Mike Halford

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Yeo asked Blues ‘for a response’ in San Jose, and he got it

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) With points at a premium down the stretch of the NHL season, there’s no time to lament over lost opportunities. So the St. Louis Blues shook off the disappointment of a loss in Anaheim to end the treacherous California trip with two wins in three games.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored two goals to give him 34 on the season and Zach Sanford added his first since joining St. Louis to help the Blues complete a regular season sweep of the San Jose Sharks with a 4-1 victory on Thursday night.

“We asked for a response and we got it,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Last night, it was a close game, but we weren’t really happy with the way things went. We knew that we left something on the table. So we asked for a response today and the guys more than delivered.”

The 2-1 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday is the only loss for St. Louis in the past seven games. But with an early goal by Scottie Upshall setting the tone and Carter Hutton providing a solid night in goal with 19 saves, the Blues remained two points behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division and four points up on Los Angeles for the second wild-card spot.

“You want to get on them early,” Upshall said. “You want to show them you’re here to play and you have your legs. We had a tough game last night, almost came back and tied it late. I like the way we came out and played. We held them to under 20 shots. We peppered their goalie from some good scoring chances. It was a game we needed.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored the lone goal for the Sharks. Aaron Dell made 32 saves.

“I thought we looked tired out there, sluggish, we just didn’t have any jump up front,” forward Logan Couture said. “I think a lot of it was on us.”

San Jose still holds a seven-point lead in the Pacific Division over Anaheim but missed a chance to pass Minnesota for the second most points in the Western Conference with a third loss this season to St. Louis.

The Blues, despite playing the back end of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, managed to keep the Sharks away from the net for most of the night and allowed only three shots from Sharks forwards in the first 54 minutes.

They took the lead for good when they scored the only goal in the second period. The play started innocently as Jay Bouwmeester took a shot from the boards that deflected behind the net. The puck hit off the backboards and went right to Sanford, who knocked it in for his first goal with St. Louis since being acquired last month from Washington in the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Capitals.

“I saw it coming the whole way,” Sanford said. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to make it to me. It slowed up a little there at the end, but it ended up getting there in time.”

Tarasenko provided the insurance when he knocked in the rebound of Alexander Steen‘s shot off the crossbar on the power play midway through the third and added an empty-netter late in the period.

“We fought the puck a bit and got some bad bounces,” Dell said. “It kind of didn’t go our way. The whole game went that way for us with the bad bounces.”

The teams traded goals late in the first period with Upshall scoring after intercepting a pass from Brent Burns and San Jose tying it when Vlasic’s point pass deflected off defenseman Carl Gunnarsson‘s skate past Hutton.

NOTES: San Jose’s Micheal Haley fought with Ryan Reaves late in the second period. … Sharks D David Schlemko (lower-body injury) missed his seventh straight game but could return Saturday.

UP NEXT

Blues: Visit Arizona on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Anaheim on Saturday.

‘Game 7 again’ for Bolts, as playoff push continues versus Leafs

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There’s little room for error as Tampa Bay tries to complete its one-improbable task of playoff qualification.

As such, all your favorite cliches are being trotted out in advance of tonight’s (admittedly) huge tilt against the Maple Leafs.

“It’s huge, it’s Game 7 again,” Victor Hedman said, per the Times. “All the games will be Game 7 attitude for us. We know it’ll be a packed building, fans are going to be loud. Really looking forward to it.”

Since falling to 22-24-6 with a loss to Ottawa on Feb. 3, the Lightning have caught fire. They’re 12-2-3 since, and have vaulted back into playoff contention — right alongside Toronto.

The Leafs head into tonight with 76 points to Tampa Bay’s 77, but have a game in hand. Both teams are behind the Islanders, who currently hold the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot because of the ROW tiebreaker.

The teams couldn’t be going in different directions, however. The Bolts are surging, and the Leafs are limping — which includes Tuesday’s embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Panthers.

Toronto, like Tampa, is cognizant of the importance surrounding tonight’s game. Nazem Kadri called it a playoff game, and even head coach Mike Babcock — not one to indulge in hyperbole — admitted this was a big one.

“If you want to be in the playoffs, this is an opportunity,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “You set yourself up all season so you can have games like this down the stretch. It would be unbelievable for the development of our team.

“To do that, you have to do it at crunch time of the year and you’ve got to handle the opportunity and deliver.”

Tonight’s game will be the third of four meetings between the two this year. Tampa Bay whipped Toronto in the first, 7-3, but the Leafs earned a measure of revenge with a 3-2 OT win back on Dec. 29.

This evening’s tilt will also mark Brian Boyle‘s return to Amalie Arena, after he was flipped to the Leafs at the trade deadline.

Sedins helped sell Sharks on putting Hansen with Thornton, Pavelski

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San Jose had an idea that trade deadline acquisition Jannik Hansen would be a good fit on the club’s top line next to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

But a word from Hansen’s ex-Canucks teammates — Daniel and Henrik Sedin — cemented it.

From CSN Bay area:

According [Sharks head coach] Pete DeBoer, assistant Johan Hedberg “got a note from one of the Sedins” that Hansen “would be a real good fit with those two guys. That just reinforced it,” said the coach.

Hansen has been a nice fit since making his Sharks debut on March 9. While he hasn’t exactly racked up the points — just one assist, in his first game — the club is 3-1-0 since acquiring him, and Pavelski said the 31-year-old Dane has been a nice compliment to the line.

To hear Hansen explain it, playing with Joe and Joe is a lot like playing with Danny and Hank.

“[Pavelski and Thornton] play the same way as a couple guys in Vancouver,” Hansen said, referring to the twins. “They want the puck, they want to hold on to it, they want to make the plays. For me, it’s fairly simple as to how I’m playing.

“It’s the same thing – digging pucks out, going to the net, getting pucks back for them.”

Hansen often played alongside the Sedins in recent years. When he scored a career-high 22 goals during the ’15-16 campaign, one or both of the twins routinely provided primary/secondary assists.

Hansen will look for his first goal in teal-and-black tonight, when the Sharks host the Blues in San Jose.

 

Mike Keenan hired by KHL’s Chinese team

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MOSCOW (AP) Mike Keenan is taking charge of a Chinese hockey team.

The longtime NHL coach has been hired to lead Chinese club Kunlun Red Star, which competes in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League. Kunlun’s aim is to develop Chinese players as the country builds a national team to compete at its first home Winter Olympics in 2022.

Keenan, who ended the New York Rangers’ 54-year wait for a Stanley Cup title in 1994, has been instructed to ensure at least five Chinese players get regular ice time on a roster dominated by foreigners.

It’s not Keenan’s first job outside North America. In 2015, he became the first coach to win NHL and KHL titles when his Metallurg Magnitogorsk team won the KHL’s Gagarin Cup.

Will Devils lose Hobey Baker finalist Kerfoot to Vancouver?

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Alex Kerfoot has a lot in common with Jimmy Vesey.

And soon, perhaps even more.

Kerfoot, the senior forward who led Harvard in scoring this year en route to a Hobey Baker nomination, was drafted by the Devils in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. But much like Jimmy Vesey — who also went to Harvard, and who also was nominated (and won) the Hobey in his senior year — Kerfoot can balk on signing with the team that drafted him, and be eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.

A Vancouver native, there’s widespread speculation the Canucks would be interested in securing Kerfoot’s services. But the 22-year-old insists he’ll meet with the Devils first, before making any decisions.

“It’s exciting, I grew up a Canucks fan and I still follow them,” Kerfoot said, per News 1130. “But at this time I’m just focused on Harvard and my plan is to meet with the Devils after the season.

“It was a dream to play for the Canucks growing up, but I’m property of New Jersey and I’m not looking past the Devils at this point.”

Vesey, you’ll recall, opted not to sign with the team that drafted him — Nashville — and had his rights flipped to the Sabres before passing on them as well. He eventually signed on with the Rangers, and has 24 points through 69 games in his rookie campaign.

Kerfoot’s situation is also similar to that of Minnesota d-man Mike Reilly. Originally drafted by Columbus, Reilly had huge ties to Minnesota, where he played in college, and eventually spurned the Blue Jackets to sign with the Wild (where his dad, also named Mike, was a minority owner).

Of note, Kerfoot’s father, Greg, is part of the ownership group of Vancouver’s Major League Soccer franchise, the Whitecaps.