Monday, May 23, 2016

Sharks double up Blues 6-3, grab 3-2 series lead

St. Louis comes up empty again on home ice, on cusp of elimination

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Not often does a team get the opportunity to redeem itself in a Game 5 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series in what amounts to being a best-of-3.

The Blues failed the previous three tries and were given a fourth chance in the Western Conference Final on Monday against the San Jose Sharks.

There were 19,372 on hand to witness it, to finally see the Blues override past heartaches against the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, Chicago Blackhawks in 2014 and Minnesota Wild last season, all games in which ended in disappointment for the Blues and their fans before the season ended in Game 6 on each occasion.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen can't come up with Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot
that gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead in Game 5 on Monday night.

Seeing it once was bad, twice was not-so-nice, thrice was torture, but a fourth time? Yes, history could repeat itself for incredibly a fourth time after the Blues once again succumbed on home ice, this time to the San Jose Sharks 6-3 at Scottrade Center.

Instead of building off the momentum grabbed from a Game 4 win at SAP Center, also known as 'The Shark Tank,' the Blues now will have to go back there Wednesday to try and save their season.

And for two teams that exorcised previous playoff demons, it's the Sharks on the cusp of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

Joe Pavelski scored twice, including the go-ahead goal 16 seconds into the third period, Joel Ward scored twice, Joe Thornton had three assists and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a goal and an assist for the Sharks. Chris Tierney had an empty-net goal and Martin Jones made 18 saves. 

Jaden Schwartz, Troy Brouwer and Robby Fabbri scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 21 saves, but coach Ken HItchcock, who called Allen's play "fine," did not commit to him for Game 6. 

Even worse, the Blues fell to 4-6 at home in the playoffs. They're the only team remaining in the final four with a below-.500 record on home ice in the playoffs.

But it comes back to the day-old -- or in the Blues' case, years-old -- question: why can't this team win in the playoffs on home ice? The typical answers from players and coach Ken Hitchcock tend to be they play cuter at home, wanting to please the home fans and they play a simpler game on the road.

"I said we're a little cuter at home than we are on the road," Backes said. "We've just got to stay simple and stay on the page and get a task done. I don't know if that's a trend in Game 5s; I don't keep track of that." 

"We get on the road, we play that simple game and it seems to be the most effective for us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "If I had the magic answer, I'd give it to you. I'm not too sure. It's something that we really need to take a hard look at and figure out why we're doing that. That's on us players."

Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.

But it still doesn't seem to resonate.

Hitchcock didn't think cuteness was the reason tonight.

"I don't think we were too cute," he said. "I don't think that was it at all. We made some puck errors under pressure. They get to play, too. Both teams played really hard today. We were the ones that made the defending mistakes that ended up in our net. I think we made a few more defending mistakes than they did, and that hurt us tonight.

"From an effort standpoint and from a cute standpoint, it's not really cute, it's wanting to do the extra to make the next play. I don't think we were guilty of that today. If we're guilty of anything, we made puck errors at the wrong time."

And the biggest puck error came at the beginning of the third period, tie game 3-3, and what does veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester do? After a clean faceoff win by Patrik Berglund, he tries to force a pass towards Jaden Schwartz off the boards, ices the puck instead, the Sharks get an offensive zone draw, Pavelski wins it, gets to the net and scores what turned out to be the game-winner 16 seconds in.

Pavelski, who has a six-game point streak (four goals,  five assists), tipped a right point shot past Brent Burns to break the tie.

Pietrangelo said the goal didn't deflate the Blues, although they went from competing in a tie game to down a goal in relatively short fashion.

"We've come back too, in the third," Pietrangelo said. "I still think there's a feeling on the bench that we've got an opportunity to come back and score a goal and win the hockey game. It's obviously frustrating to give that one up that early, but at the same time it's on us to do what we've done all playoffs. That's be resilient and come back, now we're going to have to do that next game."

Hitchcock also said the fourth goal wasn't the one that deflated the Blues but rather Pavelski's power play goal with 1 minute 27 seconds left in the second period that tied the game 3-3.

"I thought the killer goal was the third one," Hitchcock said. "We had the lead, we built some good shifts. They caught us on a little bit of a change, took a penalty and we were really doing well killing the penalty, but we made two mistakes. We got stuck behind the net, and I thought the energy on our bench, which was excellent, really dropped a little bit after the third goal, not the fourth one to me. That was the difference."

The Blues had the early pressure, but the Sharks grabbed a 1-0 lead after winning a faceoff in the Blues zone, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's first goal of the postseason, a shot from the left point got past a screened Allen 3:51 into the game. 

St. Louis responded fairly quickly when Schwartz scored his first in 14 games on a rebound. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk took the initial shot that Jones saved, then Berglund threw the puck into the slot, it caromed off Backes and Schwartz was there to collect the loose puck at 7:04 to tie the game. 

Brouwer's baseball-style goal, his eighth in 19 playoff games with the Blues after having seven in his first 78 playoff games, came off a rebound of a Paul Stastny shot at 15:08 of the first to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead. 

The Sharks got their power play going in the second period, and Ward tied it at 4:37 after Vlasic's initial shot from the left circle hit the near post, caromed off Allen's back in the crease and Ward batted the puck in. 

Fabbri put the Blues ahead 3-2 after he scored when his slap shot from the point beat a screened Jones near side at 11:58 of the period, but Pavelski tied it with the Sharks' second power-play goal in as many opportunities when he converted from the slot with 1:27 remaining in the second.

But then the Blues lost the lead, and are on the cusp of losing the series and ending their season.

And it's worth mentioning that the Blues' most impactful player and leading scorer throughout the regular season, Vladimir Tarasenko, continues to be a non-factor in this series. 

Tarasenko, who came in without a point in four games, was held off the scoresheet again. He had one shot on goal and three attempts blocked and was a minus-2.

Tierney scored an empty-net goal with 53.9 seconds remaining and Ward scored another one with 31.6 seconds left to give the Sharks their franchise-best fifth road victory of the playoffs. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues rookie Robby Fabbri (right) passes the puck with Sharks forward
Joel Ward trying to defend in Game 5 on Monday.

The Blues entered Monday uncertain whether Backes and Fabbri, each injured in Game 4, would be available, but they were able to play.

"There's a reason I don't play in the second and third (periods in Game 4), but this is the Western Conference Final and if you're humanly possible to play, you're in the lineup trying to help your team out," Backes said. "That's what we tried to do tonight."

Added Fabbri: "I felt fine. I had a day and a bit there to rest and I felt good."

(5-23-16) Sharks-Blues Game 5 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- What is known is that Blues forwards David Backes and Robby Fabbri will dress during the pregame warmup leading up to Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

What isn't known is if either will play.

The Blues held an optional skate on Monday morning and neither Backes or Fabbri were part of a heavily-populated skate.

Both were injured in a 6-3 victory in Game 4 on Saturday, in which coach Ken Hitchcock said afterwards that both should be good to go moving forward.

Hitchcock was not as forthcoming Monday.

"We're going to dress the same lineup for warmup that we did the last game," Hitchcock said with a grin. "We had two extra forwards in there, one extra 'D.' No changes. All those players are there. They'll dress for warmup and then we'll run a further evaluation for warmup. The same 23 guys are dressing."

Backes was injured in the first period and played 5:34. He did come out each time for the second and third periods and sat on the bench with the team, as did Fabbri, who played 9:21 but only 52 seconds after the second period.

It's nothing new for the Blues, who dealt with a plethora of injuries throughout the season, and if they have to adjust, they'll do so accordingly.

"We know where we stand in the dressing room already," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "You guys can speculate until gametime. 

"We've had injuries, guys come in and out of the lineup throughout the season. It's shown a lot about a lot of different players in here. To see something extra out of the guys that you thought they might not have had. We've had a lot of guys step in to fill key roles at times. If something is out of place tonight, then we have all the confidence in the world in the guys that can step in."

Added left wing Jaden Schwartz: "It's a good sign of character in our locker room. Guys are hungry and ready to go. It's not a good thing to have a lot of injuries throughout the year, but guys got to play more, play in different opportunities and play in situations so I think that helped out everybody. At one point, we were probably missing three or four forwards at a time and a couple, so that helps. Guys are working hard on their off-days and making that they're getting ready if their names are getting called. ... We've got that trust in everybody. I don't think it matters who's going. We know that guys are ready and they're going to play our systems and play to our strengths."

One line the Blues want to keep together is the fourth -- or as Hitch calls it, the third -- line of Kyle Brodziak, Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin, who have played well the past two games.

Yep. If we can keep it together, we would," Hitchcock said. "If we've got to make changes, we'll make changes; that's why we're dressing 23. We've got to take this to the end of the day before we can throw it in, put the blender in, but that line's been good. We'd like to call it a third line if we ca get cooperation from the media. We're going to keep our third line together."

- - -

Held without a point in four games in the series, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko isn't too worried about personal accomplishments.

"It's that time of year when you trade your goals to reach a goal and win a Cup," Tarasenko said. "It's not the time to think about your goals."

Tarasenko is second on the Blues in points (13) behind Fabbri (14) and tied with Backes and Brouwer in goals with seven. 

The Sharks have made a point to key on him and whatever line he's playing on, but playing in the playoffs and playing late into May is new and rewarding.

"How to play hockey in May, late May," Tarasenko said when asked what he's learned. "It has been pretty fun and I think we’re doing really good right now. You know this is our coach, so if he said it, he’s right.

"I think all teams is difficult. The main part is to stay on your game and just work hard. Goals and points will come but if our team wins, it means we’re all on the same page and we’re all doing good right now.

"It’s 2-2 right now. We had a tough road trip to San Jose, we won an important game so I think we feel pretty well. (I feel) well too. It’s a tight series and it all starts from the beginning (in a tie series)."

- - -

Hitchcock was asked about the gamesmanship and his verbal (and playful) jabs he has with Sharks coach Peter DeBoer.

"The answer do I enjoy it is yes because what you guys report, it's really boring and we've got to have some fun, too," Hitchcock said. "So I find it fun. Pete and I know each other real well. We were together in Slovakia. We survived Bratislava together. We know each other, but sending you folks on a wild goose chase is fun sometimes. We've got to enjoy it, too. You can't just be stress and pressure 24 hours a day. There's got to be some fun in it for us. I like it. I like the atmosphere. I like the focal point of it, and quite frankly I like anything that takes away from the focus on the players so that they can just play hockey. I think sometimes when there's so much discussion back and forth and there's so many elements that need stories, it can become overwhelming to the players so any time I can get people chasing down a different path, I try and do it. It's fun."

- - -

When teams are tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 series, the winner of Game 5 holds an all-time series record of 192-53 (78.3%).

- - - 

The Sharks have had a penchant for bouncing back after losses throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They did so when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 3 of the first round and after losing Games 3 and 4 and 6 against the Nashville Predators in the second round.

"It's an opportunity for us individually and as a team to go out and play the way we expect ourselves to play," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "... We're going to need to be better and I'm sure they're going to want to bring the same game they had in Game 4. It's up to us to match it and be better than them."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (will be updated during pregame warmups):

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

Healthy scratches are projected to be Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. Scottie Upshall has an undisclosed upper-body injury.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

Martin Jones will start in goal. James Reimer will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Matt Tennyson, Dylan DeMelo and Micheal Haley. Matt Nieto (undisclosed injury) is out.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Blues double up Sharks 6-3, even series 2-2

Goalie switch to Allen pays off; Brodziak, Brouwer each 
score twice as series shifts back to St. Louis for Game 5 Monday

By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Blues made a goalie change in the midst of a goal drought.

It posed the question of what could replacing Brian Elliott with Jake Allen possibly do for the goal-starved Blues in arguably the biggest game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far?

Apparently plenty.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (left) scores for the Blues in the first period of Game 4 against
San Jose in a 6-3 St. Louis victory.

Coach Ken Hitchcock made the bold move of taking out arguably his best player throughout the playoffs for Allen, who made hi first start since April 3 and it turned out to be a stroke of genius as the Blues evened the best-of-7 series at two games apiece with a 6-3 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final Saturday at SAP Center.

Troy Brouwer and fourth-line center Kyle Brodziak each scored two goals, the Blues, who host Game 5 on Monday at Scottrade Center, jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two periods and got back to the game they thought they were missing, got back to the level they needed to reach to match the Sharks.

Oh, and Allen made 31 saves, including a 10-beller right pad save on Joe Thornton in the third period.

Hitchcock surprised the media throng at the team hotel when he declared Allen the starter after Elliott had given the Blues some terrific performances, especially against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and Dallas Stars in the second round as well as stealing Game 1 of this series (2-1).

But Hitchcock wanted to alter the momentum the Sharks had built up from back-to-back shutout wins in Games 2 and 3. He got it, and Allen was prepared.

"Yeah, you know, found out right after the game, Game 3," Allen said. "I had a day to prepare. Got on the ice a little bit yesterday. Got some more pucks at me.

"I've been ready. I've been trying to practice as hard as I can. I keep my focus throughout the course of the playoffs. If called upon, give the boys a chance. It was nice to have a four-goal lead when I haven't played in a couple months. A little comforting."

Allen had made two cameo appearances when Elliott was pulled, including Game 3 of this series after allowing three goals on 14 shots.

"He only let one goal in," Hitchcock said of Allen. "Any time your goalie lets one goal in, that's a really good sign. He only really let one in.

"He gave us exactly what we needed.  He's a competitive son of a gun.  We needed a battler in there."

Hitchcock claimed the second Sharks goal by Chris Tierney was what he called "blatant interference," and defenseman Joel Edmundson inadvertently knocked a puck through Allen's wickets.

But the Blues, who felt they lacked a proper forecheck and proper puck support, found their game early and forced the Sharks into unforced turnovers.

"I thought we went back to our roots, what made us successful all throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs," said Brouwer. "We were able to get pucks deep, we were able to create chances from below the goal line rather than creating stuff off the rush.

"We watched a lot of video after the last couple games. They do a great job coming back, supporting their 'D.' There wasn't a whole lot to be made through the middle of the ice.  We wanted to get around the net, be resilient. You saw it on (Jori) Lehtera's goal. We had a couple whacks at it. We were able to get (Sharks goalie Martin Jones) out of position a few times for some goals. I thought collectively and individually, guys really brought a great game tonight. Brodziak's line with (Dmitrij) Jaskin and (Magnus) Paajarvi were probably our most consistent line tonight. Getting pucks down low. His second goal. 'Jasky' doing a great job behind the net, able to find Brodziak in a soft area. Just doing what we're comfortable with and what works for us."

The Blues had to absorb a couple of injuries, to captain David Backes and rookie left wing Robby Fabbri, who was a force in the first period, to undisclosed injuries.

Backes, who twice in the second period found himself in predicable positions, missed the final 5:14 of the second period and last two periods after losing an edge and possibly hitting a rut in the ice trying to forecheck on a play in the San Jose zone on Sharks right wing Joe Pavelski. Backes stayed on the ice long enough to go to the net but gingerly skated off as the Sharks made a rush up the ice. 

Fabbri, who had an assist on the first of Brouwer's goals and leads the Blues with 14 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, took a hard, high hit from San Jose's Tommy Wingels next to the Blues bench in the first period. Fabbri was a bit wobbly getting to the bench but remained in the game; he played 9:21 but only 52 seconds of ice time in the third period.

Hitchcock said both should be OK.

"We'll let you know in a couple days," Hitchcock said. "Both guys should be good to go." 

Backes came out for the second and third periods with his teammates but remained on the bench. He finished with eight shifts and 5:34 of ice time.

"He had pom poms out," Hitchcock joked. "He was cheerleading. He was doing a good job.

"We got tired of his voice, so we put him down."

Having their captain on the bench was uplifting for the Blues.

"Obviously a big part of our room, big part of our team," Blues left wing Alexander Steen said of Backes. "We'll see how he feels in the next coming days, but obviously it's still great having him on the bench."

The Blues got off to the start they were looking for. And Fabbri was a catalyst in helping them jump out to a 2-0 lead.

Brouwer's sixth of the playoffs -- the Blues are 6-0 when he scores -- came on a power play 6 minutes 14 seconds into the first that broke the Blues' shutout streak at 156:59 off a quick passing play with Paul Stastny finding Fabbri on the goal line. Fabbri's quick pass to Brouwer in the slot resulted in a quick one-timer for a 1-0 lead.

The Blues were able to forecheck and offer the puck support needed to sustain zone time, and it was a Backes check on Brent Burns and Fabbri interception of a Paul Martin clear that resulted in the second goal.

Lehtera finished off a play after Fabbri kept a play alive when he picked off Martin's pass, but not before Martin Jones made a remarkable paddle save on Fabbri, but the rookie stuck with the play and was able to poke the puck into the crease before Lehtera finished after a bit of a scramble at 10:11 of the first for a 2-0 Blues lead.

"We got a great start again, and obviously I thought when we get the first couple to go in, it's a different game," left wing Alexander Steen said. "Throughout the whole game, I thought we stuck with the plan, made a few adjustments to our game and made it work."

Some of those adjustments included Hitchcock moving pieces around the top three lines, only keeping the fourth line of Brodziak, Paajarvi and Jaskin in tact.

Steen played with Stastny and Brouwer, Fabbri moved up to play with Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz played with Patrik Berglund and Backes to start.

Hitchcock was asked if he felt like a mad scientist with all the different moves.

"Well, I hope not, or else I'd be a golf instructor," Hitchcock said to a room full of laughter. "I mean, I don't know. I kind of think I know what I'm doing. I mean, I know this is harsh to say, but I don't really care what you did for me yesterday, I just care about what you're going to do for me today, and I don't care about tomorrow.

"I think the players recognize that. I feel for some of the players that didn't get to play today. But I’ve got to do what's best to help us win hockey games. When I see something that's going, I hang onto it. When I see something that I know will work, I hang onto it. We had an idea of what we needed. We put those players in. We challenged them. They did the job today again."

Brodziak, who came in with three career postseason goals in 44 games, nearly doubled that total in a four-minute span.

He made it 3-0 off a shorthanded effort, a 2-on-1 with Schwartz that beat Jones top shelf at 6:09, then scored from the hash marks after Jaskin slipped a backhand pass into the slot at 10:11 to make it 4-0.

That was the end of the night for Jones, who was replaced by James Reimer.

"Thornton had the puck on the wall. He threw it across ice, missed his pass, got a good bounce off the wall," Brodziak said of the shorthanded goal. "Went right to Schwartz. We skated up the ice 2-on-1. I was a little worried for a second. Thought I might have went off-side. Fortunately didn't. Made a great pass over to me. Yeah, fortunately I was able to put it in the net.

"I think just as a group, you know, we weren't obviously happy with the way the last few games went. Had a good talk of what we felt, not necessarily adjustments, but maybe more of a style of play we needed to give ourselves a chance. I think guys did a really good job of coming out with the mindset of we know there's not going to be any easy opportunities, there's not going to be any odd?man rushes.  We're going to have to get pucks deep, go to work, and hopefully that's how we're going to create our offense. We did a good job starting the game.  But I think what's even more important is we stuck with it and we got rewarded for it."

The game got a little chippy in the third period, and the Blues did surrender three goals by Joe Pavelski, Tierney and Melker Karlsson, but all-in-all, it was a well-rounded game and now the Blues head home in a best-of-3 and a chance to make amends on home ice, where they're just 4-5 in the postseason.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Troy Brouwer (top) celebrates with teammates Paul Stastny and Robby
Fabbri after scoring in the first period of the Blues' 6-3 win at San Jose.

Brouwer scored a second power play goal in the third and Alex Pietrangelo added an empty-netter, a rarity, it seems, for the Blues.

"For us to win, they have to be different. We have to play a lot of the way we played today if we expect to win," Hitchcock said. "We played fast. We played physical. We created turnovers. We have to play like that. If we do it like that, continue down this path, I like our chances. I like our chances to win. That's the path we’ve got to continue to play on for us to be successful.

"Doesn't matter if it's San Jose, Chicago, Dallas. We have a method to our game. We have to get to it. Today was a day we got to it. So hopefully we can continue and progress from here."

(5-21-16) Blues-Sharks Game 4 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A goalie change in the middle of a heated Stanley Cup Playoff series is normally viewed as an act of desperation by the changing team.

But for the Blues and coach Ken Hitchcock, they've used a balance of games between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, who will get the start today against the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final (6:15 p.m.; NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

"Under normal circumstances, it's probably large, but with us it's business as usual because we've played these two fellas for a long time," Hitchcock said during pregame comments Saturday. "They've shared the load. ... They've both gone on long, long runs. I think the team is used to this. I think they're comfortable with it. 

"Our feeling is that we've allowed six goals (seven with the empty-netter) the last two games and it's too much. It's a zero reflection on Brian Elliott, zero. It's a reflection on us, and if we're going to win this series and get back in this series, we can't continue to allow three and four goals and expect to win games, not with the way San Jose's playing right now. We've got to amp it up defensively."

Allen will be making his first start since April 3 at Colorado when he sustained a lower-body injury, and Brian Elliott took the reigns and ran with them and started the first 17 games of the playoffs and has been arguably the best and most consistent player for the Blues.

But Hitchcock wants to change momentum, and inserting Allen, who handles the puck cleaner and could perhaps help Blues defensemen get quicker, better exits, gives the Blues a wake-up call look and maybe the jump-start they need to try and turn this into a best-of-3 series with the Blues regaining home ice advantage.

"He's stolen games, he plays big in the net," Hitchcock said of Allen. "Not a lot bothers him. Seems to enjoy the moment. He's played in a lot of big games in his life already for a young player. But like I said, if we keep allowing three goals in the playoffs against a team that likes to check well at this time of year, it's not going to work. We've got to get better."

- - -

The Blues will likely stay with the same fourth line of Magnus Paajarvi on left wing, Kyle Brodziak at center and Dmitrij Jaskin on right wing because veteran Scottie Upshall is "not ready to play yet. Not 100 percent," Hitchcock said.

Despite the limited minutes in Game 3, Hitchcock liked that group.

"Same page forecheck, same page puck placement, same page cycle, really good," Hitchcock said. "Had the concept of support over structure. 

"I think the difference for us is we've been through quite a bit to get where we're at right now and you could see their freshness and energy really help us and you could see the difference with two fresh guys come in from where some of our players were at. I think it really helped us a lot and hopefully we can get the same type of shifts and same type of energy that we had from them before because it was very helpful."

Brodziak has been the one that's played in every game on the fourth line during the playoffs. He's adjusted to different linemates, including Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves. The adjustment Thursday seemed to work.

"I think when we got a chance to get on the ice, we wanted to contribute," Brodziak said. "Those guys came into the lineup and provided a lot of energy. We’re going to look to do the same [Saturday]. ... We just wanted to play a simple game. We understand we’re not going to get a lot of easy ice out there. Our goal as a line was to try and get the puck in their end and force them to make mistakes. I thought we did a fairly good job of that. We’ve got to do it again.

"Definitely our team has to play as if our lives are on the line. Nothing has come easy so far in the series for us, I don’t think we can expect anything to change (Saturday). Our desperation level is going to have to go up for sure. I think we’re recognizing that as a group. Hopefully we can bring our best and put our best foot forward (Saturday)."

- - -

Hitchcock did say that defensively there will be one change.

The logical choice would be to insert Joel Edmundson in for Robert Bortuzzo, but Hitchcock left the door open for another change, perhaps.

"We're going to make one change for sure, we'll see," Hitchcock said. "We'll see after warm-up." 

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (updated):

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

Healthy scratches are Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

Martin Jones will start in goal. James Reimer will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Matt Tennyson, Dylan DeMelo and Micheal Haley. Matt Nieto (undisclosed injury) is out.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blues to start Allen in Game 4

Feeling he needs to change momentum, Hitchcock 
makes goalie switch hoping to avoid 3-1 series deficit

By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Feeling the need to change the momentum that the San Jose Sharks clearly have in the Western Conference Final, Ken Hitchcock is making a change in goal and going with Jake Allen as the starter for Game 4 on Saturday (6:15 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Allen, who has relieved starter Brian Elliott twice in the postseason, including 8 minutes 33 seconds of a 3-0 loss in Game 3 against the Sharks that has the Blues down 2-1 in the series, has played 49:57 in two games this postseason.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues will start goalie Jake Allen in a crucial
Game 4 against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

The Blues have been shut out twice in back-to-back games (150:45 total going back to midway through Game 1) for the first time in postseason franchise history, and after deliberating with coaches and management, Hitchcock came to the conclusion Friday morning that a team struggling to find ways for offense need to change the momentum somehow, someway.

"Some of it is just changing momentum for both teams hopefully, but part of it is also a luxury," Hitchcock said. "I've got a goalie that gives a different look, he plays a different style, he's very active in the net, he's very active at moving the puck and getting us out in transition. He's an awfully good goalie just like 'Ells' is. 

"'Ells' has run us quite a distance here and we just feel like Jake's a guy that can help us help change the momentum of a series."

It will be Allen's first start since April 3 at Colorado, when he sustained a lower-body injury and was replaced by Anders Nilsson.

"I just feel like if you're in a position where you need to change momentum, you need to look at a lot of things," Hitchcock said. "We got great minutes from the fourth line yesterday, changed momentum for us in a positive direction and we need more of that to happen quite frankly. So we need to look at every avenue.

"... I like to solicit a lot of opinions, so I listened to the coaches. We kind of got rid of it (Thursday) night and didn't want to deal with it that much because it's the emotion of the game and everything. So I just talked it over this morning, including management and we came to the decision. It's ultimately my call, but just feel like we need to get us a little bit of momentum changed our way because we're not being rewarded for the work and they are, which the small difference in this series is has been that. We dinged them in Game 1 and they dinged us in (Game) 2 and 3."

In 47 games during the regular season, Allen was 26-15-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He had a 2.20 GAA and .904 save percentage in six games of a first-round loss to the Minnesota Wild in the 2015 playoffs.  

Elliott, who allowed three goals on 14 shots in Game 3, has started all 17 games for the Blues this postseason. He's 9-8 with a 2.34 GAA and .925 save percentage.

The Blues saw the Stars play musical goalies in their series in the second round with negative results. But Hitchcock said he feels this won't be a detriment. He's cited in the past how the Blackhawks used both Corey Crawford and Scott Darling en route to winning the Stanley Cup last season.

"You've seen it lots," Hitchcock said. "I think quite frankly we've had two guys all year. It might be a story for people, but for inside the locker room and for us coaches, it is kind of an easy decision in the fact that it's probably easy for us than it is for other people because we've just trusted both guys so much. We trust Brian, even when there were bumps, we trusted Brian. 

"This is a little bit different. This is a change in momentum. We're playing a team that's got a confidence? in their game and a focus in their game that's been around for seven games now. We've got to change momentum here. They've been dialing in with this game for seven games now. I think if we expect to trot out just a little bit better effort and expect to see a change, that would be misleading. We're not gonna change that. We're going to have to change momentum in a real positive way with probably more drama to it and we're going to have to find people that can help us do that."

The players trust both goalies.

"I think either way, our group has all the confidence with whoever is in net tomorrow," center Kyle Brodziak said. "Obviously 'Moose' has been the backbone of our team for the entire playoffs and a big part of the year. You look back earlier in the year when 'Snake' had a chance to run in the net, he did a great job for us. We’re fully confident with him back there as well. Whichever way it goes we’ll be fully confident with them back there.

"... You never really want to have to rely on a goalie change to have to push your team. We’re in the situation we are right now. Whatever way the coaches decide to go with that we’re going to have to focus on what we need to do."

Hitchcock was asked how can bringing in a different goalie help alleviate the issues on offense. Well for one, Allen can transition the puck better from the defensive zone and give Blues defensemen perhaps better options moving up ice.

"Just brings alertness," Hitchcock said. "I think everybody's fixated on goals. This is a territorial series by two teams who are firmly entrenched in checking, and if you don't have positional patience in your transition and if you don't have structure on an ongoing basis in your transition, you get no zone time, and you get no zone time and you get no scoring chances. They had the breakdowns in the first game, which allowed us to get the odd-man rushes, which we got our goals on. We've had the few breakdowns. The two goals that we got scored on yesterday, first two goals were direct results of forcing pucks to covered people with committed checking people. Not only did we pass it to covered people, but they checked us hard off the puck to create the transition back. That's what we got, two teams who are more than comfortable checking away to a championship. 

"I said to you before, their team's dialed in and has been for seven games like this. ... We're going to have to be a lot better, so it's just a change in attitude I think in a number of avenues, not just goalie, in a number of avenues for us to win."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is fine after taking a cut, and forward Scottie Upshall, who missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury, is available for selection if the Blues want to go that direction for Game 4.

"We got great minutes from Bortuzzo yesterday until he got cut there," Hitchcock said. "Guys that have come in have done a real job for us, they've done a great job for us. We want to try to do as much as we can to change momentum.

"Yeah, he's fine, and Upshall will be available if we want to use him. He'll be available for us."

But that may not be an option since Hitchcock liked the fourth line with Brodziak and wingers Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin.

"I liked it a lot," Hitchcock said of the line. "They played like a third line to be honest with you and I think we're going to find them hopefully playing more in the game and helping us. If that's their level ... they gave us great energy. I think what it also does is tells you what fresh players do. They were fresh and I think it really helped us. I think it gave us a big boost energy-wise too."

Sharks follow Game 2 recipe, blank Blues for second straight game

San Jose takes 2-1 series lead with 3-0 
victory, frustrating St. Louis a second game in a row

By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- They got off to the start they wanted, getting pucks in deep, getting the proper support. It looked like the Blues were finding their game.

But then came the dreaded turnover, the Sharks pounced and for the first time since losing Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round, the Blues trail in a playoff series.

San Jose got two goals from Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi scored off another turnover, and the futile Blues offense was blanked again in a 3-0 loss in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday at SAP Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Kyle Brodziak (right) battles for a puck with San Jose's Tomas
Hertl on Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday. 

The Blues, who now trail the best-of-7 series 2-1, were shut out in back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff games for the first time in franchise history; their goalless streak against Sharks goalie Martin Jones has reached 150:45, with Jori Lehtera's marker at the 9:15 point in the second period of Game 1 the last time they've been able to score.

And on top of now starting at what could be the biggest game of the year in Game 4 on Saturday at 6:15 p.m., coach Ken Hitchcock may have a goalie decision on his hands after pulling Brian Elliott in the third period after allowing Hertl's second goal of the game 6 minutes 9 seconds in on San Jose's 14th shot.

The Blues claimed they'd play better and it started out that way. But mistakes were costly again and San Jose was opportunistic, their top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Hertl combined for six points and the Sharks smothered the Blues into oblivion for the second game in a row.

Things were playing out OK despite the lack of offense, but the Sharks pounced on the first mistake from Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, who tried a pass from along the wall in his zone that was knocked down near center ice, and Hertl ripped a slap shot top shelf over Elliott after Joe Pavelski's pass with 4:07 remaining in the first period for a 1-0 San Jose lead.

"They pressure us into a neutral zone turn turnover there and they get the transition," Blues captain David Backes said. "One from the ladies tees there, we just can't give up with (four) minutes left in the period. It's been a pretty decent period and we've fought our way back into playing right alongside them."

Said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "We started the way we wanted to. For some reason, we took our foot of the gas the second half of the first. They had a little bit of a momentum swing, couldn't really seem to get it back there until halfway through the third. More of what we did in the first 10 minutes and I think we'll be OK."

The second period woes continued, with the Sharks applying pressure and getting ample zone time, but Elliott kept the fort closed.

Then after what looked like a promising -- even the few they had -- odd-man rush, Robby Fabbri tried making a dangerous pass through the slot to Paul Stastny but it was broken up by Donskoi, who jumped into the play as the trailing forward, took Logan Couture's pass in the slot and fired a wrister high blocker side at 11:44 of the second for a 2-0 Sharks lead.

"When you're not scoring, you have two choices:  either be diligent and stay (with) the program, or sometimes you get forcing offense," Hitchcock said. "The second goal was an example of that. It's a 1-0 hockey game. We've got to feel comfortable playing it. We're in great shape. Then we make a mistake. We cross-ice pass it to a covered guy, it's a 2-on-1 that ends up being a 3-on-1. It's in our net. Now we're coming from behind."

And much like Game 2, the Blues entered the third period chasing a 2-0 deficit, then they have to force the offensive game and at some point, get caught when Hertl converted all alone in front that squirted through Elliott and ended his night.

"I didn't like the third goal," Hitchcock said. "I thought we needed to catch our breath. I still honestly thought if we could have got a goal, we still had a chance to come back in the game. I wanted to give us a breath. 

"I didn't like the coverage on the third goal. I didn't like the third goal at all."

Jake Allen entered the game and saw only two shots on goal.

The Blues pulled Allen with roughly five minutes remaining and had ample zone time in the Sharks zone but couldn't dent Martin Jones, who made 22 saves and became the first Sharks goalie in franchise history with back-to-back playoff shutouts.

"We didn't get back to our game until the goalie's out of the net and then we start to skate, start to pressure, start to hold onto pucks and make a few plays," Backes said. "But too little, too late at that point."

And now the Blues are trying to find offense.

"I think creating offense is really dangerous right now," Hitchcock said. "That's the wrong decision. We like to score goals. We need to score goals. I think there's steps that lead to that that we have to get a bigger buy-in. The steps are what we want to talk about.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Vladimir Tarasenko (91) and David Backes (42) battle for a
puck with former Blue and Sharks defenseman Roman Polak Thursday.

"There are things in our game that need to take place on a more consistent basis if we expect to score. That's what we're going to talk about.  If we just talk about the end result, we're going to end up in the same boat. There are things that I can see us doing. We had a lot of those things today. There was a lot of good stuff today that we can build off of. But we have to have a realistic view of how are we going to create more zone time, more pressure, more anxiety for them so that we can score goals. That's what we've got to look at, that tactic."

The Sharks have outscored the Blues 7-0 the past two games and 8-2 in the series, and some feel it could easily be a 3-0 deficit in the series for the Blues.

"They can think what they want," Pietrangelo said. "We know we've got more in here, we know we've got another level. They took it up a notch and now it's up to us to get some rest and take it up a few more notches on Saturday."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

(5-19-16) Blues-Sharks Game 3 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Expect a different look for the Blues when they play the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday (8 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

The Blues, who are tied in the series 1-1, held an optional skate at SAP Center Thursday morning but some surprise players came off the ice early, including that of Magnus Paajarvi, who is expected to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, in place of Steve Ott.

"We're making changes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've always done it when we don't feel our group is performing the way we've wanted to. We've been fortunate every time we've made the changes, we've played better and we're looking to make changes again."

Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who has played in four games this playoff season, will come into the lineup for Joel Edmundson, and Dmitrij Jaskin will come in as well, for Scottie Upshall, who has been dinged up and could sit a game to rest or perhaps to give the Blues a different look. 

"Don’t know," Jaskin said when asked if he was playing. "If I am, I am."

"They skate well, they check well," Jaskin added about the Sharks. "Just trying to put as many guys as they can in their zone and just squeeze us. Just have to get around it and spread them out.

"We’ve got to work hard and make room for yourself."

Magnus Paajarvi will suit up in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game and play for Steve Ott.

Paajarvi, who's played in 276 career regular season games, has skated against the Sharks 11 times with one assist.

"I've never played playoffs, so that would be cool if that would happen," Paajarvi said. "I would not think too much. I would try to keep it as simple as I can, if I get in and give them hell. You go all in.

"... I'm not happy sitting and watching, that's for sure. I want to be in there and help the guys out. But that's the thing too, you've got to stay mentally ready. It can happen fast and it will happen fast. One injury here, one injury there, and you're in. So mentally I'm preparing for every game, but yeah it's been tough not playing. I'm here to play, not to sit and watch."

What makes the Blues' line changes good successful is that they've been used to it. Injuries throughout the season have forced their hand to play different lineups at different times throughout the season with a seamless transition.

"I think it's really helpful," Hitchcock said. "I think what's more helpful is we've had players who have played multiple positions and that's what's helped us. You're not having a guy who's never played center go and play center or a guy that's played center and play wing. I think the significant injuries, long-term injuries have really helped us because it's put people in positions really starting in October that they had not played before that they had to get used to and I think it has really helped us in the playoffs because we've put people in positions where it's surprised some of the media, it's surprised some of the opposition and yet our players, in some cases, they've played 40 games in that position, so it's really helped us. I don't think we would be here today without having that flexibility because that flexibility really allowed us to be almost seamless in some of the things that we're able to to win hockey games."

Players can see it however they want, but bottom line, it's meant to be a wakeup call.

"I think so. When he switches the lines up, he's also sending a message of how he wants us to play," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Hitchcock. "Different line combinations change the way we play a little bit in what we're geared towards, offense, defense, whatever it may be. The first series we had Stastny-Brouwer and Steen and they were the shut down line. Now you see the lines we need for scoring. It's just a message for us we're going to change it up a bit, this is what we want. It just kind of puts us in a new fresh mind going into tonight's game. We need to answer the bell and be ready to make those adjustments."

- - -

The Sharks' lopsided 4-0 win in Game 2 definitely won't go to the home side's head. They expect the Blues to come at them with a big push tonight.

"They’re going to come hard," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "They’re a better team on the road. That’s been documented in the post-season here. So they’re going to come with their best game. I expect us to do the same."

Hitchcock expects it also.

"We know we're going to play better. We know," Hitchcock said. "Whether we play our best game ... we knew the playoffs is all about getting better. We need to play better than we did in Game 2. We know we will and we know what it looks like. 

"It's a game based on effort and puck support. It doesn't matter what the opposition does. If you've got that going, you're going to be in good shape. We know we're going to play a lot better. We still hung around mentally from some of the Dallas series. I think we've gotten our minds a little bit better for what's taken place. I think there was such a different game than when we've played the Stars than when we played San Jose. I've said this to people before, San Jose plays a mirror image of ourselves and we had to get mentally into that and I think we're going to get better at it today."

- - -

The Blues have won Game 3 in both previous playoff series. ... The Blues are 10-2 on the road since March 19. ... The Blues will look to improve on their franchise-record five road wins in the playoffs. ... Backes has 19 hits in two games in the series. ... Blues have never been shut out in back-to-back playoff games.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (updated):

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-David Backes

Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches are Joel Edmundson, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott, Scottie Upshall, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries but Upshall could be dealing with some ailment.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

Martin Jones will start in goal. James Reimer will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Matt Tennyson, Dylan DeMelo and Micheal Haley. Matt Nieto (undisclosed) is out.