Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blues, Blackhawks head to pivotal Game 5

2-2 series is right about where both teams 
were expected to be when it began last week

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Now that the Blues and Blackhawks are evened up at two games apiece in the Western Conference First Round series, it shouldn't be a total shock that the best-of-7 series has become a best-of-3.

But the Blues, who won Games 1 and 2 on home ice but saw the Blackhawks gain momentum by winning at home in Games 3 and 4, don't have any confidence issues with a pivotal Game 5 set to be played Friday (7 p.m.; FSN, KY 98-FM).

Both teams are feeling like they could have won all four games. That's how tight the primary statistical categories are. But for the Blues, the pressure now lies at their feet to hold serve once again before playing Game 6 Sunday in Chicago. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Maxim Lapierre (right) comes away from the corner boards after checking
Chicago's Sheldon Brookbank (17) Wednesday night.

"Nobody's panicking ... we're not in a bad spot," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It's tied and we still have home ice. We have a good opportunity here. I don't think anyone's worried where we're at or anything like that. We're not. 

"We knew going there that it was going to be tough. It's not the easiest place to play. We still have home ice, we had a couple close games (in Games 3 and 4). It's not been one-sided games or anything like that. You just keep going. It's a three-game series now and that's the way you approach it." 

The Blues held an optional skate Thursday afternoon at their practice facility, the IceZone, inside St. Louis Outlet Mall. Center David Backes was not among them, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock offered no further update regarding the condition of Backes, who has not played since Game 2 with an upper-body injury after the severe check from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. 

"I mean, he's not skating today, so read what you want from that," Hitchcock said. "He's not around, he's not skating, so we'll see tomorrow. Hopefully he's able to get back before Seabrook or by Seabrook's time, so it doesn't turn into a little bit of an advantage for Chicago." 

The Blackhawks have outscored the Blues 12-11 through four games (one being an empty-netter), but going down the line, there are so many components that make both teams dead-even. 

"Well, the series is even, the scoring chances are even, goals for (and) goals against are even, special teams percentages are even," Hitchcock said. "So it's us getting to our game, them getting to their game. Whoever does it more tomorrow is going to win the hockey game. I think they've been good for half the game in playing the way they need to play. We've been good for half the game. The series is probably right where it belongs. Neither team is giving an inch. Both teams are, for me, fully invested and trying to win this series. Nobody is going away. They're not going away, we're not going away. Both teams have (a) significant injured player (Backes) or suspended player (Seabrook) that affects the outcome pretty dramatically. So you've got to get through that too. Everything is just so even, you get down to a best-of-3. 

"We've got to take back the early momentum that they built off of coming back yesterday and getting that goal and then winning in overtime. We've got to build it back." 

The Blues, like the Blackhawks did at United Center, must make Scottrade Center a true home advantage. By doing that, getting off to a strong start is a must. 

"We've got to find a way to get into our game earlier," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We talked about that today, especially at home. When you have an opportunity to play in front of your home crowd and get to the game early, it's going to benefit us later on in the game. 

"Playing in front of our own fans. We won both of our games at home. We seem to dictate more at home than on the road, so if we can get off to an early start in front of the home fans, it's going to give us a little bit of an extra jump." 

"I think it's very important," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think the last few games, we haven't gotten off to the start that we've wanted. We haven't really played the entire first half of the game the way we wanted. To get out tomorrow to a good start, a simple, hard, direct-smart is going to be important for us going forward in the rest of the series."

That messages makes it an easier sell for Hitchcock, but his stark reminder?

"The game is at 7:08, not at 7:48," Hitchcock said. "We've been awful good in the second half of games and we're going to have to be awful good for the whole game tomorrow. I mean they're invested and so are we. They just seem to have a little bit of jump on us early. We're going to have to find a way to take that away from them and get them playing our game, more than us playing their game. I thought in the first period (of Game 4), we chased them a little bit. They looked like the quicker team and then as the second period wore on, especially the third period, we really got to our game in a big way and it was very effective." 

In the grand scheme of the series, being tied with three games to play is probably where it should be, and if it happens to go seven games, nobody should be surprised. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Porter (right) and the Blues hope to put Michal Rozsival (left) and
the Blackhawks in a 3-2 hole when pivotal Game 5 is played Friday night.

"We figured it would be 4-0 us. I'm sure they were thinking the same thing," Pietrangelo said. "We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series. If you watched the games we played (against Chicago) in the regular season, they were all one-goal games for the most part. Coming home, 2-2, we feel pretty good. We've got the home ice advantage with two out of the three now."

One thing that's certain, the loser of the series will be a tough-luck losing team. 

"It's a shame that someone has got to lose this series because of what both organizations are putting into this thing," Hitchcock said. "But somebody's got to go down and I'd rather it be them than us. Everything everybody can do to make themselves a part of this thing and help out, they're willing to do. If it means playing banged up, you play banged up. If it means you've got to get going and give 60 percent, give us what you've got. That's just the way it is in a series like this. These are very unique series. The series last year against Los Angeles and the one this year against Chicago are very unique ... to see this much energy get exploited at this early stage is very, very unique."


Could Blues ramp up physicality more; 
Tarasenko shines; fine line in series with Blackhawks

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The numbers say the Blues are the team delivering more of the physical play through four games in the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blues have delivered 151 hits, or just under 38 hits average per game. Chicago is at 104 for the series, or 26 hits per game.

The Blues won Games 1 and 2 by playing their game, and despite losing captain David Backes because of an illegal hit to the head by Chicago's Brent Seabrook along with some heavy hits from Bryan Bickell, the Blues imposed their will little by little and won the first two games and got the Blackhawks to get away from their skill game.

But did they get away from that style a bit in Chicago?

"I don't think we've gotten away from it," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think maybe we just haven't been hitting with our sticks on the puck like we were the first couple games. It seemed like every time we were getting a hit, it was a turnover as well. 

It wasn't just a hit and then still moving the puck like it has been the last couple games. We've still been physical, still guys hitting. I'm not sure what the numbers are for the time on ice for Revo (Ryan Reaves) and Ports (Chris Porter) and things like that. Those guys really drive the bus for us in the physical categories."

Bickell, who escaped punishment after his knee-on-knee hit to Blues center Vladimir Sobotka, in Game 2, also delivered a crunching hit to Sobotka in Game 4. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been the subject of some physical play as well.

The Blues, namely Reaves, Porter, Steve Ott, Maxim Lapierre and Backes, have been able to grind down Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, in particular.

"It is what it is, it's a physical series," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "(Bickell's) taken runs at Petro, he's taken runs at Sobe. We're taking runs at certain guys. It's not a fun series for your skilled players. 

"I'm sure there's a couple of (Chicago) defensemen that wish this thing would be over or somebody would bypass them, but we're not doing that. They're not doing it with us. It is what it is. It's just the price that you pay to win. It wasn't fun for Drew Doughty last year, but they won the series. The bottom line is if you've got to take a few hits to make a play, it's just part of the game. (Bickell) is doing what he does well and we've got guys ... they've got a couple of defensemen on the right side that must be wondering what's going on."

* Losing the lead -- After the Blues scored three unanswered goals Wednesday to grab a 3-2 lead in the third period, they were less than four minutes from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. 

But Bickell's deflection of Michal Rozsival's point shot tied the game 3-3 with 3:52 remaining and Patrick Kane's overtime goal gave Chicago the win and tied the series.

"I didn't see the puck until it hit Bickell's stick," said Pietrangelo, covering in the slot on the play. "It all happened pretty quick when it went to the point. 

"I think Rozsival just kind of threw it at the net. I don't think he was expecting much out of it, but we've got to find a way to cover those two guys in front, try and find a way not to let that puck get back to the point and keep it on the half wall. That's going to happen, and then we just fell a little short there in overtime."

Defensive linemate Jay Bouwmeester agreed.

"Anytime a goal goes in, something could probably have gone differently or whatever," Bouwmeester said. "That's the game. Obviously we had the lead in the third period and you don't want to give them anything, but that's the way it goes."

Hitchcock's take?

"Two things. First of all, we didn't block the point shot," he said. "And secondly, we had the exit and we didn't clear it earlier in that shift. And then is just, quite frankly, a heavy stick at the net. We didn't have a heavy stick on the guy and that's what we call 'critical ice.' We didn't have a heavy stick."

"Everything was going well for us," Oshie said. "We were playing hard, we were getting chances. I think we kind of took the game over at that point. They're opportunistic. They got an opportunity to score a goal and they went down and did that. We had a chance there to go up by two, but (Corey) Crawford did a good job of keepingt the puck out of their net and they scored."

* Costly non-call -- On Chicago's opening goal, scored on the power play by Andrew Shaw, Pietrangelo could be seen dropping his stick in the defensive zone immediately ahead of Shaw's midair backhand swipe. Upon further review, Toews got away with a slashing penalty that forced Pietrangelo to drop his stick and be rendered a bit helpless in defending.

"I'm not going to comment on the officiating, whether that was a penalty or not," Pietrangelo said. "They whack the puck out of the air, a good play on the goal."

Hitchcock and his coaching staff were able to see the replay, confirming their suspicions.

"We were not thrilled by that and less thrilled when we saw it on the tape today, but what are you going to do," Hitchcock said. "Those are the tough ones that go against you. They (officials) didn't think it was significant."

* Tarasenko drawing praise -- His two-goal performance gave him an NHL playoff-leading four after Wednesday's games, Vladimir Tarasenko drew praise from his coaches and teammates with his playoff performance.

The Blackhawks are also holding high praise for Tarasenko, who was a healthy scratch for for Blues in five of six games last season against the Kings.

But is it really all that surprising?

"Not really. The kid's good. He's a good player," Oshie said. "We want the puck on his stick as much as possible. He can shoot the puck like no one I've ever played with. He's a great player. I'm glad he's on our side.

"Maybe (Tarasenko's learned) a little (from last year's playoffs), but I think more so he needed to get that confidence that he was one of our go-to players, and I think now that now that he knows that, he has the confidence to go out there and the puck's on his stick, he wants to score goals. It doesn't matter how he does it, whether he has to beat a couple guys or just simply shoot the puck from wherever he's at."

Tarasenko wired two wrist shots. One put the Blues on the board and the second gave them a third period lead.

"Well, I think he has patience where most people panic," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He knows where to shoot it, he kind of shoots it where the goalie isn't ... he's good at it. He's more than just a goal scorer, he's a complete player. He's willing to check to get his chances, he's competitive in the right areas. He is smart. When he gets the opportunity to fire away, this isn't just shooting it for the middle of the net. He knows exactly where it's going. He knows which way the goalie is learning. For whatever reason, he's able to get himself some space in zone, which is pretty unique for such a young player."

And just think, Tarasenko jumped into the playoffs after missing 15 games with a hand injury and began playing two weeks ahead of where he was supposed to be. It's called a maturation process.

"Yeah, I'd agree with that," Oshie said. "I think for most of year, he's taken it to another level with the amount of goals he's scored and the difference-maker plays that he's made for us. You can definitely tell when he's not in the lineup and you can tell when he is. It's a great stage for him. He's a big part of our team, he's a big part of our offense. We need him going like he is right now."

Kane's OT goal evens series against Blues

Game-winner gave Blackhawks 4-3 victory, sets up a pivotal Game 5 in St. Louis

CHICAGO -- For the third time in four games of the Western Conference First Round series between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, 60 minutes wasn't enough to decide a winner.

The score was the same, but this time, the Blackhawks were left celebrating and turned this best-of-7 series into a best-of-3.

Patrick Kane's second goal of the game 11 minutes 17 seconds into overtime gave the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory, evening the series 2-2, with each team holding serve on home ice.

Game 5 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Roman Polak (left) battles Blackhawks forward Patrick
Sharp for a loose puck Wednesday night in Game 4.

The play developed in the Blackhawks zone when Patrik Berglund, instead of shooting the puck from the bottom of the right circle, tried to feed a backhand into a crowded slot and Chris Porter. Ben Smith picked the pass off and fed Kane, who took off on an odd-man rush with Kevin Shattenkirk fending off Kane, Brandon Saad and Smith.

Shattenkirk backed up, gave Kane time and space and he beat Ryan Miller short side.

It was a game in which the Blues trailed 2-0 late in the second, tied it with two goals in 1:05 and grabbed the lead with 7:34 remaining.

"We knew we were going to get a push (early)," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Where the game was lost was when we took it over and were up 3-2 and we missed those four chances. We could have been up 4- or 5-2. We left it out there, got caught in our zone and then on the overtime goal, we had chances to shoot the puck three times in the zone and didn't put it on the net. Wanted to stick-handle one more time."

Shattenkirk said he saw teammates Barret Jackman and Porter trying to get back in the play but felt like he needed to defend the pass on the odd-man rush.

"I just hopped on the ice and they had a quick transition, turned the puck over, came down, saw a 2-on-1 at first and then tried to play it as a 2-on-1," Shattenkirk said. "I just gave them too much time. 

"(Kane's) a skilled player so I know he can make that pass. You've got to wait to give your teammates time to get back. They did a good job of it. I have to challenge the shooter for Ryan. (Kane) just did a good job of being patient using his speed and then pulling up and creating space for himself to shoot. I just have to create a better gap there and get a stick on it."

Miller, who stopped 30 shots, was beat on the short side. However, he gave up those four goals on the final 21 shots he faced.

"Kane set it up well," Miller said. "He got the middle of the ice. He got Shattenkirk in between me and the puck. It wasn't ideal for us and guys working back to cover the backside who did a good job getting back. The 2-on-1 was what we thought it would be and he made a nice play."

Down 2-0, the Blues rallied with three unanswered goals to take the lead.

Tarasenko's second of the night and fourth in the series gave the Blues a 3-2 lead with 7:34 left to play when he whipped a short-side shot off Crawford's glove and off the right post.

"Exceptional," Hitrchcock said describing Tarasenko. "He's been a great player every game. Young, emerging player. Hopefully he stays with it and helps us a lot. He's really shooting the puck well. He's putting pucks on net. He's not making the second or third play. Everything's coming at the net. He's got such a great shot. He can pick corners like he did today."

But the Blackhawks, desperate to get the tying goal, got it from Bickell when he redirected Michal Rozsival's shot from the right point past Miller with 3:52 to play to tie the game 3-3.

The Blackhawks grabbed all the momentum by scoring twice in the second to go up 2-0, getting a power play goal from Andrew Shaw 8:40 into the period and a one-timer from Kane at 16:09.

But Tarasenko's third goal of the series, after Kane was whistled for delay of game, snapped the Blues' scoring drought at 98:51 with a short-side power play goal with 1:09 left. Then Lapierre scored with 3.1 seconds left after he kept a Patrick Sharp clearing attempt in the zone, got it back from a diving play by Steve Ott and snapped a shot off the right post, Crawford's back and in to tie it 2-2. The Blues' goals came in a span of 1:05.

The Blues now have three goals in this series inside 10 seconds to play in a period and five goals from 1:45 left in a period.

"I think we knew we were," Hitchcock said of the momentum build off the end of the second period. "And then to score the third goal and really, their tying goal was the only chance they had. To have all those chances after that was something we needed. It's just unfortunate. I know kind of know how Joel (Quenneville) feels. Tit for tat." 

If it wasn't a reminder to the Blues after Game 3 that this first round series is playing out exactly like the one in which they lost to the Los Angeles Kings last season, the final score in Game 4 (the same as Game 4 against the Kings), should be a stark reminder. 

The Blues lost 3-2 on home ice in Game 5 (the only home loss for either team in the series), then lost Game 6 in L.A. 

"We knew it was going to be a tough battle and I think we're right where we want to be," Lapierre said. "We won our two games at home, came here and played good hockey, and now we've got to focus, regroup and play good in St. Louis again." 

But before they do that, Hitchcock and his coaching staff will have a good talk with the players. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (left) tries to move the puck past Blackhawks' Brandon
Saad (20) Wednesday night.

"I think we're up to it, but we're going to have a little bit of a heart-to-heart, get back on our toes again," Hitchcock said. "The way we played in the second and third period was really good, and that's what we've got to get back to as much as we can. 

"They got the momentum now. We've got to take it back. We've got two of three at home, but we've got to take the momentum back. These have been two really hard-fought games here. This is a momentum-builder for them and we've got to find a way to regroup and take it back from them. That's a big challenge for us."

"We knew it was going to be like this," Steen said. "It's hard fought games. It's even higher tempo and more pace than the games in the regular season versus these guys."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

(4-23-14) Blues-Blackhawks Game 4 Gameday Lineup

CHICAGO -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was having somefun with the media gathering for his pregame press conference Wednesday afternoon at United Center.

And he was doing it, why? Because he knew he could, and he knew the question of the day was -- and is -- will captain David Backes return to the lineup tonight in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

If Backes, who missed Game 3 after taking that crushing blow to the head from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook that resulted in a three-game suspension, does make his return, the veteran coach wasn't tipping his hand.

"He's not going to play unless he's healthy. You never know, he could be skating at another rink," Hitchcock joked. "He could be doing something else, you don't know that stuff. There's a lot of rinks here in Chicago. So he could be doing other things. But he's not going in the lineup unless he's a player.

"If he's a player, the way he plays is going to have a huge impact in the series. So if he skated somewhere else and is in fine-tune conditioning, you'll see him tonight."

Hitchcock didn't close the door on his captain returning to the lineup Wednesday, nor did he set in stone the lines that were skating.

"On this one, I could probably be a liar," Hitchcock said. "I wouldn't evaluate our roster right now, until you see it tonight. Just be careful. Put in pencil today, not pen. I might be fooling with you all today."

One player the Blues will not have for the remainder of the series is veteran left wing Brenden Morrow. Morrow played in Game 1 of the series, sat out Game 2 before returning to play Game 3. He missed the final three games of the regular season with a foot injury. Derek Roy, who Hitchcock said "had a very good first game; he got whacked around a little bit" in Game 2 and missed the last game, skated with a regular line Wednesday and is expected to return to action.

- - -

Patrik Berglund saw his first action of the series in Monday's 2-0 loss that brought the Blackhawks back into the series, with the Blues leading 2-1.

Berglund only played 11:01 but did deliver three hits and was five of eight in the faceoff dot.

"He did fine," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He was a little tentative at the start. Atmosphere, same as (T.J. Oshie) was the first game, but they both got better. Osh was a lot better, a more impact in Game 2. We expect Bergie to have a big impact in the game (tonight)."

To enter the series midway is tough for anybody, especially when the playoff series has been magnified the way it has.

"Obviously not ideal," Berglund said. "I wanted to play from the start, but it is what it is. It was a little tough in the beginning to see what you can do, but after a while, I think I adjusted.

"I think I got a little more comfortable, but obviously conditioning-wise, it wasn't there throughout the whole game. I obviously played through that game and had another good practice this morning."

- - -

Another key forward who returned after the series began was Oshie. Oshie, who did not play in Game 1, returned to play Games 2 and 3. His game wasn't quite where it needed to be in Game 2, but Oshie, who missed three games (two to end the regular season) with the upper-body injury after taking a hit to the head from Minnesota Wild's Mike Rupp, played the most minutes of any forward in the game Monday (23:28).

"Yeah, I feel a lot better today even than I did yesterday," Oshie said Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully I'll keep improving and be a difference-maker."

Oshie's biggest adjustment?

"I think just catching up to the play," he said. "My injury's a little different than Bergie's, but just catching up to the play and being able to make reads. Everything's magnified in the playoffs. One mistake seems to end up in the back of the net. Just catching up was tough for me, but I feel like my timing's back and tonight should be my best game of the series."

- - -

The Blackhawks' top offensive weapons (Jonathan ToewsPatrick KanePatrick Sharp and Marian Hossa) can give the best of teams fits. But through three games in this series, the Blues have done a pretty good job of neutralizing the quartet and not allowing them to dictate play and go on scoring binges.

So far, the Blues have held the four to two goals and four points (Toews has three of them) while keeping Sharp and Hossa off the board.

What's been the key to success?

"I think the biggest challenge and probably the thing we've done best is that we've been able to handle their speed and really not allow them to get into those neutral zone transitions that they love," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They do a great job of turning pucks over. As soon as their forwards recognize it, they get on the offensive side of it very fast. That's when you see those fast-paced plays from Kane and Toews that they love."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville reunited Toews and Kane on the same line, and made it double-tough for the Blues to defend the pair.

"I don't think he's fighting very fair frankly,"  Hitchcock joked about Quenneville. "I don't like that. But we'll find a way to figure it out. You see them so much together. They used to always come out after penalties and stuff like that so you're used to it. When you've got good players competing at a high level, it's always a challenge. Both teams have had unsung heroes. They got some great minutes when they put (AndrewShaw and (KrisVersteeg on the same line with Kane or whatever. They got good minutes. Now they put (BrandonSaad there, they got good minutes there. We've got some great minutes from (MaximLapierre's line. More offensive opportunities from Lappy's line than from probably any of the lines in the tournament so far, so that's been a good sign for us. You get these new, emerging heroes in your team and you want to keep running with it. Both teams have got that going right now."

- - -

What is the importance of Game 4 today (8:30 p.m. on FSN, KY 98-FM)? Well for the Blues, it gives them the chance to close the series out Friday night in Game 5 at home. If Chicago wins, it becomes a best-of-3 series and both teams would have held serve on home ice.

"Every game has been so close, it's find a little advantage, find some place to exploit some weaknesses they have, they're trying to exploit some weaknesses that we have," Hitchcock said. "This gives us a chance to have almost double home-ice advantage if we win the game. It makes if a best-of-3 and they've got a little momentum, and we've got a break if we win it. Both teams are putting so much into these games that momentum is a factor, so we can really build it. We build off the way we played in the last period (of Game 3) and they can build it off the win, so it'll be a pretty big push by both groups at the start."

- - -

Hitchcock talked after Game 3 that the Blues needed to be better on the faceoff dot. The team won only 41 percent of the draws, according to the NHL's official stat sheet, but upon further review (with review being the key word), Hitchcock had a different take on it.

"The faceoffs were bull----," he said. "The way they work on percentages there were bull---- because if you take a look at it truthfully, the draws won/loss were close to 50 percent. Where they ended up getting the wins was they won a lot of pucks that we won already. They got to loose pucks. Their wingers did a better job than our wingers did, but the actual who won the faceoff, those numbers are not correct. We went and looked at every one of them this morning, they're not right. I get the fact that you can only put one stat out there, but the loss out there was what happened after we won the puck or 50-50 was there. Their wingers took a lot of those pucks away from us and that's something we've got to address for sure."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (depending on Backes' status):

Steve Ott-Alexander Steen-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Derek Roy-Patrik Berglund-Adam Cracknell

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak

Ryan Miller will start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Ian ColeCarlo ColaiacovoDmitrij JaskinMagnus Paajarvi and Niklas LundstromDavid Backes (upper body) is questionable; Brenden Morrow (foot) is out.

- - -

The Blackhawks' probable lineup:

Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg-Andrew Shaw-Brandon Saad

Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Sheldon Brookbank

Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford will get the start in goal; Antti Raanta will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jeremy MorinPeter ReginDavid RundbladJoakim Nordstrom and Klas DahlbeckBrent Seabrook is suspended and Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder) is on long-term injured-reserve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Blues want to build off Game 3 loss

Despite playing well, team feels it could be 
better; no Backes update, not ruled out of Game 4

CHICAGO -- As well as the Blues played in Monday's Game 3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks to cut their playoff series lead 2-1, well is not good enough.

The Blues must be better.

They outshot the Blackhawks 34-25, won many of the small battles, played with the puck in Chicago's end of the ice and had multiple prime scoring chances. In the end, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was the difference.

"I thought we were 80 percent in and if we're going to beat them tomorrow, we're going to have to have a stronger commitment in our game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said from the team's hotel after the Blues took the day off. "What we did well, we have to do on a more consistent basis. The push that we gave them at the end has to be consistent from the start to the finish if we expect to beat them." 

The Blues, who played arguably one of the best games of the season without captain David Backes (upper-body injury), will get a boost when Backes, the recipient of an illegal hit to the head from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, returns. When that is is still up in the air.

"No update," said Hitchcock, who didn't rule out Backes for Game 4. "We'll let you know tomorrow."

The Blues did miss their captain despite a strong team game.

"Obviously 'Backs' is missed. You don't replace a player like that, but, at the same time, we've got to move forward," forward Alexander Steen said. "We have guys capable of putting the puck in the net. We've had a lot of guys score a lot of goals during the course of the season. Last game, we didn't finish. We have to finish."

"He's a big part of our team," left wing Jaden Schwartz said of Backes. "We certainly miss him. He plays in every situation. He's our captain, but we've managed to battle through injuries all year. I'm not sure how he's feeling today, but hopefully we get him back as soon as we can."

No matter how well the Blues played, the Blackhawks are back in the series now and could make it a best-of-3 with a win Wednesday.

"Yeah, because they won," Hitchcock said. "They said it. They felt like we got away with one in Game 2 and they got away with one in Game 3, so 2-1 for either team is probably where the series should be at. They said it best today when they felt like Crawford was the difference for them and a timely goal or two was the difference for us in Game 2. It is what it is, but it's who's going to move forward from here because we still have home ice advantage, which we're going to obviously need, but we've got to take advantage of it by playing better and better in a few elements of our game will give us a better chance to win the hockey game because I thought we had them had them pushed pretty hard yesterday early and late but not in the middle where we needed to build some more momentum."

"They're a team that really plays with a lot of confidence," defenseman Barret Jackman said of the Blackhawks. "Coming into this building, with 22,000 people going as nuts as they are, it definitely gets you fired up. They've got a little bit of life and we expect – especially the first five minutes (Wednesday) night – it to be pretty hectic. It's something we've got to be ready for and be able to push back in our own effort and hopefully have a pretty good start."

A more improved power play, which is 1-for-16 in the series, would help.

"Power play, obviously, and putting our scoring chances in the net," Steen said. "We had a pretty solid outing, played fairly well, but not well enough to win the game. That's the bottom line. We're not in this to play well, we're in this to win."

When asked if lineup changes were forthcoming for Game 4, Hitchcock said with a wry grin, "Tomorrow? Ah ... maybe. Maybe. We'll see."

Miller won't allow soft goal to affect him

Goalie shakes off tough goal; Blues confident moving forward with 2-1 series lead

CHICAGO -- Ryan Miller took responsibility for the goal given up Monday night to Jonathan Toews that gave the Chicago Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.

It came slow enough that if it were a baseball game, one would assume Miller was eyeing down an Eephus pitch.

The 24-foot flubber that seemed to take a slight bounce before somehow squirting through Miller's pads gave Chicago a 1-0 lead in a game the Blackhawks desperately needed.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan Miller (39) was able to keep pucks out of the Blues goal after giving
up one early in Game 3 on Monday night. 

The Blues led the Western Conference First Round best-of-7 series 2-0, and a victory in Game 3 on Monday night would have given them a stranglehold on the series.

But Miller was able to rebound, get composed and come up with some crucial stops that kept the Blues within one shot of tying the game. 

"After that, I felt I competed and battled," Miller said. "There's going to moments in a series when you're not going to have things go your way. You've got to just continue to move forward, keep battling. I'll take that approach.

"It gives them something to go off of, but I thought we did a good job after (the goal). We were playing good hockey (Monday), they were able to survive and (Corey) Crawford played well."

Crawford stopped all 34 Blues shots, and many of them were high quality.

"We had a good game, a lot of chances, but both goalies played well," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We've got to find a way to outwork the goalie.

"We had a few bounces right there around the net. (Crawford) made a couple big saves on tips. Pucks were bouncing here and there. We had our chances there in the third period. We had a really good push. For whatever reason, it wouldn't go in. We couldn't get the second chances there."

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo agreed.

"The quality was there. (Crawford) played really well," he said. "We have to find ways of getting those tips in the back of the net. I think we had a few open nets, too, that we missed by just a couple of inches. If those go in the game changes.

"In the second half (of the game), I thought we got a lot better. I thought we carried the tempo a lot more in the second half. They came out with a little fire there in the first. If we play the way we did there in the second half, we’re going to be just fine."

Pushing and pushing for that tying goal, each challenge was turned away. Like a pack of bees, the Blues kept coming. 

This has how this very difficult series has abounded. 

"You have to settle in (to the belief) not everything's going to go your way, but you still have to believe you can get the job done," Miller said. "It's our first chance to bounce back. 

"We got a few good punches in on them, they got one back. Let's see if we can stay on our feet, stay in the fight. We've got to respond the best we can next game."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues and Jaden Schwartz (9) couldn't solve Michal Handzus (26) and
the Blackhawks Monday night. The Blues remain confident.

Miller included.

"Just keep doing what I was doing," he said. "The second and third period, I was competing and battling. It wasn't a fantastic (first) goal, but you move on."

Playing a complete game without their captain, David Backes, in the lineup modes well if (and when) he returns.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who said it was one of the best road games he's seen, is eager to see if the Blues can build off Game 3, despite losing it.

"If we continue to play at this pace and at this level, we're hoping that that's good enough to win the next game," he said. "We get another day and a half off or so. We're going to have more energy to do the things we need to do."

Crawford, Blackhawks back in series with 2-0 win

Blues lead series 2-1, play what coach calls 
best game of series, blanked by goalie's 34 stops

CHICAGO -- The Blues, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, played their best game of their Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night.

The Blues worked for better scoring opportunities, they possessed the puck more, turned it over less, forced more turnovers, fired 34 shots at Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (they outshot Chicago 34-25) but failed to do what mattered most: score.

And get the one timely save needed from Ryan Miller.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (9) watches as Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (right)
gloves the puck during a 2-0 victory against the Blues Monday night.

The Blues got neither in a 2-0 loss to the Blackhawks on Monday night at United Center to get the defending Stanley Cup champions right back in the best-of-7 series, which the Blues lead 2-1.

A Jonathan Toews goal, a very soft goal allowed by Miller through his pads from longer range, plus a Marcus Kruger empty-netter with 19.2 seconds remaining sealed the Blues' fate on a night in which they threw the kitchen sink at Crawford, who by his own admission said he needed to be better after allowing eight goals in Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis.

"Best game by far. Played a great game," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who talked at the morning skate that the Blues had to be better than they were in Games 1 and 2. "Would have been nice to see ... a little bit of the momentum got taken away when we had to do some PK, but man we poured a lot into today. We really played well, we did a lot of things that you want. That's one of the best road games I've seen us play. 

"They're a good team. We knew this was going to be a long series, but we really played hard, we really played well. We did a lot of the things we needed to do to win the hockey game, but you've got to give their goaler credit. He was good, especially late."

And the Blues played their best team game without their captain, David Backes, who missed the game with an upper-body injury after taking that vicious head shot from Blackhawks defenseman  Brent Seabrook, who missed the game serving the first of his three-game suspension.

But what the Blues always look to avoid when coming into this building is falling to the Blackhawks' early-game pressure. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk spoke of that very same subject in the morning, saying that the Blues didn't want to win the game in the first five minutes but didn't want to lose it either.

Well, Toews' goal, a soft wrister from 24 feet that somehow snuck through Miller's pads for a 1-0 lead 4:10 into the game, held up as the game-winner until Kruger sealed it.

Despite the solid team game, the Blues found it hard to take solace from a loss even though they liked the way they played.

"We didn't win the game," forward Alexander Steen said. "The focus is not to come in and have a decent hockey game. It's to win the game. We're obviously not happy we lost the game. We'll regroup, bring the positives from this one. 

"I thought we played well. Solid game, but we had our chances and our power play has to put the puck in the net."

The Blues were 0-for-4 on the power play but also thwarted four Chicago power plays in the game. 

"I really liked our power play today. I really liked it," Hitchcock said. "We made a lot of adjustments. For having like 10 minutes of practice, I thought our guys really did a good job on the power play."

The Blues had to do everything they could battling from behind because of a goal Toews scored that Miller wanted back. There was some initial thought that the puck may have deflected off the stick of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk but that wasn't the case.

"No. Just not a good goal," said Miller, who made 23 saves. "We'll leave it at that."

"It was a weird puck," Shattenkirk said. "I didn't get to see it obviously because I was facing (Toews). But he says it just takes a weird bounce off the ice and gets by him. I mean, he made some really big saves the whole game. Ultimately it's a 1-0 game. If we get a couple of chances here and there and put it in the back of the net, I think we're happy with the turnout." 

It only made the Blues a better team moving forward, according to Hitchcock, who said it didn't deflate the team.

"Not at all," he said. "We knew we were going to play well today. We're really starting to gain out confidence back again and we're going to need every piece of it to beat this team. But he's bailed us out so many times here especially late in hockey games. It wasn't a big deal. We knew we could weather any storm they were going to throw at us and keep going. I thought after that, we really started to play."

The Blues had their chances in the first period, Vladimir Sobotka in the slot and Jaden Schwartz on the doorstep of Crawford, but neither player hit the net.

After killing off four Chicago power plays in the second, the Blues kept pouring it on throughout the third, but Crawford was up to each challenge. Chicago's ability to block 24 shots also aided the cause.

"He made some saves ... we saw three from our bench he made, didn't even see; just hit him," Hitchcock said of Crawford. "We've got to stay the course. If we continue to play at this pace, at this level, we're hoping that that's good enough to win the next game."

The Blues had the same situation a season ago: a 2-0 series lead on Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings, game-winners from Steen and Barret Jackman (just like this series), they outplayed their opponent, in a road environment but were done in by the goalie.

"They're new seasons. I said this (Monday) morning ... when you're knocking off just a team in the league, different animal," Hitchcock said. "You're knocking off the defending champion. They're not the defending champion because they have skill, it's because they've got resolve. You're trying to beat their resolve. You're not trying to beat their skill. Everybody's got skill and it is one helluva challenge. Sometimes you do it, and sometimes you don't,  but I can tell you one thing, every time we play like we've played, we get better as a team and better as an organization and we get closer and closer. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (91) and the Blues couldn't solve Niklas Hjalmarsson
and the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 on Monday night.

"They know that we're not going away easy. If we're not good enough at the end of the day, that's fine, but we're not going away in any game. This is the level we're going to play at. We get Backes back in the next two or three games, we're going to even go higher, and if that isn't good enough, that's not good enough, but it has nothing to do with blowing games like some track stars write about. There's a certain resolve that is required to win a championship, and that team over there's got it and we're trying to take it back from them."

"We're not disappointed in our play," Schwartz said. "We've been playing a good team game, working hard and really creating a lot. It's just the other games, they were going in. Tonight, we didn't get the right bounce. We'll make a few adjustments, but I think we're happy with our effort." 

The Blues limited Chicago's firepower most of the game, but as Steen said, "I think we can play even better. I think there's things in our game that we can definitely adjust and tweak. 

"Our PK was good tonight and our power play could have won us a game tonight and didn't."