Blues’ Russian Two, Tarasenko and Barbashev, on verge of Cup

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Slava Fetisov called Vladimir Tarasenko midway through the second round of the playoffs to deliver an important message.

”I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got a good chance to win this year, so you’re gonna play 100 percent, maybe a little more,”’ Fetisov recalled Friday. ”’You get all your talents and your skill and you can win the Cup. And sometimes you think it’s gonna be tomorrow in that opportunity but it’s not.”’

Fetisov would know. He didn’t defect from the Soviet Union until midway through his career, and it took until age 39 for him to lift the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.

More than two decades since Fetisov and the ”Russian Five” shattered the myth that NHL teams couldn’t win with players from a nation unpopular in North America, the St. Louis Blues’ Russian Two of Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev is one victory away from lifting the same Cup after being inspired by the generation of countrymen who endured so much to get there.

”They give us reasons to dream about it and maybe one day we can do the same thing,” Tarasenko said.

How Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov reached hockey’s mountaintop is documented in the award-winning film “Russian Five” released Friday. It’s co-produced by player agent Dan Milstein, who represents Barbashev, and tells the story of the first time in NHL history five Russian teammates took the ice at the same time.

Barbashev hasn’t seen the film, but those in hockey know the tale well: Detroit seeing the Soviet Union as a source of untapped talent, putting defensemen Fetisov and Konstantinov and forwards Fedorov, Kozlov and Larionov together as one unit like the old Red Army teams and winning the Cup in 1997 by sweeping the big, tough Philadelphia Flyers that featured the ”Legion of Doom” line.

Red Wings teammate and now Vegas coach Gerard Gallant says in the film that observers figured the Russian Five is ”gonna have to play the Canadian way. They’re gonna have to toughen up.” They heard plenty of criticism from the old guard, led by Canadian commentator Don Cherry who wondered, ”What is this, ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ or ‘Hockey Night in Russia?”’

The Russian Five adapted to different rules in North America, and Tarasenko and Barbashev are perfect examples of the effects of that hybrid of skill and toughness. Barbashev is a hard-hitting forward – and his check to the head of Boston’s Marcus Johansson actually led to him being suspended for Game 6 against the Boston Bruins on Sunday night – while Tarasenko has rounded out his 200-foot game to become even more difficult to stop.

”You learn you can’t only stand waiting for the puck to come to you and score goals,” Tarasenko said. ”You need to do more to help your team win the Cup.”

The Russian Five exemplified that. A car accident ended Konstantinov’s career, leaving four to win the second of back-to-back titles in 1998 and an emotional scene of him getting the Cup on the ice in a wheelchair.

Since then, 15 of the 19 champions have had at least one Russian player, and last year Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the first Russian captain to win the Cup. Tarasenko is in the final for the first time and said he’s never touched or even looked intentionally at the Stanley Cup, but he knows what winning it means.

”We don’t really have a lot of NHL when we was growing up back home,” Tarsenko said. ”But Washington guys won the Cup, too. So any Russian guy win the Cup, they bring it to Russia and see how excited their families or friends and people in their hometowns (are).”

Tarasenko and the Blues might not be here had Fetisov not given him a pep talk with them trailing the Dallas Stars 3-2 during the second round. Fetisov was paying attention to the NHL playoffs for the first time in a while and took it upon himself to reach out to Tarasenko to offer some advice.

”They was down in the series and I call him and we have good conversation: You talk about the game and what the Stanley Cup mean to the players,” Fetisov said. ”Since this, he become a different player and I hope that’s gonna help him to win the Cup.”

Tarasenko, 27, doesn’t talk much on the phone this time of year aside from family, but it’s a good thing he made an exception for the Hall of Fame defenseman. After recording no assists in his first 11 playoff games, Tarasenko has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his past 13 since talking to Fetisov.

Coach Craig Berube has noticed and been impressed by Tarasenko’s hard work and competitiveness that often gets overlooked because of his sublime skill.

”He’s a very good skater and he’s using his speed and he’s playing a physical game,” Berube said. ”I know he’s scoring goals, but watching him and how he’s developed in the playoffs, in my opinion, throughout this year’s playoffs, his physicality, skating and compete level, all the things, especially without the puck, too. He’s doing a real good job of working extremely hard without the puck.”

The Russian Five together was able to play keep away with the puck. Tarasenko and Barbashev don’t play that style with the Blues, but they fit well into the straightforward, north-south game that has made St. Louis so successful since being last in the NHL in early January.

Yet their success has made countless Russian players aim to win the Stanley Cup.

”I hope they come to the United States and Canada for the biggest prize in professional hockey, for the Stanley Cup,” Fetisov said. ”And you see more and more guys fight and try to win the Cup. I’m very happy for them. The teams get more and more reliable on Russian players.”

Barbashev doesn’t want to talk yet about he and Tarasenko joining the list of Russian players with their names on the Cup, though he does draw inspiration from what the Russian Five accomplished 22 years ago.

”Every time you look at those names who played in the NHL, the guys that won the Stanley Cup all together, it’s just amazing,” Barbashev said.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

The Buzzer: Streaks good and bad around NHL; Leafs turn the page

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Turning over new Maple Leafs

One streak did end, although Sheldon Keefe has to hope that his NHL head coaching career will begin with a streak that goes beyond a debut win. The Maple Leafs ended their losing streak at six games by beating the Coyotes 3-1 in their first game after Mike Babcock fired. Read up on that win here.

From hot streaks to cold

The Islanders maintained their now-franchise-record breaking point streak of 16 games by beating the Penguins in overtime. In doing so, the Isles are also on a five-game winning streak. The Dallas Stars matched that winning streak with their fifth victory in a row, and are pretty hot in their own right, going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re also 12-1-1 in their last 14 contests.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Flames put forth a painful, pitiful effort in dropping their sixth straight loss. The Predators were more competitive in many ways on Thursday, but Nashville has also lost six in a row. Tense times for two teams that expected to be Western Conference contenders.

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Heading into Thursday’s game, Giroux was on a three-game pointless streak, and only had a single point (one goal) over his past six games. The veteran forward exploded with a two-goal, two-assist performance to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes.

Giroux’s two assists were primary assists, and his second goal ended up being the game-winner. He even threw in a 17-10 mark on faceoffs for good measure.

2. Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

Despite a modest 13:19 in ice time on Thursday, Sanford helped lead the charge as the Blues humiliated a flustered Flames team. Sanford scored the game’s first goal (thus getting a GWG) and added three assists during a four-point performance that was almost as impressive as Giroux’s output.

If you’d prefer handing this star to Jordan Binnington for his 40-save shutout, that’s totally understandable.

3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

Florida found itself down 4-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, yet managed to enter the third period down a more palatable 4-2. From there, Ekblad took over, scoring a goal and an assist during the third period, then adding the overtime game-winner to lock up a comeback win for Florida. Like Giroux, Ekblad came into the night’s action on a cold streak, having only managed a goal over seven games.

For me, Ekblad’s little trot after the OT-GWG breaks the tie with other players who scored three points on Thursday:

Highlight of the Night

No doubt about it, that goes Tuukka Rask, whose save rivals Marc-Andre Fleury for the save of the week/month/year. This post has more.

Benn the Bulldozer

On a less busy night, Jamie Benn trucking Mark Scheifele than scoring a pretty game-winning goal would be the top dog. It’s at least worth watching:

Factoids

  • The Panthers have now overcome four-goal deficits to win games twice in 2019-20, joining the 1983-84 Oilers as the only teams to manage such wins twice in the same season, according to NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet notes that the Flames are on a streak of 362:46 without taking a lead, the longest stretch in franchise history. Um, at least they haven’t squandered any leads, then? The Maple Leafs’ run without a lead ended at 446:47 when Tyson Barrie scored the opening goal on Thursday, also according to Sportsnet.
  • Via NHL PR: Cale Makar is the first Avs/Nordiques rookie defenseman to generate at least 15 points in a single month, and sixth overall among the franchise’s defensemen.

Scores

BOS 3 – BUF 2
FLA 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
PHI 5 – CAR 3
CBJ 5 – DET 4
STL 5 – CGY 0
VAN 6 – NSH 3
MIN 3 – COL 2
TBL 4 – CHI 2
DAL 5 – WPG 3
TOR 3 – ARI 1
SJS 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
LAK 5 – EDM 1

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.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.