Mike Halford

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On verge of sweeping Wild, Blues get Stastny back at practice

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Things just keep getting better for St. Louis.

Having already taken a commanding 3-0 series lead on Minnesota, the Blues could have a huge lineup piece back for tomorrow’s potential series clincher, as Paul Stastny returned to practice on Tuesday.

It’s the first time Stastny has skated with teammates in nearly a month. He suffered a lower-body injury on Mar. 21 and has been out ever since, missing 10 regular-season contests and all three postseason tilts against the Wild.

Watch Blues vs. Wild: Game 4 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app

“I thought he was skating well,” Blues head coach Mike Yeo said after practice, per NHL.com. “He was involved in every drill and certainly conditioning didn’t look like it was an issue.

“Timing and execution didn’t look like it was an issue either.”

Yeo was mum on Stastny’s availability for Game 4, re-iterating the center was day-to-day.

But there’s no denying he’d love to have Stastny back in the lineup.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said at the time of the injury, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny still managed to score 18 goals and 40 points. He also averaged a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.

After ugly injury, Polak to undergo leg surgery today

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Roman Polak, who suffered a season-ending injury in Toronto’s Game 2 win over Washington, will go under the knife today to repair his right leg, head coach Mike Babcock announced.

Polak suffered the injury following a hit late in the second period from Caps d-man Brooks Orpik. Polak was sent spinning, and his right skate caught the ice and twisted under his body. Early reports suggest he suffered an ankle injury on the play.

Losing Polak was a pretty significant blow. He was a steady lineup presence for the Leafs this year, appearing in 75 games while averaging just under 18 minutes per night. Polak also played nearly 24 minutes in Toronto’s Game 1 OT loss, and routinely logged a ton of time on the penalty kill.

With Polak out, Nikita Zaitsev returned to the Leafs lineup in Game 3 and played quite a bit, skating 20:22 in his playoff debut.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

Will Calgary consider goalie switch for Game 4?

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Earlier this year, Chad Johnson took over the Flames’ starting gig from the struggling Brian Elliott. Johnson played exceptionally well, and some suggested he might’ve saved Calgary’s season.

So, could the Flames go back to the well and climb out of this playoff hole?

They might have to.

Stream Ducks vs. Flames: Game 4 on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, USA)

Elliott looked shaky in Monday’s 5-4 OT loss to the Ducks, one that put the Flames on the brink of elimination. He was unable to close the door after his teammates raced out to a 4-1 lead, and the unraveling began with this Shea Theodore marker late in the second period:

It ended with another odorous goal in OT, one in which Elliott’s rebound ricocheted off teammate Michael Stone and into the back of the net.

“It’s not an easy [loss], especially personally,” Elliott said following the game, per the Herald. “I didn’t feel I played very well. I let the team down a little bit. It’s tough to lose off a bounce like that.

“You want to help the team more than you hurt it. It’s tough to swallow right now. The guys spotted four goals, and we should win a game like that.”

Elliott’s numbers have steadily declined as the series has progressed. After making 38 saves on 41 shots in the opener — a .927 save percentage — he’s since allowed eight goals on 48 shots.

An .833 save percentage.

It’s not just the numbers, either. Onlookers noticed that Elliott looked shaky throughout Game 3, suggesting that Anaheim’s comeback strategy consisted of throwing pucks on net, and seeing what Elliott could stop. Clearly, it worked. Theodore’s 4-2 goal game from a bad angle, and Perry’s OT winner was flung on Elliott from a distance.

So… what about Johnson?

Though he’s never played in the playoffs before, the 30-year-old has proven capable of filling the starter’s gig. He was solid in Buffalo two years ago — 22 wins, .920 save percentage, 2.36 GAA — and, as mentioned above, played very well in a No. 1 capacity earlier this season, when head coach Glen Gulutzan adopted a “win and you’re in” strategy for his netminders.

Johnson’s best stretch came in November, when he went 7-3-0 with a .939 save percentage. It allowed the Flames to survive Elliott’s early struggles, and get back into the playoffs after missing last year.

Now, they might need to rely on Johnson yet again.

Hartnell among lineup changes as CBJ looks to avoid sweep (Updated)

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Columbus head coach John Tortorella is shaking things up ahead what could be the last game of the season.

The Blue Jackets, down 3-0 in their first round series to Pittsburgh, are making a series of lineup changes for tonight’s Game 4 at Nationwide — which includes veteran forward Scott Hartnell.

Update: Per the Dispatch, Hartnell is a healthy scratch this evening. He said he was “a little frustrated” with the decision.

Stream Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on NBC Sports

Lukas Sedlak, who’s been out with an upper-body injury, will replace Hartnell up front. This will be Sedlak’s playoff debut, after starring with AHL Cleveland last year en route to the Calder Cup championship.

On defense, Zach Werenski was already ruled out for the year due to facial fractures suffered in Game 3.  But that’s not the only change on defense. Youngster Scott Harrington is being replaced as well, after playing over 18 minutes on Sunday.

With Werenski and Harrington out, the Jackets will play Kyle Quincey and Markus Nutivaara. Both will be making their postseason debuts as well.

Finally, Matt Calvert will draw back into the lineup after missing Game 3 to suspension. Appears as though he’ll go in for Sonny Milano, the rookie that played less than seven minutes against Pittsburgh the other night.

“It was tough to watch Game Three,” Calvert said, per the Jackets website. “You want to be out there helping your teammates. I’m just going to come back, play my game, bring energy, play hard and try to help out the team.”

Related: Fleury ‘seems to stop the hard ones and maybe let in the easy ones,’ says Hartnell

 

Kings sign Minnesota-Duluth scorer Iafallo

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Alex Iafallo, the Minnesota-Duluth senior that finished 12th in the country in scoring this season, has signed an entry-level deal with the L.A. Kings, according to the Buffalo News.

Iafallo, 23, is coming off a terrific campaign with the Bulldogs. He scored 21 goals and 51 points in 42 games, helping the school advance to the Frozen Four — where he was named to the All-Tournament team.

An undrafted free agent, Iafallo could quickly find himself in action with the Kings’ AHL club in Ontario. The Reign are set to begin their Calder Cup playoff campaign against rivals San Diego.