Mike Halford

St. Louis Blues' goalie Brian Elliott (1) is congratulated by teammate Colton Parayko (55) after their overtime victory over the Dallas Stars during in an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)

Blues look to ‘poised’ Elliott to close out Stars tonight


(AP) – Brian Elliott‘s postseason play is the biggest reason the St. Louis Blues are one win away from their first appearance in the Western Conference final since 2001.

Game after game, the goalie has been handled the pressure.

Protecting a two-goal lead in Game 5 at Dallas on Saturday, the 31-year-old Elliott came up big when needed. The key stop among the 12 saves he made in the third period was thwarting Cody Eakin alone in front of the net.

“Just poised,” forward Alexander Steen said Sunday. “Just comes across, makes himself big, stops the puck. And it’s like, it’s business as usual, get the puck and go the other way.”

The Blues have played two long series and Elliott has been there all the way, giving him league highs in minutes (762:03) and saves (384) in 12 games. Elliott seized the job down the stretch of the regular season after Jake Allen was sidelined by injury, and a healthy Allen now can only watch and marvel along with the rest of the team.

“If we take care of second opportunities, he’s a guy that smothers pucks,” forward Scottie Upshall said. “He’s flexible, he sees the ice well and he’s very underrated playing the puck.”

After ending longstanding postseason frustration by eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in the first round, the Blues can close out Dallas at home Monday night.

Coach Ken Hitchcock cautions not to make too much of Saturday’s 4-1 victory. The Blues seemingly seized control of the series with a 6-1 rout in Game 3, and then the Stars bounced back with an overtime victory in St. Louis to tie the series at two games.

St. Louis has had standing-room crowds throughout the playoffs. Still, the road team has won two straight and three of five in the series.

The Blues are at their best with relentless forechecking and physical play counteracting a faster opponent. The Stars aren’t likely to panic, realizing they dictated much of the pace in Game 5, but lacked favorable bounces.

“We pretty well played close to our best game, we just didn’t finish,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Sunday. “There’s some puck luck in the game and they had all the puck luck.”

Hitchcock got mileage out of a few lineup changes and juggling lines early on in Game 5, but made no promises about sticking with a winning combination. Dmitrij Jaskin stepped up in his first game of the postseason, showing great hands on a second-chance goal and gives St. Louis more skill than agitators Ryan Reaves and Steve Ott.

“Everything is from feel, how I feel when I get up in the morning or think it through tonight when I get rid of you folks,” Hitchcock told reporters. “I don’t rest on keeping every routine the same.”

Dallas forward Tyler Seguin (lower body) isn’t making the trip to St. Louis, although forward Patrick Eaves (leg) could return for Game 6 after missing four games. Ruff has scratched Colton Sceviour, who got the lone goal in Game 3, in the past two games preferring a larger lineup to counteract the Blues.

Report: ‘Hawks to sign star Swedish League goalie Johansson

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 15:  Chicago Blackhawks fans celebrate Brandon Saad #20 of the Chicago Blackhawks second period goal against Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Six of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center  on June 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Lars Johansson, the SHL’s reigning Goalie of the Year, is reportedly close to signing on with the Chicago Blackhawks, per a pair of Swedish outlets (Expressen and Goteborgs-Posten.)

Johansson, 28, had terrific numbers for Frolunda this season, posting a .927 save percentage and 1.74 GAA during the regular season, and a .947 save percentage and 1.43 GAA in the playoffs.

Chicago would prove to be an interesting landing spot. Corey Crawford is locked in long-term, with a $6 million cap hit annually through 2020. His backup, Scott Darling, has one year left on a very affordable deal ($587,500) and posted solid-if-unspectacular numbers this year: 12-8-3, .915 save percentage, 2.58 GAA.

The ‘Hawks had a bit of a revolving door in goal with AHL Rockford this season, as four different ‘tenders — Mac Carruth, Michael Leighton, Mark Visentin and Drew MacIntyre — all got games. None of the four are currently under contract for next season. MacIntyre is out of the mix entirely, as he’s since signed in the German League. Leighton and Visentin are pending UFAs, while Carruth is a restricted free agent.

Johansson has spent his entire professional career in Sweden, having previously suited up for Mora and Vasteras.

Panthers ink ‘reliable, physical’ Gudbranson to one year, $3.5M deal

Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) gets up from the ice after being pushed in the second period during a preseason NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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The Florida Panthers retained another key contributor on Monday, agreeing to a one-year, $3.5 million extension with RFA blueliner Erik Gudbranson.

(Financial terms via Sportsnet.)

“We are very pleased to have signed Erik,” Panthers GM Dale Tallon said in a release. “He is an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

Gudbranson, 24, scored nine points in 64 games with the Panthers this season, and appeared in all six playoff games. While he’s failed to materialize into the star defenseman some envisioned when he went third overall in 2010 — the first d-man off the board — Gudbranson has managed to effectively utilize his size (6-foot-5, 216 pounds) and finished third on the team in hits this year, with 150.

As for the contract itself, the one year term might come as a bit of a surprise. Earlier today, the Sun-Sentinel reported the two sides were working on a multi-year deal, so it’s unclear what happened there.

Florida is reportedly undergoing a shift in its front office and hockey operations department, which could have played a role in Gudbranson’s short-term extension.

Last week, the club inked 44-year-old leading scorer Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal as well. It should be noted these two one-year deals wouldn’t have anything to do with each other — Jagr has almost exclusively played on single-season contracts since coming back from the KHL.

Preds admit ‘it’s only Fisher’s line that has been productive’

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 05:  Mike Fisher #12 of the Nashville Predators reacts after teammate James Neal #18 scores the game tying goal against goalie Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks during the third period of Game Four of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 5, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The numbers say it all, really — Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher and James Neal have exploded for 13 points in the last three games against San Jose.

The rest of the Predators?

Thirteen points as well.

Heading into tonight’s decisive Game 6 at Bridgestone — where the Preds are facing elimination for the third time this postseason — the players know the scoring needs to balance out, and contributions are required from somewhere other than the law firm of Wilson, Fisher and Neal.

“They can’t carry the mail every night,” Colton Sissons said, per The Tennessean. “We’ll have to have other guys chip in.”

Among the Preds that’ve been MIA lately:

Ryan Johansen. The club’s No. 1 center has just one point (an assist) in his last three games, scoreless in the last two.

Filip Forsberg. After leading the Preds with 33 goals during the regular season, he has just one in his last 11 playoff games, dating back to the Anaheim series.

Mike Ribeiro, who finished second on the team in assists this season, has struggled mightily and was a healthy scratch for Games 3 and 4.

Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith (who, in his defense, appears to be playing through injury) have yet to record a point this series.

Nashville’s lack of secondary scoring has been further exposed by the fact that San Jose is getting contributions from its “other” guys. The usual suspects like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau are all hitting the sheet but, in Game 5, so too did the likes of Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and Chris Tierney.

(Donskoi has four points in this series alone, and has been a major catalyst for the Sharks.)

If the Preds hope to win a Game 6 on home ice for the second straight round, they know they’re going to have to put forth a more complete team effort.

“It’s only Fisher’s line that has been productive, and we need more from everyone — myself, too,” Jarnkrok said. “They’ve been great for us so far the whole playoff series.

“We need more than just line to win. We need every line out there.”

Oilers sign St. Cloud State standout Russell

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Longtime Oilers dressing room attendant Joey Moss, along with former Oilers Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, watch as a banner is lowered from the rafters during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The Oilers dipped into the collegiate free agent pool again on Monday, signing St. Cloud State forward Patrick Russell to an entry-level deal.

Russell, 23, just wrapped his sophomore campaign at St. Cloud, racking up 20 goals and 41 points in 41 contests.

A native of Denmark, he’s represented his country on numerous occasions internationally, though primarily at the junior level.

Over the weekend, Edmonton scored one of the bigger prizes from the NCAA level when it signed North Dakota standout Drake Caggiula to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Caggiula, named the Most Outstanding Player at this year’s Frozen Four, chose to sign with the Oilers after narrowing his shortlist of NHL suitors to six teams: Edmonton, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Chicago and Buffalo.