Mike Halford

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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.”

Kraft Hockeyville is back for 2017

On the heels of last year’s incredibly successful campaign, Kraft Hockeyville is back.

Last year, the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, MI emerged the winner, capturing $150,000 in arena upgrades and the opportunity to host a preseason broadcast on NBCSN between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

More on this year’s competition:

Like a hockey game, Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017 has three periods. In the first period, communities across the country are encouraged to enter by sharing unique stories about their local rink, teams, hockey spirit and passion and submitting their nominations now through March 10, 2017, at http://www.KraftHockeyville.com, where complete contest rules and nomination applications are available.

The competition heats up in the second period when 10 community finalists will be chosen, which includes three rounds of public voting:

· Round 1 (April 11-13, 2017) – Top four communities chosen to move on to the next round; remaining six each receive $10,000 toward arena upgrades.
· Round 2 (April 18-19, 2017) – Top two finalists selected; remaining two each receive $25,000 toward arena upgrades.
· Round 3 (April 24-25, 2017) – One community will emerge as Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017; runner-up will receive $75,000 toward arena upgrades.

In the final period, the winning community will be announced April 29, 2017 and receive the grand prize of the chance to host a preseason game televised on NBCSN, as well as $150,000 in arena upgrades from Kraft Heinz.

Like last year, U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer and NHL on NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick will serve as program ambassador.

“I’m thrilled to be back as part of Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017 to help inspire community rinks and youth hockey players across the U.S.,” Roenick said. “This great program helps share the hockey spirit and allows me to work with the next generation of players to bring communities together.”

Here at PHT, we’ll be profiling some of the communities chosen to participate. Be sure to check back frequently throughout the year to see if your local rink will take home the title.

For more details, please visit krafthockeyville.com.

Vlasic on IR after taking slapshot to face

Tough start to the year for Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Vlasic, who took a Shayne Gostisbehere slapshot to the face in a game against Philly on Friday, has been placed on injured reserve and will miss at least the next two games, per the Mercury-News.

The incident occurred late in the third period of San Jose’s 2-0 win, when Gostisbehere’s shot rode up Joel Ward‘s stick and struck Vlasic. The veteran d-man tweeted out a picture of the damage shortly thereafter:

With Vlasic set to miss Tuesday’s game against the Kings and Thursday’s against the Wild, Mirco Mueller has been recalled from the AHL Barracuda.

It’s unclear how head coach Peter DeBoer will deploy his defense in the wake of this injury. In addition to Vlasic, David Schlemko was also absent from Monday’s practice, so the pairings were makeshift.

Whatever the case, DeBoer has a big hole to fill. Vlasic sits second on the team in TOI per game — trailing only Brent Burns — and is regarded as the club’s top shutdown defenseman.

 

Video: Kempny scores second-fastest goal in Winter Classic history

Didn’t take long for the ‘Hawks to make their mark on the 2017 Winter Classic.

Defenseman Michal Kempny skipped home his second goal of the year — and the first of the afternoon — to give Chicago an early lead over St. Louis at Busch Stadium.

Scored just 62 seconds in, Kempny’s marker was the second-fastest in Winter Classic history. Back at the inaugural event in 2008, Pittsburgh forward Colby Armstrong scored 21 seconds in — a record that still stands — and, last year, Montreal’s David Desharnais scored at the 1:14 mark for what had been the second-quickest.

Artemi Panarin and Duncan Keith registered assists on the Kempny goal.

One month after waiving him, Devils re-claim Boucher

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Reid Boucher is back in New Jersey.

Boucher, the Devils’ fourth-round pick in ’11 that was lost on waivers to Nashville last month, has been re-claimed by his original drafting team.

Per NJ.com, New Jersey has confirmed the acquisition, and apparently the team won’t send Boucher to AHL Albany — suggesting he’s going to stick around with the big club for the time being.

For how long remains to be seen.

Boucher, 23, has bounced around plenty in recent months. He scored one goal in three games with the Preds, notching five points in five games for their minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee. That’s sort of been the story of his professional career — a really good point producer at the American League level, but one that’s bounced in and out of NHL lineups.

It’s not entirely surprising New Jersey wanted to get Boucher back in the fold. He did some good things for the organization, including a ’15-16 campaign in which he scored 19 points in 39 games.