Monday, April 30, 2012

(4-30-12) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When Alex Pietrangelo surprisingly skated onto the ice for Monday's morning skate prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, it was an early indication that players play through any type of injury in the playoffs.

But as the Blues prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings tonight in Game 2 down 1-0 in the series, everyone will have to wait a few more hours before it's determined if Pietrangelo [undisclosed injury] will be available.

"Right now, he's an injured player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If he's in the warmup before the game, he's a player. Right now ... we're deciding. He feels good so far. We'll see if he makes it through the rest of the day, but we're not going to put him in the warmup unless we're going to play him. If he's out there for the pregame skate tonight, then he's definitely a player.

"It's not going to be a surprise, 'Here he is.' If he's in that pregame warmup, he's playing. ... We wanted to get him part of the group [Monday morning]. I told you [Sunday] don't count him out yet. Everybody's got it as an upper-[body] and it's not an upper; it's between the middle and the lower, so you got it at the wrong place but that's OK. You all make mistakes sometimes. We'll just see how he looks later on as we work through the day with him."

Hitchcock was playful with the media regarding the injury but when told he was the one that said upper-body, he replied : "Oh, did I? Damn coaches, they lie all the time!"

But if Pietrangelo is available to play, it would be a huge boost for a Blues team that can ill-afford to lose arguably it's most complete player against a Kings team gaining confidence by the second.

"It's great to see him out there," best friend and defensive partner Carlo Colaiacovo said. "He's a character guy that battles and plays hard. He means so much to our team. The thought of not playing with him was something that never crossed my mind or crossed the team's mind until that decision was made. Obviously it's great to see him out there; he's going to provide a big boost for us. As long as he's able to do the things that he's capable of doing, we should be in good shape."

If this were the regular season, it's likely Pietrangelo would be shelved.

"That's the bottom line. The only thing that needs to be said about it: it's the playoffs," Colaiacovo said. "At this time of the year, you've got to do everything you can to make sure that you're in the lineup ... battle through everything, play through everything. At the end of the day, you're not playing for yourself, you're playing for your team."

If Pietrangelo can't go, Ian Cole will step in and play with Colaiacovo. It would be Cole's career playoff debut.

"I feel like I am ready and ready to step in if that's what needs to be done," Cole said after Monday's skate. "That first NHL game, you're nervous and kind of unprepared for exactly what you're going to see, but I've had enough of an opportunity where I kind of know what's going on and I can see how it's ratcheted up from watching the past two series. It's going to be a great opportunity to step into that. It's definitely going to be more intense and more hitting, more everything."

Hitchcock said Sunday he's been impressed with Cole's practice and work habits and will go with 12 forwards and six defensemen one way or the other. The veteran coach indicated Sunday there was a chance of going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen if Pietrangelo is unavailable and would have made veteran Kent Huskins a player.

"You can be as impressive as you want in practice, but if it doesn't translate into a game, it's all for naught," Cole said. "The practices are to get ready for the games, the practices aren't the games."

The Kings are prepared as if Pietrangelo will play.

"There's no secret that he's a good player, and we need to be hard on him," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of Pietrangelo. "He's a key guy for them, he's a key target for us. We need to finish our checks on him and make sure we're back-checking and know where he is on the ice at all times.

"He didn't practice the last few days but that's not going to make us back off of him. We'll play him just as hard."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said it's good for the game if Pietrangelo is in there.

"When it's all said and done, even though we're playing St. Louis, you want the best players playing, right," Sutter said. "He's a top player so it's no different than us with Doughty. We want them guys playing. The game wants them playing and we want them playing."

- - -

The NHL announced on Monday that Hitchcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which is coach of the year award. He joins New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and Ottawa's Paul MacLean, who played for the Blues in the late 1980s.

The Blues, who hired Hitchcock on Nov. 6, were 6-7-0 at the time but blazed a trail the rest of the season, going 43-15-11 the rest of the season.

"They should nickname the award coach for the year," Hitchcock joked. "... When you make the decision to coach as a living, there's times when you really need your family and friends. And in the last year and a half, I really needed family and friends. First to keep me sane, to keep me occupied and to keep me interested to keep doing this wonderful job that we get. But there are times when you really need to lean on them, especially from a family standpoint and a friend standpoint. I really needed my family and my close friends, especially the ones in Columbus because that's where we've lived full time. And then obviously [Blues general manager] Doug [Armstrong] making the phone call and [Blues President] John [Davidson] supporting the phone call meant everything. Two good friends who were looking for a hockey coach.

"There's times when there's smooth sailing for all of us. For John and for Mac and myself ... I've known Mac for a long, long time. We coached against each other in Peoria and there's time for all three of us when we've really needed the support and we've gotten it and that's why we continue to do what we love. This was one of those times when I really needed help and got it in a big way."

If Hitchcock wins the award, he would join Red Berenson [1981], Brian Sutter [1991] and Joel Quenneville [2000] as past Blues coaches to win.

- - -

The Blues will make a couple changes to their lineup heading into Game 2.

Hitchcock has decided to flip his top two centers for tonight's game, meaning David Backes will now be between Andy McDonald and Alex Steen, while Patrik Berglund will once again join David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

Also, Matt D'Agostini will replace Chris Stewart in the lineup on the third line.

When asked what he's looking for, Hitchcock said, "More o-zone time, better o-zone play, more tenacity on the puck, more reckless. We've made the switch before short-term and it's worked.

"We just feel like we need a different energy. I just think for us to win the series ... they're a big team, they're a physical, big team, and we need to play with more tempo, more speed throughout our lineup. This allows us to play that way the way it's built. With switching the lines there with D'Agostini, it gives us more speed. We just want to see how it looks because for me, they're a team that wears you down. We need to make them spend more time in their zone more than they want."

Oshie, Perron and Berglund are no strangers to playing together. They're Blues first-round draft picks who came up through the organization together and as close as well off the ice.

"There's going to be a lot of energy," Oshie said. "We've been through a lot together away from the rink, at the rink. We've been here from the start for all of us ... Perry was here a year earlier, but it seems like we all kind of grew up together and we've got this sense of closeness.

"... We've got those young legs, as Walt [Keith Tkachuk] used to say. I think we compliment each other well. I need to bring more intensity and as much intensity as I can into those two; try to carry it along with me because when both of them have their feet moving, they're hard to stop."

D'Agostini has only dressed in one postseason game [Game 2 of the first round against San Jose] and is looking forward to providing a boost.

"Just go out there, try to get involved early and get into the game as quick as possible," D'Agostini said. "... Any time after a loss, a change could spark the guys.

"It's been tough watching. You know you always feel like you can contribute. Me personally, I feel like I can help this team win. I'm happy to be back in there and looking forward to tonight."

Hitchcock said it's nothing against Stewart, who's pointless in five playoff games.

"I'm not unhappy with Stewy at all," Hitchcock said. "I think he's been fine for me, but we just feel like we would like to play with more speed in our lineup ... number one, and number two is we want to have a different look on one of the power play units and that's where Dags excels. ... We'd like to see him get some PP time if we get there. He's very affective at where he goes. He's a guy that's willing to stand in there and absorb the shot."

With Backes, it gives him a different perspective with two more skill guys and he can continue to be more responsible defensively.

"Those guys are supremely talented and I'm hoping to be a supporting piece to it, take care of the defensive zone and let their offensive instincts and their skill show up," Backes said of McDonald and Steen. "If we can do that, those guys will have great nights and we'll have a great night as a team."

The Kings notice the changes but said it doesn't affect their plans.

"We just have to focus on what we have to do," center Anze Kopitar said. "That's going to make us successful. We want to create scoring chances and [puck] possession is going to be a huge part of that."

- - -

There was a buzz around the Kings' locker room Saturday and the last couple days in the aftermath of defenseman Matt Greene's shorthanded goal in Game 1.

"It's a little rare that he ever crosses the blue line," Doughty joked about Greene. "But that's what playoffs [are] about. Getting a little from every single guy on your team and to see a guy like him score in the playoffs, all of us were so happy for him and it just gave us a boost."

The Kings, who have three shorthanded goals [Dustin Brown with two goals and an assist has been a part of all three of them] and it matches their power play output in the postseason.

"We don't want to give them any time and space," Doughty said of the PK. "If good players have that spece, they're going to find the seams and the open guy backdoor for an easy tap-in. We're definitely very aggressive on the penalty kill. We're blocking shots and that's kind of the motto of our team.

"It's been working our great for us. That aggressive style makes guys on the backend panic when guys go 100 miles an hour at them. You're going to panic with the puck a little bit and with ice conditions and stuff like that, pucks are going to bounce over your stick or whatever it may be. Brownie's been doing a great job of reading those opportunities and it's been a big part to our playoff season so far."

- - -

Hitchcock and Sutter both talked about the teams' 5-on-5 play. One coach feels it can be better; the other said it comes in light of how some individuals play.

"Los Angeles, to me, they got away with one," Hitchcock said. "They didn't play well 5-on-5. We left it out there, we had more scoring chances than they did 5-on-5. What we did was shoot ourselves in the foot. We're the ones that blinked by taking those four minors, and that took all of our energy away. We were right there or better than they were 5-on-5, and they're going to play better 5-on-5. They were rusty, too. They're going to have good continuity. They've had a game to play, some days to get ready ... they're going to be better. Both teams are going to be better 5-on-5. We've got to simplify our game even more 5-on-5."

Added Sutter, "I don't know if it affected our teams. Obviously we both have players that we want to play better. Hopefully they do. ... When you review it all, I think both teams are right where they want to be. The key is individuals, right?"

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Alex Steen

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Matt D'Agostini

Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo/Ian Cole

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jake Allen will back up.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak [lower-body] is still out for Game 2 and Pietrangelo (undisclosed injury) will be a gametime decision. Healthy scratches include forwards Stewart, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with Huskins; Cole will be a healthy scratch if Pietrangelo plays.

- - -

The Kings will make no lineup changes:

Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter

Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis

Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty

Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick will start in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.

Forwards Kyle Clifford [concussion] and Scott Parse [hip] once again sit out. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske, all who sat out Game 1.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Blues players react to hit on teammate Alex Pietrangelo

Did the team lose some morale when Pietrangelo went down?
To be honest with you, I didn't even see him go down. I didn't even know he got hurt. I was kind of in my own little world out there a little bit. Hopefully, he's alright. I'm sure we'll see in the next few hours here what's going on. He's a big part of our team, but we have a lot of guys itching to get into the lineup, too, so if he can't go, I'm sure guys will step up.

Can you elaborate what he means to the team?
He's done it all year, a leader on and off the ice just on what he does, how he prepares and when he goes out there, what he accomplishes. He's a big part of our team, but we have to step up for him and play for him if he can't go.

What did you think of the hit?
I saw it in real time. I didn't see any replays. I really can't comment on whether it was legal or illegal. It's up to the league. If they find it illegal, they'll do something about it. If not, we keep playing.

How do you manage not letting emotions get the best of you in that situation?
That's what playoffs is about ... managing your emotions. You just play hard. Obviously you're not going to go out there and take penalties on the guy that took out your best player. You go out there and if the time is right, something will happen. That's one of those things where they try to take you off your game and the team that unravels is the team that loses. We're not going to do that.

How different are you without him on the ice?
We're definitely different [without Pietrangelo]. There's guys that have to step up and eat some minutes and play well. He's definitely a part of our team. That's what playoffs is about, too. It's stepping up and having different guys plugging holes and going through a lot of your lineup and reserves.

Did it affect the lineup losing him and thoughts on the hit?
It was a bad hit, unfortunate, but we can't think about that. We've got to prepare ourselves and move onto the next game.

Is it hard to look past it a 3rd-4th line guy taking out your top defenseman?
We can't think about that now. What happened, happened. We've got to move on and play even harder the next game.

If Pietrangelo can't play, what needs to happen?
We'll worry about that when it happens. Right now, we'll see what the result is if he's expected to play or not. Until then, we have guys capable in here that are capable of stepping in. We've dealt with injuries to key guys all year. We're going to have to do it again if he can't play.

How does it change if he's out?
Obviously it's going to be different with him not being out there, but whoever steps in with me is going to have to step in and do the job. The biggest thing is is to have great communication, help each other out, keep things simple and do things right.

Thoughts on the hit?
It wasn't nice to see. It wasn't a hit that you want to see someone take. It looked pretty vicious, but that's all I'll comment on that.

How do things change if you don't have Pietrangelo?
He means a lot to our team. He plays a lot of minutes, he plays in a lot of situations. He's a guy who can be a game-changer. If he's out, we can't just fold up tent and say it's over. We'll miss him, but we've got to find ways to fill his void. Guys like myself have got to step up and make sure that we're still getting the job done.

What happened?
When the hit happened and he played the next shift, I didn't think anything of it until I didn't see him in the third period. I knew it was pretty serious. I don't recall who hit him. Those are just moments in your game you hope you don't find yourself in. It's a questionable play if you ask me. Those are the types of things you try and eliminate from our game to make sure it's safer. I think they've done a good job of doing that this year. Who knows what's going to come from it. At the end of the day, if he's in our lineup or he's not, we've still got to find a way to win the next game.

What does it mean not having Pietrangelo if he's out?
Hopefully he's in the lineup but if not, we're going to have to push through. He's a big part of our team, but we're going to have someone else fill that role and take some responsibility. We've been filling holes and taking more responsibility all year. This is no change.

What are your thoughts on what happened?
A guy's numbers ... you're hoping there's no intent there, but when it's third-line guys finishing our best defenseman, he sees nothing but numbers and all of the sudden there's two guys piling on there, it looks like there may be a little extracurricular but at the same time, I hope none of the guys in this league wish for injuries to try and hurt guys. We'll see what happens. Hopefully, there's a respect factor that needs to return to the game from all aspects. I think if that's back, our game's going to be better than it ever has been.

What does it mean if he's lost?
He'll be a void there, but we're going to have someone else that's chomping at the bit to get in the lineup working to make a difference. He's a key part of our team, but we're going to have to move on without him. It's the way injuries happen. It'll make us a better team on the other end if we get through it.

Blues not foreign to being down a game

Trailed in first round series before regrouping, looking to do same against Kings

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues got back on the ice Sunday morning, and the mentality is exactly the same as it was after Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

The Blues, who trailed the Sharks after losing the series opener, are faced with the same scenario after dropping Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

After their loss in the opening round, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made some lineup changes that would suit the Blues' needs more. They went on to win four straight to bounce the Sharks in five.

(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald (right) and the Blues will need to bounce back with a win
against Mike Richards (left) and the Los Angeles Kings Monday.
Could there be more changes in store for Monday's Game 2?

"I wouldn't read anything into the lines at practice today," Hitchcock said. "I wouldn't read one thing into them. ... But it was fun watching them practice."

The Blues did switch their top two centers [David Backes and Patrik Berglund] for Sunday's practice, with Backes playing between Alex Steen and Andy McDonald and Berglund between David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

"They wanted to change it up, and I'm familiar to playing with both Perry and Osh from two years ago, three years ago," Berglund said. "It is what it is. Just change and we'll see if we can generate some offense."

Backes agreed.

"With Mac and Steener for practice today, try and change things up, find a little chemistry, find a spark," Backes said. "Hopefully, that provides some of it."

Hitchcock's message to the team wasn't one with great detail. Just matter-of-fact.

"It lasts 60 minutes, not 32," Hitchcock said. "We played great for 32 minutes [ Saturday night], we were the much better team for 32 minutes and then we were the ones that cracked. We took the bad penalties, we had lazy sticks at times, we started turning the puck over at the blue line trying to make the extra play. LA's not a team that you're going to push out of the competition very easily. What happened was we pushed ourselves out.

"The first period and probably the first period and a half, other than two shifts, was the best we've played in the playoffs and then we left the program and went onto a different program. The second half of the game was very similar to the way we played the first two periods in Game 5 [vs. San Jose], and that was disappointing. So we'll get back on the right page. It's a race to four. We've put a little pressure on ourselves, we've got to perform for more minutes at the same level we did to start the hockey game. If that level's out there for 60 minutes, I like our chances."

Hitchcock mentioned the need to get more from his top six forwards.

"Just the same program. Stay on the program," he said. "There's a reason that [Scott] Nichol's line is the best line on our team right now. They're on the program. They get scoring chances, they don't give up much, they compete, they're collectively working well together. They end up with four, five, six scoring chances a game, which is great. They're taking on tough minutes, doing a great job doing it. They're all on the program. They get every puck deep, they funnel every puck to the net, they shoot when they have to, they find it again, they play the game the right way. That's why they're having so much success.

"They create. They just create chance after chance. That puck didn't miss by much, Nichol's chance there. [B.J.] Crombeen had a stick on it, too. That's just the ebb and flow of the game."

Players agreed more is needed after the Kings got a late shorthanded goal in the second period and then the Blues played undisciplined and took three penalties totaling eight minutes at the start of the third.

"We didn't go to enough hard areas, we didn't stay with our game long enough, we didn't make the sacrifices of moving our feet, taking penalties," Backes said. "The third period, we didn't give ourselves a chance to tie the game up.

"We've got to have better performances from everyone. Our top players need to help carry the team. Our third and fourth lines have been doing a pretty darn good job of keeping other teams off the scoresheet and providing energy and momentum for us. Top lines need to win their matchups."

The Blues aren't in panic mode. They've been here before and expect to come through with a confident effort in Game 2.

"Hopefully, it will be a little bit of a wakeup call and know that you can't take a shift off, you can't take a couple minutes off here and there," said goalie Brian Elliott, who stopped 26 shots in the Game 1 loss. "You have to play the whole 60. That's pretty much the lesson, I think."

"We lost the first game in the last series and rallied," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's definitely a wake-up call. We did some things well, we did some things we'll work on. It's a long series and hopefully Game 2 goes in our favor."

Pietrangelo day to day with upper-body injury

Blues' top defenseman not ruled out for Monday's Game 2 vs. Los Angeles

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A day after losing Alex Pietrangelo with an upper-body injury late in the second period, the Blues are in a state of hiatus regarding their top defenseman's availability Monday night.

Pietrangelo, who was pushed into the end boards in the Blues' zone by Los Angeles Kings' Dwight King late in the second period during Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, was on the ice for the ensuing faceoff, in which the Kings scored a shorthanded goal on after King was only issued a two-minute minor for boarding. He left the game and did not return for the third period of the 3-1 win by the Kings.

"He's day to day, upper body," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see tomorrow.

"Just don't be writing him off yet."
(Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo left Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Kings
with an upper-body injury and is questionable for Monday night.

When asked if he looked at the hit on video, Hitchcock was looking to close the discussion.

"Why don't we leave that for the league," he said. "I'm more worried about Petro and our group. Everybody's made their comments, we've all seen the written stuff. Let's just let them comment. Let's move on to Game 2."

Pietrangelo's teammates were searching for ways to move on themselves in case they would have to do so without their leading minutes guy with Game 2 slated for Monday night.

"I haven't seen him today. I talked to him last night. He seemed to be in quite a bit of pain," defensive partner Carlo Colaiacovo said. "Hopefully, he woke up this morning and felt a lot better. I haven't seen him today, I haven't talked to him today. Hopefully he's good enough to go tomorrow. We'll wait for tomorrow.

"He's still got 24 hours to get himself ready. If it happens, great. We obviously need him in our lineup. He's a big part of our team. If he's not, hopefully he'll be back soon. In the meantime, we have guys capable in here of stepping up. They're going to have no choice but to. We're a team in here. That's got to be our focus."

Added captain David Backes: "Hopefully he's in the lineup but if not, we're going to have to push through. He's a big part of our team, but we're going to have someone else fill that role and take some responsibility. We've been filling holes and taking more responsibility all year. This is no change."

The Kings don't feel like things change in their outlook if Pietrangelo doesn't play.

"It's not going to change a whole lot," Kings center Anze Kopitar said via conference call. "We have to focus on what we have to do, regardless if he's in the lineup or not. We just have to go out and play our game.

"[Pietrangelo's] playing against the top players on the other team pretty much every night and he's obviously a big part of their power play. It's not good for the team, but again, we have to focus on us, what we have to do to make us successful."

No disciplinary action has been announced by the NHL and Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn't expect to hear anything either.

"Not really," Sutter said. "You guys asked last night and quite honestly, it's none of my business. It's your business to ask and that's it.

"It's as much the player [on the receiving end] himself. I watched it and I care about that stuff. It's as much as Pietrangelo's own ... whatever you want to call it -- him going that way. It's not even a hit. It's an arm. It's not a player that does that, and that's all that is. It depends on which side you're on, and I'm in the middle. It's a tough game, right? That's a fact. If you guys want to take hitting out then we'll see how exciting [hockey] is."
(Getty Images)
Alex Pietrangelo (left) celebrates with teammates after the Blues scored
the first goal in Saturday's game against the Kings. 

Hitchcock said the Blues will look to insert Ian Cole into the lineup if Pietrangelo can't go. But there's also the possibility of going with 11 forwards and seven defenseman, which would also put veteran defenseman Kent Huskins in as well.

"Yeah, [Cole] comes in," Hitchcock said. "Whether we go to seven-11 or not, we'll see. One of the things is if Petro doesn't play, we've got to look at the PK minutes. Husky's really good at killing PK. Whether we do 11 and seven or 12 and six, we've got to decide that here sometime in the next 24 hours or so."

If Cole plays, he would be making his postseason debut.

"We just think Cole's gotten really better in the last month since he's been practicing," Hitchcock said. "He's looked really good. He's also a guy that can play the right side, plays it well. We've had him practice over there a lot. He's looked very good. Actually, he's looked better on the right sometimes than the left. That's good for us. It's an easy switch. They practiced together when Carlo was coming back from his injury and they looked good as a tandem."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Blues lose opener, Pietrangelo against Kings

3-1 setback in Game 1 is secondary to
defenseman's injury following questionable hit

ST. LOUIS -- Judging by the early goings of the Blues' first game of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings, it didn't appear as if they lost a beat.

The Blues were hungry, they were relentless, they were buzzing around the Kings' end of the ice and were knocking on Jonathan Quick's doorstep.

Quick is a Vezina Trophy finalist for a reason. The Kings' goalie was their savior in Game 1.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Andy McDonald (10) is denied by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick
in the opening minute of Saturday night's conference semifinal game.

Quick's key saves in the early going enabled the Kings to avoid allowing the Blues to build an insurmountable lead. Instead, L.A. was able to stay close and wrestle home ice away from the second-seeded Blues. Defensemen Slava Voynov and Matt Greene scored their first career playoff goals and Quick stopped 28 shots as the Kings beat the Blues 3-1 on Saturday night at Scottrade Center to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

David Backes scored and Brian Elliott stopped 26 shots for the Blues, who hadn't played since eliminating San Jose a week ago.

"It was a great win," said Quick, who is 5-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in the playoffs. "We get to enjoy it for five minutes and then focus on Monday."

The Blues came out like they hadn't missed a beat, with no week-long layover visible for most of that first period. They took the game's first six shots and grabbed the lead when Perron deflected Alex Pietrangelo's wrist shot past a screened Quick 9:16 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

It was the first goal the Blues scored against the Kings in 105:38 dating back to Jamie Langenbrunner's goal on Feb. 3.

If not for Quick, the Blues could have run away with the game in the early going. He robbed Andy McDonald twice from point-blank range in the game's first minute, then kicked out B.J. Crombeen's backhand effort with 8:18 left in the period to keep it a 1-0 game.

"We were able to kind of weather the storm a little bit, they got one early but we were able to get one back at the end of the first and we continued strong play through the last two periods," Quick said. "Whenever you're on the road no matter what time of the year it is, you expect the other team to come out flying in the first 10 minutes on home ice like that. This team is no different obviously. They're one of the best teams on home ice for a reason and that first 10 minutes really put us on our heels for a little bit but we weathered the storm and were able to tie it up at the end of the first."

Added Kings captain Dustin Brown: "That's the advantage of having a guy like that in the net. Early in the game, we needed him to make some big saves and he did. We grinded the rest of the game out and get a 'W.'"

Quick's heroics enabled the Kings to get their legs -- and they got the equalizer when Voynov snuck in from the point to convert Dustin Penner's centering feed with 3:02 left in the period after a Barret Jackman turnover. Penner took the puck away from Jackman along the right boards and slid a pass across the slot to Voynov, who buried it past Elliott for the Kings' first goal against the Blues in 147:47, dating back to Willie Mitchell's third-period goal here on Nov. 22.

It was also the first playoff goal by a Kings defenseman since Alexei Zhitnik scored one in 1993.

"I think killing the penalty for us the first period [a cross-checking penalty on Mike Richards] was probably the biggest difference in the game," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "They came out exactly the way they wanted to come out. The building ... the way it always is in St. Louis, they had lots of energy early."

The Blues came out of the first period feeling like they played like they wanted but with a 1-1 score, it wasn't the result they were looking for.

"First period was exactly what we needed," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We just didn't ... we made a couple mistakes on the first goal, played a great first period, but then I thought we kind of exited the game after that.

"We did what we needed to do in the first period and then we deferred. We moved the puck trying to look for the next play rather than funnel the puck. We're supposed to funnel like we did in the first period, but then we deferred in the second."

Winger Alex Steen agreed.

"The beginning of the game, we certainly had some chances, had some good zone time, some buzz," Steen said. "We couldn't get the puck to really go. We had the one, but then after that, they kind of took over there as this game went on. We spent some time in the box and couldn't really get any momentum."

The Kings took the lead with their third shorthanded goal of the playoffs when Greene popped in a loose puck at the side of the net with 1:03 left in the second period. The Blues won an offensive zone faceoff following a Dwight King boarding penalty that only drew two minutes for pushing Pietrangelo into the corner boards from behind. But the puck skipped past Kevin Shattenkirk and Dustin Brown was off to the races. Elliott stopped Brown's initial shot, but Greene was there to lift home the rebound for a 2-1 lead. Greene’s shorthanded goal was just the second by a defenseman in Kings playoff history. Rob Blake had one in 1993.

"That's not my job," Greene said. "Just kind of got lucky on the play, I was following it up. I took a chance. Brownie had a jump there. I was looking for a drop or maybe to be a decoy. The puck was laying there. I just tried to chip it."

Pietrangelo, whose head hit the boards, left the game and did not return. The Blues said Pietrangelo, who leads the team in ice time during the playoffs at 26:15, would be re-evaluated Sunday. They were not happy with the call.
(Getty Images)
Blues winger B.J. Crombeen (26) battles for the puck with the Kings' Colin
Fraser (left) Saturday night.

"Obviously it's a dangerous hit," McDonald said. "He goes in and those are the types of hits that guys get hurt really bad. I haven't talked to him or I don't know his condition, but hopefully he's OK. I was surprised to [only] see two minutes."

Hitchcock wasn't given much of an explanation.

"They said it was a two-minute penalty," Hitchcock said of referees Eric Furlatt and Stephen Walkom. "That's what they said.

"Why don't we let the league decide if there's anything there. We're more concerned about the player. ... We'll evaluate [Pietrangelo] tonight and give you an update tomorrow."

King was defending himself afterwards.

"I mean I didn't really try to put a lot of force into it obviously ... I guess obviously you never like to see a guy go out that way but obviously on our play we took advantage on the PK and it kind of [swung] the game," King said. "We were both going for the puck. It was kind of slow obviously. I tried to position myself a little bit on the inside of him and when I did that, I leaned on him and I guess he was off-balance and fell in."

Kay Whitmore, the NHL supervisor of officiating for Blues-Kings series, offered a statement involving the play.

"Their judgement of the degree of violence ... they deemed it a minor penalty and that's why they called it a minor," Whitmore said. "It's their judgement. They see the whole play unfold and they didn't deem in this instance obviously that King drove [Pietrangelo] into the boards. It was a hit, he was in a vulnerable position, but they didn't deem it violent enough to call a major."

As far as the aftermath with Pietrangelo being cut, Whitmore was asked if that warranted a five-minute major.

"In these situations, if a player is cut to the face, and it's visible right away, instantly, they'll call a major ... in most cases," Whitmore said. "In this case, they didn't see the cut, the small cut, under his chin from what I've been told until up to a minute or so after when they were over by the bench. So it was a delay, a period of time that went by, and it's tough for them to go over and say, 'It's a major now' ... because they didn't see it after the scrum.

"[Pietrangelo] got off the ice. There was no visible blood. If it was running down his forehead or his cheek, it's automatic. It's a major game-misconduct. In this instance, they didn't see it initially right away. They didn't see the blood running down his chin, in his beard ... one of those things."

Whitmore said it's up to the NHL if the play is reviewed.

"I expect Brendan [Shanahan's] group watches, as do our guys in Toronto ... every goal is reviewed, every hit is reviewed," Whitmore said. "So I don't see this any different than any other hit in the playoffs up to this date. So I'm sure if something more needs to be done with it, Brendan and his group will be taking a look at it."

The Blues were never able to mount much of a third period rally after having to kill eight minutes in penalties in a stretch of 8:47.

"When you play Los Angeles, there's a price to pay to win," Hitchcock said. "There's a high price to pay. If we expect to win the next game, we're going to have to pay a bigger price than the one we paid. I don't just mean physical play. I mean they defend well, they keep you to the outside, they've got big defensemen and what happened in the first period was we got to the inside, we worked hard to get there and then we allowed ourselves to stay to the outside.

"Once they got the 2-1 lead, they kept everything to the outside and we shot ourselves in the foot in the third period with penalties."

Penner's empty-netter with 14.2 seconds sealed another road win for the Kings, who are 4-0 away from Staples Center in the playoffs.

"I think we're comfortable playing on the road," Greene said. I think in the last two seasons we've had to make a pretty good stretch run to make the playoffs and you've got to win a lot of those games on the road and a lot of that is just goaltending. Quickie has given us some good minutes back there and great games and he kept us in there in the first and we were lucky to rebound after that."

The Blues were in this position when they dropped the first game against San Jose in the first round.

"I think we did everything we wanted to do in the first period," McDonald said. "We generated a lot of chances, but it fell apart after that. There were a lot of areas where we were lacking. They were harder on pucks. We weren't getting into those hard areas in front of their net. [Quick's] a good goalie over there, but we've got to make it tough on him. There's times where we could have put more pucks on net. Obviously we have to improve. ... We know we can play better."

Added Steen: "It's Game 1. It would have been nice to get off to a good start, but we didn't. We'll move on, focus on the next game like we did the last series."

(4-28-12) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- As the Blues and Los Angeles Kings finally lace the skates and strap into what is expected to be a hard-hitting, hard-nosed and physical Western Conference Semifinals, two players quite familiar with one another will get re-acclimated at tonight's drop of the puck.

The Blues' David Backes and the Kings' Anze Kopitar will see a lot of ice time together, and they'll be in each other's grills more times than they might care to see but both will be faced with the challenge of overcoming what the other has to bring.

Backes is the Blues' checking specialist and just got done engaging with San Jose's Joe Thornton in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It will be contrasting styles when going up against Kopitar and his linemates.

"Joe's a little bit bigger of a body, but I think Kopitar's got a speed element ... he's one of the fastest guys in the league," said Backes, who finished with one point in five games against the Sharks. "If you've seen me skate, I'm not.

"There's a physical element on my side that needs to balance out his speed. It's not one-on-one. We're not out there playing one-on-one on a full sheet [of ice]. I've got linemates [David Perron and T.J. Oshie] and he's got linemates [Dustin Brown and Justin Williams] helping him. I think the collective unit needs to be better than their collective unit and we'll see if that happens."

Kopitar, who saw a lot of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in their quarterfinal series, had a goal and three assists in five games. He expects a different challenge facing Backes but is quite familiar with it.

"It's going to be a physical game," Kopitar said. "I have seen him quite a bit over the last couple seasons. It's nothing new. I'm sure the intensity's going to be high and I'm sure it's going to be a physical game.

"I don't think [Kings coach] Darryl [Sutter] was too big on matchups even the first series. He was rotating lines and was pretty much going with his feeling on whoever was going. ... We're going to come out, we're going to have to play. If the matchups are important to them, they're probably going to match it since we're here. For us, we just have to go out and play."

Brown was a teammate of Backes' at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"Just a big, straight-line body ... he does a lot of the little things right," Brown said of Backes. "You don't see him change his game too much. That's why he's probably successful on a nightly basis. He's big, he's strong and he knows a straight-line game, physical ... he's just hard to play against in general."

Sutter is equally as impressed with Backes.

"He's one of the really good young captains in the league," Sutter said. "I think he has an identity and it's a strong one. He plays both sides of the puck, plays a 200-foot game. We're lucky we have a couple centermen like that, too, so hopefully we can saw that off a little."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to see more offense from the Backes line, which collected two goals and five assists but understands their commitment to defending playing with a lead the majority of the last series.

The first thing he has to do is trust his linemates a little more and secondly he's got to play more reckless," Hitchcock said. "He played safe ... and playing against Joe is no day at the beach. Joe was dialed in and Joe was playing for his life. He was a terrific player in our series, so David had his hands full. The other thing is, sometimes 5-on-5 with as much as David plays on the power play and he kills penalties, sometimes 5-on-5 is a rest and we want to get him past that, where he's really contributing more 5-on-5 because he's back playing a little more reckless and not so careful. He plays reckless on the power play, which is great, it helps us. He's obviously a great penalty killer. We just want him to trust his linemates and not have to be the safety net that he thinks he has to be all the time."

Added Backes: "It's kind of situational, who you're out against, time of the game, score of the game ... that kind of dictates it. Luckily in the series against San Jose, we were faced with leads and just protecting them and making sure we took care of mostly in the defensive side.

"There's going to be times in tie games when you need a goal and we're going to have to wade it on the other side. There's a balance there that needs to be found; I don't think it was perfect in the first round. It was good, but we need to be great in order to win this series."

- - -

As has been the case all week, both the Blues and Kings are eager and anxious to begin the playoff series.

There's only so much the respective teams can do in practice and there's only so much a team can do to simulate what the other is going to do.

For the Blues, there was no speech from Hitchcock, who is just as anxious to get the series started as his players.

"If you need a speech before the first game of Round 2 and you've had a week off, then there's something wrong with your competitive nature," Backes said. "Guys are ready to get at it, we waited long enough to see the schedule and now we get to play it here. It's going to be fast and furious to start."

From a rest standpoint, getting a week off for St. Louis and six days off for LA wasa blessing, but from a game standpoint, since both teams were 4-1 in their first round series, there's caution that there might be some rust to shake off tonight.

"You look at Nashville last night, they came out a little slow," Blues winger Chris Stewart said. "We've definitely got to get out there and get on our toes and take it to them. We have to show why we can use home ice advantage."

Added Blues winger Andy McDonald: "We've had some rest, a lot of practice and it gives you a lot more time. We knew before they did when we would be playing and who we'd be playing against. It gives guys a little bit more time to recover, we've got some bumps and bruises but I think we're ready to go. It's been kind of a long layoff. I think guys are pretty anxious."

The Kings agreed.

"You want to play. You watch games on TV," Brown said. "Getting some rest obviously is important. Both teams had ample time to get ready, both physically and mentally. Guys are ready to go now."

Added Kings center Mike Richards: "I don't think there's much of a process. I think you just get excited. A week looking at tape, a week of practicing ... it doesn't take much to get out there and you feel the excitement.

"Coming here this morning, I think there's a lot of excitement. Finally gameday's come. I don't think there's going to be much of an amping up process."

Watching the Predators and Phoenix Coyotes Friday night definitely gave players an eagerness to get started.

"It's been a long week," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "There's been a lot of practice, a lot of things that we've gone over but at the same time, we're excited to get this thing going and jump into it. Watching the game last night gives you that itch to get things started."

- - -

Both the Blues and Kings are spotless on the road in these playoffs, but for the Blues, they have home ice and were one of the best teams at Scottrade Center this season with a 30-5-6 regular season record and two wins and an overtime loss against San Jose in the first round.

But the Kings won all three games at Rogers Arena against the Canucks.

"We were a pretty confident group going in," Brown said of the road success. "I think a lot of players have been in this room for a while, have been playing together for a while.

"We understood the situation we were in and we understand the type of team we have. Knocking off the top seed Vancouver obviously adds a little bit of confidence, but I think we all understand that St. Louis is a different type of beast and it's going to be a hard series.

"They're just a different team than Vancouver," Brown continued. "We found a way to be successful against Vancouver and now it's a new challenge. There's different things that we have to do to be successful against the Blues. A lot of it comes down to work. That's the one thing you can control, which is a good thing. To beat a team like St. Louis, you've got to be willing to do all those little things on every single play."

The Blues hope to be as relentless as the Kings are advertising them to be.

"Just a strong defensive game like we had all year and in the San Jose series," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "We're going to really have to work for our chances, throw everything we can on net and get second chances. It's going to be predictable hockey from both sides, a hard-fought series and it's going to start right from the first drop of the puck."

Added Blues veteran center Jason Arnott: "We just can't get out of our element. We have to stick to our system. You can't get frustrated, that's the biggest thing. We know we're going up against a great defense and a great goaltender. They play a solid defensive game. It's going to be tough and frustration's going to creep in here or there, but we just have to stick to our system and play to our game plan and keep funneling pucks as much as we can and hopefully a few go in for us."

- - -

For those expecting 1-0, 2-1 types of games, the two head coaches aren't buying it.

Hitchcock and Sutter both spoke of the series and said to expect the unexpected.

"Anybody that's saying it's low-scoring ... it's more imagination than anything," Sutter said. "How do you know? How do I know and how does anybody know? Injuries, officiating, top players ... that impacts that all so much. Top players involving these two teams also involves goalies."

Added Hitchcock, who said too much emphasis has been placed on goaltenders Brian Elliott of the Blues and Jonathan Quick of the Kings.

"I think this series is going to shock and surprise people because I don't think you can keep that standard up of one goal, one goal, one goal," Hitchcock said. "I don't think you can keep that up. I think when emotion gets as high as it did, just like last night [in Phoenix], I think the legs get a little bit rubbery. I think you see the players play more on the move like you did last night and I think you're going to see more scoring chances because of it.

"I think when you've got young teams and it's very emotional and very intense, it's hard to get players to focus and stop on pucks like you can in the regular-season game. So I think you're going to see more errors, I think you're going to see more mistakes, I think you're going to see more scoring chances because of it and I think you're going to see more games like you did last night, where there was a ton of scoring chances. I think you're going to see that happen here."

For those that think there's no talented players in this series, think again.

"Both teams have really high-skilled players," Brown said. "There'll be flashes of that, but it's going to be a very grinding series in terms of just working to get chances. Special teams are going to be a huge part for both teams. That's probably the one area where you can probably get chances if you're doing the right things. Five-on-five, you're going to have to really work to get your chances."

Added Blues winger Alex Steen: "Yeah, it's the second round of the playoffs. You can't get too lost in everything that's going on around you. ... For us, it's Game 1. We want to get off to a good start. We're preparing for LA and that's how we've got to think about it. You can't get lost in everything that's going on ... the media and everything that happens. It's about us in here, what we need to do and how we need to prepare. That's just how you go about business."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-Alex Steen

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart

Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott starts in goal; Jake Allen is the backup.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak [lower-body] will not be available for Games 1 and 2 but has been skating and is progressing; healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

- - -

The Kings' probable lineup:

Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter

Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis

Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty

Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick gets the start in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.

Forwards Kyle Clifford [concussion] and Scott Parse [hip] will not play. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Pietrangelo hopeful of Norris Trophy opportunity; Blues need to get to Quick

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There might be a hint of disappointment from Alex Pietrangelo but nothing a Stanley Cup title wouldn't fix.

Even though he felt like it was a longshot, when the NHL announced on Thursday the three finalists for the Norris Trophy did not include Pietrangelo's name, the Blues' defenseman was somewhat disappointed.

The three nominees included Nashville's Shea Weber, Boston's Zdeno Chara and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson.

It would have been nice to have been mentioned in that category with those three, but hopefully somewhere down the road, I get another opportunity," Pietrangelo said. "... It's an honor just to be mentioned in that group of players, certainly a lot of good players in the league. It's a good sign as a young player."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock voiced his opinion on Pietrangelo as a solid choice on Thursday, and Pietrangelo received positive support from his teammates Friday.

"Yeah, the guys were pretty respectful around here, saying good things to me," said Pietrangelo, who finished the season with career highs in goals [12], assists [39] and points [51]. "Most of it was somewhere down the road there's going to be opportunities to be in that group. Obviously my family is going to be supportive and everybody back home is going to be wishing well for me whether I had a good season or not. Like I said, hopefully down the road, I get another opportunity."

* Playoff grind, Hitchcock style -- Hitchcock is not one to shy away from quotes to remember, especially from those that left a favorable mark on hockey.

On the whiteboard inside the Blues' locker room at St. Louis Mills read the following quote from Denis Potvin, who was a four-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman with the New York Islanders:

In the playoffs, talent is really secondary to a willingness to grind.

Hitchcock's response: "It is a grind. It is a grind. There's players that make their living doing this, but then I think it's also the skill players that have to get on board with this.

"I think playoffs become more and more difficult for your top players," Hitchcock added. "They always do. There's a bigger price to pay, there's more scrutiny, there's more focus on them and they have to find a way to fight through it. I think that's what [Potvin] is saying, no matter what you're skill level is, it does become a grind after a while and you're just going to have to get through it."

* Get a beat on Quick -- It's no secret for the Blues that finding ways to beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick will help win the Western Conference Semifinals.

Quick, who was 4-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in helping eliminate Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver and was named a Vezina Trophy finalist Thursday, was stout against the Blues this season, going 2-1-0 with a 0.33 GAA and .989 save percentage and two shutouts.

"He's a fantastic goalie," veteran center Jason Arnott said of Quick. "We have to shoot pucks, create traffic and do all the normal things you have to do to score goals."

Added winger Alex Steen: "Quick's a good goaltender and the teams, if you look at us are pretty similar. Both have good goaltending, solid defensively, physical teams, hard checking. It's going to be a good series.

"For us, we just need to get in [Quick's] eyes, make sure it's uncomfortable for him."

Quick, who is 3-8-1 with a 2.45 GAA and .915 save percentage in 12 career starts against the Blues, said he expects the Blues to come hard and come often.

"They're a hard working team," Quick said of the Blues. "They like to get it in deep, like to grind you, tire you out. They want to make our defensemen play hard minutes in our own end.

"They've got a lot of big bodies that like to go to the front and take away the goalies' eyes. They're going to make you compete in front of your net. We're expecting it to be tough."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock gives Quick high accolades and said he's one of the unique goalies.

"Compete level. He never quits on a puck. He's like an old-school goalie," Hitchcock said. "He reminds me a little bit of [New Jersey's] Marty Brodeur because he just never quits on a puck. He's competitive side to side, he gets to pucks you don't think.

"The last game [between the teams on March 22], we had three empty nets and we eased up thinking he wouldn't be able to get to it ... he got across and made the save. I told the players, when you get a chance to bury it, you've got to put it through the back of the twine because he's going to get to pucks that you don't think he can get to. I mean he lost his stick five times in the final game -- Game 5 in Vancouver. He lost his stick five times and kept competing, and then found his own stick. That's a competitive guy."

* Did you know -- This will be the third career meeting between the Blues and Kings in a playoff series. The Blues won the previous two [1969 and 1998], winning each series by 4-0 sweeps. ... Tonight's game [6:30 p.m.] can be seen on NBCSN and KMOX 1120-AM. All games can be heard on KMOX or an alternative station pending conflicts with the Cardinals. Game 2 is Monday at 8 p.m. [CNBC], Game 3 is Thursday at 9 p.m. in Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Game 4 is also in LA at 2 p.m. on NBC. ... The Blues come into tonight's game without a goal against the Kings in 96 minutes, 22 seconds. Jamie Langenbrunner scored in the second period of a 1-0 win here on Feb. 3. The Kings' drought against the Blues is longer at 130:49. Their last regulation goal came from Willie Mitchell in the third period of a 3-2 win here on Nov. 22.