Saturday, April 25, 2015

(4-26-15) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Blues' lone goal to bring series back to St. Louis; Lehtera skates, status 
for Sunday undetermined; wide margin results; series goes back and forth

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- As the Blues head to Minnesota in a survive-and-stay-alive mindset, the objective becomes quite clear.

"That's our goal; just bring it home," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's the whole focus for us. Just bring this thing home, we get a nice rest and that's the focus."

Anything else, and the Blues' season will come to another disappointing end after a regular season that filled hopes for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with much promise.

But the Blues, who trail the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference First Round best-of-7 series 3-2, have been in this position before.

Last season.

And in 2013.

Those circumstances against the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively, were different because the Blues led each of those series 2-0 before losing four in a row. But the one common theme was the Blues lost Game 5 on home ice, then went on the road and lost 2-1 at LA in 2013 and 5-1 at Chicago last season before having the opportunity to bring it home to a decisive Game 7.

They would love to alter the course this time around.

The puck drops at 2 p.m. (NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

"The last thing Minnesota wants to do is have this thing come back to our building," Hitchcock said. "That's the last thing they want. We've got to make sure they get to look that in the eye.

"This is a real quick turnaround for both teams. We'll see who has energy going tomorrow. They had to absorb a lot in the third period. We played the third period the right way in their end; they had to absorb a lot and hopefully, we can take advantage by playing on our toes again, but we're going to get a major league push from them at the start of the game. We're probably going to have to do more absorbing than we wanted to and then we're going to have to really push back. But our goal right now is bring this thing home because it's going to be great for us and it is the absolute last thing they want to have happen."

And despite a 4-1 loss on Friday that saw the Blues come out and pick up where they left off in Game 4 where they blasted the Wild 6-1 at Xcel Energy Center, the Blues won't lack any confidence.

"Yeah, absolutely," left wing Alexander Steen said. "We had a really good Game 4. First period last game was just the type of game that we want to play and we just have to get back to that and we'll bring the series back here.

"... We knew it was going to be a tight series. This is playoffs, playoff hockey. Things aren't just going to go easy. Right now we're down 3-2, but we're heading into Minny and we want to bring this series back. That's our focus. We just focus on the next game."

There should be a different kind of mindset. Confidence is one thing, but the Blues have their backs against the wall. It'll be a different circumstance when the puck drops.

"Well, certainly tomorrow's game is going to have to be our best," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "Our season's on the line, really, plain and simple. We have to do everything we can to bring it back here and that's going to be our mentality and leave everything out there and have no excuses at the end of the game."

A good place to start would be getting some more scoring from someone other than Vladimir Tarasenko, who has six of the Blues' 13 goals in the series.  Minnesota also has 13 goals in the series, but they have 10 different goal scorers.

"That's going to be critical for us," Hitchcock said. "(Tarasenko's) not going to get the matchup on the road that he got. He's going to have a tougher matchup and it's going to be hard for him to get loose. Other guys are going to have to just contribute. Bottom line is guys are going to have to take responsibility and ownership to help us out there. 

"You look at the quality chances that two or three of our key guys got last night, they were great chances and they don't go in. So they're leaving the game feeling bad about themselves; they could have made a difference. We're going to have to just finish those off. It's either been feast or famine for us. We've been locked down in three of these games and got loose on two of them. It's been one thing or the other offensively. From our standpoint, when you get the chance against this goalie, you've got to bury it because you're not going to get a lot."

If all goes accordingly, the Blues will bring a winner-take-all game back home to be played on Wednesday.

"That's what we've been playing all year for, to win a series and go all the way to the end," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You can't stress the importance because if you lose you go home and that's something that will not sit well with this group. So we're going to come out, we're going to play our best game and bring it back to St. Louis."

* Back and forth -- It seems that whoever wins a game, the team that loses is the one that responds the best the following encounter.

This trend bodes well for the Blues, who have lost Games 1, 3 and 5. They've won Games 2 and 4. 

It makes one ask is it what the teams are doing to each other or more what they're doing to themselves?

"I think it's a little bit of both," Jackman said. "I thought they played a pretty strong game, they responded from the game in Minnesota and were a lot harder to play against and we fed into that. They were playing well. It's a little of both, a little of Jekyll and Hyde with us right now. We have to clean that up.

"I think both teams are playing a lot better when they're playing desperate, and when you feel that loss you feel like you have to step up your game. Now are backs are against the wall. There's no excuses for us. We have to play our best game of the series tomorrow afternoon and bring it back to St. Louis."

"Looks like that the way the games have gone," Schwartz said. "The reasoning for that, I'm not sure. But definitely, it's been back and forth. We have to do the same thing in their building that we did last game."

Steen, who has a goal and four points in the series, said a good place to start would be better 5-on-5 goals.

"Yeah, that's -- generate more 5-on-5. We had our fair share of chances, I thought," Steen said. "Myself, I had two and didn't bury (in Game 5) and obviously they get one on the other end a few minutes later. So, that's playoffs, those pucks have to get in.

"... It's playoffs. There's tight margins. The chances aren't as wide open and you need to find ways to bury them and when you do get grade-A chances, they have to end up in the net."

* Large margins -- For all the pundits that claimed that this would be the tightest series in the first round, each game has been decided by two goals or more, and the tightest margin was Game 1, a 4-2 Wild victory.

And to think, every series but the Blues-Wild and Vancouver-Calgary (prior to Game 6 between Canucks-Flames) have had at least one game go to overtime.

So why the larger margins?

"I'm not sure," Schwartz said. "Usually, series in the past it's been one-goal games and it's just not the case, whether it's empty-net goals or late goals that kind of separate it, but that's the way they've been ending up and I don't really have an answer for it.

"... I was talking about that the other day, we thought there would be a little more one-goal games or overtime even, but like I said, it hasn't been, but we knew coming into this series that it wasn't going to end early."

Which is why Hitchcock said not to look too closely into the notion.

"I think you've got to be careful how you evaluate that because I think it takes so much to score in this series that it is a little bit like swimming upstream to try and get scoring chances," Hitchcock said. "Once a team gets locked down on a lead, it's pretty difficult. I think the thing that's been pretty evident is that there isn't this wild swinging of lead chances and everything. Once a team gets it in and gets it locked down, it's difficult. We had a lot of zone time yesterday in the third period, but not a lot of second and third opportunities. They got five guys packed in front of their goalie and they're letting him take the original shot. I think both teams are so committed in that area. 

"It's hard to describe this series, but I said this before, the checking is so close and the players are so committed to it. If you make one mistakes, they're going to take advantage of it. When you get the numbers above the puck like both teams play with, when you make a mistake, it seems like it sets up a snowball affect of mistakes. You take a look at the second goal that we got scored on, it started with a neutral zone turnover that we didn't get deep, that we ended up icing the puck, ended up taking the faceoff and then get scored on. Those are the little mistakes that in a regular season game wouldn't have mattered, but those are the big errors that one side or the other's making right now."

* Lehtera skates -- Center Jori Lehtera, who sat out Game 5 with a lower-body injury after being plunked with a shot off the stick of Jay Bouwmeester in the third period of Game 4, skated on his own prior to a team optional skate at the Ice Zone on Saturday.

Hitchcock, who listed Lehtera as 50-50 for Game 5, was more hopeful of a return Sunday.

"He skated full today," Hitchcock said of Lehtera, who has two assists in the series. "Skated before everybody else. We'll see. He had a good day today."

Lehtera's absence scrambled the line combinations for Game 5 and it showed.

"He's a big part of our team," Schwartz said of Lehtera. "He does a lot of little things right, very reliable in all three zones. Like I said, he's a big part of our hockey club, so hopefully we can get him back in the lineup next game and kind of help us in that depth area."

* Special teams -- The Blues felt that the momentum of what they did during the regular season on both the power play and penalty kill (they finished fourth on the power play and eighth on the penalty kill) would give them an edge in the playoffs.

And since Minnesota finished 27th on the power play, one would have felt it was a big advantage for the Blues.

But the Wild have converted 4 of 11 opportunities against the Blues' PK in the series, while the Blues have converted 2 of 9 power play opportunities against the NHL's regular season's top-rated PK.

"We haven't generated as many power play opportunities as we maybe had hoped, but when we've had them, we've looked pretty good, I think," Steen said. "Penalty killing wise, I think we've been pretty good. Obviously they get one, one last game on an unlucky bounce, but for the most part it's been pretty decent."

Hitchcock agreed.

"It's hard because there isn't a lot of them," Hitchcock said of the penalty kills. "They've had a couple flukies go in. I think the one thing that I've noticed is that when you don't kill a lot of penalties, it's hard to get into a rhythm. We're not in a rhythm right now. I don't know that it's been a factor in the series yet. I know the percentages aren't great; I don't think it's been a factor in this series mostly because there just hasn't been that many on both sides. I think the series has been played 5-on-5 and there's been cases here where both teams have completely dominated the other team 5-on-5. I think that's more the case, but like yesterday's (Wild power play) goal was a fluke goal. We got a lucky one two games ago. That's a hard go when you're only killing one or two penalties."

Blues on brink of elimination after 4-1 loss to Wild

Minnesota scores four unanswered to take Game 5, lead best-of-7 series 3-2

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After giving their fans reason for hope with a convincing Game 4 victory in Minnesota, the Blues had that opportunity for a third straight season on home ice to gain the upper hand in a best-of-7 series.

And with 19,653 loyal fans packed into Scottrade Center finally waiting for the Blues to assert themselves in a series, there was a dejected feeling from the faithful for a third consecutive season in this very scenario.

The Blues came out with plenty of fire and appeared to pick up where they left off in Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild, but once again, a failure to sustain quality pressure and proper execution eventually led to a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Wild in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (middle) battles with former teammate and the
Wild's Jordan Leopold (left) for a loose puck Friday.

The Blues, who lost Game 5 at home to Los Angeles in 2013 and Chicago last season with the series tied 2-2, head on the road in a must-win situation in Game 6, where they will look to stave off elimination Sunday at 2 p.m.

It didn't go so well the past two seasons. 

On Friday, the Blues got a goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, his NHL playoff-leading sixth early in the game and instead of riding the wave of emotions and extending their lead, they gave up a clunker goal to Marco Scandella on the Wild's first shot of the game (they were outshot 8-0 to that point) 11 minutes, 6 seconds into the game. From there, it was downhill.

Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu scored goals 1:26 apart late in the second period to break a 1-1 tie, and Charlie Coyle added a third-period goal to seal the Blues' fate.

But the goal by Scandella, a slap shot from just inside the left circle, caromed off Jake Allen's glove and popped in. The bubble burst inside the building, and the Blues could not solve Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk moving forward.

"I don't know that it fell apart. I think they were opportunistic," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "First period until they scored their goal, that was the best we've played in the whole series. Played great. We kind of flattened out a little bit when they scored the goal and had all those chances in the second and missed those four chances there.

"... We were playing so well. We just looked like it was a continuation of the last game, but I thought the air went out of the bag a little bit when they scored their first goal and we've got to probably look to respond a little bit different than that. We could have probably picked up Jake a little bit on that one. I thought we got a little bit flat."

Center Steve Ott said there was a chance to extend the lead.

"There is," he said. "We have to stay with the process. We cracked at times, gave up, obviously a goal that we probably, collectively, we could have been better with and when you do that, those are the lulls we gotta clean up and we do so, we keep pushing pucks further ahead, keep a north, hard, grind game that we play and that's the way we have success."

Allen, who allowed four goals on 19 shots, said the momentum didn't change too much following the Scandella goal, but as far as allowing it?

"That should never go in," he said.

The Blues then got somewhat complacent and gave up 13 of Minnesota's 19 shots in the second period.

But the Blues' biggest missed opportunities came off chances to beat Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who rebounded to stop 36 shots after allowing six goals on 17 shots in Game 4.

Alexander Steen had the two best chances. Dubnyk stopped Steen with his right pad on one early in the period, then again midway through while sprawled on the ice.

"The first one, I feel like I picked my spot pretty good, but he gets a little piece on the blocker and then it hits his pad," Steen said. "The second one, coming around the net like that, it's a tough angle," Steen said. "He kind of slid over, so I wanted to make sure I got it up. Desperation play, got a little piece of that one too."

And when the Wild began to gain traction because of the Blues playing too passive in the second period, Niederreiter scored with 5:04 left after former Blue Chris Stewart thrwarted off Zbynek Michalek and found Niederreiter in the slot for a quick one-timer after the Blues were whistled for an icing and lost the faceoff.

"We made a mistake on the second goal; we didn't get the puck deep," Hitchcock said. "They got a faceoff and the d-man lost his stick. Jake didn't pick it up. That was kind of the turning point a little bit."

Then with Kevin Shattenkirk off for interference, Koivu scored what Hitchcock called a "fluke" goal when Koivu's centering feed glanced off the skate of Jay Bouwmeester and off Allen's paddle with 3:38 remaining in the second.

"The third goal's a fluke goal; what are you going to do," Hitchcock said.

Allen appeared to be the one being screened Friday.

"It doesn’t matter," Allen said. "I should have stopped them. Not good enough on my part."

And predictably, the Wild clogged the middle of the ice, didn't give the Blues too many interior scoring opportunities despite being outshot 19-3. However, Charlie Coyle scored with 5:10 remaining to make it 4-1.

"We kept coming," Hitchcock said. "I don't know, what'd we have 19, 20 shots on goal? We get one early when we have all the chances, who knows. Game on, but it's natural to sit back a little bit. We were in their zone for most of the period.

"But so many good things. We did so many good things today. We had a little bit of a lull. I didn't think we responded as hard as we could have maybe when they scored the first goal. That gave them a little bit of wind, but just did so many good things. You're disappointed for the guys. We'll rebound and get ready for the next game. If we bring a lot of the good things we did today into the next game, we've got a third game in a row to build on."

Ott added: "I think we had some lulls in our game, obviously, that took over. Our second period probably wasn't our best, but overall, first period we gave up three shots and that third period we gave up three shots. Moving forward, I think that's the way we have to play and if we play that way we're going to be hard to play against, but we have to find a way to score goals as well."

When teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoffs series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 185-50, or 78.7 percent.

The Blues don't have history on their side, but they have trailed a series 3-2 20 times and have brought it to a Game 7 nine times.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko scores against Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (middle) 
that gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. Minnesota came back to win 4-1.

"I feel like we've played two games pretty well," Hitchcock said. "We've got to play a third game to get it back here. We want to really bring it back for Game 7. We're going to have to play a really good game, but we've got two good games now we can build on. ... Look, we've got to score more. We've got to finish on these chances that we get. You can't three, four chances in the second period in a series where their goalie's playing really well; you can't get those chances and not finish them and expect to win and you're not going to win a lot of games scoring one goal. You're going to have to find ways to finish off those great opportunities because it was just us and the goalie three or four times there in the second period. Gotta find a way to finish those."

"Win the next game," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've still got two hockey games to play. We're not going to hang our heads here, we know we've got to play better. We'll take a hard look at ourselves tomorrow and get ready for Game 6."

Friday, April 24, 2015

(4-24-15) Wild-Blues Game 5 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Louis Blues would like to be the first team in the Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Minnesota Wild to sustain momentum build off the previous game after a victory.

Both the Blues and Wild, who will play a pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) have alternated victories in the series through four games.

The Blues won 6-1 in Game 4 to reclaim home ice advantage and would love nothing more than to take control of the series with a home ice victory Friday. But they know it won't be easy.

And the Blues had to do it without center Jori Lehtera, who did not play in Game 5 nor did he participate in the morning skate with a lower-body injury that he sustained midway through the third period of Game 4 after being hit with a shot on the power play by teammate Jay Bouwmeester.

Marcel Goc took Lehtera's spot in the lineup and played after being a healthy scratch Wednesday. Paul Stastny moved up and centered a line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and Goc slotted between Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund.

"He took the shot; everybody saw it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Lehtera, who has two assists in the series. "We felt it was best to have him stay off the ice. We're thinking that he's 50-50 to play but leaning more towards playing than not playing right now. We'll see how it goes. 

"Going back (to familiarity), we're very familiar with playing these lines together. 'Stas' has played with these guys a lot, so there's not a big drop-off. We're going to miss (Lehtera) on power play; that's going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but it's a big hole if he's not in. If we would have played yesterday, he would have not played, but he's looking pretty good right now. We're assuming that he's going to play."

No matter what, Berglund said the Blues can adjust accordingly.

"We're just going to try and go out and build on what we did last game," said Berglund, who has two goals and two assists in the series. "There's always going to be ups and downs with people, whatever, but we're just going to focus on the first 20 (minutes), the next 20 and the 20 after that.

"We'll see what happens. I can't say much at all now, but you've just got to adjust and move forward, and that's exactly what we're doing."

- - -

The level of consistency has been tough from game to game for both teams in this series. 

The Wild won Game 1, then the Blues  responded accordingly in Game 2, only to see Minnesota play angry and repond in Game 3, and then the Blues took their turn in Game 4.

"I don't think it's consistent. I think it's what it takes to win a game in this series," Hitchcock said. "It takes a lot, a lot of emotional and physical input and I think you let your foot off the gas a little bit because you have to put so much into it and the other team gets angry and they dial up their focus for the pushback. The series is where it should be at based on play. Both games should have been 6-1. We were outplayed, put so much into Game 2. We looked like a little bit of a tired team and they were angry and they pushed back hard. We did the same thijng to them (in Game 4). Both teams ... I've never seen shift lengths so short in my life since I've been coaching the NHL. From the opening buzzer to the end of the game, your shift lengths are in the 30's, I've never seen that before. Usually you get it down there in the third period, but this opens the game; that's how much has been put into each shift by each player.

"We've talked about (momentum) for two days now so we'll see. Winning is a relief when you have to put so much into it and we've got to get past the relief back into the hunger part of it. I liked the disposition of our team this morning. I know you don't play this morning, but I liked the disposition of our team yesterday and today we seemed more grounded, ready to compete again, ready to go at it again, so we'll see. I think this has the potential to be the best game of the series because both teams look pretty grounded, look pretty focused. Should be a helluva hockey game."

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said the Blues will have to keep their aggressive play moving forward.

"Every game is important," Gunnarsson said. "We had a good feel going into the last game and we had a good feel coming off the last game and played well. What we did, we did well, but we know they're going to come hard and push back. It's not going to be the same story; it's going to be a tight game tonight."

Defenseman Barret Jackman said the strong start is key.

"Whoever has the strong start's going to have the momentum," Jackman said. "I dont think the last game really matters. I think it's all about who gets to their game the quickest and who puts pucks in deep and puts pressure on the defenseman to make mistakes. That's our game and that's what we've got to start with."

Jackman said he's anxious to see the St. Louis crowd tonight.

"Playing in St. Louis is a lot of fun and the fans are hungry," Jackman said. "They want to see some good hockey. That's what we're planning on giving them."

- - -

It's no secret that the team that scores first dictates how the game typically finishes. 

In this series, the team that scores first is 4-0, and there's a reason behind it.

"Because the value of both sides put into checking," Hitchcock said. "Both teams strive or get their offense from their checking and you look at us, everything's connected. Everything's connected. We get so much of our offense from our checking and they get it the same way. They check different; we use more 1-on-1; they use more numbers but we both are very effective in what we do. It's just so hard to play against teams that are so committed to the details of the game. That's why both teams are so good because there's a strong commitment by both sides to the details."

Does that mean the series is coming down to emotion?

"Yeah. It's two things," Hitchcock said. "It's the two teams that got their butts kicked. We lost (Game 3) 2-0, empty-netter but it felt like 6-0. We were mad. They let their foot off the accellerator a little bit, tried to take a breath; no chance, no chance. We're hoping we don't do the same thing because if you just take your foot off a little bit, because that's all it is, it looks bad, but all it is is just a little bit and the other team is ready to pounce and go at it. It also happens when you have so many players that are so similar. Mike uses four lines, we use four lines so there's no breathing room, there's no space, there's no three-line game where there's maneuvering going on. It's just all-out short shifts, get off the ice. All-out, short shifts, get off the ice. When you're in your mid-30's in the first period, a lot of energy going on."

- - -

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been a workhorse for the Blues most of the season. He's leading the team in minutes once again in the postseason, but HItchcock has likened the complete package.

"He's been our best player. Played unbelievable," Hitchcock said. "All the little things that you love in his game have been there since ... started with about four games left in the regular season, carried through the playoffs; he's been outstanding. Every game. The better he plays, the more risk he plays with and then he gets away with it. Even with some of the risky stuff he's done, he's flaged down pucks, he's got back in; he's been outstanding for us."

Berglund can be classified as a player playing his best hockey as well.

"I think it started in the regular season with 10 games left," Hitchcock said. "He's just having more fun playing hockey. No pressure on himself, not stressing about what he's not doing; it's just coming and competing and playing. He's really playing well right now. He's playing very effective, but it started with 10 games left in the regular season."

- - -

Steve Ott, who moved from left wing to center in Game 4 after Chris Porter was inserted into the lineup in place of Goc, seems to have found a niche.

Playing down the middle of the ice gives him more flexibility to make plays with the puck, something he wasn't able to do along the boards playing wing.

"He doesn't get enough credit for how smart he is," Hitchcock said of Ott. "He's really smart, composed with the puck in tight spaces. 

"When he plays center, he plays with more control. He plays a little bit of like a wingnut on the wing; I don't know if you can say that, but he plays a little bit like a wingnut on the wing and this way when he's had to play in control, he kind of calms down and plays a positional game where you need him with some structure and he's very effective there."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Marcel Goc-Patrik Berglund

Chris Porter-Steve Ott-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Zbynek Michalek

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

Healthy scratches include Olli Jokinen, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Niklas Lundstrom. Jori Lehtera (lower body) did not play.

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek-Charlie Coyle-Nino Niederreiter

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Jordan Leopold-Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal. Darcy Kuemper will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, Sean Bergenheim and Niklas Backstrom. Keith Ballard (concussion) is out.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blues want to keep momentum going in pivotal Game 5

St. Louis wants to build off 6-1 thrashing of 
Minnesota in Game 4 to even best-of-7 series 2-2

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As dominating as they were in Game 4, all the Blues did was even things up.

Yes, for one night, the Blues were the far more superior team on the ice than the Minnesota Wild, but heading into Friday's all-important Game 5 (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), the Blues feel they need follow up what they were able to accomplish at Xcel Energy Center.

"Both teams' concern is the reaction to winning," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday. "We played a good game in Game 2 and came back with a poor performance in Game 3, which was our concern. They won Game 3; they played great in Game 3 and they probably would have liked to have Game 4 back. It's more the reaction.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players (from left to right) Patrik Lerglund, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jay
Bouwmeester and Paul Stastny celebrate a goal scored in Game 4.

"You're putting so much into these games ... you get a win, it's almost like a relief emotionally and then to get your team cranked up and play again, it's a challenge for both coaches."

The foot on the gas mentality worked to perfection for the Blues in Game 4, and now they need to apply it with a follow-up effort in Game 5, where the Scottrade Center crowd will be boisterous and awaiting for the Blues to put together multiple, consecutive solid results in this series.

"I think we have to realize that desperation is kind of what forced us to play our best game," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose three assists in Game 4 gave him seven in the series, tied for the playoff points lead with Anaheim's Corey Perry. "We have to kind of keep that in our minds and try to keep that desperation and find it in different games. It's obviously nice because we did the job we had to do last night to get home tied and it's going to be a huge game tomorrow.

"Well it's tough. There's a team in that locker room, too. If we were playing against ourselves out there, we'd be fine. They want to win this series just as much as we do. When they're playing well, they're a hard team to push out of the game. So, I think that Game 3 especially they got on top of us early. We didn't give ourselves the best chance to push back and get back on top of them. That's why we didn't really feel great about our effort in Game 3. Last night we came out with the right mindset. We have to realize that tomorrow might not be as easy for us, there's going to be some ebbs and flows and some momentum changes and we have to be ready for it. We have to realize that we have a good memory in Game 4 that we can use to get us back to how we need to play."

And that means the Blues have to check, they have to check and they have to check some more. Because the result of the checking meant the Blues possessed the puck, didn't allow the Wild to gain momentum with their transition speed and most importantly, it meant the Blues were punishing the Wild physically.

"Higher speed through the neutral zone. I thought our 'D' did a good job of finding lanes to create speed for us so we weren't coming in flat-footed," left wing Alexander Steen said. "When we did have to chip it in and get pucks behind them, it just seemed like we were hungry to try and check it back. We did a good job of either getting it back or, if they did get it out into the neutral zone or into our zone, it was still our puck to be had. 

"Prepare and do the same things again. I think the biggest change was in our checking, felt like we took away their time and space and made it really difficult for them to get in and generate anything."

And getting quick shots towards the net and net-front presence was crucial. The Blues chased goalie Devan Dubnyk after he allowed six goals on 17 shots, and the direct result was crashing the net, deflecting pucks, and the occasional Vladimir Tarasenko highlight reel goal.

"That was a pretty good effort, I thought, but you can always get better," center Paul Stastny said. "I think overall, even when we had that first two-goal lead, we kept going. I think when they scored, we didn't sit back, we kept on going and never sat back when they started picking up momentum, which was important, especially in an environment like that. We played throughout the whole 60 minutes. We could have kind of sat back in the third period, but you're playing a best-of-7 series, you want to keep that momentum and not let them gain any confidence at all."

The Blues would love a repeat performance in Game 5, but they know the Wild will respond accordingly. The Blues have to elevate their game.

"I don't know what they're going to do. They're going to play well, I don't really care. I care about us," Hitchcock said. "I want to see our structure in place again, so that's the goal, put the structure in place, put our work boots on and let's play.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Alexander Steen (right) defends against the Wild's Jared
Spurgeon during the Blues' 6-1 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday. 

"The advantage we have is we've got two home games and they've got one home game. That's all we've got. Both teams are so evenly matched, both teams have so many good players, and their good players are so significant to the success of their franchise ... I just look at it as a helluva competition and the one little advantage we got back was home ice. We've got to take advantage of that. Two games at home ... fans in the building, the whole atmosphere in the area is a pretty big deal. It's something that you want to take advantage of it can really help you momentum-wise if you get on a roll. That's what we need to do. We need to give them something to cheer about tomorrow."

The Blues are 8-12 all-time in series where they are tied 2-2 but just 1-9 in the past 10. They've lost in back-to-back seasons against Los Angeles and Chicago on home ice in Game 5 and went on to lose each series in six games.

Blues explode, blast Wild 6-1 to even series 2-2

Scoring early, often makes series a best-of-3; 
Shattenkirk, Tarasenko, Backes, Berglund lead offensive charge 

By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When the Blues didn't practice on Tuesday, a day after a 3-0 shellacking in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild, there seemed to be too much made of it.

Blues fans wondered why; even some media members wondered why. All that mattered was what the Blues thought.

They thought they'd better for Game 4. They knew they'd be better for Game 4.

They were better for Game 4, and now it's a best-of-3 series after the Blues turned the tables on the Wild on Wednesday in a 6-1 thumping to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (55) can't contain the Blues' Vladimir
Tarasenko (middle), who scored on Devan Dubnyk Thursday in Game 4. 

The Blues snapped a nine-game road playoff losing streak, in which they were outscored 28-11. It was the most goals scored in a playoff game since April 10, 2003 in a 6-0 victory at Vancouver.

Game 5 is set for Friday at Scottrade Center (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

It was evident from the drop of the puck that the Blues were a completely different team. But to coach Ken Hitchcock and the players, this goes back a day.

"We got the sense yesterday," Hitchcock said after the victory Wednesday. "We knew how we were going to play yesterday.

Why did Hitchcock think that? 

"It's between us and the players," Hitchcock said.

Enough said.

The Blues talked with their actions and not words. They wanted to dictate and initiate from the start and they did just that. They didn't hesitate shooting pucks, they crashed the crease, created space in front of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was pulled in the second period after allowing  and scored what players and coaches call "greasy goals."

Their best players were called out, including captain David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Paul Stastny, who combined for no points through the first three games.

That quartet combined for two goals and three assists. Kevin Shattenkirk added three assists to give him seven in the series and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues' biggest offensive weapon, contributed two goals, including a highlight reel one-hander reminiscent to the one he scored at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers in November.

It added up to a must-win by the Blues in the most impressive fashion.

"We had to assert ourselves," said Backes, who had a goal and an assist in the first period. "I think we had 20 guys on the (same) page tonight, similar to Game 2. We've just got to stop this trend of every other game and play the same way in our building on Friday. Great job by 'Reaver,' 'Otter' and 'Ports' to get us started, get us on the board there and the rest of us follow suit. Lot of great efforts for guys on the scoresheet and off the scoresheet that played really well that helped us win this game. 

"We realized that we were too poor the last game and they walked all over us. We needed to play our game for 60 minutes, all 20 guys and the only goal they get's on the power play and the rest is pretty textbook by us and we need to channel that and play that same way on Friday."

When Ryan Reaves and the Blues' fourth line got the scoring started at 5 minutes, 34 seconds of the first period, there was sense that this could be a night of good things for the Blues. The addition of Chris Porter on the line paid immediate dividends.

"They did with they had to," Hitchcock said. "We used Ott at center ice, it's his natural position to be honest with you. He's better when he plays in the middle. Porter did it again. Porter comes in and plays great. He was strong on the puck, It's a big line, it brings a lot of weight. It's not fun to play against."

Shattenkirk agreed.

"That line, despite what's happened in the series, they have a pretty hard-nosed job and they have to go out there and try to draw momentum for us in good times and bad," Shattenkirk said. "For them to be rewarded with a goal like that, it's great for them and I think it only just builds their confidence and obviously it gets us going when we can get secondary scoring like that."

Tarasenko's tip of Shattenkirk's shot 1:25 after Reaves' goal made it 2-0, and Backes drove the net and poked a loose puck past Dubnyk at 10:06 and it was 3-0. 

The 19,390 at Xcel Energy Center went silent, and the Blues were thriving on the momentum built.

"Yeah, we had more shots the first minutes than we had the first period Monday night," Backes said. "That's a start that you're looking for and after that, you saw us occupy the offensive zone and putting pucks in spots where we could get it back and put it on the forecheck. It's all the things we talked about before the game, asserting ourselves physically and playing our game and not doing the up and on the ice the way they're successful playing.

"(Dubnyk) saved everything he could see up until this game, so we knew we had to get bodies in front of him, screen him and find second opportunities. First goal's that way, second goal's a tip, third goal's a rebound. The next couple are on the rush but we did a good job of occupying their zone with traffic, shots, second opportunities and it's no secret; that's our game. We did a good job tonight for 60 minutes."

The Wild got some life early in the second period when they converted a power play goal by Jared Spurgeon 1:41 into the period to make it 3-1. They were coming on hard and were poised to get back in the game. 

But Stastny's goal, off a breakout pass from Patrik Berglund, who had a goal and an assist and played arguably one of his best games as a Blue, made it a 4-1 game at 3:39 and burst the Wild's bubble.

"Our scoring is a direct reflection of our checking," Hitchcock said. "When we check, we score. 

"It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in. We've got home-ice back, we're dialed into our game, we're going to be hard to play against when we're dialed in this. Not fun to play against."

And then there's Tarasenko, whose second goal was a thing of beauty. He took a direct pass from Jori Lehtera, fought off former teammate Jordan Leopold before thwarting off Matt Dumba's efforts, curled the puck around Dubnyk and slid a backhand in with unbelievable poise at 15:47 to make it 5-1.

"You just shake your head at it," Backes said. "I can't do that in a video game when it's slowed down for me. You love having those kind of guys on your team. He came through offensively for us."

"Deja vu. It's pretty sick," Shattenkirk said. "The fact that he has the poise to do that under that kind of pressure is unbelievable."

Tarasenko, who collided with Minnesota's Charlie Coyle in the third period, downplayed the goal. He was more focused on the victory.

"It's only goal ... just happy it worked," Tarasenko said. "We needed to win a game. It was down to 1-2, so we needed to tie the series. It doesn't matter how, like 2-1 or 6-1. Tomorrow, everybody will forget this game. Let's go from beginning right now. It was very good to score six goals after you score zero in (Game 3)."

Berglund, who had a goal and an assist to give him two goals and two assists in the series, scored off a backhand following an interception of a Mikko Koivu clearing attempt at 16:50 of the second to chase Dubnyk, who allowed six goals on 17 shots. Dubnyk was injured earlier in the period after a collision with Backes and a Pietrangelo shot that hit him on the backside.

"A lot of other guys contributing. Bergy had a great goal, 'Stas' has a great goal, Revo's great shot," Backes said. "All in all, it was a great team effort. The defensemen were doing a good job getting pucks out clean and we were able to go into their zone and get pucks back and occupy it."

"We gave ourselves a chance to win," Shattenkirk said. "We did a great job tonight of playing that game from the get-go and sticking with it for 60 minutes.

"Our best players played well. Our whole lineup played well, I think. We were able to get something from everyone tonight, whether it was penalty killing, power play, scoring, checking, you name it. We just had a great team effort, did a great job of just staying on top of them the entire game."

The Wild's speed and transition gave the Blues fits through the first three games of the series. Wednesday, it was all about positioning themselves well, getting sticks in lanes and intercepting pucks.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin (right) celebrates a goal by teammate Paul Stastny (middle)
in front of Wild defenseman and former teammate Jordan Leopold.

"I think we did a good job through the neutral zone with handling the puck ourselves," Shattenkirk said. "We didn't turn too many over. We made sure that we got it deep and we got it in the right places when we got it deep. We didn't allow them to keep that speed going and keep their momentum going when they got in the zone. They had to stop and play hockey. I think that's kind of the best way to kind of keep their transition game out of the mix."

Some teams would easily call a game like this their best. Not the Blues, and not Hitchcock.

"This is our game. It's not our best game," Hitchcock said. "We can play a lot better than we played today. We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game. 

"We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

(4-22-15) Blues-Wild Game 4 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The are going back to old reliable tonight.

When the Blues face the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), they will go with the units that are quite familiar with one other.

Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie made up the Blues' top line for much of the season; the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko will rejoin forces and Paul Stastny will center Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin.

Down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, the Blues are looking for whatever brings them the best success, and coach Ken Hitchcock feels now is the perfect opportunity.

"They play well. It got blown up there at the end because of the two significant injuries (to Steen and Tarasenko)," Hitchcock said. "Then when we came back, Backes had good chemistry going with what they had (with Jaskin and Berglund). Then we just slipped Steen and Tarasenko in with Lehtera and they obviously played very well in the last game and have played pretty well, but ... these are the three lines that have been together the most during the year. We want to make them familiar with each other. We know it's going to be a hard game and there's great chemistry; there has been all year, especially with the first two lines and we want to stay with that."

On defense, it's more of the same.

Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo will be reunited, as will Carl Gunnarsson and Kevin Shattenkirk.

"And the same thing on the first two D pairs," Hitchcock said. "We've reached a stage with our own team where we've just got to expect a little bit more from guys, put them in positions to succeed, put them with the guys they've spent most of the year with. Unfortunately, 'Shatty' was out for a long, long time so things kind of got blown up on the back-end also. But they had great chemistry when they were together until he got hurt and we'll go back to it."

When Backes, Steen and Oshie were together as a line, it was among the top points producers in the NHL. Leading by example is something that Backes said they hope to get back to along with instant chemistry.

"There is. There's something that's worked for us for years," Backes said. "I thought we may have found something different with a few of the different combinations (recently), but you're down 2-1 in a series, it's time to make some adjustments and we really like the way that these line combinations have produced results for us and away we go.

"There's a lot of hockey sense on the line. With Osh and Steener's skill and ability and vision, I'm trying to slow somebody down out there so they can have a little more time. It just seems to work. We can't rely on the past though. We've got to go out there and earn it every shift, lead by example and go out there and get a job done. It's 2-1 down and we've got some work to do."

Backes and Oshie have no points in the series, and perhaps their reunification with Steen (who has three points) will jumpstart them offensively and get the Blues on the right path.

"(Hitchcock) told us last night that’s what we were going to do," Oshie said. "We’re confident in it. It’s something we know we’ve been successful at. We’ll be looking for a good push from all four lines tonight.

"That's part of our job when we come together as a line; we've got to set an example for the other guys. We did that most of the time in January when we were getting hot there. That's what we're hoping to do tonight."

The same can be said for Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, who have been the top defensive pair for much of their tenure here. 

"We're on a position where we need to make adjustments," Bouwmeester said. "Hopefully that will spark us to playing better. Everyone's familiar with each other; all the lines are pretty much are what guys are used to or have spend a lot of time together. We've just got to find a way to play a good one. That's all we're really worried about right now, is what's in front of us. 

"We've played a lot together last year, and even throughout this year, we've played a lot together. We're familiar with each other. We know what the deal is. But you still have to go out and play, do the little things and hopefully it amounts to success."

Pietrangelo said they can always go back to familiar pairings when the going gets tough.

"I think they know they can always go back to us when need be," Pietrangelo said. "Coach's decision; didn't know the reason behind it, but we're OK with it. We're OK with anybody playing with anybody. I've said that all year. We feel so comfortable playing with each and every guy. That's the luxury of having the depth we have."

Fan favorite Robert Bortuzzo, who's been skating and taking part in all on-ice activities since the playoffs started, will be scratched for a fourth consecutive game.

- - -

The only lineup change the Blues will make is insert left wing Chris Porter into the lineup in favor of Marcel Goc.

Porter will go to left wing and Steve Ott, the Wild fans' villianous opposing player in the series, will slide into the middle and play center.

With the Wild's speed game causing the Blues issues, Porter's speed versatility could help alleviate some of those problems.

"I just want to help contribute and pick up where I left last year in the playoffs," Porter said. "They have good speed; we have good speed in our lineup, too. We're kind of feeding their transition with bad turnovers and stuff like that. I'm going to try and bring whatever I can tonight and hopefully I can contribute."

Hitchcock said it's time.

"Speed, hard on the forecheck, good puck protection guy," he said of Porter. "Always been a good playoff player for us. Time for him to come in."

- - -

Aside from the end result, the best way for the Blues to fix that is to perhaps get to their game from the opening puck drop instead of reacting to how the Wild will play.

"It's asserting ourselves in our game, getting the puck deep and occupying the offensive zone," Backes said. "I think Games 1 and 3, they got to their game and we were chasing it. Game 2, we really asserted ourselves, got to our game and gave them some trouble. The start matters and whoever gets that initial push and seems to grab a hold of the game, but it's a full 60-minute effort or else these games ... it's not in hand by any means in the first 10 minutes or after the first period. It's a full 60.

"You can't let your foot off the gas. Another lesson we've learned in past years. You get that edge, you want to keep it. You want to take advantage while you have it. We need that tonight."

Bouwmeester agreed.

"Yeah. We had, what, four or five shots in the first period last game and we knew coming in here they were going to come out hard at home and all that, but they're going to do the same thing tonight," he said. "We have to kind of weather that storm and just play a simple game. Keep the puck out of their hands or keep making them go back in their end and get it and make them go a farther distance. For us, the start is huge. Just keep it simple and go after them."

The Blues feel their best game is still out t here, and tonight's pivotal encounter would be the best time to bring it out.

"We feel like we haven't played our best yet and we're still in the hockey games," Pietrangelo said. "We know if we play our game like the most part in Game 2, we're going to have a good result. They're thinking the same thing. It's a matter of each team following a game plan.

"There's always pressure. It's the playoffs. I think there's excitement for us to come in here and steal a game. Then we'll go back home and the series is tied.

The Blues' objective was to at least get one win on the road, and that goal can still be achieved.

"Yeah for sure, you're only worried about what's in front of you," Bouwmeester said. "It doesn't matter how you lose or how you win, the bottom line is the result. Noone felt good after the last game or the outcome of the game. We just didn't play very well. To put it frankly, if we win tonight, then we're back in a good spot."

- - -

The NHL has yet to announce the start time for Game 5 on Friday night. The NHL and their television partners at NBC determine the times for the games.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund

Chris Porter-Steve Ott-Ryan Reaves

Jay Boumweester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Zbynek Michalek

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

Healthy scratches include Olli Jokinen, Marcel Goc, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Niklas Lundstrom.

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek-Charlie Coyle-Nino Niederreiter

Sean Bergenheim-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Jordan Leopold-Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal. Darcy Kuemper will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, Matt Cooke and Niklas Backstrom. Keith Ballard (concussion).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

(4-22-15) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Hitchcock mum on lineup changes; Blues need their best 
to be best; containing Granlund line; importance of Game 4

By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For those expecting some sort of major announcement from coach Ken Hitchcock on Tuesday regarding any possible lineup changes ahead of Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild will have to wait another day.

The Blues held an optional skate on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center, and it was a very limited optional skate. The only game players from Game 3 were center Marcel Goc and Dmitrij Jaskin.

The Blues, who trail the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in their best-of-7 series after a 3-0 loss in Game 3 on Monday, could be in line for a lineup change or two in hopes of evening the series in Game 4 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM). However, Hitchcock, who was in a rather surprisingly good mood after losing on Monday, was not forthcoming.

"Possibly," Hitchcock said when asked about lineup changes. 

He was asked about perhaps inserting a player like defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, and Hitchcock said, "I'm not commenting on who I'm putting in or taking out."

The Blues ended Game 3 playing with the "STL Line" as well as Alexander Steen with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, and their defensive pairs were mixed to have Jay Bouwmeester playing with Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman with Zbynek Michalek.

Could Hitchcock stick with what worked before? 

"You've got to stop asking me those questions," he joked. "You're going to end this press conference and I'm in a good mood right now. ... You're right, I'm not going to tell you, nor am I going to show you in the morning at the pregame skate, so you're going to have to bring an eraser tomorrow."

The Blues feel they can still get back in the series and even perhaps win it, but one area that needs to change is scoring opportunities for.

Aside from the three empty-net goals scored against, the Blues have allowed five goals in three games, something Hitchcock noted in his gathering with the media. But the Blues, who have six goals in the series that includes an empty-netter, are not generating enough scoring chances.

"The opposition's scored, what, five goals? Our goalie's been excellent," Hitchcock said of Jake Allen, who's allowed two or fewer goals in 10 consecutive starts. "They've got five goals when you count the ones with the goalie in the net; that's not much. They're getting scoring opportunities, but we've allowed five goals. Any coach in the world would take five goals against right now after three games. It's what we're getting; we're getting not very much. Kudos to them, but if we want to get back in this series, we're going to have to get a lot more than we're getting right now. We're going to have to do more, we're going to have to get more."

What could the Blues use, Hitchcock joked: "Messier, Gretzky, I'll take an Anderson, Kurri's fine.

"What we've got, we've got enough to play. Let's play our game and let's play our best game, the way we can play and then we'll get a better judgment. We've had stretches of it where we've been excellent, and then we've had stretches where it's been very impatient and it's forced us into areas that are not our strength." 

Getting more means getting it from the Blues' best players. Players like Backes, T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny, Alex Pietrangelo, who have not registered a point in the series.

"Well, that's the conversation that every coach usually has but it's a little bit deeper than that," Hitchcock said. "We're playing a team that's played the best hockey in the League since the goalie change (Devan Dubnyk) and everybody is trying to catch up to them. I knew they were playing like this when we came in here and got beat right at the end of the regular season. It was our first experience at watching them play. They're on top of their game and it's our job to catch up."

"We’ve got to match their intensity," Pietrangelo said. "We’ve got to start taking control of the game earlier, taking control of the game the way we can and not let their best players dictate the play. I think we’ve got to be a little bit harder on their best players."

As captain, Backes takes the onus on his shoulders to lead by example.

"I need to be the first guy on the page and leading by example. Hopefully that creates guys joining the battle," Backes said. "That being said, I need to do a better job and be able to contribute more, especially on the offensive side of the game. That will help us as we go. Can't do anything about the first three games now, they're in the books, we've got to worry about Game 4 tomorrow night."

* Countering the Granlund line -- The Blues most problematic group on Monday was the line of center Mikael Granlund and wings Zach Parise and Jason Pominville, who accounted for six points (Parise and Pominville had a goal and an assist each, and Granlund had two assists).

The Blues were able to get the matchup they wanted in Games 1 and 2 and it usually revolved around David Backes and whoever played on his line.

But with the Wild getting the last match in home games, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo inserted that line out against the Jori Lehtera, Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko line Tuesday.

The line has combined for 11 points in three games against the Blues. The Rest of the Wild has 10 points combined.

But being on the road, Hitchcock has to craft his counter-attack at the mercy of what Yeo does.

"Well, I'm looking for (the matchup), but Mike won't give it to me," Hitchcock joked. "We've got a little bit of an issue. I'll have to talk to him about that tomorrow ... get a free one from him.

"We had some really good things happen in the end of Game 1 through Game 2 but then they got their speed burn-and-go back yesterday. They caught us again and took advantage of it. They're a great team through the neutral zone and if you give them opportunities to use that element, you're just feeding -- especially the Granlund line -- and that's what we did. They took advantage of it."

* Adjusting to the Wild -- The difficulty in playing the Wild is that it's tough to adjust when things aren't going according to plan.

The Blues found that out in Games 1 and 3.

"This is a lot ... playing Minnesota is a lot like playing Tampa," Hitchcock said. "They've got a lot of team speed, they've got a lot of agility, so we have to play a game that's different than theirs. And when we get them in our game, it's extremely difficult for them. But when they get loose, they're awful good, awful good. We've got to get them more into our game. We've got to get our game out there for more minutes than we played yesterday. We had flashes of it in the first period, some good stuff and didn't finish at the net with shots. 

"I think one of the things you can't lose sight of right now is that we haven't even reached double digits in three games on even-strength scoring chances for. That's the job that they're doing against us and they've done it against a lot of teams. That's something for us to get better, we have to have more scoring chances even strength, 5 on 5. And we don't have enough right now. We don't have enough to sustain a lot of pressure. We're going to have to find ways to create more 5 on 5 scoring opportunities to maintain control of the hockey game. Otherwise it just into what it did yesterday, which is back and forth, which is not to our advantage."

Those adjustments include the Wild doing all they can to prevent the Blues from getting shots at the net. The Wild have blocked 52 shots through three games, an average of 17.3 shots per game.

"Well, they play for the goalie," Hitchcock said. "Since the change, they play for the goalie. When you play for the goalie, you block every shot, you get in front of every puck, there's no gap, no space, no room, they play for the goalie. We're going to have to get through that."

The sacrifices that Yeo is seeing from his players is certainly appreciating seeing from his players.

"It's the way a d-man moves back and takes a hit to make a play, it's the way a guy blocks a shot, the way that teams try to impose themselves physically on us," Yeo said. "We keep playing our game. That's our mindset and that's the approach that we have to have.

"Guys are definitely willing to get in front of those lanes to block those shots. That's not an easy team to do it against. They've got a great defensive group. ... I would expect them to try to maybe get a little more motion in there, but something that we've worked pretty heavily on how to play in our own zone. Guys have had pretty good composure in there, playing in there. There's a lot of things involved in it, but it comes down to definitely being willing to sacrifice the body."

But the biggest reason, according to Hitchcock, for the Blues' lack of puck control and perhaps getting extended zone time?

"We're losing the race to the red line ...so the gap looks like the d-men are on their heels, but we're losing the race to the red," Hitchcock said. "That's the whole thing. When you're involved in a team that plays with a tight gap, you've got to win the race to the red. You've got to control all three lines; we're not controlling the red line and it's forcing us to be uncomfortable because we're not sure if some pucks are coming back at us, so there's no gap. We're anticipating that we're moving north and now we're going south right away. There were seven of them in the second period and we lost the race to the red. We had the puck, didn't get the red line, next thing you know, big gap coming back at us."

* Bad being bad; wakeup call -- The Blues have had their fair share of losses this season in which the team didn't look good. Nine times this past season they've lost games by three goals or more. 

The reasons for those types of games?

"Impatience with the puck. Checking does that to you," Hitchcock said. "When you get checked hard, you feel like there's 12 guys on the ice and what you do from there becomes relevant. It's not like guys aren't trying hard and all that stuff. You just become impatient, so you chase the game. We've chased the game. We chased the game because we gave up the puck too easily and allowed them to get into their transition. Now we're chasing them back down the ice and that happened in Game 1 also. Their checking sets up their offense, they're great at it, so are we, but they've been a little bit better at it so far."

"I don't know if that's entirely true," Backes said of the moniker of being really bad. "There's been times where we've been able to regroup, whether it's been in between periods, or at a timeout, and have been able to bring a bit of a better game. But there's part of this you need to tip your cap to the way that they played last game. But we control what we do and we could have asserted ourselves a lot better, played a better game, even after you weather the storm in the first period. You say, 'Hey, they played a good first period, but we can come out and play our game, play more physical, do what we need to do to win and it's still a 0-0 game thanks to some big saves and keeping them to the outside a little bit.' Resiliency, showing that character, I think those are lessons we've learned all year. 

"We've had rough patches where we've been able to turn it around. I think losing Game 1 and being able to come back Game 2 and play a better game; Game 3 was really like Game 1. We need to make Game 4 more like Game 2."

The Blues went 4-4-1 in the following game after a three-plus goal loss, which isn't bad and shows they have the ability to bounce back quickly.

Monday's 3-0 loss marks another opportunity to see how this team responds, which begs one to ask why do do these wake-up calls happen so frequently?

"I don't know if any of them got alarm clocks for Christmas, I'm not sure," Hitchcock joked. "I don't know. I don't know what more wake-up call ... you're in the NHL playoffs. I don't know what the wakeup call is. The wakeup call was we got beat."

* Ott drawing attention -- Blues left wing Steve Ott is up to 22 penalty minutes after getting 12 (two for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct) towards the end of the game.

But Ott, who has gained a lot of media attention throughout the series for his physical nature, is doing things right, according to his coach, if so many people are consumed with him.

"That's how he plays. You all are talking about him, it's good for us," Hitchcock said. "You stop talking about him, that's not good for us. He's an agitating guy, he's got great moxey on the ice, he's a guy if you're writing in the newspaper today, you probably hate him and you talk about him. If he's on your team, you love him because he has a way of getting your attention. If you're just talking about him, he's got your attention because it means somebody has to be aware when he's on the ice. He's a real good teammate."

The Wild understand this very attitude and feel it's best to play thing cool.

"Yeah, that’s what he does," Wild forward Charlie Coyle said. "We’re just going to stick to our game plan. That’s been our focus."

Added former Blue Chris Stewart: "I think we did a good job of trying not to get caught up in that and getting the best of us. Whistle to whistle toughness is what we need from here. ... That's not our game. We're trying to play a fast-paced hockey game, not get caught up in that stuff. You don't want to do anything to jeopardize your team this time of year." 

The hits have been pretty even throughout the series, but the Blues can't seem to find a way to get under the Wild's skin.

"Hits aren't relevant," Hitchcock said. "If you're talking like us running them over, it's not relevant. Every player in the NHL takes a hit in the playoffs; doesn't matter. You just get up. 

"Their physical play has been with numbers. They're winning the physical numbers game. We got one, they got two; we got two, they got three. They're winning the swarm game. So we have to figure out a way to adjust. Their physical play is different, but it's still very physical. They press up on you, they lean on you, they work low to high, they do a helluva job with it, and they're very good at what they do. They're winning that part of the game. I think that's been the difference in the series. The big hits and everything, they have a tendency to wear on teams as the series goes on at times, but as far as running people over and knocking people on their arses, it's not relevant. What's relevant is when the battle's on the boards, who comes out with the puck, and they're winning more of that than we are right now. That's an element that has to change for us."

* Game 4 pivotal -- Historically, the Blues haven't fared all that well in winning a series that's tied 2-2 or down 3-1. But odds are in their favor to win Game 4 and at least turn the series into a best-of-3 with home ice advantage.

In their history, the Blues are only 2-11 when falling behind 3-1 in a series. They're 8-12 when a series is 2-2 but just 1-9 in the past 10.

Still, the odds become heavily favorable to winning than losing when 2-2.

"Look we came here to win a hockey game," Hitchcock said. "If we win the game tomorrow, we've got home ice. It's all doom and gloom, but it was a 2-0 hockey game. They played very, very well. We can play better and we'll play better. But they've got another gear in them too, so it'll be an interesting game. But if we win tomorrow, then it's advantage us. That's why for me, for the home team in every series, Game 4 sets us as a lot. And that's what tomorrow is, it's a big game for bot (Monday, h teams, but I like our ability to rebound and play a better hockey game. But we're going to have to do some things that are really relevant in our game at a much higher level because they're team ... I don't see any change for the last three months in their team. It's playing the exact same way it was in January."

* Wild expecting Blues' best -- Don't think for one second the Wild will rest on its laurels.

Despite thoroughly dominating Monday, Minnesota expects the Blues to come back with their best effort in the series.

"Obviously we know what to expect from them," Yeo said. "I think both teams recognize the importance of the game. It's going to be up to which team can go out there and execute their game plan the best, which at the end of the night will tell the story.

"It's an experienced group over there. They'll collect themselves today and I certainly would not expect them to carry anything of what happened last game into the next one. They did a good job of responding in Game 2 of the series and I would expect themselves to collect themselves and be ready for tomorrow as well."

Stewart, who used to play with a number of the Blues, agreed.

"We know for a fact that they're going to come to play tomorrow," Stewart said. "They're not going to show like they did last night.

"You're up 2-1, but it's called a series. We can't dwell on that fact. We've got to approach it like any other game. We know they're going to get a push back the next game. I think you can expect a better response. We can't dwell on it for too long. We enjoyed it last night, got back to work this morning. You have to have a quick memory in this game. ... We obviously want to go up 3-1. That would be ideal. We're not going to put any more pressure on ourselves. It's a race for four games. You've got to win four to win the series."