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Blues demolish Devils, keep solidifying playoff spot

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It wasn’t that long ago that the St. Louis Blues’ season looked like it was over, set to go in the books as a bitter disappointment after a significant spending spree over the summer to address the shortcomings at forward.

At the 20-game mark the Blues had already fired their coach, had won just seven games, couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net, and weren’t really getting much production out of anybody except for Ryan O'Reilly.

Now they look like they are going to be solidly in the playoffs barring a late-season collapse.

If nothing else, they have at least given themselves a great shot to get there.

They won their seventh game in a row on Tuesday night by absolutely crushing a hapless New Jersey Devils team, 8-3, to continue climbing the Western Conference standings.

The Blues’ win, combined with the Minnesota Wild losing a multiple goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, means the Blues are now in sole possession of the first Wild Card Spot in the Western Conference with a four-point cushion over the pack of non-playoff teams behind them, while also having games in hand on several of them. Put all of that together and they look more likely to be a playoff team than not.

The seven-game winning streak is also part of a larger 14-game stretch that has seen the Blues go on an 11-2-1 run to really make their move in the standings.

They have been doing all of this without David Perron, one of their most productive forwards this season, who has been sidelined for more than a month due to an upper-body injury.

Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev each had three-point nights in Tuesday’s win, while Vladimir Tarasenko picked up a pair of assists to extend his point streak to nine games. Overall Tarasenko has 18 points during this most recent 14-game hot streak by the Blues.

Overall, it was a completely dominant effort by the Blues as they held the Devils to just 16 shots on goals on the night and were holding a 7-1 lead just one minute into the third period.

The turnaround for the Blues began when rookie goalie Jordan Binnington got his opportunity. All he has done with it is solidify a position that had been a glaring weakness in the first part of the season and now win 10 of his first 12 starts with a save percentage over .930 so far.

The Blues now have an opportunity to really extend their cushion in the playoff race with a huge three-game road trip that takes them through Arizona, Minnesota, and Colorado. The latter two teams are the two biggest challengers to them at the moment, and both have been struggling in recent weeks, with the Avalanche in total collapse mode. A couple of wins over the next three games would go a long way toward solidifying the Blues as a playoff team.

Given the way each team is playing at the moment it is not hard to imagine exactly that happening.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Here come the St. Louis Blues

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The rollercoaster of a season for the St. Louis Blues saw them sitting in 31st place in the NHL on Jan. 3. There were some games in-hand, and a sign things could be improving, but the results just weren’t coming consistently.

Those early days of 2019 are currently referred to in St. Louis as the pre-Jordan Binnington Era. The 25-year-old rookie netminder had appeared in two games in relief this season but had yet to make his first career start. He would get that chance four days later and kick it off with a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers.

One month later the Blues have jumped up the standings and reside in the second Western Conference wild card spot, six points behind the Dallas Stars in the Central Division with two games in-hand and tied for the fewest games played in the league. They are tied for the third-most points in the NHL since Jan. 3 with 21 points (10-4-1), which includes Thursday night’s fantastic 1-0 overtime win against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

That win featured 32 saves by Binnington, who has overtaken Jake Allen for the No. 1 job in net and been one of the main factors in the Blues’ ascent. The netminder had only one taste of the NHL before this season, a relief appearance during the 2015-16 season, and has spent majority of his professional career in the AHL.

In 10 starts, Binnington has helped the Blues win eight of them, and since that shutout against Philadelphia on Jan. 7, he’s third in the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.954) and, per Natural Stat Trick, has posted a .885 high-danger save percentage — compared to the .796 HDSV% that Allen has recorded this season.

Then there’s the head coach.

This isn’t the first time Craig Berube has led a turnaround. While he had a longer runway to do it with the Flyers in 2013-14, he took over for Peter Laviolette after three games in that season and led them to a win away from the second round. The Blues are 17-13-2 since he replaced Mike Yeo in November and the win over the Lightning encapsulated what he’s tried to instill in his players since taking over.

“The composure that our team’s found, I think more than anything the frustration doesn’t creep in anymore,” Berube said via the Post-Dispatch. “I shouldn’t say anymore, but not as much. We had the three power plays in a row, we could’ve got real frustrated after that but we didn’t. And that’s important. Just stay with it and stay playing.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround considering just two months ago Berube and Brayden Schenn labeled the team as “fragile” after they were booed off home ice following a 6-1 defeat by the Vancouver Canucks. Vladimir Tarasenko apologized to the fans for the team’s poor play, and emotions boiled over in practice when Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford scuffled. Then you had trade rumors putting Tarasenko, Colton Parayko and captain Alex Pietrangelo on the next flights out of town.

General manager Doug Armstrong said after firing Yeo that his team was just “not good enough” and that their core “have to get us out of this.” The Blues’ turnaround can’t all be credited to Binnington. That core has been dependable with some assistance. Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, Schenn, and Ryan O'Reilly have led the way, with Parayko and Oskar Sundqvist chipping in as well. This success has also come with David Perron out since mid-January and Jaden Schwarz goalless since Dec. 18.

This run is coming at a good time for the Blues in a wild West playoff race. The last place Los Angeles Kings are five points out of a wild card spot, so things are tight. But outside of the Chicago Blackhawks, the teams around St. Louis are struggling, especially Central foes the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. The games in-hand are valuable at this point, but are useless if they are unable to take points from them.

Considering the bottom half of the West playoff picture changes nightly, the Blues are in a good place and trending upward at the right time.

“It’s fun to be a part of this group right now, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Binnington. “We’re just going to continue on this path and keep going to make our push.”

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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.

How much will Blues miss Perron as he heads to IR?

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After a terribly disappointing start to the 2018-19 season the St. Louis Blues have been trying to play their way back into playoff contention in the wide open Western Conference. They went 7-4-1 in the month of January and because of that have climbed back to within three points of a Wild Card spot.

They are one of the log-jam of teams fighting for those two spots in an incredibly crowded field.

One of the driving forces behind that recent surge has been the play of veteran forward David Perron, currently back for his third different stint with the team after signing in St. Louis in free agency.

Unfortunately for the Blues, they announced on Thursday that Perron has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury after missing each of the team’s past three games.

This is a tough break for the Blues because Perron has been on a white-hot tear for more than a month now having recorded at least a point in each of his past 13 games, and 14 out of his past 15. That stretch also helped him turn his season around after being one of the many players on the roster that slumped out of the gate.

As of Thursday he is the Blues’ second-leading scorer, tied for second in goals, and is one of only three players on the team that has eclipsed even the 30-point mark this season (Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the other two). So he’s not only one of the team’s leading producers, he is one of the few players on the team that is doing anything offensively.

Offense was a huge problem for the Blues a year ago as they finished 24th in the league in goals score. That was the single biggest reason they fell short of the playoffs by just a single point and their response was to go all in on adding offense over the summer. They traded for O’reilly and went big in free agency by signing Perron, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon.

The results have been mixed at this point.

On one hand, O’Reilly and Perron have given the Blues exactly what they needed and expected. But the rest of the team — including some of their top returning players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn — has badly regressed and as of Thursday the team is in a similar position offensively (21st in the league in goals per game).

At this point it is not yet known how long Perron will be sidelined, but their upcoming schedule is especially difficult. After playing Columbus on Saturday, the Blues at Florida, at Tampa Bay, and then have a back-to-back situation with the Nashville Predators all over the next week.

An already offensively starved team having to go through that stretch without one of the few productive players on the roster this season is going to have its hands full when it comes to staying in that playoff race.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 NHL All-Star Game on NBC

The 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game at SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night on NBC, with four teams vying to share a $1 million prize.

Coverage gets underway at 8 p.m ET, with puck drop between the Central Division all-stars and the Pacific Division all-stars set for 8:15 p.m. ET. That game will be followed by the Metropolitan Division all-stars battling the Atlantic Division all-stars.

The winners of both games will square off for a deciding third game, with a cool $1 million on the line.

[WATCH LIVE – NHL ALL-STAR GAME 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

Atlantic Division

F Jack Eichel, BUF
F Nikita Kucherov, TBL
F Auston Matthews, TOR
F Jeff Skinner, BUF
F David Pastrnak, BOS
F Steven Stamkos, TBL
F John Tavares, TOR
D Thomas Chabot, OTT
D Keith Yandle, FLA
G Jimmy Howard, DET
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL
Coach: Jon Cooper, TBL

Metropolitan Division

F Sebastian Aho, CAR
F Cam Atkinson, CBJ
F Mathew Barzal, NYI
F Sidney Crosby, PIT
F Claude Giroux, PHI
F Kyle Palmieri, NJD
D John Carlson, WSH
D Seth Jones, CBJ
D Kris Letang, PIT
G Braden Holtby, WSH
G Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
Coach: Todd Reirden, WSH

Central Division

F Patrick Kane, CHI
F Nathan MacKinnon, COL
F Ryan O'Reilly, STL
F Mikko Rantanen, COL
F Mark Scheifele, WPG
F Blake Wheeler, WPG
F Gabriel Landeskog, COL
D Miro Heiskanen, DAL
D Roman Josi, NSH
G Devan Dubnyk, MIN
G Pekka Rinne, NSH
Coach: Paul Maurice, WPG

Pacific Division

F Johnny Gaudreau, CGY
F Clayton Keller, ARI
F Connor McDavid, EDM
F Joe Pavelski, SJS
F Elias Pettersson, VAN
F Leon Draisaitl, EDM
D Brent Burns, SJS
D Drew Doughty, LAK
D Erik Karlsson, SJS
G Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK
G John Gibson, ANA
Coach: Bill Peters, CGY

The NHL All-Star Skills event took place on Friday.

McDavid was one against crowned the winner of the fastest skater, clocking a time of 13.378 seconds for his third consecutive triumph in the event.

Gaudreau retained his title in the puck control contest, finishing with a time of 27.045 seconds to edge out Kane.

Lundqvist is the oldest all-star among this year’s cast, but the “King” would take his throne, recording 12 straight saves in the Save Streak contest.

Draisaitl showed his peers how it was done in the Premier Passer event with a time of 1:09:088.

Carlson took home the hardest shot, blasting a puck 102.8 MPH.

Pastrnak was first up in the Accuracy Shooting event and his time of 11.309 seconds went unmatched.

[RELATED: 2019 NHL All-Star Skills: Winners, funny moments, Gritty]

If you haven’t yet, take some time today to watch P.K. Subban’s excellent All-Star Special that air after Friday’s All-Star Skills. Subban had several guests appear on his show, including 13-year-old Ty Cornett, who reached out to Subban earlier this month after experiencing racism while playing youth hockey.

And if you’re looking for more ASG coverage, don’t forget to read these stories from PHT’s Sean Leahy, who is on the ground in San Jose and has been providing top-notch coverage from the event.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL announces 2019 All-Star Skills participants

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The NHL’s All-Star Skills event takes place on Friday night (coverage begins 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and we now know who exactly will be taking place in what events.

Below is the official lineup from the NHL for each skills challenge.

It was announced earlier on Friday Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby will not participate in the event due to illness but is still expected to play in the game on Saturday night.

On to the events…

FASTEST SKATER

Key rules: Each skater will do one full lap around the rink in the direction of their choice, and can position themselves as far as three-feet behind the starting line. The clock will begin when the skater crosses the start line.

Key note: Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche was supposed to participate in this event but is being replaced by Kendall Coyne of the U.S. Women’s National team.

1. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
2. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
3. Kendall Coyne, U.S. Women’s National Team
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
5. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
6. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
7. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
8. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks

PUCK CONTROL

Key rules: A timed single-round event that will highlight three skills: Puckhandling, cone control where they must skate through eight cones in a zig-zag formation, and gates where a skater approaches each gate and is required to shoot or otherwise guide the puck through the lit rung of the gate.

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
4. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
5. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
6. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
7. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres
8. John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

SAVE STREAK

Key rules: Let’s just let the NHL explain it…

A minimum of four goalies and all 36 skaters will participate in the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak™, a shootout grouped by division where goalies compete to make the most consecutive saves. Each goalie will face one opposing division and a minimum of nine scoring attempts. Each scoring attempt is officiated in accordance with NHL shootout rules and begins on the referee’s whistle. Players from each division will shoot in numerical order, lowest to highest, with the divisional captain shooting ninth. A goalie’s round at the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak™ cannot end with a save – if the divisional captain’s shot is saved, the goalie will continue to face shooters until a goal is scored. If the goalie makes a save on the divisional captain’s shot, the order of shooters to follow is the same as the original order. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak during his time in net is the winner of the Ticketmaster NHL Save Streak ™

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

PREMIER PASSER

Key rules: Players will have to do three passes, including a breakout pass, a pass into the mini-nets, and a target pass where they must complete passes to targets that will light up every three seconds. The player that completes the three skills in the fastest time is the winner.

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
4. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
5. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
6. Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues
7. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
8. Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers

HARDEST SHOT

Key rules: Shoot the puck as hard as you can.

1. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
2. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
3. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

ACCURACY SHOOTING

Key rules: Let’s again go right to the NHL…

Eight players will compete in the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™, a timed event where a shooter is positioned 25 feet from the goal line and shoots pucks at five LED targets located in the net. On the referee’s whistle, one of the five LED targets will randomly light up for three seconds and the player will attempt to hit the lit target. Hit targets will be taken out of the random sequencing and if the target is not hit within three seconds, the next target will light up. The clock stops when the player has successfully hit all five targets, the player that hits all five targets in the fastest time will be crowned the winner of the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting™. If there is a tie for the fastest time, the tied players will compete again to determine the winner

1. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
6. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
8. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.