Saturday, April 22, 2017

Blues finish off Wild with 4-3 win in OT of Game 5

Paajarvi goal sends St. Louis into second round against Nashville

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The range of emotions in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series between the Blues and Minnesota Wild would have been fit for the Screamin' Eagle at Six Flags Mid-America.

A roller coaster ride ensued, with one team (the Blues) in search of the knockout punch and the other (the Wild) trying to stay alive and extend the series to a sixth game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (left) beats Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk
in overtime to give the Blues a 4-3 win in Game 5.

And each time the Blues punched, the Wild counter-punched, but another unlikely hero sent the Blues onto the second round when Magnus Paajarvi scored 9 minutes, 42 seconds into overtime to give the Blues a 4-3 win and take the series 4-1 on Saturday afternoon in front of 19,228 at Xcel Energy Center.

Paajarvi took a pass from Vladimir Sobotka in the slot and went bar down on Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk to clinch the series for the Blues and send them into the second round against the Nashville Predators, who swept the Chicago Blackhawks.

"You don't get a whole lot of chances in OT," Paajarvi said of his first playoff goal. "Sobotka and Lehtera really worked a good chance out for me and that was nice to see it go in.

"... It's such a good play, Sobotka's patience with the puck. He's stronger than you think with the puck. My guy kind of went to him and he saw that and gave it to me. Super thrilled."

The play started after Dubnyk played the puck around the boards and was slowed up by Jori Lehtera before it was intercepted by Sobotka, who protected the puck and curled around Martin Hanzal. Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon peeled off Paajarvi to respect Sobotka with the puck, but Sobotka spotted Paajarvi open.

"I just tried to hold onto it," Sobotka said. "We kind of opened up. No one was checking me and I seen Magnus there open. I just tried to put it on his stick and he scored a great goal."

Sobotka said he was shocked nobody checked him off the puck.

"Yeah, I was surprised," he said. "I just tried to hold onto it. Magnus was there open too.

"I was surprised nobody checked me, like I said. Space opened up. I seen the play there 2-on-1 and I just tried to put it on his stick. Good play."

How ironic that two guys that weren't even on the opening night roster combine to send the Blues into the second round.

"'Sobe,' we knew he was going to be a big acquisition for us and obviously he's factored in offensively, he's factored in on the penalty kill and a role player for us," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, who got revenge on the team that fired him from his first head coaching job on Feb. 14, 2016. "I think 'Maggy's a great story. A guy that has to go down to the minors and the coaches did a great job with him there. He showed an awful lot of character for him to really define his game and so he's been a real reliable player for us. He's come through for us offensively in big times, too."

It was a game in which Paul Stastny returned after missing 14 games with a broken foot and scored a big goal, Lehtera returned after missing Games 2-4 and added two assists and Jake Allen was once again solid with 34 saves.

From someone looking at it in black and white might think the Blues won this series with ease, but it was anything but.

"Really happy to finish it tonight," Yeo, who spent five seasons as Wild coach, said. "That's a group that definitely ... I know it's tough they didn't get the win, but they gave us more than anything we could handle and obviously Bruce (Boudreau) has done a great job, Chuck has done a great job and their team did a great job. They showed a lot of character."

Boudreau was not as kind-hearted towards the Blues.

"Well, they weren’t the better team, but they won four games," Boudreau, who is 42-43 career in the playoffs, said.

The Blues came out on fire, and had all the jump early with an 8-1 shots edge in the early going; they came out with the flair they needed.

Vladimir Tarasenko put the Blues ahead 1-0, his first goal of the series and just fourth in the past 14 playoff games with a move to the net off the corner boards, puck caroms off Jonas Brodin back to Tarasenko, who beats Dubnyk low far side from in tight at 7:16 of the period to make it 1-0.

The Blues continued to pour on the pressure and Colton Parayko picked off a pass along the right boards after Lehtera was just annihilated by Marco Scandella pressuring the offensive zone, and Parayko was able to get to the middle of the ice and feed Alexander Steen, who beat Dubnyk high short side at 10:31 for a 2-0 lead.

But Minnesota came on with their push, and Suter's power play goal at 18:31 cut the lead in half after a bad Scottie Upshall cross-check penalty that led to the man-advantage.

Upshall cross-checked Nate Prosser in the face near the Wild bench and it cost the Blues after Patrik Berglund wasn't able to get a clear along the boards, and Suter's slapper caromed off Vladimir Sobotka's stick. 

"You've got to stay out of the box," Upshall said. "I would have taken a good shot if I had not gotten my stick up. It was more of a reactionary, brace yourself, a play that happens a lot, but when you get a guy's head, you'll go to the box. It was a tough one to swallow but our team held it together."

The Wild gained momentum off the end of the first and outshot the Blues 15-7 in the second, but Allen came up with some impressive saves, including one on Jason Zucker breaking past Robert Bortuzzo and in alone.

"It's playoff hockey," said Allen, who finished the series stopping 174 of 182 shots with a 1.47 goals-against average and .956 save percentage. "Ups and downs to the game for both sides. It was a battle, it was a grind and we got it done."

There was a scary moment in the game when Wild center Eric Staal crashed hard into the back boards behind Allen after splitting Blues defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Parayko on a 4-on-4 play. Staal clipped Allen's skate and went head-first into the boards. After being down for several minutes, he was helped off the ice and went to the hospital for further observation.

Stastny, who said he knew after practice on Friday that he would play, made an immediate impact and put the Blues up 3-1 on a jam play at the side of the net, whacking at the puck twice and going upstairs on Dubnyk at 7:23 of the third.

Lehtera had just come out of the penalty box and was able to get Stastny the puck.

"Me and Jori almost lost the puck there at the blue line," Stastny said. "It was a little behind me, so I was just trying to jam it in and it came back to me. I think if 'Schwartzy's not there (Jaden Schwartz), that goal never happens. A lot of our goals today, if we don't have net presence, it doesn't bring that 'D' there and makes kind of a logjam. You just take it to the net and you're trying to create havoc. It comes back to you, so you just try to put it top shelf. I think a play like that to me, it's more the guy away from the puck that's kind of creating the logjam and makes the goalie kind of back up in his net."

Minnesota thought it had made it 3-2 on a Martin Hanzal goal but was called back for goalie interference. The Wild challenged and the call was upheld by the officials with 11:17 remaining.

"They just said it was goalie interference," Boudreau said. "I'd certainly like an explanation because like Scott (Stevens) said in the room, he said, 'You know, we're going to start teaching our defensemen to instead of box out, box in because they call that goalie interference all the time and it's not.' What are you going to do?"

It didn't matter.

The Wild continued to push, the Blues took penalties and Minnesota took advantage. 

Koivu made it 3-2 at 10:38 by batting in a puck at the side of the net moments after defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was called for holding, and then Zucker tied it 3-3 with 5:01 remaining after getting past Alex Pietrangelo along the left wall, waiting out Allen and sliding it past the Blues' goalie into the empty side.

"When you're up 3-1, the third period we just sat back, a couple penalties and they were just shooting everything," Stastny said. "That's what happens and I think last game, we're down 1-0, we were being outshot 11-2 and all of the sudden, we outshot them. 

"A two-goal lead is the worst, but I think with experience, we've got to play a little better. I think we can't have four guys playing one way and one guy playing nervous. All five of us gotta go out there and play good defensively and try to score offensively. Once we got that third one, we sat back a little bit. We weren't really trying to get that next one. We were almost kind of sitting on our heels and trying to block everything. That's going to get you in trouble."

"They obviously have a big push," Bouwmeester said. "We take a couple penalties. Well, I took a couple penalties. I don't agree with either of them. But I know that ref. We have a bit of a history. So. Whatever."

The Blues had a push at the end when David Perron had a few chances along with Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen at the buzzer but couldn't get a fourth past Dubnyk.

But once it got to overtime and became next goal wins, the Blues seemed to feel a little more confident after the Wild had the initial push.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players rush to celebrate with Magnus Paajarvi, who scored the OT
game-winner Saturday against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5.

"Keep it going," Paajarvi said of the locker room mood. "We felt good 5-on-5. We took a couple minors that hurt us, but that happens. You can't really control the refs sometimes, but we felt good 5-on-5 so we said, 'Let's go get it. We were right there. We can clinch it.' We have a lot of older players that really stepped it up in the locker room here and really got us on the same page. Right focus."

And Paajarvi's focus was the final nail.

"I think 'Sobe' kind of made a nice play dipping that shoulder and he sold everyone," said Stastny, who won 13 of 27 faceoffs and played 22:42 in his return. "'Mags' didn't want to mess with it, so he just put it top shelf."

And put the Blues into the second round.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Blues claim Wild cheat on faceoffs

Minnesota has held huge advantage in playoff series; 
Game 4 featured many delayed drops, linesmen booting centers

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The numbers were so skewed, the Minnesota Wild were getting tons of credit for their astounding faceoff success ratio against the Blues through the first three games of their Western Conference first round series.

The Wild won 59 percent of the draws in Game 1, 63 percent in Game 2 and 58 percent in Game 3. Their captain, Mikko Koivu, after winning 48 percent of his draws in Game 1, won 67 percent (16 of 24) in Game 2 and an astounding 74 percent (23 of 31) in Game 3.

Well the numbers were more balanced in Game 4, with the Wild still holding an edge, but at 51 percent. There were plenty of delayed faceoff drops in the game, with linesmen Brian Murphy and Mark Shewchyk doing the honors. And it became a restless tactic for the 19,791 at Scottrade Center that was in attendance for an 8:45 p.m. puck drop, and it has become clear that on more occasions than not, skaters were being kicked out of the dot.

The Blues have said that Wild players "cheat" during faceoffs and made it clear to officials, thus the number of delays on faceoffs throughout Game 4.

Blues left wing Vladimir Sobotka, who has been one of the better faceoff players for the Blues in the series, explained.

"In the defensive zone, they're supposed to be first with the stick on the ice and we come in second, so we should have a little advantage there, but they cheat a lot," Sobotka said. "We need to adjust that and try to cheat more too. They're not holding the stick on the ice so we need to have better timing.

"That's what happened last game. (The linesmen) tried to make it a clear faceoff. Sometimes they played the puck before it hits the ice. That's why we got kicked (out) or they got kicked (out)."

Center Kyle Brodziak wantd to make clear to fans why so many delays.

"I think they're trying to make the faceoff as fair as possible," Brodziak said of the linesmen. "When they drop the puck, the puck's supposed to hit the ice. They were hitting the puck (early) a lot so draws weren't going straight down so I think that's why they were kicking guys out. 

"I know it slowed the pace of the game up quite a bit, but I know the linesmen were just trying to make the faceoffs as fair as possible."

Blues coach Mike Yeo tried initially to brush off the claim before explaining.

"Every game's a new game," Yeo said. "I haven't spent a whole lot of time thinking about that.

"Faceoffs are something that's been a big story right from the start. I think for the first three games we obviously didn't do real well in faceoffs. We're trying to do what we can to equal the advantage and we feel there's been some cheat on the other side. We're just trying to make sure we go in with the mindset that we're going to force everybody to be starting on equal terms."

Stastny, Lehtera could return for Game 5

Blues forwards took part in full practice, line 
rushes ahead of second elimination game against Wild

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- All signs point to center Paul Stastny returning to the lineup for the Blues against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series on Saturday (2 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Stastny skated on the Blues' top line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko Friday at practice and took part in drills on the Blues' top power-play unit with teammates. Stastny has skated regularly since last Saturday and for a fourth day with the team.

Blues coach Mike Yeo didn't want to divulge any potential lineup changes but was encouraged by what he saw.

"I thought he looked good, another good day," Yeo said. "I haven't had a chance to chat with him, but obviously we'll get together with him and determine where we go from here.

"We're not going to talk about our lineup, but obviously it was a good day for him. He's been progressing well and this was a big step to get him into a full practice, a competitive practice so that was a good sign."

Stastnt was injured when he got hit on the right foot area by teammate Vladimir Tarasenko's shot March 21 against the Colorado Avalanche. Trying to catch up to speed in the atmosphere of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been as big a challenge as the healing process.

"To me, it's more catching up to the speed and thinking at a high rate," Stastny said. "When we have the team practices like we had two days ago was good and then [Friday's] team practice and then we'll go from there, but I never really want to put a date on when I return. I think for me, like I've told the guys, it's always been day-by-day. When I feel confident out there with myself, my abilities to help the team out any way I can, I will."

The Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-1, have a second chance to close out the series after the Wild remained alive with a 2-0 win in Game 4. St. Louis could go with a more veteran-laden lineup, as center Jori Lehtera was in the shuffle in line rushes at practice Friday skating with Vladimir Sobotka and Magnus Paajarvi.

Rookies Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford could be scratched Saturday.

"Maybe, yeah, we'll see what happens tomorrow," Yeo said. "Getting a player back is always nice. It helps to stabilize things, it gives us a little bit more options, but at the same time, it's not like getting a player back is just the answer and going to make things better for us. I think in a lot of ways, we've lost players and it's sharpened our focus and guys have understood that they need to bear down and they need to do their jobs and do the little things and we need to make sure we continue to have that mindset. If we add a player like [Stastny], obviously then you become a better team."

Maybe the Blues, who are 2-4 in closeout games the past two seasons, could use another chance on the road; they're 11-1-1 away from Scottrade Center the past 13 games going to the regular season and have outscored their opponents 38-18.

"I think we're going into the game just trying to focus on ourselves," Blues center Kyle Brodziak said. "Individually, just making sure everyone's as sharp as they can be and as a team, we want to give them our best shot yet. We're not looking at it as home or away, we're just focused on how we're supposed to play."

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Blues head on the road to try and clinch; getting Tarasenko 
going offensively; Boudreau calls Pietrangelo check "cheap;" 

ST. LOUIS -- A chance to clinch on home ice Wednesday in front of 19,791 fans, the largest crowd at Scottrade Center this season, the Blues had their first real hiccup of the first round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild, losing 2-0 in Game 4 and thus not having the chance to sweep the series.

Now the Blues have to go back to St. Paul and Xcel Energy Center, where they won Games 1 and 2 by identical 2-1 scored (Game 1 was in overtime) to try a second time to close out this series, a series they don't want to see go too far and give the Wild, which has felt like it's played well throughout, some life.

"We have to not look at big picture. We have to look at small picture," Blues coach Mike Yeo said Thursday. "I think we got caught up in looking at big picture yesterday and it showed up in our play. I think we were on our heels right from the drop of the puck.

"That said, the game was actually sitting for us there for quite a while. That second period, when we gave up that second goal, there was a period of time when it felt like things were starting to turn. So we weren't good enough last game, it was still right there for us. Every game is going to be close, it's going to be hard fought. I said this last night and I still mean it, it's a very good hockey team over there and they're not going to just lay down for us. We're going to have to beat them and in order to do that we'll have to play our best and that's why it's important we don't get caught up thinking about the big picture stuff but we just concentrate on our game and ourselves."

The Blues have to like the fact that their defensive structure is still fine in this series. They've allowed an average of 1.25 goals per game despite being outshot 145-107 in the series.

"Well we gave up two last game and both goals I felt like we gave them, and that's not on Jake (Allen)," Yeo said. "There was some miscommunication and you could have argued that it was icing (on the first goal), but it's a turnover in the neutral zone on the first one and something in how we made it happen that's not the way we've been operating lately ... and then the second goal is a bad change. So there's some things that we can do better and some areas that we can still tighten up. Obviously it's a bit of a different game too when they get the lead there. They were trying to play defensively, so maybe they weren't pressing as hard. 

"For me, I just look at last game and we weren't physically invested, we weren't ready and we weren't sharp right from the start and because of that we were chasing all game, so we have to be ready tomorrow."

On the other hand, offensively, it's been a challenge. The Blues have scored 1.75 goals per game this series, so it's simple: the first one to two normally wins, and whoever's scored first is 4-0.

"Yeah, well and again I think what's important that you continue to play if it doesn't happen," Yeo said of scoring first. "So certainly, obviously you'd love to score the first goal. It's two good defensive teams that make it hard to battle back. But if it doesn't happen, we have to make sure we keep playing the right way. For a little while, we started to find our game in the second period but obviously not consistently enough, and giving up that second goal was tough yesterday."

The Blues must find ways to battle to the middle of the ice and get more traffic in front of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who pitched a 28-save shutout in Game 4, his second shutout of his playoff career (both against the Blues, with one in Game 3 of the first round series in 2015). 

"That's what it is. It's a grind," Yeo said. "That's the type of game we're playing this type of year. It's a fight for space all over the ice but certainly around the net it's certainly more evident."

"To generate more offense, we need to get to the hard areas and shoot the puck," left wing Magnus Paajarvi said. "They're very good defensively, as are we. It's a tight series. We have to find ways to get into those areas where you score and that's in front of the net."

* Get Tarasenko going -- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has two assists in the series but has yet to score, and for the Blues, it's almost amazing in itself that they're up 3-1 in the seriesand tarasenko has yet to light the lamp.

Going back to Game 5 of the second round series with Dallas, Tarasenko has played in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games since and has scored in two of those games (an empty-net goal at Dallas in Game 7 and two mop-up goals in Game 6 against San Jose in the conference final). But even more concerning is that going back 21 games when Tarasenko last scored a postseason power play goal in the first round of Game 4 against Chicago, he has zero power play goals in the Blues' last 58 opportunities, and none in the past 20 games. The Blues are 12-for-58 in that span (20.6 percent).

"There's no question, we need our best players to play their best," Yeo said. "That's not just in the playoffs, that's anytime, it's certainly magnified right now. What we need from Vladi, from all our top players, is make sure we understand if we're going to play well, if we're going to beat these guys, then we have to be great defensively. That's how we got up 3-0 in the series and realistically that's what we need to do if we want to close it here. We need everybody on page with that, we need everybody on board with that, but with that, we can't be satisfied. That's not just enough. We have to push offensively and try to make plays. So how we do that is going to be critical. It's making sure we're not playing high-risk, but at the same time finding ways to break people down 1-on-1, finding ways to create and to execute when we have opportunities.

"(Tarasenko) had a couple good looks again last game, he's getting at least two, three looks a game now. Certainly we'd like to increase that, we'd like to give him a little bit better shot of it. He's getting heavily checked, no question, but that means somebody else should be open on the ice. Maybe that's why Schwartzie has two goals in the series. If they're keying on him, it means somebody else is available. We have to do a little bit better of job of isolating people, finding people and certainly when he gets an opportunity, that's what he does, he finishes."

* Boudreau fuels some fire -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, speaking Thursday upon the Wild's arrival back in Minnesota, voiced his displeasure at a check that Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo put on Wild forward Zach Parise in the closing seconds of Game 4.

As Parise was playing the puck off the boards up the ice, Pietrangelo came in with a hard check that sparked a scrum as the seconds ticked down to the end of the game.

“I thought it was cheap. It was cheap," Boudreau said. "They knew the game was over. There was one second left. 

"If this was 1984 or 1978, that guy would've had a stick right in his face. You know? But they don't do that anymore."

When asked to respond, Yeo said, "It's a rough series. I didn't really think anything of it."

* Notes -- Yeo said that forward Vladimir Sobotka, who briefly left in the third period after being struck by a Tarasenko shot in the leg, is fine. 

The Blues assigned defenseman Jordan Schmaltz to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League so he could help the Wolves in their first round playoff series against the Charlotte Checkers.

Schmaltz, 23, played in nine games with the Blues during the regular season, posting two assists, and in Game 1 of this series against the Wild; he was replaced when Robert Bortuzzo returned from an upper-body injury.

"We just want to make sure he's active," Yeo said of Schmaltz. "It's tough on a player to sit around, especially right now, we're not having a lot of practice time – we'll have a practice tomorrow – but get him into the lineup and get him playing. We obviously have to make sure everybody's sharp, everybody's playing."

Blues fail to close out Wild, fall 2-0 in Game 4

Dubnyk pitches 28-save shutout; St. Louis heads to Minnesota for a Game 5

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues said all the right things, they knew what was coming.

Yet somehow, with another chance -- on home ice -- to close out a postseason series, St. Louis failed to accomplish their feat, and now have to head back on the road with another opportunity against an opponent that picked up some life.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) is stopped on a backhand attempt by 
WIld goalie Devan Dubnyk, who blacked the Blues on 28 saves in Game 4.

Devan Dubnyk made 28 saves, and goals by Charlie Coyle and Martin Hanzal were enough for the Minnesota Wild to defeat the Blues 2-0 on Wednesday in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series before 19,791 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-1, now head back to a building they won Games 1 and 2, back to Xcel Energy Center for Game 5 on Saturday (2 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM) with another chance to close a series out.

Last season, the Blues needed three tries to close out the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and two tries against the Dallas Stars in the second round before closing both series out in seven games.

And knowing the Wild, which had its backs against the wall, would come out and try to throw every punch at the Blues, they didn't have the necessary answers. Minnesota outshot the Blues 11-4, who looked a step slow and were hemmed in their zone.

"They're a good team, they came at us, I think we weathered it decently," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "We make a couple mistakes and it ends up in the back of our net. They're defensively good and solid and we had some chances in the second half of the game but didn't solve Dubnyk tonight. We'll regroup, get recharged and ready for the next one."

"Obviously whether it's lack of desperation or nerves, we were on our heels," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We let them dictate and not a good recipe."

"We just came out slow, I thought we were a little casual to start the game," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They were taking advantage of that in the first. We got the pressure on them in the third."

Jake Allen made 26 saves for the Blues.

"It took a little bit for us to get going," Allen said. "They obviously came out hard and played a really good 40 minutes, they played a pretty solid defensive third period. We had a really good push in the third and it was a little too late."

The Wild played much of the first period in the Blues' zone and had opportunities at Allen, but the Blues goalie was sharp again.

But the Wild took advantage of a tremendous break on Coyle's goal when Allen went behind the net to play the puck, threw it off the wall where Coyle was there to intercept it and slung it into an empty side at 16 minutes, 50 seconds of the first to make it 1-0, the Wild's first lead of the series in 214:38.

The Blues thought the play was going to be whistled as an icing, and Allen and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were there near the puck, and when Allen whipped it from behind his net off the side boards, Coyle intercepted it.

"Yeah there were some finicky calls there for the icings tonight on both sides," Allen said. "Some were icing, some might should not have been, some should have been ... it was a different game from that standpoint.

"I just threw it up the boards like I usually do. Luckily they had a guy there, not a big deal."

It wasn't until the second period where the Blues finally started to get some sustained pressure on Dubnyk, but had some of their bubble burst when Hanzal scored to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead at 16:41 of the second period.

Hanzal's goal was the cushion the Wild needed and it came as Nate Prosser's outlet feed to Pominville turned into a quick lay-off pass to Hanzal, who built up a burst of speed through the neutral zone. He gained the blue line and with Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester laying back, Hanzal snapped a shot stick side by Allen. 

"We started turning it a little bit, but again, details of our game that cost us that one," Blues forward Alexander Steen said. "Again, I think throughout the course of the game we were just a second off. We needed to be a little quicker, a little sharper to create the havoc and earn those goals.

"... It's a tough game. They've all been close. We didn't match their urgency early, a couple mistakes and we don't solve Dubnyk."

The Blues, who outshot the Wild 24-17 over the final two periods, were going to get their opportunities in the third period, but Dubnyk was up to the challenge; he made a save on Joel Edmundson's break-in from the left to keep it a 2-0 game and prevent the crowd from getting any sort of life.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Boumeester (right) goes to
check the Wild's Mikael Granlund on Wednesday.
"Obviously we didn't score any goals tonight, so we need some offense," Yeo said. "Last game we had one 5-on-5 goal. Both teams are playing very tight. I think they recognized that. They did a nice job of it tonight. They played well, they played well in their own zone. They pressed real aggressively. I thought as the game went on, we started to deal with that a little bit better. But the biggest thing for me is we had opportunities in the first period to shoot the puck and we're looking for a different play. Not only do we not get a shot, but it leads to a turnover. Certainly I think we can put a lot more pressure at their net. It's something that they're doing to us and we have to find a way to do it to them."

Allen made sure the Blues were within striking distance, making a good amount of saves himself. His best was an alert save on Nino Niederreiter with 12:26 remaining in the second period.

"I don't think it's too hard, you know. Get rid of the loss here tonight, look what we could do better tomorrow, get a good practice in and head to Minnesota," Allen said. "We've had lots of success in that building, so hopefully we can have another good game this weekend and go from there."

Blues left wing Vladimir Sobotka momentarily left the game after being struck by a Vladimir Tarasenko shot from the slot. Sobotka needed help to the bench and down the tunnel to the locker room and appeared to be in some serious discomfort. However, he returned to the game and finished with 19:59 of ice time.

The Blues, who fell to 2-4 in closeout games the past two seasons, will hope to end the series in Game 5 now.

"We knew it was going to be a tough (series) against these guys," Steen said. "It's a game, we lost it, we've got to recharge and get ready for the next one."

"It was there in the third, it just wasn't there in the start," Pietrangelo said. "We need to do better and be ready for Saturday. 

"We should've expected that – down 3-0, they're going to come out and give us their best game. Simple as that."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

(4-19-17) Wild-Blues Game 4 Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will look to sweep a series for the sixth time in franchise history in their Western Conference First Round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild at Scottrade Center on Wednesday.

The Blues won identical 2-1 games on the road in Minnesota, in overtime on a Joel Edmundson game-winner in Game 1 and a Jaden Schwartz game-winning goal with 2:27 remaining in regulation to give St. Louis its third 2-0 series lead in franchise history doing so on the road; they went on to sweep the previous two series in 1993 against the Chicago Blackhawks and 2001 against the Dallas Stars.

So what's the best way to try and focus on the task at hand while trying to close out a series in four games?

"If we play the way we've been playing, if we play our game, we feel like we can continue to win," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It sounds simple. At the same time, we've got a team on the ropes and we've got to make sure we take advantage of that and expect their best game."

Those are the words from coach Mike Yeo on Tuesday and the ones he reiterated again on Wednesday.

In other words, treat it like another game.

"Same way we've approached the other games," Yeo said. "We're not fools, we know what's at stake here, but we come into this game, we're not focused on that, we're focused on our opponent, on expecting a very, very strong game from them, the same way we have every other game. Expecting a hard game and then the preparation of what we need to make sure we're on top of our game. That's our mindset right now. And then what you do is make sure you have the confidence and belief that you do the right things and you'll get rewarded."

- - -

Center Paul Stastny (foot) took part in the morning skate but Yeo said he will not play tonight and the Blues will go with the same lineup, which means Alexander Steen, who's been nursing a lower-body injury of his own, will play. 

Stastny has skated with the team the past two days and has worked out on and off the ice on his own and has looked good in both skates.

Steen has not skated the past two days but had a goal and assist in Game 3 and Yeo said he is in the lineup.

- - -

Despite being outshot 117-79 in the series, the Blues want to continue to keep their mantra of limiting the shots from the middle of the ice and keep the Wild from getting out on the rush.

The majority of Minnesota's shots have come from the dots out and the Blues want to keep their same five-man defensive structure.

"The game gets much easier when you have all five guys on the ice helping out in different areas," Blues center Patrik Berglund said. "Where that comes is with a lot of communication and helping out the guy that has the puck or going for a puck and so on. I think so far, it's been good."

- - -

What else will help the Blues tonight?

Perhaps winning faceoffs and starting with pucks.

Minnesota has a 60-40 percent edge on faceoffs and the Blues are not starting with pucks as often as they'd like.

"Yeah, they have solid centers, big bodies," Berglund said of the Wild. "It's just we really have to dig in and battle even harder on the dot. It's also all five guys, they've got to come in and help too and help out and win some battles too. We've definitely been talking about it and we need to be better there."

- - -

Scoring first has been good for the Blues, who have scored first in all three games.

One thing they want to avoid is letting the foot off the gas and allowing the Wild to build momentum, which they feel like they've done in two of the three games.

"I think we saw that in the first period (of Game 3), we grabbed the lead and kind of sat back a little more," Yeo said. "When we're physical, there's certainly a different approach to our game. Both teams are doing the same thing, they're trying to get better from one game to the next, and it will be no different tonight."

The Blues haven't trailed at any point of the 197:48 played in the series and have led for 103:51.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Vladimir Sobotka-Alexander Steen-Zach Sanford

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jordan Schmaltz and Luke Opilka. Paul Stastny (foot), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are all expected to be out.

- - -

The Wild's projected lineup:

Mikael Granlund-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle 

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Zach Parise

Jason Zucker-Martin Hanzal-Jason Pominville

Chris Stewart-Joel Eriksson Ek-Ryan White

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

Jonas Brodin-Nate Prosser

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the backup.

Goalie Darcy Kuemper (sick) and healthy scratches include Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin and Victor Bartley. Erik Haula (upper body) is out.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blues hope past lessons learned help with closing out Wild

Team can use last season as example of ending 
series; Stastny skates for first time with teammates

ST. LOUIS -- History is fresh in many of the players' minds for the Blues. 

It was only a year ago where the Blues, who have a 3-0 stranglehold lead of their Western Conference First Round series with the Minnesota Wild with Game 4 slated for today (8:45 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), led the first two rounds with opportunities to close them out, didn't, and were pushed to the limit with Game 7 wins over the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.

The Blues led the Blackhawks 3-1 coming home for Game 5 before being pushed to a 3-2 win in Game 7; they led the Stars 3-2 in that series with a Game 6 at home but had to go back to Dallas for a Game 7 and smoked the Stars 6-1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen will take his 0.91 GAA and .974 save percentage
in the series into Game 4 Wednesday night against the Wild.

But in having to exert an excess amount of energy in those two series, perhaps the Blues emptied the tanks and didn't have nearly as much as they needed in a six-game series loss to the San Jose Sharks in the conference final.

Now that they are on the brink of a series sweep of the Wild, it might be in the Blues' best interests to end this at home, where the crowd will be ready to blow the roof off the building and not have to make any more necessary trips and allow the bodies to recharge and refuel.

In seven previous times holding a 3-0 series lead, the Blues have swept such series five times, the last coming in 2001 against Ken Hitchcock and the Stars, and a series has never gone past five games.

"I think experience goes a long way in playoffs," Blues right wing Ryan Reaves said. "You've got to have experience knowing how to stay even in games where you haven't played as well as you should have or in games where you dominate, you've got to make sure you come back the next day and it's a clean slate. 

"I think our group right now has done really well in the game, especially when you get down or they're pushing to have our push back and we've got to apply that to the game tomorrow. We're in a good spot, but the job's not done. We're playing a really good team, so we've got to make sure we stay even and finish the job."

The experience the Blues have gained in closeout games is that the team with its back against the wall -- in this case Minnesota -- will come out with a huge push. It'll be up to the Blues to come out with the energy they had to begin Game 3 and try to force the Wild into playing catchup again.

"It's always tough because you know you're going to get their best push," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They're hanging on here and we're trying to move on. Every game's been tight. We know what's at stake.

"A few years before (2016), we lacked that killer instinct. It's never over until it's over I guess. That game against Chicago last year, it took until the third period with, what was it, eight minutes left to get the goal? We've learned to just keep pushing regardless of the situation. All it takes is that one goal to get that lead."

"They're tough games,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "The teams are kind of fighting to stay in and stay alive and it's an opportunity for us to obviously advance, but it's the same opportunity for them to stay alive and play the best game. It's tough hockey for sure, but that's what makes it so fun is when we can come together as a team and continue to push."

The Blues have not trailed in this series, and that's been one of the positives. But coach Mike Yeo knows the Wild has outshot the Blues, out-attempted them, has a decisive edge on the dot and will not go away quietly. He just wants the Blues to get better, and if they do that, they will be in good shape.

"We just need to play well," Yeo said. "Ultimately, that's what we want. We want to win the round and we want to advance and we want to keep competing here, but the reality is that's not going to happen unless we play really well. That's got to be our mindset coming into the game tomorrow. The focus on us, the focus on the things that we need to do better, the things that we've done well and the things that we need to keep continuing doing. When you do those things, you give yourself a great chance.

"We still have a great deal, a ton of respect for the team that we're playing against. We know how good of a team they are, we know how close the games have been. We're not trying to think about the next round or anything else right now. What we're trying to make sure we're focusing on is to be at our best tomorrow and that's all we can do right now, and obviously if you can do that, then you give yourself the best opportunity."

"Those are the kinds of sentences that are different than guys were used to hearing here before," Blues right wing David Perron said. "He's all about the process and things like that. That's a good example right there."

The Wild, an argument can be made for Game 1 for sure, has played some of its best hockey. The Blues on the other hand, feel like their 'A' game is still there to be had.

"I still think we've got a couple more gears," Reaves said. "We're not getting as many shots through as we should, we're not getting to the net as much as we should, we're not penetrating the middle as much as we should and we're not scoring as much as we should. Those are all areas that we need to improve on. I think our defending has been the best part of our game so far. We're taking away the middle and keeping everything to the outside, but I think we need to click a little more on offense and put a couple more in the net."

Which is precisely one of the things the Blues worked on Tuesday, funneling pucks towards the net, and working on puck possession.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (left) said closeout games are "tough."
Closing out the Minnesota Wild and Jason Zucker (right) won't be easy.

"Yeah, I think just making sure we're getting pucks on net and finishing plays around then net," Reaves said. "I think that's got to be an emphasis going forward."

Or is shot volume that important?

"You know what, we have to be careful," Yeo said. "I feel in the first three games, some of the times we've been in such a rush to shoot a puck that we end up missing a net and breaking out, or shooting one into a shin pad and losing zone time. So we definitely need to have a shot-first mentality, but that said, we can't be reckless and turning pucks over because of that. Sometimes you're in such a rush to get one shot you lose the opportunity to get three. And I think that when we've been on top of our game, certainly we're shooting pucks, we're recovering pucks, but there's an element of poise in our game and confidence to our game where we know that we can hang onto the puck and wait for a better opportunity if it's not there."

* NOTES -- The Blues welcomed center Paul Stastny to the ice for practice Tuesday.

Stastny hasn't skated with the team since sustaining a foot injury after getting hit by a Vladimir Tarasenko shot on March 21 against the Colorado Avalanche.

Stastny, who was unavailable to speak to reporters, was skating in the spot vacated by Alexander Steen, who is nursing a lower-body injury but Yeo said he would be available for Game 4.

Stastny, who has been working out on his own, is questionable for Wednesday.

"Paul is day-to-day, same as what he was the other day-to-days," Yeo said. "I thought he had a good practice.

"I thought he was skating well, I thought he was involved in every drill and conditioning didn't look like an issue and timing and execution didn't look like it was an issue either."

When asked if he could be available Wednesday, Yeo said, "Well, every day is a new day. I'm running out of things to say."

Just the sight of Stastny, who is the Blues’ best faceoff center and an area the Wild have dominated this series (60 percent to 40 percent), gives teammates hope.

"Well he plays in every situation," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously he's in that first PP, big on faceoffs too. Obviously 'Sobe's come in and helped in that department, but Paul's a big guy and takes a lot of big faceoffs in a lot of situations. We're waiting on his return. I don't know the situation either, but we're excited to see him out there with us."

Perron agreed.

"It's amazing, one of our best players all year ... as far as doing those little things, faceoffs, grabbing guys' sticks, getting guys some more (time) with the puck the way he passes the puck," Perron said. "It's obviously great for sure.

"Obviously that's one of the bigger parts. On the left side, he wins a lot of draws. It would take pressure off other guys, too. I think their team is really good, their four centermen, they even have a couple of guys on the wing that can win draws. It's tough on our guys right now but they're doing their best."