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NHL Notes: Penguins regroup while Predators look for road magic in Game 5

NHL Notes: Penguins regroup while Predators look for road magic in Game 5

PITTSBURGH -- Somewhere between the catfish lobbing , A-list national anthem singers, Carrie Underwood's forgetfulness , Charles Barkley's surprise cameo and P.K. Subban's breath, there's been another notable development during the Stanley Cup Final:

A series has broken out. Perhaps the seeds of an upset, too.

A week ago, the Nashville Predators headed home down 2-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Pekka Rinne's game seemed to be in tatters and the Penguins fan base was musing whether it preferred a clean sweep or just a split of the two games in Nashville so the defending champions could raise the Cup on home ice.

So, about that.

The vibe inside PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 on Thursday night figures to be more anxious than anticipatory after the Predators evened the series at 2-2 with a pair of vintage performances on home ice that sent "Smashville" into a frenzy and delivered a very clear message that the first-timers are a clear threat to become first-time winners.

Through four games, Nashville has more goals, more shots on goal and a bit more swagger than Pittsburgh. What began as a two-month slog to the Cup is now a three-game dash, one that appears to be a coin flip. The Penguins have the experience. The Predators have the momentum. Both are fighting fatigue with adrenaline.

"I know people talk about how we're tired, but believe me, they're tired too," Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin said. "It's not only us tired. It's only three games left. We're not talking about being tired."

Maybe, but Nashville appeared a step quicker in its home building, pouring in nine goals and handing Penguins goalie Matt Murray the first back-to-back playoff losses of his young career. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan isn't concerned about Murray. He's not really worried about the 190 feet in front of Murray, either. The Penguins have come within two games of the first team to capture consecutive Cups in nearly two decades due in large part to their resiliency.

Kings: Toffoli agrees to 3-year, $13.8 million extension
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Forward Tyler Toffoli has agreed to a three-year, $13.8 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Kings announced the deal with the restricted free agent Wednesday.

Toffoli had 16 goals and 18 assists in 63 games with the Kings last season. He has been among Los Angeles' most consistent offensive players since cracking the NHL lineup during the 2012-13 season.

He scored 14 points in 26 playoff games during the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup title in 2014. He had a career-high 58 points during the 2015-16 season, including 31 goals.

New Kings general manager Rob Blake has reached lengthy contract extensions with Toffoli and Tanner Pearson during the offseason, keeping together his young core despite several huge contracts on Los Angeles' payroll.

Blackhawks: Defenseman Rutta agrees to 1-year deal
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to a one-year deal with Czech defenseman Jan Rutta.

The 26-year-old Rutta set career highs with 24 assists and 32 points in 46 games with the Czech Extraliga's Pirati Chomutov. He also played in this year's world championship, finishing with a goal in eight games.

General manager Stan Bowman says Rutta "makes our defense more dynamic and he has shown he can contribute offensively as well."

The Blackhawks announced the deal Wednesday.

Best of NHL: Jaden Schwartz hat trick lifts Blues over Blackhawks

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Jaden Schwartz hat trick lifts Blues over Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz had his third career hat trick to help the St. Louis Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Schwartz has four goals and six assists this season and has at least one point in six of the Blues' first seven games. It was his 51st career multi-point game and fourth this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist, Kyle Brodziak also scored, and Jake Allen made 22 saves. The Blues snapped a two-game losing streak

Duncan Keith and Ryan Hartman had late goals for Blackhawks, and Corey Crawford made 28 saves (see full recap).

Maple Leafs ride big 1st period to win
TORONTO -- Curtis McElhinney made 29 saves in his season debut and the Toronto Maple Leafs scored four times in the first period in a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.

Starting in place of Frederik Andersen, McElhinney stopped 14 shots in the third period to hold off the Red Wings.

Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Connor Brown, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored to help Toronto improve to an NHL-best 6-1-0. The Maple Leafs were coming off a 2-0 victory at Washington on Tuesday night.

Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Ericsson scored for the Red Wings, and Nick Jensen had three assists.

Jimmy Howard gave up three goals on four shots before getting yanked in favor of Petr Mrazek late in the first period (see full recap).

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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USA Today Images

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s an amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night, Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.