Tank you very much: Tarasenko leads Blues to Winter Classic win over ‘Hawks

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As has often been the case this season, Tank made the difference when it counted.

Vladimir Tarasenko — who, for the record, doesn’t love the Tank nickname — continued his terrific campaign on Monday afternoon, scoring a pair of third-period goals to pace St. Louis to a 4-1 win over Chicago in the 2017 Winter Classic at Busch Stadium.

Dubbed “a man on a mission” by NHL on NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, Tarasenko was a going concern throughout the day, finishing with a game-high nine shots. Yet it was a pair of strikes in the final frame — coming less than two minutes apart — that proved the difference.

The first, Tarasenko’s 17th of the year, was certainly a lucky bounce. He took Robby Fabbri‘s pass and tried to center the puck, only to have it carom off Niklas Hjalmarsson‘s skate and past Corey Crawford.

That proved to be the eventual game-winner, but Tarasenko wasn’t done there.

Just 1:53 after putting the Blues up by one, he was at it again, taking a Jori Lehtera feed to snap a shot past Crawford:

Alex Steen netted the final goal for the Blues, who scored four unanswered goals after Michael Kempny opened the scoring for Chicago just 62 seconds into the affair. Kempny’s marker was second-fastest goal in Winter Classic history and, fittingly, something of a knuckle-ball shot, skipping along the ice before eluding Blues goalie Jake Allen.

That was about the only thing that didn’t go right for the Blues on the day.

It was a great result for the franchise and, by proxy, the city of St. Louis. It had been reveling in the Winter Classic celebrations for days leading up to the event, excited at the opportunity to showcase itself as one of the league’s most passionate markets. Though less-than-ideal weather conditions threatened to derail things — the NHL had to come up with a contingency plan to finish the game, should the rain have made conditions unplayable — the crowd was enthusiastic and huge: 46,556 were in attendance, making it a sellout.

And fittingly, St. Louis’ game-changer changed the game.

Tarasenko, as mentioned above, is in the midst of a fantastic season. He now sits sixth in the NHL in goals, with 18, and continues to almost single-handedly carry the Blues. His 41 points are tops on the team, well clear of the No. 2 scorer (Fabbri, who has 25).

Afterward, he explained what today’s win meant.

“We really tried to prepare for this game because, you know, the Chicago Blackhawks are in first place in our division,” Tarasenko told McGuire. “It was a really important game for us, and I think we all just tried to play our best tonight.”

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eihel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least development into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.