Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sharks eliminate Blues from playoffs with 5-2 win

San Jose earns first-ever trip to Stanley Cup Final, 
prevents St. Louis from competing in first final since 1970

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Unlike the past four seasons under Ken Hitchcock, the Blues were close to competing for the Stanley Cup, they could taste it.

Unfortunately like the last four seasons, including the past three, a season came to a close in eerily similar fashion. This time, the San Jose Sharks were the culprits, and it's the Sharks, residents of Silicon Valley, who advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Patrik Berglund (21) battles for a puck with Sharks defenseman
Roman Polak in Game 6 on Wednesday at SAP Center.

And the fact that the Blues were so close, made the locker room afterwards so somber, so disappointing and so numb.

The Sharks finished off the Blues in the Western Conference Final, winning 5-2 in Game 6 to win the series 4-2 on Wedesday at SAP Center.

And thus, it ends the Blues' first quest for a berth in the Stanley Cup Final since 1970 searching for that elusive first title in franchise history.

The Blues were hoping to bring this series back to Scottrade Center, despite their poor 4-6 record there this postseason, for a Game 7 on Friday, but the Sharks, who will face either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning beginning Monday, had other ideas.

San Jose got a quick goal to lead 1-0 in the first four minutes of the game, they scored again in the second before delivering the knockout blow in the third with two goals in a 5 minute 10-second span to lead 4-0 before Vladimir Tarasenko, who had been invisible throughout this series, scored his first two goals (and points) of the series to make it interesting late. 

"I felt like we had a nervous energy early, but then started to find our way a little bit," left wing Alexander Steen said. "The first one's a tough one to give up and then obviously the third one is tough to give up as well."

The Blues escaped the first period lucky to be down 1-0.

The Sharks were all over the puck, and the top defensive pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were caught up ice, giving Tomas Hertl a chance to throw a backhand puck through the middle of the ice, and Thornton skated past Pietrangelo, fired wide on the breakaway, but Joe Pavelski collected a puck behind the net and stuffed a backhand past Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who made the first save, at 3:57 of the first period.

"The first period we were fine," Hitchcock said. "We managed the game, knew what we were in for and we did a great job. Managed it well. We knew we were in for a big push. We watched them play in other games when it was closeout time. I thought we managed it well."

The Blues had chances to score in the period, but Steen couldn't beat Jones from the high slot before the Pavelski goal, Steen had a chance in the waning seconds on a backhand that was high and wide, and Tarasenko, with a glorious chance in the slot, fired a wrist shot wide of the net early in the period that could have gotten his confidence going.

The Blues had a bit of a better second period, outshooting the Sharks 11-10 but the home team built a two-goal lead when Joel Ward tipped Brent Burns' right point wrist shot, the first of two goals, past Elliott 5:02 into the period.

"I thought the first period was as expected," Hitchcock said. "When we didn't score on the three or four chances we had in the second when it was 2-0 gave them a little bit of a gap. We had the push at the end of the second, but I thought the third goal allowed them to play with five back and then we had to take some risks. To me, the third goal was the killer."

That killer goal came from Ward, who redirected Logan Couture's centering pass 3:01 into the third and the Sharks could literally smell blood.

"They put pucks in deep on us and they forechecked the hell out of us," right wing Troy Brouwer said of the Sharks. "It was tough for us to get out of our zone clean. It's a tough way to start a game where you need to win, but I thought the guys played hard, hung in there and it's a disappointing end.

"Just disappointment in here right now. We thought we had a team, we do have a team that’s a championship caliber team. We fell short. There’s a lot of guys in our room that have waited a long time to have an opportunity like this. When you don’t finish celebrating with champagne and hoisting a Cup, it’s disappointing."

Joonas Donskoi made it 4-0 8:11 into the third period to make the score 4-0, but Tarasenko broke the shutout with 8:21 remaining on a wrister from the slot and he scored again from below the goal line.; they were his first points of the series.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Alexander Steen (20) looks to move past Sharks left wing
Patrick Marleau in Game 6 on Wednesday.

The loss was the Blues' seventh in a row in Game 6s dating to April 23, 2001,  2-1 in against these San Jose Sharks) and have been outscored 29-13; they're lost Game 6 faced with elimination the past four seasons now by a combined 16-5.

"We had a little bit of a push back," right wing Troy Brouwer, a pending unrestricted free agent on July 1. "We were just playing a really good hockey team. They played the score and the time of the games really well. We tried to get good pushes. I thought guys competed real hard. It’s just frustrating. We feel like we could have had a great opportunity to hoist (a Cup)."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

(5-25-16) Blues-Sharks Game 6 Gameday Lineup

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Blues, facing elimination for the first time trying to extend a series in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, will make two lineup changes going against the San Jose Sharks tonight at SAP Center (8 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Coach Ken Hitchcock already announced on Tuesday that goalie Brian Elliott will re-enter the lineup after missing Games 3 and 4 in favor of Jake Allen, and Scottie Upshall, who also missed Games 3 and 4 with injury, will re-enter the lineup tonight in place of Magnus Paajarvi.

"If he didn't get hurt, he's an effective player for us," Hitchcock said of Upshall. "He's healthy now. He's got speed, he's got tenacity, he's great on PK, I can play him up the lineup end of periods, game's on the line, I can play him anywhere. 

"He's an invaluable player for us. He's had an excellent year for us. He's a guy that we can really use. This time off has afforded him the time to get ready to get ready to play."

Upshall has a goal and two assists in 16 games in the playoffs.

"I’ll be ready to go if I’m called upon," Upshall said. "I think we’re all ready. We’re excited for this one.

"We’ve found ourselves up against the wall twice this postseason and have been able to find our game, find it deep within what it takes to win these games and what it’s like and the pressure that goes with it. I think our team is pretty confident. We found ourselves elevating our game when we need to. This is another case. Treat this like two Game 7s and see where it goes."

- - -

The Blues have been backed into a corner countless times throughout the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Another elimination game falls in line with many obstacles they've had to overcome.

Thursday is a little bit of a different animal since they will have to win on the road, where they're 6-3, to force another Game 7 on home ice Friday, but it's something they're accustomed to and one they're not frazzled by.

"We’re 2-for-2 in elimination games, so we’ve got to treat it basically as two Game 7s, like we’ve won the previous two series," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "So obviously you wish you were up 3-2 right now, having a chance to close out the series, but we feel confident in these elimination games, especially on the road. So we’ve got a good mindset going into tonight.

"We like the big stage. I think we’re resilient. I think the camaraderie we have in this dressing room, guys playing for each other, is something that goes a long way. I think we look beside us, at the guy next to us. We don’t want to let him down. That’s the mindset we’ve had all year. That’s the mindset we’ve had in the playoffs. I could feel that in the dressing room this morning. It’ll carry over to tonight."

The Blues were among the League leaders in man-games lost this season, so the players had no choice but to "look at the guy next us" because it could have been somebody different with as many injuries as they had to go through. And then when the playoffs came and they were put to the test, the Blues stared adversity down and won each time. 

Thursday will pose another challenge.

"We’ve had two Game 7s in the past month that have been games where we’ve lost the previous Game 6 and have had to rally without the momentum in our court," Upshall said. "I believe we’re a confident group when pushed against the wall. We’re at a point in our season where everything is so huge, so magnified. We’ve been there, we know how hard it is. I think we’re up to the challenge.

"We’ve all been in big games. We’ve all dreamed of being in moments like this. It’s a chance to look across the dressing room and see guys you’ve battled with all year, see the look in their face, the determination to be at their best knowing you’re going to be at your best. You trust each other."

The past three seasons when faced with a 3-2 series deficit, the Blues went on and lost all three by a combined 11-3; they've lost six straight Game 6s, outscored 24-11, and last won a Game 6 was here in San Jose, 2-1 on April 21, 2001.

The Blues may not want to look at history, however. But knowing this team, they never look back.

"The other two elimination games we played, we came out with a lot of bite and hunger," left wing Alexander Steen said. "We’ll be looking to do the same thing tonight.

- - -

The Blues may want to take a page out of the Pittsburgh Penguins' textbook on how to win a Game 6 elimination game on the road.

The Penguins went into Tampa and defeated the Lightning 5-2 on Tuesday and did so, in Hitchcock's terms, by having their best players be their best players.

"Sense of urgency's an overused word in sports," Hitchcock said. "To me, it's execution and your best players just have to be your best players. That to me stood out more than anything. You need someone to follow or you just wander around in the desert. Pittsburgh set the tone with the people that they needed to lead. They were the best players early in the game and then you have no choice but to follow. You need to execute at a high level. I said this before, we expect nothing but the best from San Jose and we're going to have to answer the bell back but it's going to have to be with execution and staying ahead of their pressure just like they're trying to stay ahead of our pressure. Both teams are built a certain way and there's a lot of similarities between both teams, but whatever team establishes their game on the other one usually wins the hockey game. We've gotten better as this series has gone on and we want to continue to improve and keep playing."

The Penguins, who will host Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday, got the lead and imposed their will in Tampa's building, something the Blues will look to do here tonight.

"I think it's just from our game, focused on what we do well, play similar to what we did in Game 4 when we were here," Steen said.

The Blues won 6-3 in Game 4 here.

- - -

Elliott, who started 17 straight games (20 going back to the regular season) in a span of 37 days, may have simply needed a mental breather.

He's now had five days since his last start, which is the most time he's had off since March 19.

"I think it's not just the playoffs that Brian had to play, it was everything leading into the playoffs, he had to play a lot at the end of the year a lot," Hitchcock said. "I think the break gave him a freshness and a focus that's strong. He's such a competitive guy. He's such a battler, but in order to play the way he plays, he's athletic in the net, he's acrobatic at times. You need to have a certain level of energy to play that way. We leaned on him hard at the end of the year and then it continued all the way into the playoffs. 

"I felt when I put Jake in that we were doing a lot of watching in our own zone and were relying on Brian to make too many big saves. I thought it was really wearing on him and we needed to change it, we got the change. Unfortunately, we lost the next game, but we got the necessary change and now it's his series to win."

"Oh, I’m sure. Reset him a bit," Pietrangelo said of Elliott. "He’s played a lot of hockey, made some important saves for us throughout this entire playoffs. He’s played great. He’s stood on his head. Takes a lot of energy. So the opportunity for him to kind of regain that is going to benefit him."

Elliott has a 1.50 goals-against average and .954 save percentage in two Game 7 wins, stopping 62 of 65 shots. It bodes well for the Blues when he's played the elimination games.

"I’ve said it all along, it doesn’t matter who’s playing," Pietrangelo said. "'Moose' has obviously been fantastic. Tried a little bit of a change in pace there, putting Jake in. he played great. It’s up to the coaches who they want to play, but either guy, they’ve been solid all year."

"Our goaltending has been great, been solid all year," Steen said. "They've both been our most solid player all year. It's going to be good to get 'Moose' back in there."

- - -

Center Kyle Brodziak is celebrating his 32nd birthday today, and the best present of all will be a victory tonight.

But the ultimate would be to play for a Stanley Cup, which would require the Blues win Games 6 and 7 this series and take their chances in the Final.

"You live your whole life, and you dream of the possibility just having the opportunity," Brodziak said. "To be here, to be this close, it’s exciting. It’s a little scary. It’s every emotion you can imagine."

- - -

Hitchcock talked about the Blues' defense and how "overanxious" they were in a Game 5 loss. Calmness is the key to perhaps allow the Sharks to be overzealous and make mistakes.

But the Blues will shorten the bench tonight if need be for survival.

"We had a good video session yesterday, we showed them what we were doing right and what we needed to correct," Hitchcock said. "I think the guys are in sync and in tune there. I think the defense are like the forwards; there's a short leash. 

"For us, we can't wait and hope. If we've got to shorten the bench, we've got to shorten the bench and do whatever it takes to make sure we've got the right people on the ice and we're not hoping that a guy's a worker or a guy's going to play well and execute. We're going to hope that everybody does it, but if it happens that there's somebody that isn't, we're not going to wait on it, and that goes for defense, that goes for forwards, that goes for everybody. This is the time for us that we've got to go with the guys that are going at this time. We can't waste any energy on past reputation or regular season or what you did a week ago. It's what you're going to go tonight, and that's got to be our attitude."

That might be a sign that Pietrangelo and D-partner Jay Bouwmeester will play half the game tonight.

Are the Blues nervous?

"I think a little bit of everything. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but excited at the same time," Pietrangelo said. "This is an opportunity and I’ve said that in the other Game 7s, where this is what you play for. This is the opportunity that you want to have, on the big stage. The other guys in the locker room are feeling the same way."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

Healthy scratches are Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott, Magnus Paajarvi, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.

But it still doesn't seem to resonate.

Hitchcock didn't think cuteness was the reason tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What isn't known is if either will play.

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

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

Hitchcock was not as forthcoming Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

- - -

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

- - - 

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

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

- - -

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

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

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

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

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

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitchcock said both should be OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- - -

Hitchcock did say that defensively there will be one change.

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

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

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (updated):

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

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

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

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak

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

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Blues to start Allen in Game 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The players trust both goalies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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