take 2-0 series lead

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Those who vehemently argued for Cam Talbot being a Vezina finalist likely felt vindicated tonight (even if postseason results don’t factor into the voting).

In Game 1, Leon Draisaitl stole the show. Talbot was the standout of Game 2, snubbing a steady Ducks threat as Edmonton won 2-1 on Friday.

And, just like that, the Oilers are up 2-0 in their second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks. Better yet for this young group: the venue shifts to what’s likely to be a rowdy scene in Edmonton for Games 3 and 4.

The tone was set when Andrej Sekera scored just 65 seconds into the contest. That said, the Oilers could have sulked when a would-be 2-0 goal was called off (and they had to kill a penalty). Instead, they just kept battling, even after Jakob Silfverberg ended Talbot’s shutout bit with a laser beam on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Oilers managed to match the Ducks (1-for-4 each on the PP), even as Talbot faced 12 shots on goal during Anaheim’s power-play opportunities.

Talbot ultimately made 39 of 40 stops, and while the Ducks kept Connor McDavid from scoring, number 97 sure looked speedy and dangerous at times in Game 2.

Anaheim came into the second round with home-ice advantage through the West side of the playoffs, seemingly enjoying a golden opportunity when other conference powers fell. Instead, it’s looking like the Oilers might just have a chance to prove that they’re big-time contenders, too.

Game 3 airs on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream.

 

Latest goalie interference mess: Oilers get penalty, not goal

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Ah, goalie interference. Does the fun ever start?

Arguably the most irritating facet of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs reared its pesky head once again on Friday, as the Edmonton Oilers saw a would-be 2-0 goal disallowed in the first period of Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

The goal wasn’t just disallowed, either, as Mark Letestu was given a minor penalty.

One would imagine that there are opinions for or against the goal (and penalty counting); there are also many who are just getting a little worn out by the uncertainty surrounding such calls. Tomas Holmstrom is nodding his head so hard right now, everyone.

Here’s one unhappy take:

Moments after this post went up, the Oilers made it 2-0 for real this time. Check out the game here.

Math may help build Vegas Knights, but biggest aim is not being boring

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Unlike Pierre Dorion, it sounds like Vegas Golden Knights GM George McPhee would rather listen to analytics-minded people rather than … you know, hit them.

As McPhee readies for the expansion draft, he told The Star’s Kevin McGran in Q&A that they’ll at least be factored into decisions.

I’ve been really fascinated by how revealing that data can be. You have these kids speaking a different language. But I’m convinced it has a really important place in this game. You have to pay attention to it, and you have to use it.

Naturally, the real question with McPhee and other executives comes down to how much they will lean on analytics. Some teams seem to pick and choose when to listen to such voices, ending up with an odd mix of moves that please and unnerve the “fancy stats” community.

Owner Bill Foley gave a good idea of how much they’ll lean on stats vs. more traditional approaches in an interview with the Vegas Hockey Hotline back in February, which was transcribed by The Hockey Writers’ Keith Scheessele.

“Analytics is not going to drive how we draft,” Foley said. “Analytics are going to supplement what the scouts are seeing. We’re going to rely on the scouts and what they recommend.”

(Foley also spoke of rating players in 10 different categories, which started to make one think about how old sports video games could only quantify skills in so many ways. Anyway …)

So, it sounds like McPhee & Co. will take a modern approach – a mixture of the old and the new – rather than going full-on bold and revolutionary like, say, the Cleveland Browns or Golden State Warriors.

Considering the mystery of roster quality one faces with the Vegas Knights, it honestly might be most important that McPhee is repeatedly stating that he doesn’t aim to put together a boring hockey team.

Hey, if it takes a while to be good, at least the Vegas Knights might fit with their environment and put on a show.

Tarasenko’s two goals help Blues tie series with Predators

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One of the (many) remarkable things about the St. Louis Blues dispatching the Minnesota Wild was that they didn’t need a ton of production from Vladimir Tarasenko. He didn’t score a goal until the clinching game of that series.

The Blues needed more from him tonight, and he responded with two huge goals to help St. Louis win 3-2 in Game 2, tying the second-round series at 1-1.

Tarasenko scored the opening goal on that major power-play opportunity from the Vernon Fiddler knee on Colton Parayko, while Joel Edmundson wisely got out of the way to let Tarasenko nab the game-winner.

That ended up being the decisive factor as the Nashville Predators finally lost their first game of the postseason.

St. Louis must be breathing a sigh of relief for a number of reasons. The series shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4, so going down 2-0 might have been lethal.

Even beyond that, the Blues had some breaks go their way that likely won’t repeat to the same degree in future contests. The Predators didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity while St. Louis spent significant chunks of the contest on the man advantage, going 1-for-5 (but again, that includes a major).

The Blues also won despite what must have been a frustrating start. They only managed a 1-1 tie after the first 20 minutes despite holding Nashville to a mere three shots on goal.

The Predators also managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1, yet the Blues kept fighting to get back in this series. Game 3 will air on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App (Click here for the livestream link).

* – That said, he made a lot of commotion to set up Edmundson’s overtime game-winner from Game 1. That connection continued on Friday, as you likely noticed.