Blues’ Tarasenko is sniping at Ovechkin-like level during playoffs

The St. Louis Blues are breaking through in the playoffs like never before, but as hot as Vladimir Tarasenko is right now, he’s been clutch for some time now.

After scoring a goal in the Blues’ Game 2 win to extend his personal playoff point streak to eight games, Tarasenko now has a playoff career-high of 10 goals during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His 15 points during this run matches a career-high from 2015-16, when he scored nine goals and 15 points in 20 games. Even if Tarasenko hits a Zdeno Chara-sized brick wall and slows down during the rest of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, there’s a strong chance that he’ll set a new career-high for points.

Impressive stuff, and Tarasenko isn’t just scoring pretty goals. His Game 2 tally was as gritty as it was pretty:

Tarasenko’s been a reliable 30+ goal scorer during the regular season, as his 33 in 2018-19 gives him five consecutive seasons with at least 30, with 40 from 2015-16 serving as his peak.

Overall, it’s not that shocking that Tarasenko has been a go-to guy for the Blues when they’ve needed playoff goals for years, yet it seems like he raises his game when the stakes get higher. If that’s off the mark, then Tarasenko seemingly doesn’t slow down in the playoffs in the same ways where others find their production stunted by an opponent throwing top defensemen and tough matchups at them every night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The 27-year-old winger has 32 goals in 65 career playoff games, just a hair under one every other game (.49 per contest).

To give some context, Sportsnet noted after Game 2 that Tarasenko’s .49 goal-per-playoff-game average is the second highest among active NHL players, with only Alex Ovechkin (.51) ranking higher. Perusing other stats really drives the point home that Tarasenko’s been quite the sniping machine in postseason contests.

If you zoom into the Tarasenko’s years, he rises even a bit more. Since 2013-14, Tarasenko’s 32 playoff goals only trails Ovechkin’s 34, and Tarasenko’s goals-per-game during that stretch is marginally higher (.50) than Ovechkin’s (.49). The only players who ranked higher during that time were Jake Guentzel and Mark Scheifele, who scored .59 playoff goals-per-game, via Hockey Reference. You can ding Tarasenko a bit for going without a goal in his lone 2012-13 playoff appearance, but even then, few matched his sniping rate.

An interesting spin-off for this discussion might be power play work.

Heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tarasenko only scored six of his 22 postseason goals on the power play. So far during this run, he’s exactly even: five goals at even-strength, and five on the power play.

Amusingly enough, I’ve repeatedly wondered if the Blues power play would be more effective if Tarasenko was deployed closer to the net, rather than his more frequent spot on the point, and maybe that’s still true. Even so, it’s interesting to see that his power play production has been more potent during this postseason versus previous years. Tarasenko’s already clearly been a menace at five-on-five, yet if he can supplement some of his scoring with work on the man advantage, he’ll be an even more miserable matchup for the Bruins and other opponents.

With greater Blues’ team success, the hockey world has become more aware of the many quality talents in St. Louis. Tarasenko was already a prominent star, yet this run could push him closer to becoming a hockey “household name,” and that’s wonderful, because his clutch play is far from a fluke.

More from the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.