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Refurbished, loaded St. Louis Blues hoping it’s their year

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — One talented Russian winger. Deep lines and pairings. Years of playoff heartache.

Months after Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues are looking to follow in their footsteps.

”They don’t give up after a lot of tough years,” star winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. ”They work on their game, play hard and finally reach their goal, so this is a really good example for us. I think that’s what we need to try to do.”

St. Louis also is looking for the franchise’s first championship. The Blues missed the playoffs last year after six consecutive appearances, falling one point shy of continuing the streak when they lost 5-2 at Colorado on the final day of the regular season.

General manager Doug Armstrong could have taken the franchise in a different direction after the disappointing finish, but he decided to strengthen the roster instead. The Blues signed center Tyler Bozak, wingers David Perron and Patrick Maroon, and backup goaltender Chad Johnson in free agency, and traded for center Ryan O'Reilly in a blockbuster deal with Buffalo.

The veteran holdovers, including Tarasenko, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and goaltender Jake Allen, enjoyed the view during Armstrong’s active offseason.

”It’s obviously huge,” said Brayden Schenn, who set career highs with 28 goals and 42 assists in his first year with St. Louis. ”You look at our division, how tight it’s going to be, how tight the West is going to be, you’ve got to have the pieces to compete and we feel like we have that in this locker room.”

With Schenn, O’Reilly and Bozak, the Blues have one of the league’s strongest groups of centers. Perron collected a career-high 50 assists last season while helping expansion Vegas make it to the Stanley Cup Final, and the rugged Maroon had 17 goals and 26 assists in 74 games with Edmonton and New Jersey.

The Blues are hoping the new additions will help them get back to their usual lofty spot in the rough-and-tumble Central Division – and then make some playoff history.

”We need to learn from last year,” Tarasenko said. ”It’s not enough to play up and down all year and then fighting for one point, I don’t think that’s the spot where we want to be. I think our goal is to make the playoff without questions and just win the Cup, so that’s what we need to do and play more consistent during the season.”

WATCHING FABBRI

Robby Fabbri missed all of last season after re-tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He was activated off injured reserve before the start of training camp, but he has been slowed by a groin strain. The 22-year-old Fabbri was selected by St. Louis in the first round of the 2014 draft. He had 29 goals and 37 assists in 123 games before the run of injuries, and could add to the Blues’ forward depth if he can find a way to stay healthy.

”He can do everything,” Tarasenko said. ”He’s smart and can score, can pass the puck, like play the game well. You know when we was playing together, it was fun. I like spending time on the ice with him.”

POWER-PLAY WOES

St. Louis finished 30th in the 31-team NHL with a 15.4 percent success rate on the power play last season, just ahead of Edmonton at 14.8 percent. The Blues had just 38 power-play goals.

WORTH WATCHING

The 26-year-old Tarasenko remains one of the NHL’s most gifted scorers. He had 33 goals and 33 assists in 80 games last season. But Tarasenko had left shoulder surgery on April 11 after he got hurt in a collision with Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog in the regular-season finale.

WORTH WATCHING II

Allen missed the start of training camp due to back spasms. The 28-year-old Allen had a 2.75 goals-against average and .906 save percentage while splitting time with Carter Hutton last season, and his play is a big key for the Blues this year.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

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While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Helm fined $5K for slash on Flames’ Lindholm

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Darren Helm and Elias Lindholm had a little battle in the third period of Thursday’s 5-1 Flames win and it has resulted in a $5,000 fine for the Red Wings forward.

It all began during a face-off when Lindholm got taken down by Helm. The Flames forward took exception and skated after Helm as the puck entered the Calgary zone. The tiff continued on with Lindholm throwing an elbow at Helm, who responded by getting up off the ice and slashing Lindholm in the back of the leg.

“Their guy comes with an elbow that should have probably been called right away,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Then Darren reacts to that as most guys would, you get an elbow to the face for no reason you’re going to react. We got to be more disciplined in those situations, but he slashed him. I don’t think the slash was that super-hard, but it sure looked hard the way he went down.”

The fine is the maximum amount allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Helm was given a major for slashing and a game misconduct, while Lindholm got off with just an interference minor. Lindholm was helped to the dressing room and there’s been no update yet on his condition.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

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The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

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Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.