Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series predictions

(4) St. Louis vs. (5) Los Angeles
Pick: St. Louis in 6
Reason: Blues learned hard lessons last year; I believe they apply them here. Peaking at the right time.
(1) Chicago vs. (8) Minnesota
Pick: Chicago in 4
Reason: Blackhawks are better, deeper, more talented ... need I say more? Columbus would have been a more competitive fit here.
(2) Anaheim vs. (7) Detroit
Pick: Detroit in 6
Reason: Red Wings were in playoff mode weeks ago. They're still in their stride. Ducks have leveled off and can't score. Goaltending not nearly as good as it was early.
(3) Vancouver vs. San Jose (6)
Pick: San Jose in 7
Reason: Sharks are younger, faster; window if opportunity is closing. Canucks have question marks in regards to health, particularly in goal.

(1) Pittsburgh vs. (8) N.Y. Islanders
Pick: Pittsburgh in 5
Reason: Penguins are loaded from top to bottom. However, it wouldn't surprise to see the Islanders steal a game or two.
(2) Montreal vs. (7) Ottawa
Pick: Senators in 7
Reason: How can you pick against the team decimated with injuries but still managed to make a playoff run? Erik Karlsson's return sparks Sens.
(3) Washington vs. (6) N.Y. Rangers
Pick: Rangers in 6
Reason: Henrik Lundqvist. This is his time to shine and he will neutralize Alex Ovechkin. Also, the Rangers seemed to have found their game, and I really like Derek Stepan.
(4) Boston vs. (5) Toronto
Pick: Boston in 7
Reason: Even though the B's have stumbled into the playoffs, they find a way. I think Tuukka Rask out-plays James Reimer.

(4-30-13) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

Ken Hitchcock wouldn't play his card Monday. He did Tuesday: T.J. Oshie will return to the Blues' lineup for Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings.

Who will Oshie replace? It was assumed one of the fourth-line players would be taken out, with Adam Cracknell at the top of the list. But Hitchcock will instead sit rookie Vladimir Tarasenko ... at least for the first game.

"I've always believed that the first kick at the can in playoffs is for veteran players," Hitchcock said. "You give them a go. Tarasenko, (Dmitrij] Jaskin will probably get some time during the playoffs, but you want to give the veterans a chance to prove -- unless they've really underperformed -- they want to take the ball and run with it. That's what we're going to do. If somebody under-performs, then we won't hesitate to replace and move from there."

Oshie, who has missed 15 games after blocking a shot against these very same Kings March 28, required a surgical procedure to repair what ultimately turned out to be a stress fracture in his left ankle. The Blues went 12-3-0 without Oshie in the lineup, but he will return to play with David Perron and Patrik Berglund.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I think," Oshie said after Monday's practice. "I feel good. It's going to be up to the coaches whether I'm in or not.

"One big hit can lift the team up, one big blocked shot can get a team going or a hard back-check preventing a goal. It's little things like that that can turn around a series. Hopefully I'm able to do one of those at least."

Hitchcock called Oshie a big addition.

"I don't know that he can be a difference-maker, but he certainly carries the conscience of the team," Hitchcock said. "When he's in the lineup, we're better. I don't care if it's just 5-on-5 if that's all he can contribute right now, but we're better if he's in the lineup."

As for Tarasenko, it's been the most challenging season of his hockey life. After playing 30 games in the Kontinental Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg and another 38 playing for the Blues, Tarasenko has found scoring tough after coming out of the chute blazing.

He came out with five goals and five assists in his first eight National Hockey League games, but after suffering a concussion Feb. 20 at the Colorado Avalanche, Tarasenko had seven points in 21 games and scored only twice -- in the same game against the Kings March 28.

"In reality, this has been a very difficult season for him," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "Not from a competition side of things, but from an intensity, games played, no practice, no rest ... I think he's found this season at times overwhelming just based on proximity of games, 48 games in 100 days. He's found this to be challenging to say the least.

"He's played his best hockey when he's been rested. We expect him to come into the series and be a rested player, but he's a really good hockey player that's has his eyes opened about ... this has been a strange season. I think if this would have been an 82-game season, probably energy-wise he probably would have been a little bit different. This has been a very difficult season for him because he's never been through anything like this in his life."

Probably the biggest reasoning is that it's hard for Hitchcock to break up the effective play of fourth-liners Chris Porter, Cracknell and Ryan Reaves.

"You're all talking about our fourth line being our fourth line, but they're more than our fourth line. They score. Fourth line is an energy line ... those days are gone," Hitchcock said. "Those are dinosaur lines. They don't work anymore in the league. The hockey's too good. Your fourth line needs to contribute and boy, ours has come through in spades. They've scored, they've pressured on the forecheck, they've been able to play against other than the other team's top line, they've been able to play against top six forwards. They're a lot more than a fourth line. You've got effectively two scoring players that play there, two players that really light it up in the American Hockey League, but they've learned to play a different game up here. When you give guys like Cracknell and Porter a chance, they score. I think Revo's even caught onto that. He's got more puck patience than he's ever had. The banging around, running around lines, they're not effective any more. Everybody plays right through those lines. This is a very, very good line that can play against top players, which makes us a lot more effective."

- - -

Five players will be making their playoff debuts tonight (four for the Blues and one for the Kings).

For the Blues, it will be the debuts for forwards Jaden Schwartz, Cracknell and Porter as well as defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who ends the longest active drought at 764 games. Defenseman Jake Muzzin of the Kings will make his playoff debut.

Bouwmeester is the least likely to have nerves, since he's played in pressure situations for Canada in various capacities. But for the others?

"No I'm not actually," said Porter, who will center a line with Cracknell and Reaves. "I slept great last night. It might be different come game time, but I think a little bit of nerves is good. Watching last year, I was able to take a lot not even playing. I was able to take a lot from the series. I don't think anything really changes for myself or anybody on the team. Every little play matters just a little bit more.

"I had never seen a playoff game until last year. The crowd was amazing and I think the guys fed off that. It'll be exciting to be a part of that. ... I'm looking forward to seeing what that energy feels like on the ice. With our line, we're hoping to bring that energy to the crowd. Whether that be through physicality or just energy on the ice kind of buzzing around in the offensive zone. We're going to continue to do what we've done for the past month and build on that."

For Schwartz, who will play on left wing with David Backes and Alexander Steen: "I'm really excited. I think I've got a few butterflies and I'll probably feel more tonight. The first playoff game, that's expected. Once you get your first few shifts in, I'll calm down a little bit. I just want to make sure I'm sticking to the things I've been doing and working hard. It's another hockey game, so I've got to approach it that way.

"Same routine throughout the whole day, especially before the game. Everyone knows what's on the line and how important these games are. I'm excited and anxious, but I'm not going to change too much.

Cracknell was the only to admit nerves but the good kind.

"I'm nervous. I think it's a nervous excitement," he said. "I don't have the playoff experience some guys do and winning championships. I've always been on a team that you think could but we under-succeeded. ... At the end of the day, we're going to go out and play a game that we've been playing a long time with the extra craziness and you know what you're battling for. These are the days I've always thought about playing in. Very exciting. Just got to take it one game at a time right now and one shift. I know our first shift, we're going to be buzzing around and so are they."

Muzzin, who had 16 points in 45 games playing for the Kings, probably wouldn't have even been on their radar this season had it not been for the injuries suffered by Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell.

"I feel pretty good," Muzzin said. "I haven't really got the nerves yet. Maybe I'll get them later. I'm definitely excited. This is what you play for all year to get into the playoffs. This is definitely exciting. I'm looking forward to it.

"I just want to play my game, solid defensively. If I can add offense on the power play or make things happen, if the chance is there, then I will. For me, I've just got to be a good, strong defender and go from there."

Hitchcock, who has been involved in a playoff game or two during his coaching career, said the message to his players

"I think the day of the game is a lot of wasted energy if you don't watch yourself," Hitchcock said. "We told our guys to save every piece of energy they can. They're going to need it tonight. I think you can really overcook it if there's too much hype before the competition. The competition itself will take care of the hype. It's just such a fun time to be involved. The pressure to win is great. There's no real stress like there was during the regular season, but the pressure to compete and play is what everybody yearns for and we've all got it now. Regardless of what happens, it's a fun time for everybody in the organization, both teams. You play for the right reasons this time of year. It's an area where you don't want to waste any energy on the off-days."

- - -

Both Hitchcock and Kings coach Darryl Sutter met with Rob Shick, the NHL supervisor of officials in charge of this series. They went over some things about how the officiating will go in the series as well as other bits.

Hitchcock said his message to Shick and the officials was simple:

"My message to the referees was to just stand on the third row, just get the hell out of the way," Hitchcock said. "Let us play, because there's two teams that know what's at stake, two teams that play the game the right way, two teams that know how to play. This is a series that deserves to be played 5-on-5. Both teams are great 5-on-5 teams. It deserves to get played that way. I think the referees will act accordingly. I think they're very good at understanding that these are two teams that really pride themselves in discipline and can play with emotional control most of the time. Sure, we've got guys that can take it over the edge. They've got guys that can take it over the edge, but organizationally, this is a team that gets on their players just like we do about taking bad penalties. I think if they just let us play, these teams will decide it 5-on-5, which is what we all want in the playoffs."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen

Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will back up.

Healthy scratches include Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Tarasenko, Jaskin, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen, Andrew Murray, Jeff Woywitka, Jani Hakanpaa, Taylor Chorney and Evgeny Grachev. Winger Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) is still on injured-reserve but close to being among the healthy selections.

- - -

The Kings' probable lineup:

Dustin Brown-Mike Richards-Justin Williams

Kyle Clifford-Anze Kopitar-Jeff Carter

Dwight Kings-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis

Dustin Penner-Brad Richardson-Jordan Nolan

Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty

Rob Scuderi-Slava Voynov

Jake Muzzin-Keaton Ellerby

Jonathan Quick is the starter in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser and Tyler Toffoli. Defenseman Matt Greene (undisclosed) missed the last regular season game and was on the ice with extras this morning. Defenseman Willie Mitchell (knee) is on season-ending injured-reserve.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo have been a perfect match

Blues' top d-pairing have boosted each other's game since Day 1

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues searched high and low for the perfect fit to pair with Alex Pietrangelo.

They were linked to Edmonton, Alberta native Jay Bouwmeester for months, bordering a year.

But the rumors always seemed to hit a dead end: Calgary wants too much in a trade, the Blues couldn't afford Bouwmeester, etc., etc. It was a list that seemed to be never-ending.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Alex Pietrangelo is plus-4 on the ice in 14 games since being paired
with new partner Jay Bouwmeester.

When it didn't appear the Blues could find that "legit" top defensive partner for Pietrangelo, they used a carousel of their own guys to fill the void. There was preseason talk of Kris Russell being the guy. They started the season with Ian Cole, and Barret Jackman also filled the void.

But when general manager Doug Armstrong was finally able to pull the trigger to get Bouwmeester and his 25-plus minutes average ice time per game to St. Louis, the Blues finally got their guy.

They've played together as the top pairing now for 14 games, and it's safe to say that both Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester seem to be have found a niche. Call it the perfect match.

As the Blues get set to host the Los Angeles Kings to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- no offense to Carlo Colaiacovo -- the Blues finally have a top pairing comparable to some of the best around the NHL.

Pietrangelo, 23, who had his peaks and valleys throughout the course of the shortened season, found an immediate connection with the 29-year-old Bouwmeester. He was a plus-4 in 14 games with his new partner that saw his game become much more complete and steadier.

"I feel comfortable when I'm with him," Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester, who was acquired for a 2013 first- and fourth-round picks along with prospect Mark Cundari and the rights to Reto Berra. "I feel my game's been elevated since he's been here. His physical attributes ... the way he skates, the way he handles the puck, his smarts ... everybody can see that.

"When he can skate you out of problems, skate himself out of problems, it certainly makes things look a lot easier. It does make things a lot easier for both of us."

Consider the fact that when Bouwmeester came to St. Louis, he was minus-11 in 33 games with the Flames. In 14 games with the Blues, Bouwmeester is a plus-6.

How much has Pietrangelo been a difference?

"It's been really good. He's a big guy, he can skate, he moves the puck," Bouwmeester said of Pietrangelo. "He does a lot of good things positionally. It seems like we haven't gotten in too much trouble out there. We're not spending a whole lot of time in our own zone out there. He's a guy that makes real good plays, plays that you kind of go, 'Wow, that's pretty good.' But he makes simple plays, too. If something's not there, he knows how to play a safe game at times.

"It's been fun. I think we've used each other well. We can move the puck and we're both the kind of guys that if the opportunity's there, you want to jump up in the play. To have that kind of on both sides, I think it helps."

Pietrangelo finally feels he can do things that may have limited him earlier in the season.

"Maybe a little more confidence knowing I've got a guy that's got a lot of skill over there that he's going to make the play if I get it to him," Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester. "I never doubted any of the other guys on our team but another veteran guy who's been through a lot of situations.

"I think even when Jacks and I were together, I think I started feeling a little more confident having a veteran guy over there that can kind of stabilize you when things aren't going well. I think me and Bouw have kind of found that. When someone makes a mistake, we're able to pick each other up and move on from it."

Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo didn't even get the benefit of a full practice together. When Bouwmeester arrived for the Blues' game in Chicago on April 3, there was one morning skate the following day and on the ice together that night.

The Blues won that game 4-3 in a shootout and Bouwmeester logged 25 minutes, 6 seconds with one assist, while Pietrangelo -- although he didn't register a point -- logged 26:42. But immediately, there was a sense the Blues had something special. Call it instant success.

"I think so," Bouwmeester said. "Usually it's just a matter of communication. As you go, you sort of figure out each other's tendencies. He's a good, smart player. In that sense, he's pretty easy to play with."

Add in the combination of Kevin Shattenkirk and Jordan Leopold, the Blues' top four defensemen can strike at any time while being responsible in their own end.

But it all comes with a trust factor, one Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo have shared with one another from the get-go.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (right) has
been as good as advertised since his arrival. The
Blues  are 11-3-0 with him in the lineup.

"We both like to create offense," Pietrangelo said. "Even with Shatty and Leo, you see we're all trying to make plays and it's made a huge difference offensively for us. Both Leo and Bouw are responsible defensively, too, so not only the offensive side but the defensive side of the game has gotten a lot better knowing these guys can skate themselves out of problems and be smart in the defensive zone."

But looking at the grand scheme of things, Pietrangelo is the Blues' prized defenseman. They're doing whatever -- both on and off the ice -- to make his progression smooth and trending upward.

Bouwmeester is that guy.

"You try to," Bouwmeester said. "I think you try to help each other out. We talk about things and if there's things maybe we're getting in trouble with, we can change and do differently. We're always working together and trying to help each other out."

Against a big, strong, heavy team that will lean on you throughout this series like the Kings will attempt to do, the Blues can use both Bouwmeester's and Pietrangelo's skating ability to help with cleaner exits out of the defensive zone because the Kings will want to smother and punish the Blues into submission.


Oshie deemed fit, ready to play; Hitchcock mum on lineup; Elliott receives honor

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock is playing that card again, which means he's not talking.

Not about personnel, not about injuries ... nothing.

It can only mean one thing: the playoffs are here, and Hitchcock is closing shop as long as the Blues are part of the equation for the ultimate prize.

But the Blues, who host the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference quarterfinals beginning with Game 1 Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, could welcome back an energetic addition.

Forward T.J. Oshie, who last played against these very same Kings March 28, hasn't seen a game since. It's been 15 games since Oshie, who blocked a shot and has since had surgery on his left ankle to repair a stress fracture, has deemed himself healthy and as Hitchcock would say: "available for selection."

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I think," Oshie said after Monday's practice at the St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone. "I feel good. It's going to be up to the coaches whether I'm in or not."

Oshie, who was running practice and line drills with familiar faces David Perron and Patrik Berglund, rotating on the right side with rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, gives Hitchcock another option as his team heads into its series with the Kings.

"I can't tell you. I don't know yet," Hitchcock said after practice Monday. "He's day to day for the rest of the series because we're not really sure. Today, to be honest with you, was his real first practice with a full team. We'll see how he feels in the morning. I said this before, the problem isn't today, it's how does he feel tomorrow. We'll evaluate how he feels tomorrow. If he feels OK, he's obviously going to play. If he doesn't, then we'll do something else. He's going to be that way the rest of the series.

"We'll see what they (the Kings) ice for a lineup tomorrow, we'll see what we ice for a lineup. Certainly not going to tell you folks. If I'm not telling the player, I sure as heck aren't telling you guys."

Oshie finished with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 30 games this season. The Blues went 12-3-0 without him in the lineup.

"If I don't bring anything else, I hope I bring some energy to the guys," Oshie said. "I hope I can bring some tenacity and kind of pick up where I left off. I was feeling pretty good there before I got hurt. I just want to inspire the guys to work a little bit harder.

"One big hit can lift the team up, one big blocked shot can get a team going or a hard backcheck preventing a goal. It's little things like that that can turn around a series. Hopefully I'm able to do one of those at least."

Hitchcock feels he has an impact player at his disposal once Oshie returns.

"I don't know that he can be a difference-maker, but he certainly carries the conscience of the team," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "When he's in the lineup, we're better. I don't care if it's just 5-on-5 if that's all he can contribute right now, but we're better if he's in the lineup."

The Blues ran their regular lines of previous games with Oshie mixing in with Tarasenko, something Hitchcock cautioned not to read too much into.

"I can tell you right now that every sweater that's out there other than Jamie (Langenbrunner) -- he's not quite ready yet -- is eligible," Hitchcock said. "We're not even going to let some of the players know until tomorrow, who's in or who's out. We'll adjust accordingly.

"... I'm sure everybody is going to read that because there's four yellow (jerseys), somebody from the yellow is going out," Hitchcock said. "It would be a big mistake if you read into that one."

* Elliott receives honor -- Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who will get the start in Game 1 against the Kings, was chosen as the National Hockey League's second star of the month for April.

Elliott, who revived his season with a stellar month, was 11-2-0 with a 1.28 goals-against average and .948 save percentage with three shutouts.

Elliott set the franchise record -- previously held by Brent Johnson in 2002-03 -- for the most victories in the month of April and also set a franchise mark for most consecutive shutout minutes on the road at 201 minutes, 17 seconds.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blues and Kings see plenty of similarities in one other

Teams play similar games, styles, expect low-scoring, physical series

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues and Los Angeles Kings square off in the Western Conference quarterfinals set to begin Tuesday night, what will both teams see?

All they have to do is look in the mirror, because there's not a lot of difference between the Western Conference powers.

Up front, both teams have big, bruising forwards that like to play a physical game and forecheck. On defense, there are heavy, punishing players that will make the forwards pay a price. And in goal for the Blues is Brian Elliott, who has resurrected his season in the month of April and for the Kings, Jonathan Quick, who was the Conn Smythe winner in last season's playoffs.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Ryan Reaves will be counted on by the Blues to play a physical role in
the upcoming playoff series against the Kings.

"They're a mirror image of us," forward Chris Porter said of the Kings. "They want to play physical and get in on the forecheck and be heavy on our 'D.' I think we want to do the same to them, so it's kind of a mirror image of each other."

Winger David Perron agreed.

"We play a really similar game, I think," Perron said. "It's going to be a key for us to stick with our plan. I think that's the biggest point we can bring up is you've got to stick with it longer because when two teams play a really similar way, we know they're going to be really physical and we can't reply to any of the stuff they're trying to do to us. We've got to play through it and find a way to get pucks behind Quick. He was a key player for them last year."

Said Kings center Anze Kopitar: "We know what we're getting. They have some big bodies and they play a heavy game. We have some big bodies and we're pretty familiar. We've played them enough in the past seasons.

"We know what we're getting and they know what they're getting, so it's a matter of getting ready and just go from there."

They may feel like mirror images, but the results sure have been one-sided.

"We've caught a few bounces along the way," Kings center Mike Richards said. "That's not going to play at all into Game 1. We both start 0-0, and we're going to have to outwork them.

"They've got some big forwards, strong forwards, they go hard to the net. Strong on the backend, a couple skilled guys that can really create stuff on the power play, and obviously they've got great goaltending. They're going to bring similar challenges a lot of the teams in the top right are going to bring. I think it's just going to come down to we've got to outwork them to get some wins."

The Kings have won eight in a row, outscoring the Blues 29-13 (with one victory a 1-0 shootout win) and 15-6 in a 4-0 series sweep in the postseason last year.

"In three of the games, they were just a little bit better," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Kings. "That's the difference in hockey. They were a goal better in three of the games and they deserved to win. It doesn't matter to me whether you lose four straight, you lost four games. Whether it's four straight or in seven games, it doesn't matter to me. It's about the individual game and the changes you have to make, but I think it's also relevant that they beat us three times in the regular season (this year). They've proven right now that they're a little bit better than us. It's our opportunity now to see if we can catch up. Our players are hungry to try and see where we're at, at the end of the day here."

Why has Los Angeles been so persistent?

"I think their experience at going through this before helps them," Hitchcock said. "They've been through it as a group for a couple years before we have. They've learned the lessons that we're trying to learn. Hopefully last year, we learned a lot of lessons and we can play better this year."

Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman knows the Blues have a tall order.

"It's going to be a huge challenge," Jackman said. "It's something I'm sure everyone in this room has thought about over the last 12 months. They're a good team, they're a very similar team to us, and they outplayed us and did more to get the wins last year. We've got something to prove and it's nice to be able to do that in the first round.

"There's not many (different) guys. I think they've got (Robyn) Regehr in the backend and maybe (Jake) Muzzin, the young guy. They're very similar to what they had last year and another year of experience and a great run to the Cup. They're going to be even tougher to beat, but we're looking forward to it and we're looking forward to the challenge."

Quick (18-13-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in the regular season) wasn't at his best after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the playoffs a season ago, then getting a whopping 10-year contract last summer. The Blues know they need to get him out of his comfort zone, because Quick was a difference-maker in last season's sweep.

"I think you've got to try and keep him in the crease," Perron said of Quick. "He likes to be aggressive. That's the main point. Every goalie, there's going to be some stuff that you can bring up, but I think the biggest thing for him that makes him a successful goalie is he really comes out and he's aggressive on every single play. Even if you think you're on the goalie, he's going to be aggressive and he expects his 'D' to back him up if there's a puck in behind him."

Elliott, who started the season 3-6-1 with a 3.65 GAA and .851 save percentage, is a far cry from what the start of the season brought. He's 11-2-0 with a 1.28 GAA and .948 save percentage this month with three shutouts and has taken the reigns in goal.

The Blues finally admitted (a year later) that Elliott played with an inner ear infection that affected his play in the series against LA last year, but Elliott never used it as an excuse, nor will he now.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues have been playing well and hope the return of T.J. Oshie
(right) can boost their overall game.

"I'm not talking about last year or years past," Elliott said. "It's about the next best game and the next game you're playing. It doesn't really matter what you've done in the past or what you're going to do in the future. It's about the present.

"A four-game series against a hard series can seem long. It doesn't matter how long it goes. It's just staying consistent and playing your game and not getting off your game plan and doing what you want to do out there."

The Blues' 12-3-0 April can be attributed to one key element that will be needed against the big, strong, heavy Kings.

"Checking. Started to check," Hitchcock said. "They bought into what we were trying to sell in March, and February, and January, but there wasn't a buy-in. There was in the last six weeks.

"When you check, you win hockey games. Sometimes you win it 4-1, sometimes you win it 5-1, sometimes you win it 1-0, but it's all about the bottom-end score. One-zero, two ... whatever. You give yourself a chance to win. It's not like we want to win 1-0, but the zero's important. When we started buying into the checking, we started to win hockey games."

Blues feel they're ready for battle-tested Kings

A rematch of 2012 Western Conference semifinal
where Los Angeles won in four-game sweep 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues clinched home-ice in the first round of the playoffs Saturday night, the going consensus was that it would have been suited for them to avoid the defending Stanley Cup champions.

After all, it was the Los Angeles Kings that steamrolled the Blues -- and everyone else for that matter -- en route to their first-ever title a season ago. And the Kings did it as an eighth seed.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (right) and the Kings' Jarret Stoll can get used
to a lot of hitting and checking in their upcoming series.

But here they are, the Blues and Kings on a collision course once again. But this time, they will square off in the Western Conference quarterfinals, with Game 1 slated for 7 p.m. in St. Louis.

The Kings, who were 16-4 in the postseason a year ago, rolled to a four-game sweep over the Blues in the conference semifinals, winning 3-1 and 5-2 in St. Louis, then 4-2 and 3-1 in Los Angeles.

The Kings, dating back to Feb. 3, 2012 last season when the Blues won 1-0, have won eight straight against the Blues, including all three meetings this season. But the saying is if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Maybe the Blues would have been best suited to see if someone else could knock the Kings from their perch, but if you have to run into them sooner or later, might as well be now.

"Yeah, we lost (last year's series) 4-0, but we've got something that we've got to prove," winger David Perron said. "I think the last little while, we've been playing our game the right way. The coaching staff has been pretty happy that way so hopefully it keeps going like that."

The Blues, who wrapped up the regular season with a 3-1 win over Chicago Saturday to secure home ice, finished 29-17-2, one point better than the Kings, who ended 27-16-5. But the Blues are 12-3-0 in April, and it helped thrust them into the position they're in today.

"We're playing better than we have all year," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're deeper than we've ever been. We didn't have ... I think four players (defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold as well as forwards Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter) didn't play in that last game that we played against them (on March 28, a 4-2 defeat), so we're different. They've got one change (defenseman Robyn Regehr).

"We think we're better. Whether we're good enough this series is going to tell, but we think we're better than we've ever been and we think we're playing better than we've ever been. We're going to need to. Los Angeles is the team, the only team in the league with the experience of knowing what it takes to win. So until someone knocks them off, they're the only team with the knowledge of what it takes to win a Cup. We can all talk about it, but they've done it. We're going to have to tap into that experience as this series moves along and hopefully learn quickly from it. We learned a lot of lessons last year about how deep you have to go and how well you have to play, how disciplined you have to play and every little incident has a big reflection on it at the end of the day. I think we've learned a lot of those lessons. Hopefully we can put them into place now."

The Kings are well aware what they're getting, and that the understanding is the Blues are much different than what they saw previously this season.

hey’re an improved team obviously from the last time we played them in the regular season, with the addition of Bouwmeester and Leopold and probably the biggest difference would be they were really down to one goalie last year after splitting," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think it affected the team. So they’re clear who their goalie (Brian Elliott) is now."

The Blues claim their 0-7-1 record against LA in the last eight games is a fine line. There hasn't been a ton of difference but enough to give the Kings an edge.

"We've outplayed them for one or two periods in games, but they're a team that doesn't go away," defenseman Barret Jackman said of the Kings. "Maybe in those games that we played, we got on our heels and gave them an opportunity to continue their strong play and in the end, beat us. That's something we can't do. We can't give them the luxury of being comfortable in their game and sitting back and let them pick us apart."

As well as not allow the Kings to forecheck with regularity and authority in the offensive zone. The Blues need cleaner exits from the defensive zone as well as minimize turnovers.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (left) led the team in goals (18) and points (36)
this past season. They'll need him to contribute against the Kings'
Jonathan Quick (right).
"One thing that I remember from last year, every time we chipped it out of the zone, it was right back in our zone before we knew it," Perron said. "I think it's going to be really key to get on them right away with our big guys and I guess everyone. You've got to be physical with (Drew) Doughty and (Slava) Voynov and all these guys. I think if we do that, we'll be successful."

Elliott, who will be the Game 1 starter, didn't make excuses then. He's not making them now either.

"No excuses in the playoffs as far as anything," Elliott said. "Everybody's battling something. Last year doesn't really matter. It's about how you're feeling right now. It's a shortened season, so I don't think the guys are going in as tired. We've had a condensed year, but you haven't played as many games -- or at least I haven't. I feel a little bit fresher, excited to get the second season moving. What better time to do it against than the defending champs. It's a challenge and we feel we're up for it."

(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Western Conference Quarterfinal

Playoff schedule; * - games if necessary


Game 1: Tuesday, April 30 at St. Louis, 7 p.m.

Game 2: Thursday, May 2 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

Game 3: Saturday, May 4 at Los Angeles, 9 p.m.

Game 4: Monday, May 6 at Los Angeles, 9 p.m.

* Game 5: Wednesday, May 8 at St. Louis, TBD

* Game 6: Friday, May 10 at Los Angeles, TBD

* Game 7: Monday, May 13 at St. Louis, TBD

Blues complete task of home ice advantage, top Blackhawks

Blues earn No. 4 seed in West, will face
Kings in rematch of conference semifinals

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues dropped a dismal and lackluster game six days ago in Denver against the worst team in the Western Conference, the focus might have been better off to shift on just getting into the playoffs instead of getting greedy and go hunting for home ice advantage.

But after Saturday night's 3-1 win over a makeshift Chicago Blackhawks squad at Scottrade Center, the Blues ended the regular season waiting for an opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they'll do it at home.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' David Backes (left) and Kris Russell celebrate after Jaden
Schwartz (9) scored against Chicago Saturday night.

The Blues completed what might have been unthinkable by winning their sixth in a row at home, they went 7-1-0 in the month of April at home (allowing only nine goals in those eight games) and finished a stretch of winning 12 of 15 games in 27 days.

"Three weeks ago, we looked up and we were in ninth place ... and legit ninth place," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team went 12-3-0 in April. "We were one game in hand on eighth, I think, but we were behind and then what did we go, 12-3?

"We earned this. We fought hard to get back in this and I think that reality check of waking up one morning and just assuming you're going to be in the playoffs and then all of the sudden, you're sitting there in ninth place is exactly what this team needed. The reality check of getting back to who we were had to come sooner or later. The right people for me took the team over and really established our checking mindset and when we started to win games 1-0, 1-0, I think the buy-in became a lot easier. But the right people needed to take the game over because we were halfway everywhere and not being very effective, but we really turned it around."

When the Blues fell 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on March 28, they were on the outside looking in. Even though there was a game in hand on eighth-place at the time, the Blues tackled the task at hand, met it head-on and conquered the unthinkable.

"I didn't really pay attention to the standings all that much," said Elliott,
who finished April 11-2-0 with a 1.28 goals-against average, a .948 save percentage and three shutouts after starting the season 3-6-1 with a 3.65 GAA and .851 save percentage. "I was just trying to look forward to the next game. When you're looking at the standings, I think that's when you're getting in trouble. It was just look forward, try to win that next game. I think the guys did a good job of just trying to stick with that plan."

The game Saturday had a ton of meaning for the Blues, as a victory secured the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks were playing with eight rookies in the lineup, many recalls from the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, and the Blues took advantage.

Jaden Schwartz set the tone with the first two-goal game of his NHL career, Brian Elliott stopped 22 shots to give him a franchise-best 11 wins in the month of April, and David Backes added a pair of assists to give him 300 career points.

The Blues, who concluded the season 29-17-2, will host the fifth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, who downed the San Jose Sharks 3-2 Saturday night. The Sharks will open the postseason as the No. 6 seed against the Vancouver Canucks.

"Whether they got some of their guys in or not, they're going to work hard and you know they're going to come at us," Schwartz said of the Blackhawks. "You want to make sure we stick to our game plan, do the things that make us successful."

The Blackhawks, who finished 36-7-5, won the Presidents' Trophy and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, got a goal from Ben Smith. They finished 16-1-1 against Central Division foes, both losses coming at the hands of the Blues. Goalie Carter Hutton, who stopped 25 shots, and defensemen Shawn Lalonde and Ryan Stanton all made their NHL debuts.

"Some guys had some good games," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was nice to see a couple guys get their first NHL game, and they got better as the game went on."

Added Bryan Bickell, one of the regulars who did play: "With all the [regular] guys out and new guys in, I thought [the young guys] did a great job. We had to change our game a little bit, but there was a lot of hard work out there. [The Blues] were fighting for home ice, a few bounces here and there we could’ve had opportunities on. But they came out on top."

Patrik Berglund opened the scoring by knocking in a rebound of an Andy McDonald shot past goalie Hutton, who made his NHL debut, 4:33 into the game. It was Berglund's 17th of the season.

The Blackhawks' younger skaters displayed some quality zone time and quick skating ability but were unable to solve Elliott, and Schwartz was able to give the Blues a 2-0 lead with 2:36 left in the opening period when he was on the doorstep and scooped a backhand of a Backes redirection past Hutton.

It was the kind of start the Blues needed to set the tempo and establish that the game meant much more to them.

"We don't want to give them any confidence off the bat," Schwartz said of Chicago. "We want to make sure we got a good start. We did a good job of that. We knew they didn't have their full lineup in, but they're still going to come to work and they want to win, too."

Schwartz added his second of the game when he and Backes used a nifty little give-and-go play and Schwartz was able to slide a backhand between Hutton's pads with one of those rookies (Drew LeBlanc) applying pressure 8:39 into the second period for a 3-0 lead.

"I think he's just gotten better and better," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He's a strong player. He's going to be really needed here in the playoffs. When you need the game turned around from an effort standpoint, really the fourth line and Schwartzy have really helped us. They really lifted our spirits as far as their competitiveness. He can strip people of pucks, he plays a lot like Zach Parise does. It's really good for us. His confidence is growing the way he's being able to score now. His touch seems to be coming back, the touch that he had in college and in junior is starting to come back. It's a real good sign for us right now."

Smith added his fourth career goal when his snap shot from the top of the left circle beat Elliott 8:23 into the third period off a feed from Jeremy Morin, spoiling the Blues' netminder's shutout bid.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' David Perron (right) stands his ground in front of Blackhawks
goalie Carter Hutton Saturday night.

It didn't matter. The only think that did was the win.

"I don't think any of us really looked back or even sat back and really soaked it in," Elliott said. "I don't think we will. We don't really have time for that. I think we did what we needed to do to give ourselves the best chance. That's what good teams do. I think we can only build on that and just keep going."

Hitchcock confirmed the Blues will open the postseason with Elliott between the pipes.

"He was very good when Jaro (Halak) got hurt in the playoffs and then he had the inner ear infection and didn't really play up to par until the last game."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

(4-27-13) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- For the Blues, with the playoff scenario in their own hands and not having to rely on outside help, two words fit the description heading into tonight's season finale against Chicago: no excuses.

If the Blues (28-17-2), who close out the regular season against the Blackhawks (36-6-5) tonight (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), win, they will finish as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and have home ice in the first round of the playoffs. A regulation loss eliminates them from a possible fourth seed because the team they're jockeying for position with (San Jose and Los Angeles, each one point back), play each other tonight. One point tonight gives the Blues a chance.

"It's win and move on," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "To me, regardless what happens, 90 minutes after the game we've moved onto the next event. If it ends up in a win, great, we're the four-seed and we watch TV. If we don't win, we adjust accordingly. To me, you can't carry any baggage postgame."

The Blues will face a Blackhawks team with that will be minus most of their top-heavy skill players, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson. They'll play a makeshift lineup chalk full of American Hockey League call-ups from the Rockford IceHogs and expect to start a goalie (Carter Hutton) who will make his NHL debut.

"We know some of the guys in the lineup," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They left a lot of their feister guys kind of in there (Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Jamal Mayers, Brandon Bollig and Daniel Carcillo). There's going to be players here trying to prove themselves and have good standing with their organization who want to show them that they can play at this level against us who's fighting for home ice advantage. They're going to get our best game."

The Blues, who are the only team from the Central Division with a win against the Blackhawks (4-3 shootout win at Chicago April 4; the Hawks are 16-0-1 against the division), can't consume themselves with who's in and who's out.

"It's something staring us right in the face with a good performance tonight puts us at home ice for the first round and there's something to be said for that," captain David Backes said. "It's get the job done, whatever we need to do as a group of 20 guys in here, commit to the game plan and sort it out afterwards."

The decision by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to sit his regulars might now go over too well for those following the Sharks and Kings, but with nothing to play for, Hitchcock defended his counterpart.

"That's smart by them," Hitchcock said. "They're not going to take a risk. There's nothing at stake for them. What they get is a free look. They get a free look at their players for the playoffs, they get a free look at their players whether they can keep up with the pace in an important game for another team, but to me, it's about playing well and moving on. There's a combination for all of us. You don't want to carry any baggage forward here. We'll evaluate it and move on.

I think you have an obligation at home to (play the regulars). You owe your home fans, you owe those people that obligation and you have to honor it. I don't care if the game is for nothing ... sitting out your best players at home to me would be offensive if I was a fan.

"But what you do at on the road is up to you. You've got to protect your lineup. What you do at home, without no audience there ain't no show."

- - -

Kris Russell will once again be in the lineup tonight, as Barret Jackman (foot/ankle) will take another game off to rest up before the playoffs.

Jackman has skated the past two days but feels like a couple extra days wouldn't hurt despite the game meaning so much for the Blues.

"I'd be on the ice if it were playoffs," Jackman said. "Better to take one more day of rest and be ready for Tuesday-Wednesday.

"It kills me to be in the stands, but that's the way it goes. You get bumps and bruises, you get injuries. Sometimes it's better to just sit out. There's more than capable guys in the lineup."

Russell, who played on defense for the first time since April 1 in Thursday's 4-1 win over Calgary, drew rave reviews from Hitchcock.

"He played very well," Hitchcock said. "Last half of the game was excellent. He played really well. Obviously he's a top six defenseman that happened to get in the seven-hole because of the depth that we have, which is not good for him and good for the organization and good for the team because we've got a guy that we can just plunk in there with no problem in any situation."

Also, T.J. Oshie (ankle) could have been available tonight if needed, but Hitchcock said both he and Jackman need to be ready for the postseason.

"(Jackman) could play tonight. We're not taking any risk there. Oshie could play tonight. We're not taking any risk there," Hitchcock said. "We'll wait until the first possible playoff game and then go from there."

The big question for the Blues will be who comes out when Oshie's available. Hitchcock likes the notion of adding No. 74.

"He's a big add," Hitchcock said. "That's a big add for us. He carries the conscience of the team, he's kind of a three-zone player, can play up and down your lineup and be very effective. He's great on the power play. I think we'll use him in every situation, but that's a heck of a player add at this time of the year. We're really looking forward to that to be honest with you. We've missed him. We've won, but he's been a guy that plays the game the right wat and he adds a lot to our team. We're really excited by that."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen

Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will get the nod in goal; Jaroslav Halak will back up.

Healthy scratches include defensemen Ian Cole and Jani Hakanpaa, forwards Andrew Murray and Dmitrij Jaskin. Injured players include Jackman (foot/ankle) and Oshie (ankle), Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness) and Jamie Langenbrunner (hip).

- - -

The Blackhawks' predicted lineup, since they didn't skate Saturday morning and coach Joel Quenneville will rest a majority of his top-end players:

Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Michael Frolik

Jeremy Morin-Drew LeBlanc-Daniel Carcillo

Brandon Bollig-Brandon Pirri-Jamal Mayers

Jimmy Hayes-Ben Smith-Sheldon Brookbank

Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival

Johnny Oduya-Ryan Stanton

Adam Clendening-Shawn Lalonde

Carter Hutton will get his first career NHL start in goal; Corey Crawford will be the backup.

Scratched: Keith, Hjalmarsson, Sharp, Marcus Kruger, Stalberg, Toews, Brandon Saad, Michal Handzus, Seabrook, Hossa, Kane, Steve Montador and Henrik Karlsson.

Injured: Dave Bolland (lower-body) and Ray Emery (lower-body).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Blues to face rival Blackhawks with plenty at stake

Victory would ensure home ice in opening round of playoffs;
Oshie targeting playoff opener, Jackman questionable for Saturday

ST. LOUIS -- All the marbles will be on the table in Saturday's season finale when the Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at Scottrade Center.

What's at stake? For the Blues (28-17-2), a victory would mean guaranteed home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and the fourth seed in the Western Conference. In that scenario, the Blues would play the winner of Saturday night's game between San Jose and Los Angeles, who face one another at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The Blues could conceivably still get the fourth seed if they happen to only get one point against the Blackhawks, who played their home finale Friday night against the Calgary Flames and who are reportedly going to rest players and bring to St. Louis a lineup laced with American Hockey League call-ups. But in the case the Blues falter in overtime/shootout, they need the Sharks to beat the Kings in any fashion. A regulation loss against the Blackhawks would eliminate the Blues from finishing fourth.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) and the rest of the Blues will have plenty at stake on
Saturday night when they host the Chicago Blackhawks.
I don't think we have to be concerned about what they're doing," defenseman Jordan Leopold said of the Blackhawks. "It's more about what we're doing. We're in a position that if we come out and play our game and do the things we know that we're capable of, we're going to be able to get two points and that equals being in fourth place and having home-ice advantage. It's a great opportunity for us and I think all of us are ready and aware for that challenge. Whatever the lineup may be tomorrow for them, it's really insignificant for how we need to play and how we need to get those points."

The Blackhawks (36-6-5) have nothing to play for after wrapping up the Presidents' Trophy Wednesday night in Edmonton. They are expected to play Carter Hutton (who has never played an NHL game) in goal, along with a number of other bodies recalled from AHL Rockford.

"You don't worry about ... you always think about who you're playing, but you can't worry about who's out there," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "No matter what, the way they play, you're going to play a certain way. They've got a lot of dangerous guys. It's a game you look at, they're on a back-to-back and we're at home here. I think if we play the right way, we'll give ourselves a good chance."

It will be Chicago's third game in four nights, thus the reasoning for coach Joel Quenneville to rest some of his star players, who could very likely include Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, to name a few.

"Chicago, if they do that, they'll be the same way (as Calgary was Thursday)," forward Chris Porter said. "We've got to come out with the mindset we obviously need the two points and home ice. That's huge.

"The last month here in April, we've had a great month (11-3-0) and put ourselves in a great position. What better way than to play Chicago for home ice advantage."

There are so many obvious reasons for wanting home ice advantage, where the Blues have won five in a row and six of seven after an inauspicious beginning at Scottrade Center.

"I think the biggest thing strategically-wise is, if you go to a Game 7, it's at home," Leopold said. "I've played plenty of Game 7s on the road, plenty at home and it's definitely to your advantage to have it at your home city and have the crowd behind you and all that. There's less travel as well and that can take a toll on you, long flights, whatever it may be.

"You just want to put yourself in the best position you can and we've worked hard this last month to get where we are, and we have that opportunity in front of us. Hopefully we seize that moment."

Considering where the Blues -- who put themselves in this position with a 4-1 home victory Thursday night over the Flames -- were just a few short days ago after a dismal loss Sunday at Colorado, to be in the position of going for fourth is quite the coup.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Chris Porter (right) said they want the win and home ice
advantage. Beating Chicago Saturday ensures fourth in the West. 
"To be able to start at home would be a big thing if you look at the position we were in just a couple days ago," Bouwmeester said. "To have that opportunity is big. Everyone knows the importance and all that. You're playing a good team, too."

It's an important game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You move on after the game one way or another, but it's an important game. It's two good teams. Chicago is arguably the best team in a long time in the league. It's a good challenge. We're going to have to be at our best to win the hockey game, but I think it's a fun game to finish the season with. It's obviously more important for us than it is for them."

* NOTES -- The Blues will go with Brian Elliott in goal against the Blackhawks. ... Defenseman Barret Jackman was on the ice for Friday's optional skate and according to Hitchcock, the team will make a decision on his availability Saturday morning. It was previously thought that Jackman, who was injured Tuesday against the Avalanche blocking a shot midway through the second period, would be best held out until the playoffs. Kris Russell returned to the lineup Thursday against Calgary and would play Saturday again if Jackman were unavailable.

Also skating were in injured players Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness), Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) and T.J. Oshie (ankle), who had a surgical procedure 10 days ago. He's been sidelined since blocking a shot March 28 against the Kings.

"I feel good, feel really good," Oshie said after a lengthy skate Friday. "I'm getting stronger every day on the leg. It's very exciting getting out there. I haven't been to a real practice yet, but it's great being out there snapping around with the boys again."

Oshie, who said he feels like the playoff opener is a real possibility, was thought to be close last week after a practice, but an MRI disclosed a stress fracture. He had surgery April 16 and is back near 100 percent.

"It didn't feel as good as it can," Oshie said. "I was maybe lying to myself a little bit, but I wanted to get back, I wanted to play. ... When your team's losing a couple games, you want to get back and I wanted to get back out there.

"It was tough, but the most important thing for me is playoffs. Like I said then, I didn't want to get my hopes too high. I wanted to play. The MRI said different, so luckily we got that before I went out there."

Oshie, who has 20 points (13 assists) in 30 games, said the surgery has made a world of difference.

"Everything's a lot better," he said. "I think it was maybe three, four days after surgery that I was able to get my splint off, the doctors were pushing on it and it felt a lot better. I'm very excited with where I'm at right now. I've just got to keep getting better every day and not push it a little too far.

"I might need a couple shifts to get in there. Stepping right into playoff hockey's going to be tough. I know what it's like because we were there last year. I thought we played well there last year except for that last series. I'm going to be ready either way. I've just got to bring my energy. If I got that, I think I'll be alright."

The question is, where does Oshie slot in and who will he replace?

"I was telling a couple of the guys, and I said that last week, I don't know where I'm going to go," Oshie joked. "Hopefully there's some room for me. I'm really excited to get back out there with the guys. When you're hurt, you almost feel like you're on an island by yourself. I've got Langs, Scotty and some of the young guys with me. You want to be in that team atmosphere even if it's going through a couple meetings here and there."