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Posted On Wednesday, 04.18.2012 / 7:26 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks won't be only desperate team in Game 4

SAN JOSE - St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the San Jose Sharks won't have a monopoly on desperation Thursday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series.

The Sharks trail St. Louis 2-1 in the series and desperately want to avoid digging themselves into a 3-1 hole. But Hitchcock said Wednesday that the last thing he or his players want is to let the Sharks pull even and turn this series into a long, brutal battle filled with travel nightmares and little time for rest.

"If this thing goes 2-2 then it's, 'Who's got the best bus and who's got the best plane?' -- and that's not good for either team," Hitchcock said after the Blues' practice at HP Pavilion. "We're looking at this the same way they are. They want this thing going where they could start taking it over and we're looking at it as it gets scary after tomorrow. You're talking long flights, not much sleep, [a game] every other day, and who's got the best plane and who's got the best bus will be a big factor here. So we're looking at it like they are too. It's a big factor.

"I was in a lot of these [series] coming in and out of Dallas and they were not easy series. When it got to Games 5, 6 and 7 they were not easy for players, for coaches, for sleep patterns and they really impacted the next series."

After splitting the first two games in St. Louis, the Blues beat the Sharks 4-3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. St. Louis took a 4-1 lead early in the third period before the Sharks rallied for two late goals.

'The biggest thing for us is knowing that we could win a playoff game on the road," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We have a lot of young guys who haven't had that much experience. We know we can win in this barn; we did it in the regular season. But it's a tough place to win in the playoffs."

Hitchcock said he's still not sure when injured goaltender Jaroslav Halak will be healthy enough to play. Halak hasn't played since suffering a lower-body injury early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidentally knocked him to the ice. Halak skated Tuesday for the first time since being injured but didn't skate or practice Wednesday, and he will miss Game 4. Brian Elliott will make his second straight start.

"We'll keep him working toward getting back at some time," Hitchcock said of Halak, "but right now he's not available so Brian is the guy."

Elliott went 23-10-4 during the regular season with nine shutouts and led the NHL with a 1.56 goals against average and .940 save percentage.

"We've had confidence in him since Day 1," Hitchcock said. "For us it just feels like one guy is playing a few more games than the other one. I think if it lasts, if it ever went where you stayed with the same guy for a month then it would seem different. I think most teams have this scenario going where they just stay with one guy. It's still early in the picture and we're fully expecting Halak to be a player, hopefully."

Hitchcock said that Elliott impressed him earlier in the season by how competitive he was in practice. Now that Elliott is carrying the full load, Hitchcock is trying to rein him in.

"We're constantly having to [do] like we did today -- stop him, kick him off the ice," Hitchcock said. "He has to get in the mindset that the games are everything, less is more, get enough of your practice in and once your reps are done, get off the ice. He's one of those guys that wants to hang out there until the last shot."

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 6:16 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks feel Blues just as dangerous with Elliott in net

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak missed practice Monday morning with a lower-body injury and, as expected, won't suit up for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks.

Brian Elliott will be in goal for the St. Louis with Jake Allen, a call-up from Peoria of the American Hockey League, on the bench as his backup, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock said he doesn't know how long Halak will be sidelined.

"He's out today. He's day-to-day, and we'll just see how he feels tomorrow and see if we're going to get him back in any short period of time. We're not really sure," Hitchcock said. "It gets better quickly, but obviously not enough to skate today."

Halak was injured early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidently skated into him, knocking him hard to the ice. Elliott took over and completed the Blues' 3-0 shutout.

Both Blues goaltenders put up stellar numbers this season, and both went 2-0 with a shutout against the Sharks in the regular season. Despite having similar stats, Halak and Elliott aren't clones, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

"Elliott's bigger," he said. "I think there's an obvious size difference there. Less experienced. You look at what Halak had done in Montreal. Some of the wins he provided that franchise were incredible, really, but other than that they're both tremendous goaltenders. They know that. I don't think they miss a beat one bit by starting Brian Elliott tonight."

Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said Elliott made some key saves "using his long legs" in Game 2.

"I thought he came in last game and we probably gave him a chance to feel comfortable," Clowe said. "We didn't get much action on him early. Tonight if we can sustain pressure and get some chances -- some second chances more than anything -- early, you're going to score. We got to try to get to him."

Elliott had nine shutouts during the regular season, while Halak had six. Elliott posted a 1.56 goals-against average to 1.97 for Halak.

"We have confidence in both our goalies," Blues defenseman Kris Russell said. "They both play the puck well, they both talk to us very well. I feel as a D corps with those goalies we have a connection there. We've done well talking together and working plays out. We have confidence in both those goalies. That's why we have been successful."
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:48 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Projected Game 3 lineups

SAN JOSE -- Here’s how the lineups could look Monday night when the San Jose Sharks play the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series at HP Pavilion:

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Patrik Berglund - Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobatka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

SHARKS
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Colin White/Jason Demers

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss
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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 5:36 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks could change lineup to add size, toughness

SAN JOSE -- Something needs to change for the San Jose Sharks after falling 3-0 on Saturday to the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

It could be the Sharks' lineup for Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion.

"We have that option," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after his team's optional morning skate. "We have five extra players that are here. We're debating different line combinations, different players that we can throw in. When the puck drops we'll all know what they are."

If McLellan does make lineup changes, defenseman Colin White and former Blues forward Brad Winchester are the most likely additions. Both would add size and toughness in what has become a very physical series.

"Do we need some size in and around the net?" McLellan said. "Perhaps. Is it in and around their net or in and around our net? We'll have to make a decision there. Do we need some tempo? I didn't think we skated the way we needed to skate in the last two periods to get to the battles. They got their eyes up in the offensive zone and were dangerous, and we never had that chance. In the offensive zone we were a little bit slow. We need to find some tempo in our game as well."

Neither Winchester nor White offered any clues as to whether they'd be in the lineup for Game 3.

"I have no idea," White said. "Your guess is as good as mine."

San Jose's top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski has yet to record a point in the series in two games matched up against the Blues' top line of David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie. But now that the Sharks are home and have the last change, McLellan, if he chooses to, can adjust the matchups and pit Thornton's line against St. Louis' second line of Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald.

"We'll make some decisions as the game goes on," McLellan said. "The Backes-Jumbo matchup is what they want. If you get away from it you fall into the Berglund-Jumbo match. We talked about this in St. Louis. They're just as capable as Backes is. … If you avoid one you take the other one on. The top end players are going to have to play through it and find ways to be effective."

Oshie said he's ready for a curve from the Sharks and wouldn't be surprised if McLellan adjusts the matchups, which would also pit St. Louis' top line against San Jose's second line of Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat.

"Something's going to change," Oshie said. "If that's it, the responsibility (against Thornton's line) goes on someone else and we're going to have to deal with Couture, and that's a great line, too. I think our top two lines are pretty similar in the sense they're both hard-working, they both can put the puck in the net."

"I think that's one of the things about our team, is with the depth we have, if Jumbo's not getting us, they're most likely getting Berglund's line. They're very good at playing in the offensive zone. We just try to play in the offensive zone as much as we can on them. They're going to get their chances. We're not going to hold them to no points the whole series. We know that. They're a great line, but as much as we can we want to limit them."

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Posted On Monday, 04.16.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Stewart back in lineup, hears message 'loud and clear'

SAN JOSE -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock sent an unmistakable message when he pulled third-line forward Chris Stewart from the lineup Saturday night for Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals against San Jose.

Hitchcock sent another clear message Monday morning when he announced that Stewart would be back in the lineup for Game 3 at HP Pavilion.

"He's going to play today," Hitchcock said. "Need him. Need his 'A' game. When he's playing, he's a hard guy to play against. He can play physical. He plays a lot like Milan [Lucic] does in Boston. So we need him in. He's got good hands and can score from the inside. He's a guy that gives us a chance to get way more five-on-five scoring chances, which we're going to need on the road. We're not getting enough of those. So he's going to help us there hopefully."

When he made Stewart a healthy scratch in Game 2, Hitchcock said he needed "more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort from that position."

Stewart said that after the Blues beat San Jose 3-0 in Game 2, knotting the series at 1-1, he didn't expect the lineup to change. He welcomed the chance to redeem himself.

"The message was sent. It was received loud and clear," Stewart said. "I'm going to go out there and I'm going to work my [tail] off. You see the last game. Those are the games you dream about. End of the game you win and there's line brawls and stuff like that. That's stuff you want to be a part of. I'm obviously disappointed I didn't get to experience that, but that's the good thing about this game, you get a chance right now tonight to redeem yourself. It's, 'What have you done for me lately?' I'm going to go out there and show 'em."

Hitchcock said he hadn't decided which forward Stewart would replace, but during line rushes in the morning skate, Matt D'Agostini appeared to be the odd man out. Stewart skated with center Jason Arnott and wing Vladimir Sobotka. Fourth-line center Scott Nichol skated with Jamie Langenbrunner and B.J. Crombeen.

Hitchcock was asked how much Stewart could elevate his game, just two days after being scratched.

"A lot," Hitchcock answered. "I think we'll get a good player tonight."

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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 8:19 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks hope to capitalize on their chances

SAN JOSE – Two games. Zero points.

That's not the type of production the San Jose Sharks expected from their top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against St. Louis. But that's the reality approaching Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. Thornton's line has matched up against St. Louis' top line of David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie, which has produced just three points.

"Both lines have had their chances," Thornton said Sunday after practice. "I think me and [Pavelski] had a couple of chances last night. We're feeling good, we're feeling comfortable. Hopefully we can be on the score sheet tomorrow."

Most of those good scoring chances Saturday night in Game 2 came in the first period.

"I thought our first period was our best period of the series so far and we come out of it [trailing] 1-0," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They did create some opportunities. Where their polish has to come a little better or a little more is on the power play. If [the Blues are] going to take some penalties, undisciplined penalties, we have to make them pay for it. Last night, we weren't as good as we were in Game 1. We were a little disjointed, so we'll look at fixing that."

The Sharks, who went 1-for-15 on the power play against St. Louis during the regular season, went 0-for-4 in Game 2. They went 1-for-3 in Game 1, a 3-2 San Jose victory in double overtime.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 6:21 PM

By Eric Gilmore -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Moore practices, expected to play in Game 3

SAN JOSESan Jose Sharks forward Dominic Moore practiced Sunday afternoon, one day after suffering a broken nose in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

Moore was hurt during a brawl that broke out after the third-period buzzer when Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka took him to the ice and hit him in the face. Sharks coach Todd McLellan called it a "sucker punch."

Moore said he was having some trouble breathing through his nose but that he is available to play in Game 3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. As for Sobotka's punch, Moore offered no opinion.

"I really don't have any need to comment on it, to be honest," Moore said.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks not satisfied with split in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Teams starting on the road in the playoffs may think a best-case scenario is splitting the first two games and returning with home-ice advantage for Games 3 and 4.

For the San Jose Sharks, why split? Be selfish and go for the gusto.

They have that opportunity Saturday, a chance to head back to HP Pavilion with a 2-0 series lead.

"Coming into here, we didn't want to split," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "You want to concentrate on the first game. You don't want to come in here thinking you can get a split. You want to win the first one, and we did that, and now we want to win the second one. You have to have a winning mentality, so we want to win tonight as well."

Center Logan Couture agreed.

"You come into Game 1 wanting to win Game 1 and you come into Game 2 wanting to win Game 2," he said. "You go into every game wanting to win. You don't expect it, but you go in wanting to. Going up 1-0, we [now] want to go up 2-0."

But defenseman Justin Braun expects the Blues to come at the Sharks with full vigor.

"I expect, if not the same, a little more from them," Braun said of the Blues. "They crashed our forecheck hard. I expect them to do the same tonight.

"You can't really think about it one and one. Take one game at a time and that's your opportunity to get the win. Take advantage of that every chance you get."

The Sharks, winners of five straight games and eight of 10 going back to the regular season, feel they have an edge just because they've been in playoff mode for weeks fighting for their playoff lives.

San Jose has been used to clinching early in seasons past, but was not guaranteed a spot among the Western Conference's top eight until the final week.

"I know we've been in that playoff mode for a little while," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've tried to keep as much of a normalcy around our team as we've had around that push. We didn't go to extremes for preparation or anything like that. We wanted to keep it as familiar as it was. We'll continue to do that and evaluate from game to game. ... In our situation, that's all we've done."

It's been the right frame of mind for the players.

"You want to clinch it as early as you can, but I feel like we've been in the mindset of playoffs for the last three weeks," Braun said. "It's been a huge advantage so far."

Added Couture: "I think going into the playoffs, we went in the right way ... playing well and playing hard, really fighting for a spot. That helped us out a little bit. We're focused on this series now. We've put the regular season behind us. We've got a big game tonight."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues' Stewart understands reasons for benching

ST. LOUIS -- The biggest surprise may have been for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to finally pull the trigger on forward Chris Stewart, who has had an off-year by his standards.

Stewart will be a healthy scratch Saturday when the Blues play host to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

After dropping to 15 goals following back-to-back 28-goal seasons, Hitchcock feels there's more that could be had from the Toronto native.

"We need more from him," Hitchcock said. "This is certainly not based on one hockey game. We just need more.

"From that position on our hockey club, that third line role, we need more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort on the puck. We need all of that from that position. I think the opposition got in from their positioning and we need to get it from ours if we expect to change the outcome."

Stewart, who dressed in Game 1 and played on the team's third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka, was visibly disappointed after the morning skate.

"My number wasn't on the board. My play wasn't good enough last game," Stewart said. "We're fighting for our lives every day. I had the opportunity to step up and didn't get the job done. At the end of the day, it is what it is. This isn't the time of the year to pout or get down on yourself. We're a team, we've got to stick together and they're going to need me eventually in this series, and when I get the chance again, I'll be ready."

Teammates are on full alert: don't produce and your name could also be missing from the lineup card.

"I think it's a little bit of a message, but I think [Hitchcock] also has his game plan and the way he wants us to play," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think he's going to try to implement players in here, whether we're at home or on the road from a game to game basis and see what he can change up.
"That's another reason why they're in the lineup. You look at the guys coming in, there's some energy players there that can skate, hit, keep us on track as far as the way we can play and keep us sticking to our game plan."

It's a position Stewart's not familiar with, though.

"No. But you can understand," Stewart said. "I understand the game well, so I do get where [Hitchcock's] coming from. I do hope I get a chance to get back in there and show him that I can play. Now, I'll just wait for the time.

"There's obviously more to give. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game [15:22], but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."

"It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself," Stewart added. "We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time."


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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Hitchcock makes three lineup changes after loss

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock said to expect changes for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

He wasn't kidding around.

The St. Louis Blues will make three lineup changes when they play host to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday after losing 3-2 in double overtime Thursday night.

Carlo Colaiacovo will replace Kent Huskins on defense and be paired with Alex Pietrangelo, while forwards Matt D'Agostini and B.J. Crombeen are in and Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves come out for a pivotal game in which the Blues need if they want to avoid what is staring at Pittsburgh and Vancouver: heading on the road down two games in a series.

"When you lose in a hockey game, whether you’ve lost by one goal, whether you’ve lost in overtime or whatever, if you go into the next competition thinking that everything should the same and expect a different outcome, I think that’s a huge mistake," Hitchcock said. "I don’t believe in that statement, 'Keep doing it over and over again and don’t change anything.' I think we're obligated to change. And I don’t mean dramatic changes, but there are things that as a series moves on, whether you’re having success or not, you have to look in the mirror and do better. There are things that we did very well, and there are things that we have to do better so we addressed both yesterday and today and just emphasizing the things that we did well.

"There are obvious things in our eyes just from our own game standpoint that you need to do better. I think as any series goes on, it really just becomes about you and your game and not so much the opposition. They are what they are and they play the way they play. I think everybody in the National Hockey League knew that when push came to shove, a team like San Jose would turn up the temperature when it was time because of their experience and their expectations. We knew that. We expect them to play well tonight, we just need to play a little better."

Colaiacovo missed the last game of the regular season in Dallas and Thursday night. He wasn't thrilled to be on the sidelines but was supportive of a team deep in the talent pool, as the Blues must sit six players each night with a healthy unit.

"At this time of year, you never want to be a spectator, especially with so much on the line," Colaiacovo said. "It's unfortunate with the results of the last game. I think we deserved a better fate, but that's going to make us hungrier for tonight. We're in a hole right now against a really good team and we're in a place where we've been really good all year -- at home. We need to get that hunger and that energy back and find a way to win tonight because we don't want to put ourselves down going into their building. I don't expect anything different from our team. We've been good at responding all year.

"The decision obviously didn't sit well with me, but I'm getting the opportunity tonight to get back in there. The biggest thing is when you're part of a team like this, it's a right feeling to be pissed off and to be upset about not playing but you're still here for the team. You're still part of a team of 26, cheering the guys on and doing whatever you can to help us get a win. That's been my motivation. My motivation's been to continue to work hard, not be happy with the decision but be ready when my chance comes."

Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo: "He wasn’t healthy at the end of the year. He’s healthy now so, just get back to the game he can play. They’re a good tandem. They play well together. He’s healthy now. He’s a good puck mover. They move the puck around with each other well. He’s good on transition, he’s a good first outlet player, passes it well. By getting healthy and getting rested, I think we’ll get a good player."

Crombeen replaces Reaves, who in only 8 minutes, 1 second gave the Blues plenty of life, energy and tremendous grit. But Hitchcock has a plan in mind.

"We consider [Crombeen]  and [Reaves] to be the same type of player, both high-energy guys," Hitchcock said. "One guy's got a little bit more experience and can play up the lineup a little bit higher if we need it."

Crombeen was scratched for nine of the last 10 regular season games as well as Game 1 on Thursday. He said when you get the chance, players better make it stick.

"I think everyone knows with the depth we have on our team, there's some guys that are sitting out that don't want to be," Crombeen said. "I don't think anyone ever wants to sit out, especially with this team. When you get the chance, you're definitely looking to take advantage of it. I've got to go out and let my play do the talking and make sure that he can't take me out.

"Obviously no one's happy sitting out. Everyone's pissed off, but you can't bring that to the rink. You can't bring that around the guys. You've got to be encouraging the guys and just working your hardest to make sure that you're ready when you do get the chance. ... I'm not going in trying to reinvent the wheel. Just go in and try to play my game and do what I do."

Hitchcock called D'Agostini "the wildcard."

The Blues are still trying to find out just how much D'Agostini can give them. He missed 25 games late in the season with a concussion. He played in a couple games down the stretch.

"I'm just excited to get out there and do my part and try to contribute to what we've got going on here," D'Agostini said. "You're obviously going to be a little upset when you're not playing. You try not to be too much of a downer around the guys. It does take a little bit of a toll on you, but at the same time, we've got one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. You've got to go with the flow when you're not in. Hopefully I just get out there and play my game and stick in the lineup."

"D'Agostini for me is a real wildcard," Hitchcock said. "He's a player that, when healthy, is a very effective player. He's got speed, he's got a great shot and again, he's another player when push comes to shove, can play higher up the lineup, too."





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Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh