Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final

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If the St. Louis Blues are going to make this Stanley Cup Final a tight series again, there are certain things they’ll have to do differently than they did in Game 3 against the Boston Bruins. From Boston’s perspective, they have an opportunity to push their opponent to the brink of elimination tonight (8 p.m. ET; NBC). How do they do that?

Here are your keys to victory for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final:

• Stay out of the box:

This message applies to both teams, but it’s especially pertinent to the Blues. St. Louis has given Boston five, five and four power-play opportunities in the first three games of this series. The Bruins have found a way to score six power play goals in the Stanley Cup Final, including four in their Game 3 victory.

Whether Blues head coach Craig Berube agrees with the calls going against his team or not, the players have to find a way to play with an edge while staying disciplined. The Bruins have been carving every opponent up on special teams and that hasn’t changed in this series.

If St. Louis wants to avoid going back to Boston facing elimination, staying out of the box is something they’ll have to do. Even when the Bruins fail to score on the man-advantage, it still appears as though they create momentum for themselves by generating quality scoring opportunities.

And if they do take penalties, they have to find a way to kill them off. It doesn’t matter how lopsided the game is, teams can’t allow their opponent to have a 100 percent success rate on the man-advantage.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Let your best players carry you to victory:

The Bruins finally got production from Brad Marchand (one assist), David Pastrnak (one goal) and Patrice Bergeron (three points) which is a scary thought if you’re the Blues. Those three have only contributed in one of the three games, yet the Bruins are still up 2-1 in this best-of-seven series. Of course, they owe a lot of their success to their depth players, too, as they’ve had 19 different skaters score goals for them during this run to the final.

At some point though, Boston will need their top guns to have big nights a little more regularly than they have been.

The same thing applies for the Blues. Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz need to take their game to another level if the Blues are going to even up the series. Tarasenko’s eight-game point streak was snapped on Saturday night, while Schwartz’s has yet to score a goal in this series.

If the Blues can get themselves some production from their top-six forwards, they’ll be in a great spot to even up the series tonight.

Make life easier/tougher for Binnington:

Jordan Binnington has done a great job of bouncing back after losses since becoming the Blues starter over 50 games ago, but Saturday night was the first time he was pulled during that stretch. It probably won’t affect him heading into Game 4, but the Bruins need to test him early and often tonight.

Boston needs to rattle his cage after the disappointing performance in the last game. They can do that by generating quality scoring chances and they can also try to get to him by bumping him, getting traffic in front of him, and so on.

“I’ve got to be better,” Binnington said after Game 3, per NHL.com. “I’ve got to do a better job giving my team a chance to win. They scored three goals in the first. That’s never good. They’re a good hockey team. We have to get back to our game, stay focused.”

If you’re the Blues, you want to protect your goalie as much as you can. As we mentioned before, stay out of the box to limit the quality scoring chances and make sure you play a tight game in front of him. Don’t allow the Bruins to get easy access to the slot and make sure you limit high-danger chances. Your goalie has bailed you out on multiple occasions, and now it’s time for you to repay the favor.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.