Blues still desperate and trailing Stars going into Game 6

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The St. Louis Blues have been playing desperate hockey all of 2019 – since being in last place at the start of January and making an incredible comeback to make the playoffs.

Now they are trailing in the postseason for the first time, down 3-2 in their second-round series against the Dallas Stars, and have to win consecutive games to advance to the Western Conference finals.

”It’s no different, all year, ever since Jan. 1 we’ve had to climb and we’ve faced adversity,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said.

”Win or you go home. Simple as that,” center Jaden Schwartz said. ”The desperation level needs to be higher than it’s ever been.”

Actually, it would be win and go home for a chance to advance.

But St. Louis first has to win Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday (3 p.m EDT, NBC). It is the only NHL playoff game on the schedule for the day since Carolina has already wrapped up a four-game sweep of the New York Islanders in their series.

The Stars took the series lead with their 2-1 road win Friday night. They will now try to repeat what they did in the opening round, when they won three games in a row to close out that series with a Game 6 win at home.

”The series becomes more determined and we’ve become more determined as a group,” said Dallas veteran center Jason Spezza, who has goals in consecutive games . ”You sense the importance of the games, and we’ve made good adjustments. … It’s just a matter of staying in the present.”

Before their Game 6 clincher in the first round against Nashville on April 22, the Stars hadn’t won a playoff series on home ice since 2008 – the last time they made it to the Western Conference finals.

John Klingberg scored the game-winner 17 minutes into overtime to close out the Predators, in a game the defenseman said Stars players treated like a Game 7.

While that might not necessarily be the approach of their rookie NHL coach, Montgomery knows that clincher could benefit them now.

”We go into every game trying to have a great start and worry about staying in the moment in that game,” he said Saturday. ”I think the experience of having that Game 6 … I think that’s going to help us be better for tomorrow.”

Except for a bad flub when trying to clear a puck in the third period, a mistake Schwartz quickly converted into a goal, Stars goalie Ben Bishop was spectacular again in Game 5 against the Blues. The Vezina Trophy finalist stopped 38 shots and his .936 save percentage this postseason is a tick better than his franchise-record .934 save percentage in the regular season.

”He’s been our brick wall back there,” Montgomery said, making it clear that the 6-foot-7 goaltender was the difference in taking the series lead.

”I didn’t think we were on top of our game, and we’re going to have to be better if we’re going to have success on Sunday,” the coach said. ”We have to be better as a team. We can’t rely on Bish as much as we did (in Game 5).”

The Blues are 4-1 on the road this postseason, winning their first four away from home before losing Game 4 on Wednesday in Dallas.

With Bishop on the back end, the Stars are 29 of 31 on penalty kills this postseason. Nashville failed to get a goal on any of its 15 power plays, and St. Louis is only 2 of 16.

”The PK’s been doing well,” Bishop said. ”We know they’re probably going to have their best game the next one so we’ve got to be ready and guys are doing what it takes, sacrificing blocked shots and good communication. We’ve just got to continue with it.”

The Stars overcame an early 1-0 deficit to win Game 4, when they had four consecutive goals. It’s the only game between the two teams this season – four in the regular season, and five in the playoffs – there has been a lead change.

But the Blues have outshot Dallas 27-10 in the third period combined the last two games, and have a goal in each of those periods.

”Our last two third periods have been good,” Schenn said. ”Obviously we’re playing from behind and we’re pushing hard, but we’ve got to bring that mentality into the first period the next game.”

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Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.