Nicholas J. Cotsonika

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Nicholas J. Cotsonika is the NHL writer for Yahoo! Sports. He previously worked for the Detroit Free Press, where he covered the Red Wings, Lions and several other subjects. He has written three books, including "Hockey Gods: The Inside Story of the Red Wings' Hall of Fame Team."

  • Another gut-check for the Blues, another determined defending champion standing in the way of the Stanley Cup

    CHICAGO — This is deja vu for the St. Louis Blues. Just like last year, they took a 2-0 lead at home in a first-round series with the defending Stanley Cup champions – Alex Steen scoring the overtime winner in Game 1, Barret Jackman scoring the dramatic winner in Game 2. Just like last year, they played well on the road in Game 3 but lost, anyway.

    Last year, they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. What now against the Chicago Blackhawks? Game 4 is Wednesday night. Will the Blues crumble again and fail to validate themselves as contenders, or will they take a step forward and show this organization has grown?

    “When you’re knocking off a defending champion, they’re not a defending champion because they have skill,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “It’s because they’ve got resolve. You’re trying to beat their resolve. You’re not trying to beat their skill. Everybody’s got skill. And it is one hell of a challenge.”

    [Related: The playoff redemption of Blackhawks goalie Corey

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  • Bad blood: Emotions at boiling point as Blackhawks, Blues armor up for Game 3

    CHICAGO — Pull up the clip. Listen closely. After Brent Seabrook obliterated David Backes with an illegal hit Saturday – knocking him out cold – the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues scrummed in the corner. Backes regained consciousness, wobbled to his feet and tried to get involved, but he couldn’t keep his balance. A trainer had to hold him up against the wall.

    And this is what one Blackhawk had to say to a fellow player who had suffered a brain injury:

    “Wakey, wakey, Backes! Wakey, wakey!”

    We can’t say for sure who it was, but Duncan Keith was the only Blackhawk in the vicinity facing Backes at that moment. Keith would not confirm or deny it was him. "I don't remember everything that gets said," he said.

    [Watch: Did Duncan Keith mock David Backes after Seabrook hit?]

    The CBC microphones didn’t pick up everything, either. Captain Jonathan Toews was right there, too, and had been jawing at Backes already. Toews said Backes had asked him to fight. Standing with his injured

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  • Brent Seabrook's hit on David Backes may cost the Blackhawks more than just one game

    ST. LOUIS – David Backes lay motionless. The crowd gasped and tried to process the hit he had taken, and the players paired off in a scrum. A moment later, the captain of the St. Louis Blues got up and tried to get involved.

    A referee held him back. A trainer held him back. He wobbled to one knee and got up again. He jawed at the Chicago Blackhawks, the trainer pinning him against the boards to keep him upright. He shook his head. He stumbled. He grimaced. He tried to breathe.

    Eventually, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook went off with a charging major and a game misconduct, and Backes went off with two trainers holding him steady as he walked down the tunnel.

    The hit was late and violent – and almost certainly will result in a suspension because of those two factors. It swung the game, and it could end up swinging the series.

    It came with 4:51 left in the third period Saturday and the Blackhawks holding a one-goal lead. The Blues pulled their goalie and used the 6-on-4 advantage to

    Read More »from Brent Seabrook's hit on David Backes may cost the Blackhawks more than just one game
  • Blackhawks have been here before: Chicago confident despite Game 1 loss

    This isn't the first time the Blackhawks have been in a hole. (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

    ST. LOUIS – Late in the first overtime Thursday night, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews picked up the puck behind the net, held off St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and skated out front. From just below the right hash marks, he sent a pass across the slot.

    Kris Versteeg waited high in the left circle on his forehand. All he had to do was one-time the puck into the gaping net before goalie Ryan Miller could recover, and the Blackhawks would have a 4-3 victory and a 1-0 lead in this first-round playoff series.

    Versteeg fired, and …

    The shot was blocked. The Blues’ Max Lapierre, who had been pushed into the net by the Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad, stood right on the goal line and stopped it. The play happened so fast, Versteeg’s hands started to rise, then halted.

    “It wasn’t a celebration,” Versteeg said. “It was more of a, ‘What the heck just happened?’ My hands kind of went in the air, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”

    Versteeg lost sleep. Something like that can

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  • Blues survive triple-overtime roller-coaster for much-needed Game 1 victory over Blackhawks

    ST. LOUIS — They played for more than 100 minutes. They took 109 faceoffs and fired 94 shots and made 87 saves and threw 69 hits and blocked 50 shots. They traded scoring chances and close calls, and it all piled up into an exhilarating, exhausting playoff opener.

    Either team could have won. Neither team wanted it more.

    But one team needed it more.

    When Alex Steen scored 26 seconds into the third overtime period on Thursday night, he didn’t just give the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. He didn’t just win the longest game in the Blues’ 47-year history. He helped the Blues believe that this season, as coach Ken Hitchcock said, wasn’t going to “just kind of melt away.”

    [Watch: Blues score late tying goal and again in triple OT]

    “I think I jumped about three feet,” said goaltender Ryan Miller. “Just happy to get that win. … We needed it for confidence, I think. We needed it to show that stretch we had to finish the season was kind of behind us.”

    The Blues were one

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  • The Stanley Cup is in the details for devoted Blues goalie Ryan Miller

    ST. LOUIS — Ryan Miller is a star goalie, but he doesn’t have an endorsement deal with an equipment company. He wears one brand of pads and glove, another brand of blocker. He uses only what he thinks is best.

    When breaking in a pair of pads, as he has been doing for a while now, he’ll put an old one on his right leg and a new one on his left and vice-versa. He’ll drop into the butterfly position. He’ll look closely. He’ll even take pictures. Sometimes he slices through a blocker with a knife so he can study the insides. Why this fabric? Why that plastic?

    “I’m not saying he’s a modern-day Tony Esposito,” said former NHL goalie and current Blues TV analyst Darren Pang, referring to the Hall of Famer who was legendary for tinkering with his gear. “But he’s pretty detailed.”

    This is the kind of guy the St. Louis Blues brought in to win the Stanley Cup – uncompromising, inquisitive, exact about everything from his equipment to his mindset to his technique to the team structure. He sweats

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  • NHL Playoff Power Rankings: Stanley Cup favorites & long shots

    The best part about the new playoff format? The bracket.

    The NCAA has March Madness. Now that NHL has gone to divisional playoffs, the league will have April Insanity and May Mayhem before the Stanley Cup final in June. You can print out your own bracket, trace the path for your favorite team and make your picks.

    Yahoo Sports isn’t offering a billion dollars if you fill out a perfect NHL bracket, like we did during the NCAA tournament. But go ahead. Try. It’s a good bet you’ll go bust. There won’t be upsets by seventh or eighth seeds anymore, because there aren’t seventh or eighth seeds anymore. Still, there is sure to be a surprise somewhere.

    [Related: Ranking the NHL's eight first-round playoff series]

    So here we go, and here are our Sweet 16 power rankings. Teams are listed in order of how we view their current situation and Stanley Cup potential, not necessarily where they finished in the standings. We’ll recalibrate before the Elite Eight and the Final Four. Good luck.

    Boston has advanced to two Cup finals in three years, winning in 2011 and losing to Chicago last season. (USA Today)1. Boston

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  • 2013-14 NHL Awards: Runaway MVP Sidney Crosby & tight trophy races

    Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin? No controversy this year. Though Ovechkin lit the lamp 51 times and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, he was minus-35, third-worst in the league. His Washington Capitals didn’t make the playoffs, and he won’t make many awards ballots.

    So how about Drew Doughty vs. Duncan Keith instead? Or Semyon Varlamov vs. Tuukka Rask? Or Patrice Bergeron vs. Anze Kopitar? Or Nathan MacKinnon vs. the two rookies from Tampa Bay? Or Mike Babcock vs. Patrick Roy? With one exception, every honor came with a hot debate or at least a tight race. My picks:

    HART TROPHY (most valuable player): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Whichever definition you use – the liberal “best player” or the literal “most valuable to his team” – Crosby should win the Hart hands down. The Penguins led the NHL in man-games lost to injury. But their captain stayed healthy for a full season for the first time since 2009-10, and he carried the team to the second-best

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  • Brendan Shanahan's low-key power grab with the Maple Leafs: 'I’m not here for big speeches'

    Brendan Shanahan could have reminisced about growing up in Mimico, a suburb of Toronto. He could have flashed one of his Stanley Cup rings and crowed about his qualifications as a Hall of Fame player and an NHL executive. He could have outlined his vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    He did none of that Monday as he was introduced as the Leafs’ new president. This team has not won the Cup since 1967 and has made the playoffs once in the past nine years in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, and this job has been held before by men with impressive resumes and colorful personalities – Ken Dryden, Brian Burke. If this smacked of PR, his first move was to tone down the PR part.

    “I’m not here today for big speeches, big words, big proclamations,” said Shanahan, in stark contrast to Burke, who burst onto the scene in November 2008 talking about “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.” “Today is my first day at work, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

    [Related: Predators part

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  • Stephane Quintal takes over NHL Player Safety for playoffs; but then what?

    Get ready for "Quintal-a-bans."

    Stephane Quintal will fill Brendan Shanahan’s role as NHL disciplinarian for the final days of the regular season and the playoffs, now that Shanahan has become president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    From the NHL:

    At the direction of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Brendan Shanahan immediately relinquished responsibility for overseeing the League’s Department of Player Safety upon accepting the position of President of the Toronto Maple Leafs yesterday afternoon.       

    Effective with Thursday night’s games and for the balance of the regular season and throughout the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stephane Quintal assumes the role of conducting hearings and administering supplementary discipline.       

    The National Hockey League has a first-rate and fully functional team of professionals staffed in the Player Safety Department that will continue to monitor all plays in all games and to flag plays that warrant review and potential discipline. There will

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