Tuesday, May 3, 2016

(5-3-16) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Patience needs to be a virtue when it comes to the "STL Line" for the Blues, beginning with Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars today (8:30 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

After collecting 17 points in seven games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the line of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera has been shut out in the first two games of this series.

"Our line has to step up a little bit too," said Lehtera, who has a goal and three assists in nine playoff games. "We're going to be fine.

"We have to play physical too, skate more and play more simple. ... We haven't played that good for the last two games, but it's our time to step up today."

Schwartz, who is tied for the team lead with seven points with Kevin Shattenkirk and Robby Fabbri, said the group is doing little things and that results will come.

"Yeah, I don't think you're going to score every single game throughout the playoffs," said Schwartz, who has three goals and four assists in nine games. "You want to stick with what works and you want to continue working and make sure you're getting chances and staying positive and trying to contribute as much as you can, whether it's on the scoresheet or doing other little things. I think that goes without doubt.

"... I think at this time of year, matchups are key. We're going to match up against other lines, other teams are going to match up differently against us. That's just the way it is. It's always a challenge and 'Vladi's in the top five in the league in goals. I think that's a guy they circle and they want to take his time and space away. We've got to make sure we're getting open for him and supporting him and doing our part to get open for him if they're going to try and take away his time and space as much as they can."

It's safe to say that what the Blues are seeing from series to series between the Blackhawks and Stars is different in many ways but similar in others.

"It was a different game. I think Dallas plays different than Chicago," Lehtera said. "Now we've seen it for two games. We're ready for the third one. ... It feels like different teams. Both are skilled of course, but Dallas is a good-skating team and they're skating all the time. If you give them the puck, they're gone right away. You have to play smart against them."

The "STL Line" was paired up for much of Game 1 against Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky, but saw stretches in Game 2 with Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp and Cody Eakin.

"It doesn't matter who you play against, it's going to be a challenge," Schwartz said. "They've got a good team that's deep, so I think they're comfortable almost throwing guys out in different situations on their team. They've got some guys you've got to be aware of. You've got to make sure you're taking their time and space away working back with the puck back when they do have it because they can make things happen pretty quick. Our line's seen that before, but it's a good challenge for us and I think we've got to take that with excitement and get ready. It's always fun playing against guys like that; you want to out-compete them when you play them."

Keeping Tarasenko, who led the Blues with 40 goals in the regular season, has been held without a point for three straight games. Keeping him focused will be key.

"From what I can see, that's what it is. You'd have to ask him, but I know from my standpoint, at this time of year, winning games is all that matters," Schwartz said. "When you're getting chances, you want them to go in, but you want to make sure you're doing other parts in the game, whether it's defensively or through the neutral zone. Whatever it is, you want to make sure you're doing other little things that can impact the game. last game, he drew that penalty going to the net, so it's something a lot of people might not notice, but it ended up giving us a power play and we scored to win the game. There's other things you can do to win the game. You're going to need contribution from everyone this time of the year. We've been doing a good job of that."

- - -

Now that the Blues have wrestled home ice from the Stars, the idea is to keep it.

But Dallas, which won two of three against the Minnesota Wild, is one team comfortable playing on the road.

"I don't know," Benn said when asked about the road teams' playoff success. "It's just one of those things that's happened in one year, but when road teams come in, there's no one to impress. They're just kind of going out and keeping it simple. The momentum the crowd can bring to the home team can obviously be an advantage."

The Blues, who are 2-2 at home in the postseason this year, feel that home ice is an advantage and that Game 7 against Chicago was proof-positive.

"I still think (home ice) is a factor," Shattenkirk said. "I think teams have managed to kind of even it out a little bit, but I think when it comes down to it, it's still hard to play. When you look at Game 7 for us last series, home ice was really important for us that game. Having to do that on the road is tough. Those are the game where home ice matters."

So take Games 3 and 4 with the approach the with the mindset that they're Game 7s?

"It is," Shattenkirk said. "These are games you don't want to relinquish when we're playing in our building. That's the mindset every series, every year. You don't want to lose a game at home. We approach every game like it's a Game 7; you have to have that mentality."

- - -

Stars coach Lindy Ruff is in Stanley Cup Playoff mode.

Ahead of Game 3, Ruff was asked twice regarding his starting goalie.

When asked if he thought about it for a long time regarding his decision whether to start Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi, Ruff's answer threw the media gathering for a curveball.

"We've been going with Lehtonen, so we're going to stay with him," Ruff said abruptly. 

Niemi, who relieved Lehtonen after the first period of Game 2, was the first goalie off the ice following the morning skate and Lehtonen was still working with the scratches while Ruff was speaking to the media.

Another question came, asking to be clear, regarding the first goalie off the ice, Ruff cut the question off and said, "I'm not telling you who's starting, so you don't have to ask again."

Niemi made 19 saves before allowing a goal from Blues captain David Backes at 10:58 of overtime to even the series. Niemi's teammates are used to the musical chairs with the goalies. 

"Obviously it's up the coach to make that decision," Stars center Cody Eakin said. "Like I said two days ago, whenever either one of them steps in, we're confident. They give us the ability to give us that confidence and allow us to play strong and give us a chance on any given night.

"Whether it's a switch or one starting versus the other, we're confident in both of them and we're going to play hard for them."

The Blues know that goalie Brian Elliott, who took a hard shot off the mask from Stars center Jason Spezza in the third period, will play Tuesday. Elliott was on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday and appeared to show no ill-effects from the shot.

The Blues are making no lineup changes.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Steve Ott, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Colton Sceviour

Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky

Curtis McKenzie-Vernon Fiddler-Travis Moen

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns

Kris Russell-Jason Demers

Antti Niemi will start in goal. Kari Lehtonen will be the backup.

Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) and Patrick Eaves (foot) did not make the trip.

(5-3-16) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Backes talks net-front presence; time set for Game 5; Reaves to 
remain in for Game 3; Stars mum on goalie, Seguin, Eaves practice

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said following a 4-3 overtime win Sunday in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round Series against the Dallas Stars that David Backes was one of two players he's ever coached that would absorb shots without a second thought, it put the Blues' captain in rare company.

When Hitchcock coached Raffi Torres in Columbus, he would be the first to be able to stand in the slot and take any sort of punishment, whether it be getting hit with pucks, getting cross-checked, slashed, punched, elbowed, you name it.

Backes, who netted his second overtime goal of these Stanley Cup Playoffs to become the second Blue all-time to accomplish the feat (Pierre Turgeon being the other in 1999), talked about how he came to the conclusion that he would put his body at risk every time he pitches camp in front of the net. 

"I probably have to give credit to my years of playing baseball, guys pitching inside," Backes said Monday. "It's similar speed knowing that there's a chance you get hit but the reward for standing in there is well worth it. Sometimes you've got to react and there's a trust factor with the guy shooting the puck as well knowing that they're going to keep it at net-high or below, which is four feet, which means I'm going to get hit somewhere below the neck which you can heal from any of those. I've gotten a couple up higher but it's kind of a mindset that that's something we need done and I'm willing to go in there and stand there and guys hopefully shooting right by me and into the net and we get to celebrate as a group." 

It's more an acquired trait that requires plenty of repetition, and trust in the lines of Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko and even Colton Parayko, who's become the new bomber of the blue line.

"It's a trust that's built on repetition, no question," said Backes, who has three goals and three assists in nine playoff games. "It only takes one or two stray ones that you've got to build that back up again. 'Steener' shoots it real hard, 'Shatty' shoots it hard, 'Petro' shoots it well, a guy like Colton starting the year, we had to have a little talk before we even had the first shot of, 'Hey, dial it back to like 70 percent. Let's build this up and maybe you can start humming a few in there.' You do that after practice time and time again. You know that in a game situation it's going to be second nature and it's proven successful for us for a while here."

Parayko admires Backes for taking the risk playing the slot.

"He always goes to the hard spots; the net-front is not an easy spot to be in," Parayko said. "You are getting pushed around, you’re getting hacked and whacked. It’s a gritty area and that’s a place that is huge if you have guys willing to go there, so kudos to him."

* Reaves stays in -- Right wing Ryan Reaves may have only played a team-low 6 minutes 18 seconds Sunday, but it won't affect his lineup status according to Hitchcock for Game 3.

Reaves, who had five hits on his stat line, made his impact early in the game when the Blues jumped to a 3-1 first-period lead. He was impactful in ways that helped the Blues establish a solid team forecheck.

"Oh yeah. He played really good," Hitchcock said of Reaves. "Like I said on the broadcast, if the coach was a little smarter he would have had him out there more."

* Game 5 set -- The NHL announced Monday afternoon that Game 5 at American Airlines Center will be a noon puck drop on NBC.

There was some discussion whether the Blues and Stars would get the noon time slot or the 6 p.m. puck drop, but that prime time space will be reserved for Game 5 of the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

* Stars non-commital on goalie; Seguin, Eaves skate -- Stars coach Lindy Ruff was mum on who he would start in Game 3.

The Stars started Kari Lehtonen in Game 1 (he made 31 of 32 saves) and again in Game 2 but was lifted for Antti Niemi after giving up three goals on five shots.

Niemi stopped 19 of 20 shots but was the losing goalie when he allowed Backes' overtime goal.

"I’m going to remain consistent with what brought us success through the regular season," Ruff said. "Umm-hmm, I'll let you guys know about five minutes after warm-up Tuesday."

Niemi gave the Stars a chance when he kept the game 3-1 early in the second period after making a point blank pad save on Troy Brouwer's shot from close range.

"I thought he stepped in and gave us a strong performance," Ruff said of Niemi. "There's been some ups and downs with the goaltending, but that's not unlike a lot of the series out there."

As for center Tyler Seguin (lower-body injury) and Patrick Eaves (foot), both skated in the Stars' optional before departing for St. Louis but did not accompany the team for Game 3.

Seguin has played one game since March 17 (Game 2 of the first round series against the Minnesota Wild) when he sustained a cut that partially tore his Achillies' tendon but re-injured another area in the lower body recently.

Eaves was hurt in Game 1 against the Blues after being hit with teammate Stephen Johns' shot from the right point.

"Both skated today," Ruff said, "both progressing."

Ruff didn't rule out Game 4, saying, "They have flights into St. Louis every day."

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Backes nets OT goal, ties series with Stars

Blues squander two-goal lead in third, get 
power play goal in overtime to even best-of-7 series

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- The birthday boy was greeted with choruses of "Happy Birthday" as he entered the locker room, and coming from his teammates, it couldn't have come at a better time for Blues captain David Backes.

Backes' second overtime goal of these Stanley Cup Playoffs gave the Blues a 4-3 victory against the Dallas Stars in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round on Sunday at American Airlines Center.

The goal evened the best-of-7 series 1-1 with Games 3 and 4 shifting to St. Louis on Tuesday and Thursday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Backes (42) collects a rebound and winds up scoring on the Stars'
Antti Niemi for the OT game-winner Sunday in a 4-3 victory in Game 2.

Game 3 is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Blues, who squandered a 3-1 third-period lead when the Stars tied it on goals by Mattias Janmark and Jamie Benn with 2 minutes 36 seconds remaining, got their second power play in the overtime when Antoine Roussel interfered with Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester inside the Blues' blue line.

The Blues used the second one in OT to their advantage when initially, Vladimir Tarasenko stung Alex Goligoski with a shot off the inside of his right knee, then Tarasenko got the rebound to Kevin Shattenkirk, who fed Alexander Steen for a one-timer at the top of the right circle that Stars goalie Antti Niemi, who replaced Kari Lehtonen at the start of the second period, saved with Backes jumping over the play. Backes collected the rebound and deposited it home at 10:58.

"I could see the one-timer coming over, so I figured if I could get (Niemi's) eyes – and Steener got it up – that it had a good chance to go in," Backes said. "And if he didn’t get it up, then I could turn around, find the rebound and one of those fortuitous bounces right on my tape and slam it home before anyone can realize where it is. 

"I think Jaromir Jagr in all his wisdom at 44 said, 'Who cares who scored?' And that’s the way we feel in this room. Who cares who scored? We got this series tied back up. We’re still getting better, need to play better. We did our job, got one in their building. Now we need to go home and play solid hockey for 60 minutes and really start to establish our game."

It's a spot where Backes makes his living, and Hitchcock gave him all the praises for being there all the time knowing full well that players can get beaten up, by players whacking at you and by shots from teammates.

"I've been in the league since '95 and I've only coached two players who are willing to absorb the shot," Hitchcock said. "Lots of guys go into traffic. There's lots of guys that will go into traffic, but as the puck's coming, they'll jump out of the way or try to tip it. He's one of two players that's been able to hang in there with the shot, so he's willing to absorb the puck and then make a play after that, which is very unique because there's not many players that will do that. He even practices it on a daily basis. I find it amazing that you get an athlete, especially in this day and age that's still willing to absorb all those pucks."

Who's the other? Raffi Torres, who Hitchcock coached in Columbus.

"He got hurt doing it. Torres ... Raffi was the other guy," Hitchcock said. "Only guys for me that I've ever coached that are willing to absorb the shot."

Said Blues rookie defenseman Colton Parayko: "Happy birthday to Backes for that one. He always goes to the hard spots. Net-front's not an easy spot to be in. You're getting pushed around. You're getting hacked, you're getting whacked. It's a gritty area. That's a place that's huge, and if you've got guys that are willing to go there, be willing to do that for you, kudos to him for the overtime winner."

The win for the Blues was their first victory in a second-round playoff game since May 7, 2002 against the Detroit Red Wings; they had gone 0-7 since.

And Backes' OT winner makes him the second player in franchise history to score multiple overtime goals in one playoff season. Pierre Turgeon did it in 1999.

But the real question on this day was why did the Blues abandon what got them to a good position leading 3-1 after 40 minutes? They were crisp, they were checking the Stars into mistakes, they outhit them 31-13 after two periods and led on goals by Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson and Troy Brouwer, all that came in the first period on five shots.

And the second period, which has been an Achillies' heel in these playoffs (outscored 12-3), was one of their best ones despite not scoring.

But then the old prevent defense, which only prevents one from winning, found its way into the Blues' game and it almost cost them.

"The second period was the best we've played all playoffs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We did everything we wanted to do, we played a heck of a period and then we played the score, and that's the wrong thing you can do against Dallas; they're too good. We started to play the score. Probably in normal situations, it works out fine, but you can't play the score against them, so we started to play the score a little bit in the third period and ended up not handling the puck enough."

When asked if this is a coaching tactic, Hitchcock said laughing, "No."

So how does it creep back into their game?

"The score. It's a natural tendency," Hitchcock said. "What do they say? The worst lead in hockey's a two-goal lead. It's natural. You play the score, so you put a safety net up and it's been like that ever since I've started coaching. The other team's on a push. The other team's playing high-risk, so they're pinching on everything, they're trying to join numbers on the attack. They're on full-bore go and it's hard to play that way on your toes when everybody's behind you. So what they did was they got everybody behind us, so you have a choice. You go forward and attack, but you're not forechecking anybody. You're forechecking one player because there's four or five hanging behind you. It's not anything that's instructed that we've got to do this or we've got to do that. That's not the way we want to play and that's not the way we should play. It's a natural tendency for any team. 

"Look at some of the games we've come back on. The teams tried to protect the lead and we just steam-rolled them. The thing that impressed me more than anything was the way we played in the overtime ... outstanding. We went into attack mode and stayed on it the whole time. I was really impressed with the way we did OT."

The Blues got back on their toes, as Hitchcock pointed out and were able to get the benefit from the call that set up the game-winner.

"Oh yeah, it was interference," Bouwmeester said, who was interfered with that gave Ales Hemsky a chance to break in on Brian Elliott. "It was a penalty. Our power play has been good this year, coming up key at pretty key moments and tonight was another one."

The Blues stared at adversity early in this game when Goligoski gave the home side a 1-0 lead on a bullet one-timer from the left circle top shelf over Elliott's glove at 3:36, taking Benn's pass from behind the net.

But the Blues, who had only five shots on goal in the first, answered quickly and efficiently.

Berglund tied it 1-1 off a give-and-go with Fabbri, ripping a one-timer top shelf from the left circle over Lehtonen 35 seconds after the Stars' goal, a huge response by the visitors.

"Very important obviously," Berglund said. "I think that's not the start we wanted. Of course we take that goal and we come right back to the game. After that, we played obviously two great periods. The third obviously wasn't what we wanted, but something we've got to really work on."

Edmundson's first NHL playoff goal came 2:51 later for a 2-1 Blues lead after Brouwer's forecheck forced a turnover, Paul Stastny got it quickly to Scottie Upshall, who returned it to Brouwer, who then saucered a beautiful pass on the backdoor to Edmundson for the finish.

"That's what he was in the 'A.' He was a two-way guy," Hitchcock said of Edmundson. "I think he's been the most impressive upgrade for us on the back-end. His last two games have been outstanding, which is a good sign."

Brouwer put the Blues up 3-1 with 1:20 remaining in the period after Fabbri got a puck back to Kevin Shattenkirk, who threw a wrister at Lehtonen. Lehtonen made the initial save but left a rebound in the slot and Brouwer pounced in the slot.

Lehtonen was pulled after the first period in favor of Niemi.

The bad news for the Blues, who have had a tough time in second periods this postseason, is they didn't score again, meaning they have three goals in the second period in nine games. The good news is they didn't allow a goal, and took the initiative and outshot the Stars 10-6 in the period. 

The Blues nearly took a three-goal lead, but Niemi made a right pad stop on Brouwer from close-in range with 12:40 remaining in the period.

Elliott had a bit of a testy save to make on Benn, who was able to spin and slip a shot from the slot after a deflected puck fell there that Elliott had to make a key left pad save on with 9:23 remaining on the Stars' second power play of the game.

Janmark got one back for the Stars in the third period when he burst through the middle on a deflected puck and beat Elliott on the breakaway 4:35 into the period to make it a 3-2 game.


(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) and David Backes celebrate Backes' overtime goal
Sunday of a 4-3 victory in Game 2 against the Dallas Stars.
The Blues avoided trouble when a Jason Spezza point blast hit Elliott square in the mask. The Blues' netminder was down for a bit but stayed in the game and needed a new mask momentarily before getting his replica "Cujo" mask back minutes later.

"It was right out on my cheekbone there," said Elliott, who made 31 saves. "It was all good after that.

"(Blues assistant equipment manager Joel Farnsworth) was quick on the changeover. Kind of like NASCAR. I got it back quicker than expected. It was a good play by him."

The Blues got what they wanted at the least, and that was a game on the road, which they needed. Now they have to preserve home ice.

"Obviously we would have liked to lock it down and win the game in regulation, but a win is a win this time of year," Bouwmeester said. "Who cares?"

"Game 3's going to be a huge one in who can really put their game out their for the longer time, stick with it, and make plays, I think they've probably played more better minutes than we have so far in this series," Backes said. "We've got to get back and take that over and we have an opportunity on Tuesday."

(5-1-16) Blues-Stars Game 2 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- Ryan Reaves has been salivating, to say the least, to get in the Blues lineup.

He could get his chance Sunday in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Dallas Stars.

Reaves, who played in 64 of the 82 games during the regular season on the Blues, fourth line, has not been in the lineup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Game 2 of the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But on Saturday at what was supposed to be an optional skate that turned into a full practice, Reaves was skating in his customary spot on right wing alongside center Kyle Brodziak and left wing Magnus Paajarvi.

"I'm always ready to go, always hungry," Reaves said. "It's tough watching the boys go through playoffs, especially when it's crazy series like they've been so far and you can't be out there helping the boys. I'm trying to stay ready. When I get the call, I'll be ready.

"I think just making sure when you get in there, you're not too amped up and you're not over-doing anything. You're just going out there and playing your game, being responsible and making sure you're helping the team and trying to make an impact on the game."

Reaves was in the lineup for Games 1 and 2 against the Blackhawks, a 1-0 overtime win and a 3-2 loss, respectively but gave way to Steve Ott, who returned after missing 57 games with torn hamstrings and a bout with colitis. 

"I thought we played well, but they wanted to make a change after we lost," Reaves said. "Whatever the team needs, that line's been playing really well. I thought they really had an impact on that Chicago series. They were able to play any line that they were out against and playing really well and played them hard and get in their face. Once that starts rolling like that, it's tough to change it up. I was happy for them, and I'll be happy when I get back in."

The Blues had a playoff low 26 hits in a 2-1 loss in Game 1 on Friday. Reaves could add to the foray.

"I think that was our least physical game (Friday)," Reaves said. "They were running around a bit and targeting ... playing playoff hockey and targeting our guys. That's exactly what you do in the playoffs. If it's me (today), then that's what I've got to do."

When asked if Reaves was in, coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice Saturday: "All available assets are at our disposal. Let me put it this way: we do not have an injury that would prevent me from making a decision."


- - -

Scottie Upshall was the lone regular who did not participate in practice, and Hitchcock said Upshall's status is "maintenance" and will continue to be so throughout at the very least, this series.

"He's maintenance. I'm not going to let anyone know who's in and who's out right now," Hitchcock said. "He's maintenance and he'll continue to be maintenance right throughout this series."

- - -

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was a participant after taking a physical toll in the opener of the series.

Pietrangelo, the Blues' leader in minutes played per game in the playoffs at 29:56, played just 25:37 against the Stars on Friday. He took a slash on the hand/wrist at one point from Stars captain Jamie Benn and came to the bench holding his arm but didn't miss any shifts.

"I didn't think it was anything other than when we were going after a couple guys, got licks on one of them," Hitchcock said. "Obviously when you play that many minutes, you're going to be a target. I think he looked like our team; he looked tired at the end because we spent too much time defending. I think anybody's going to look tired and vulnerable when you're in your zone too much. We were just in our zone way too much.

"... Oh yeah, he's fine. He's good."

- - -

Being outhit in the opener is something the Blues are not accustomed to.

At one point to start the game, Dallas had a 13-3 edge in hits, showing they wanted to throw the Blues game off by playing their style before going back to their more traditional transition/speed game.

"That's a staple of our game," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "It's a result of not getting pucks behind, not giving ourselves an opportunity to get good licks in on their D. I thought they did a great job of breaking out quickly while we weren't able to sustain a forecheck, get in, get some bumps and make them a little nervous to go back and get the puck. It's a long series and we have to establish that physical presence, but we were outhit last night."

Hitchcock said it is what it is.

"I think they outhit us. I think they took the puck away from us, I thought they outhit us," Hitchcock said. "I thought where they did where we didn't do a good job was in the offensive zone. I thought they got up and out much easier than even some of our players anticipated. They did a good job, they knocked us off pucks in the d-zone and they were able to exit a lot easier than we wanted them too. I think that's where they outhit us. They knocked us off of pucks that we need to control a lot more and compete at a lot more."

Does it mean the Blues need to come out more physical? Not necessarily, said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

"You do and you don't," he said. "They're a team that when they have full possession, they're so good on their transition and with their second wave joining the rush that if you're running out of position to make a hit, they more than anyone else can make you pay. They're so good on the rush and their odd-man rushes of creating chances off of it. I don't think we're necessarily looking to win the hitting game, but we want to hit at the right time and we want to hit certain guys who we feel like we can push out of the series."

Which is why center Paul Stastny doesn't care for the final numbers, whether the Blues are on the right or wrong side of that number.

"That's a skewed stat, depends on what building you play in," Stastny said. "If you have the puck more often than not, they're going to be physical. At the same time, every time we had the puck, they were trying to finish their checks. I think there's times to hit guys and there's times to just kind of soft block a guy and get him to release the puck. I don't think we felt like we got outhit. We knew it was going to be a more physical than it was against Chicago. But for us, most importantly is when we do finish our checks, we make sure that we can't get beat back up the ice because that's what they're defensemen are good at, trying to get around our forwards and get back up the ice."

- - -

Vladimir Tarasenko's ice time went up in Game 1, a forward-leading 21:04, but his production was at a stalemate, thanks in large part to the line of Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky, which kept the "STL Line" in check.

Tarasenko finished with three shots on goal on seven shot attempts but other than that, he was on the ice for Shattenkirk's tying goal.

"Good game, they won 2-1," Tarasenko said. "We don't play our best game that we can. So now we're down by one. We need to try to tie the series tomorrow.

"We just need to play our game like we play Game 7 against Chicago. They have a good team. They were the best in our conference in the regular season and it's really fun to play against those guys because like Jamie Benn said, 'They hate us, we hate them.' But it's fun stuff, both teams play physical. It's a good challenge for us and for them. Even in this series, you just need to try to have fun and play your game."

Faksa's line shadowed the "STL Line" and not only did its part defensively but accounted for both Stars goals.

And with the success the "STL Line" had against the Blackhawks, Hitchcock wants some change because he feels Dallas is doing what Chicago tried to do with the line of Marcus Kruger, Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd.

"No, and that's the problem; they did exactly the same, so we have to change, we have to adjust," Hitchcock said. "We can't keep playing that way and expect to have success. We need to adjust. The line needs to adjust, the line needs to adjust and we need to adjust. We looked at some video to today that'll hopefully be helpful, but we need to adjust."

On Tarasenko's minutes, Hitchcock seemed a bit surprised.

"I didn't look. What did he play," the coach asked before being told 21:04> "Oh did he? Quite a bit, eh? Can we maybe shut that story up now?"

 Tarasenko said he'll have to change and for the better.

"I need to play better," Tarasenko said. "But you know, we still have day before game and there's still time to think about it. We talk a lot inside our team and I think we're ready for this challenge and just try to play our best tomorrow."

"I just need to take a look at my shifts and make adjustments. All teams play kind of the same, all teams are physical. Everybody try to hit you as much as they can. You know, you need to a player that nobody can break. Like I said, it's a good challenge and it's a fun part of the year."

Some felt that after the tight-checking series against Chicago in which Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera combined for 17 points in seven games, perhaps Tarasenko would be able to have more free ice available.

"No because of the way the (Chicago) series went," Hitchcock said. "There were glimpses in Game 70  that we saw how the games were going to be. We anticipated this. We made really good adjustments in the last series and we've got to make them again. We need to recognize what's happening and then make the adjustments accordingly. It's not a lot different than what we did to their guys, but we need to make a more concerted effort to ... it's not so much breaking free, it's just understanding where the pressure's coming from and how you react from there."

And for Tarasenko, it's a case of not thinking about who's on the ice.

"If you start thinking of this stuff, you will lose your game a little bit," he said. "So whoever you play against, you just need to be ready and be yourself on the ice and don't let nobody scare you."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (UPDATED):

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Steve Ott, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup (UPDATED):

Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Valeri Nichushkin 

Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky

Travis Moen-Vernon Fiddler-Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns

Kris Russell-Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Antti Niemi will be the backup.

Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) and Patrick Eaves (foot) are out.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Late goal sends Stars past Blues in Game 1

Faksa nets winner after Blues push; Elliott solid but Stars grab 1-0 series lead

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars were supposed to have the smaller team, one vulnerable to the bigger, heavier Blues but one that can counteract what St. Louis can do with their quickness and speed.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round, the Stars utilized their speed ... and in a sense, beat the Blues at their own game.

Radek Faksa's rebound goal with 4 minutes 44 seconds remaining was the difference in a 2-1 win Friday before 18,532 at American Airlines Center to take a 1-0 series lead.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) makes a save in front of Dallas' Patrick Eaves
and teammate Carl Gunnarsson Friday at American Airlines Center.

Game 2 is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. (NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

Dallas outhit the Blues 32-26, and it was a Blues team that couldn't find a hit, especially when they were not playing pucks in good positions to force Dallas to play with its back to the play. The Stars' strength is its transition and quickness through the neutral zone, and the Blues fed the engine.

"I think they were winning a lot more battles," Blues captain David Backes said. "Whether that was them being really engaged or us being not that engaged, they were more engaged at the puck and won more puck battles and and as a result of that, created more offense and had the ice tilted towards our net. 'Moose' did a heck of a job keeping us in there giving us a chance and when you tie it up there you'd like to take another step in the right direction instead of having the rebuttal come back towards our end and them score. I don't think we played a great game today, but there were some things to build on. We need to be better on Sunday to beat a very good team over there."

Antoine Roussel and Faksa scored goals on similar plays, off transition odd-man rushes and both crashing the net and hammering home rebounds past Brian Elliott, who was sensational with 40 saves.

"Man, after the second period, 'Ells' gave us a chance tonight, gave us a real chance," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We needed to punch through. When it was 1-1, we were playing well, but we gave up a really poor transition goal. Three guys got caught flat-footed."

The Blues, who had five of the first seven shots in the game, ended the period with Dallas having 12 of the final 14 shots.

The Stars began the pushback, including leading the first period in hits 16-11 after having 13 of the first 16.

A lackluster game got worse for the Blues, who were outshot 17-11 in the second period and the Stars finally broke the scoreless draw.

Roussel drew first blood in this one after the Blues buzzed around the Dallas goal, but the Stars came out in transition, Elliott made a big stop on Faksa in the slot, but Roussel was there for the rebound at 9:36 of the second for a 1-0 Dallas lead.

"We had a chance at one end and it comes back the other way," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It was weird how the rush played out. Four guys up the ice and two, three guys at the net. Just popped right out to him. That's the way it goes. But that's one goal, first goal in the second period. We did a good job to tie it late and then they got that next one. So, I think as unsatisfied as we played, we had a chance at the end. But we'll get up tomorrow and go at the next one."

The goal continues a bad trend for the Blues in seconds periods in the playoffs. They've been outscored 12-3 in eight games.

"... The first 10 minutes were fine. After that, I didn't like the way we played in the last 10 minutes of the first and the whole second. We fed too many pucks in the wrong places and they just dialed up their transition because of it. We didn't play the right way. Got playing a little bit in the third when the game looked like it was going our way, we started playing the right way. We did the things we needed to do to win, but too many plays that fall right into what they do well in the middle part of the game ... way too many."

Elliott, who made a number of high-percentage saves, including one on Mattias Janmark while sprawled on the ice, kept it a 1-0 game and gave the Blues a chance.

They responded with Kevin Shattenkirk's one-timer from the top of the left circle, a booming shot that beat Kari Lehtonen, who was good himself -- especially in the third period, off a pass from Colton Parayko with 8:32 remaining.

The Blues got to their game, buzzed around then net, and came close to going ahead 2-1. But after Alexander Steen dumped a puck into the Dallas zone and went off for a change, Alex Goligoski split forwards Robby Fabbri and Troy Brouwer in the neutral zone that opened up a 3-on-2. With Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo backing into the defensive zone, Faksa flipped a puck to his right to an onrushing Ales Hemsky, who cut past Bouwmeester and went in on Elliott. Elliott made the save, but with Bouwmeester skating past the net and off the post, Faksa was able to hammer in the rebound with 4:44 remaining.

"Neutral zone play, neutral zone checking, not picking up people, got skated by," Hitchcock said, describing both goals given up. "... They're the No. 1 scoring team in the league for a reason. They've got great speed, but we don't have to feed it all the time, and that's what we did too much today, fed it way too much."

The Blues claimed their had their legs and plenty of energy. It seemed to be channeled in the wrong areas.

"Everyone was good, everyone had plenty of energy," Shattenkirk said. "We had a great … great job off there. We had three days off, we were totally recharged. We just tried to wait and see what they were going to bring a little too long, it took till the third to really get back to our game, we'll be ready to bring that to the puck drop on Sunday."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Colton Parayko (55) and Vladimir Tarasenko (91) celebrate
Kevin Shattenkirk's goal in the third period Friday in Dallas.

Now the Blues will try to beat Dallas at its own game Sunday instead of allowing Dallas to beat them at their game again.

"No, I don't think so. I think it's exactly what we thought it was going to be," Elliott said. "They threw a lot of stuff at the net and put a lot of bodies at the net. We were right there."

"You obviously think that we're going to get it done, that's the type of attitude you have to have. We had a big goal to get us back in it without about 10 minutes left. Obviously giving up one with five minutes left is not what you want to do. But we kept fighting. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series. So we're down one and now we've got to respond."

(4-29-16) Blues-Stars Game 1 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- Alexander Steen drew the tough assignment in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks because coach Ken Hitchcock wanted his best two-way player against Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Steen will draw a similar assignment when the Blues open their best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the Dallas Stars today (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) and their star, forward Jamie Benn.

Steen and the Blues, who defeated the Blackhawks in seven games, limited the Blackhawks' star power to one goal in the series (Kane's overtime winner in Game 5). It'll be another daunting task for Steen to limit Benn, who had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six games against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

"I think it's a similar style to their team," Steen said of Benn and the Stars. "A lot of firepower up front. It'll be a similar game plan for us."

To say he looks forward to facing the Stars' biggest guns is understating it.

"Yeah," Steen said. "I think the style of game we've been playing over the last few months, four months, this team atmosphere, team attitude where we're leaving each other in good positions on the ice. Everybody has their roles and their jobs. That's a big reason why we've been able to defeat the Blackhawks. It was a tough club to play seven games against. Now we've got a new challenge in these guys and we're excited, ready to go."

- - -

A lot was made of the Blues facing Blackhawks agitator Andrew Shaw in the first round and if the Blues will see something similar with what they will get from Stars wing Antoine Roussel.

Roussel, who had one goal in six games against the Wild, has been known to stir the pot a time or two while on the ice, and the Blues should expect more of the same.

"There are a lot better players to worry about over there," right wing Steve Ott said. "His element is his element, but I think we're little bit different players.

"... He's a good player, guys. He's a fast, energy type of player and I think every team has one of those guys if you really look around the league. If it was Shaw last series, if it's Roussel this series, he bring a spark to that hockey club. He's a good player ... you've got to be knowing when he's on the ice, knowing what hes' going to do, but whistle to whistle is where we're taking this thing."

Steen said: "It's playoffs. It's not going to affect us."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has other ideas.

"I don't think you can ignore that fella, just like I don't think you can ignore a couple guys on our team," Hitchcock said. "So you just have to play through it. There's a big picture here, it's about winning the hockey game. It's bigger than ice time. It's bigger than how much guys play, who they play with. It's about winning the hockey game. And he's a good player that does a lot of things that as a coach you like and we have a couple guys on our team exactly the same who are underrated on things you like and you've just got to learn to play through those guys."

- - -

Former Blues defenseman Kris Russell, who was traded to the Stars at the NHL Trade Deadline, has gone up against his former teammates before as a member of the Calgary Flames.

But for Russell, who spent two seasons (2011-13) in St. Louis, this will be the first opportunity to face them with the stakes much higher.

"I know how competitive players they are," Russell said of the Blues. "I had a good opportunity to play with them. They're guys that work hard. They bring it every night. It's a consistent team that works hard, a big, physical team. We know what we're going into obviously. We have a great group in this room, a lot of skill and high-end speed. We're excited about the opportunity to play them."

Russell, who was acquired at the trade deadline for defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward Brett Pollock and a conditional second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, got a new lease on life despite having to leave Calgary, which is an hour and 45 minutes south, southeast of his hometown of Caroline, Alberta.

"Right from the get-go, it's a great group of guys," Russell said. "The transition was easy, seamless that way. There's a lot of similarities with the way we played in Calgary. That helped a little bit. Obviously there's adjustments you've got to make. Trying to get familiar with a D-partner and trying to get some chemistry. But it's been going great. ... Obviously there's some things I had to change. There's a different structure with the way they play here, but I work with the video coach here; every team does that, but it's been good."

Stars coach Lindy Ruff feels Russell is finally fitting in after a tough start.

"Well, first thing is he’s had a little bit of a rough ride because he got injured, spent a good part out of the lineup, which has been tough for him," Ruff said of Russell. "Probably could have played some of those games, but I decided to make sure he was healthy to come back. I think he fully understands how we play, which is different from the environment he came from, which is a big adjustment. But I think he’s adjusting. He realizes that we’re a different type of team and we expect certain things and I think he’s gotten better the games he’s played."

- - -

The Blues announced on Friday that they will face the Washington Capitals in a preseason game on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

It's a matchup that could see Russian stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Ovechkin go against one another. 

Tickets will go on sale on Tuesday, May 3 at noon at SprintCenter.com, the Price Chopper Box Office at Sprint Center or by phone at (888) 929-7849. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more by calling Sprint Center Group Sales at 816.929.7177 or by emailing grouptickets@sprintcenter.com.

- - -

Steen was asked about the differences in Stars goalies Kari Lehtonen, who will start Game 1 for the Stars, and Antti Niemi.

"No, they're pretty similar. Both Finnish," Steen said with a grin.

So you don't like them?

"I'm Swedish," Steen responded.

"No, I think they're pretty similar," Steen added. "It'll be important for us to get traffic, try and create some chaos right outside their crease, get to loose pucks and make it tough on their defensemen to defend."

- - -

Scottie Upshall, who took the past two days off for maintenance days, was back on the ice and will play tonight.

Upshall's impact, despite just playing 9 minutes 35 seconds, in Game 7 was noticeable in the first period.

"For sure. He had great legs right off the bat," Ott said of Upshall. "He hit the post, could have been a valuable goal right away. He also moved up and down the lineup during the game for a few shifts. When you have a guy that's playing like that, you find a way to get him on the ice and he's playing really well right now."

- - -

Playing Chicago, the Blues feel it will be beneficial in this series, considering the two teams play a similar style.

"Yeah, I think the way they're built, the style of game that they play," Steen said. "I think (Johnny) Oduya and (Patrick) Sharp probably brought over a little bit of a Chicago influence into this group. I'm sure it'll be similar."

Said captain David Backes: "There's a few similar style similarities. We can't think that we're any more prepared or that anything's going to come any easier for us. We've got to put all the work in, start from 0-0 and have a great effort for Game 1 and worry about Game 2 after that's over."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Scottie Upshall

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves

Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky

Travis Moen-Vernon Fiddler-Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns

Kris Russell-Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Antti Niemi will be the backup.

Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) will not play.