By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Only one player that sat in the Blues' locker room Saturday morning was part of the last playoff series in 2002.
Defenseman Barret Jackman, who only played in one game for the Blues in that playoff season when the Blues beat Chicago in five games in the opening round before succumbing to Detroit in five in the conference semifinals, remembers it fondly.
"It was exciting. The city was buzzing," Jackman recalled of the Blues' 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Game 5. "The team was very confident and playing very well but really understood how important it is to get that last clinching game. It was a hard-fought game. It was exciting all-around."
Jackman's hoping for a repeat performance tonight when the Blues, who lead the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, can close out the series with a Game 5 win.
"We really respect our opponent," Jackman said of San Jose. "We really respect the game that we play against them. I don't think any of the games that we've won, we've been hooting and hollering after it. I think we realized the work that was put in. We still have another game and you never know what can happen in the playoffs and in the NHL. These teams are so close. It's a matter of bounces and we know that."
A standing room-only crowd of 19,500 is expected to pack Scottrade Center in hopes that the Blues will wrap up the series in five and not have to make that cross-country trip back to San Jose for a potential Game 6 Monday night.
"Their building is pretty loud, but I still think our crowd matches one of the loudest crowds I've ever been in," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I'm so excited. But we have to focus on what needs to be done and be ready for their best game of the series."
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One of the successes of the Blues has been the play of the unit of Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen and Andy McDonald, which accounts for the Blues' second line.
While the Sharks have been able to somewhat neutralize the top unit of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, the Berglund line has accounted for 16 points [seven goals, nine assists] in four games.
And to think, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock didn't throw this group together until the last game of the regular season in Dallas.
"I think pretty early," Steen said when asked when the chemistry came together. "We use the strength of the line very well. I think Mac and myself use our speed down low and Bergy kind of with his big body creates a lot of space for the two of us.
"We talk a lot about plays on and off the ice, on the bench as soon as we get a chance ... where we'd like each other to be in certain situations. We have triggers in our game now that we've played enough together enough times where we see if one guy does something, it triggers another guy to do something else. It kind of gets in sync that way. We're a hard-working line. We check well."
Both Steen and McDonald have shared the duties on both wings, with Steen most recently playing the right side.
"It's a little different for me, but I've done it before," Steen said. "It didn't take very long, and now I'm comfortable. I think if you watch the games, both Mac and myself read off each other pretty well. When one guy's on one side, we'll have a peek at each other and say alright, we'll just stay for now. ... We need to stay humble and keep working."
Hitchcock said it's all about each player playing to their respective strengths.
"I think we have the puck in the right people's hands," Hitchcock said. "I think Bergy has played great because he's deferred to the other two guys and he's played to his strengths. I think each guy's playing to his strengths right now, and it's allowed us to be a better line. I think Bergy's figuring out as a center iceman that you don't have to have the puck all the time to be an effective center iceman in the NHL anymore. The new wave of NHL center icemen has that element now. ... He's learning that it's a give-and-go game. He's been much better because he's played with two guys that handle the puck well, have great patience and allows him to get into the right spots to shoot and score."
Hitchcock continued: "I really believe one of the reason's we're up in the series is Backes [and] Oshie killing penalties, negating top players has helped us out a lot. I can guarantee that this is the first time that San Jose hasn't started with the puck in a long time. Somebody told me [Joe] Pavelski's percentages are down 20, which is incredible for us. We thought if we were close to 45 percent, we'd be doing good, but to be in the 50s is terrific for us right now."
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Just like teammate B.J. Crombeen, Colaiacovo had to sit and watch the opening game of the series. And like Crombeen, Colaiacovo didn't like it but had the best interests of the team.
The Blues' roster is at 26 players. Somebody has to sit. But when Colaiacovo got the opportunity to get back in, he's made the most of it with arguably three of his best games of the season.
"Going back to Game 1 was something hard to swallow," said Colaiacovo, who has three assists in the series -- all in Game 3. "Obviously it's a learning experience for me. You battle all year with a group of guys and then when it's time to elevate your game and time to play during the best time of the year and you're not in there, it doesn't sit well with me, and it wouldn't sit well with anybody. At this time of year, you've got to be at your best. Your game has to be raised to another level. The emotions are higher and everything more's at stake. I think that brings the best out of you.
"When you get that chance to play, you want to be at your best and do whatever you can to help the team win. I feel I've been able to do that the last three games and I just want to continue to focus on the positives and continue to move forward and don't take anything for granted."
Colaiacovo may have struggled somewhat down the stretch but instead of using the poor-pity-me card, he chose to get better from the experience. It's paid off.
"There's no time to waste energy to sit and pout," Colaiacovo said. "Hockey's a team game, it's not an individual game. You're a part of the team and as a team, you're trying to accomplish one goal. You obviously hope to be in there to do that, but in my case when I wasn't, it hurt, it stung, it didn't sit well. You're supposed to feel like that. But at the same sense, you've got to be there for your teammates. You can't cry out for "poor me." You've got to take the good with the bad and focus on the positives and wait for your turn to get back in there and try to contribute any way possible."
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Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who's been on the other side of 3-1 series leads with his team on multiple occasions, said there is not only pressure on his team to extend this series but also on the Blues to end it.
Why? Because once the team with their backs against the wall wins, there's some confidence that grows and they get to take the series back home with hopes of extending it to a winner-take-all game.
"When we're in Detroit [last season], we're in that series and we're in the LA series, we come home against LA, we're up 3-1, there's some pressure to win," McLellan said. "There really is some pressure to win.
"We didn't win that one and now you get into their building and they really believe and they've got the crowd going. The pressure builds to close the series out when you have the lead. That may sound strange because there can't be any more pressure than on our group tonight to actually win the game. But there is pressure on that close-out team."
Hitchcock wasn't buying it.
"I don't know. To me, pressure leaves after one shift," Hitchcock said. "You just play. Both teams are playing well. At this time when you get into situations where the series is getting close to the end, you just narrow your focus. It actually becomes more fun for everybody. You're not worrying about anything but playing ice hockey and that's all that matters.
"Paying the bills waits, returning phone calls waits, even returning texts waits, but obviously tweeting doesn't. For me, it just narrows your focus. I know it's a crooked way of saying it, but I think it's a fun time. They know where they stand, we know where we stand."
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The Blues' ability to neutralize star Sharks Pavelski and Patrick Marleau [zero points in eight games dating back to the regular season against St. Louis] has been a big reason why the Blues have held San Jose to 10 goals in eight games this season.
The duo combined for 61 goals and 125 points in the regular season, which speaks volumes for what the Blues have done to them all year. That doesn't mean to let up off the accelerator.
"They're coming hard," Jackman said of the pair. "They have the world-class talent. It can burn you if you give them any kind of room. We've got to continue to stay on them and really not give them opportunities to be difference-makers."
Pavelski, who is 42.2 percent on the faceoff dot, down from the 58.8 percent in the regular season, has a simple remedy.
"I think a lot of it's execution and just being ready," Pavelski said. "Obviously chances come at a premium here but we are getting them. You've got to get that one early and get in the game and we'll go from there."
Marleau was asked if the Blues have done anything to force some of the Sharks' stars to play out of their element.
"In the playoffs, you might have to do some things you wouldn't normally do," Marleau said. "On the other side of it, we have been getting chances. It's an inch here or there. It's that fine line, but you've got to stay positive and believe it's going to happen for yourself or the team."
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The Sharks are using the energy the Pittsburgh Penguins drew from winning a Game 5 to extend their series with the Philadelphia Flyers as a means to motivate themselves.
The Sharks are 0-4 all-time in series when they trail it 3-1 but feel like they can feed off past teams that have done it.
"Growing up watching it, you see it has happened all the time," Pavelski said. "When you watch that game in the Pitt-Philly series and you see Pitt win that second game, now there's Game 6 and now there's doubt in Philly's mind. We realize if we come out here and play a good game, play a strong game, make St. Louis come back with us, it's going to put a little doubt in everyone's mind.We'll gain a little confidence and we'll have to do it again then."
So how does that happen?
"It's just one day at a time," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "You've got to get through today to get to tomorrow. You've got to play with desperation, emotion and ultimately win the game tonight.
"We want to extend the series, so we've got to win here tonight to bring it back to San Jose for Game 6, but really just got to focus on one game and one game only."
The Sharks played desperate hockey at the end of the season when they won seven of nine and four in a row to end the regular season to get into the playoffs. Their backs were against the wall then, as they are now.
"We've talked about that. When you look at our season, we needed to work hard to get in, and the last four games -- two against Dallas and two against LA -- were must wins and we were able to get all four," McLellan said. "We played well as a team with our backs up against the wall. We can do that here again tonight."
Added winger Ryane Clowe: "We've been in this position on the other side the last couple years where we've had a chance to close it out at home. It's not like there's extreme pressure, but you just want to go back on the road again. It's the thought that you don't want to go back to San Jose. You want to rest as much as possible and all that stuff. ... I know we've got a lot to lose but play like we're loose and we are playing for our lives."
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With the NHL handing down the ruling on Phoenix's Raffi Torres, who got suspended 25 games for his hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa in Game 3 of their playoff series, Hitchcock, who coached Torres in Columbus, was asked to weigh in on his thoughts.
The ruling came down as Hitchcock was conducting his morning press conference Saturday and his feelings were raw.
"I just think the NHL is sick of it right now," he said of the ruling. "I think they're tired of the predator-type hits. They're sending a clear message to everybody: play the game, play the game hard but we're not going to tolerate anything that they consider a predator hit."
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The Blues will keep the same lineup in tact tonight:
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-Alex Steen
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jake Allen is the backup.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower-body) is still day-to-day after being injured in Game 2. Healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Jaden Schwartz, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defenseman Kent Huskins and Ian Cole. The Blues recalled forwards Adam Cracknell and Evgeny Grachev along with defenseman Danny Syvret from Peoria on Friday but they're considered 'black aces' players.
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San Jose isn't expected to make any changes either:
Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe-Patrick Marleau-Martin Havlat
Brad Winchester-Andrew Desjardins-Tommy Wingels
Daniel Winnik-Michal Handzus-Torrey Mitchell
Dan Boyle-Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray-Brent Burns
Justin Braun-Colin White
Antti Niemi will make the start; Thomas Greiss is the backup.
The Sharks' healthy scratches include DJason Demers, D Jim Vandermeer, LW TJ Galiardi, C Dominic Moore and LW Benn Ferriero.