By LOUIE KORAC
LOS ANGELES -- The Blues have a 2-0 series lead heading into tonight's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings but won't sit comfortably thinking the series is in the bag.
Both games in St. Louis, 2-1 victories including the first in overtime, could have gone the other way with one shot. But the Blues, who have never lost when leading a playoff series 2-0 (they're 10-0 in history) will look to snap a five-game losing skid in this building, including a 6-4 collapse on March 5 when they led 4-1 in the second period.
"For us, we just have to play 60 minutes with competitive composure," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to absorb some blows, just like you do any place on the road, but we just have to maintain our composure. We gathered it back in (Thursday) in the second half of the game and won the game because of it. We're going to have to find a way to have to do it for more minutes than 30 minutes if we expect to win in this building."
The Kings went 19-4-1 on home ice this season, and the Blues expect nothing but the defending champs' best tonight at 9 p.m. (FSM, NBCSN and KMOX 1120-AM). At 0-3 makes it all but certain the Kings would become the third straight defending champ to bow out the following season in the first round.
"Desperate teams are the most dangerous because they're hungry and they're not going to stop for a full 60 minutes or forever how long it takes," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It's a scary thing to go up against, but at the same time, we can apply that same mentality and play like we're down the series 2-0 instead of being up.
"... However, we do have to play with a little prosperity and know we can close this out here if we play the right way."
One year later, where the Blues were getting swept out of the postseason by the Kings in this building, the tides have changed and the Blues can do the same with a pair of wins Saturday night and Monday night.
"The roles are completely reversed, which is nice for us," Shattenkirk said. "But at the same time, just from last year, they played well in the playoffs at home. ... They have a great crowd and they seem to respond well when they're getting some energy from their crowd. It's going to be important for us to be able to push through those situations."
Teammate Alex Pietrangelo agreed.
"Obviously now we’re going to be in their building, it’s going to be a little bit of a different atmosphere for us," Pietrangelo said. "You don’t have the adrenaline quite as much as having your own fans behind you, but I think if we go out there and play the way we have been on the road this year [14-9-1], I think it’s going to result in another [win] for us. But we know it’s not going to be easy."
And it's cliche, but the Blues know more can be had.
"There's still areas that we have to improve a lot," winger T.J. Oshie said. "The scoreboard doesn't reflect it, but our power play's got to get going, our PK was a little over-aggressive last game and that led to their goal. We also have to keep our emotions in check against these guys."
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Although he's been a healthy scratch for the first two games of this series, rookie Vladimir Tarasenko seems to be taking his seat in the press box in stride.
Tarasenko, who played 38 games during the regular season and 30 prior to that in the Kontinental Hockey League, is taking the team-first approach.
"I'm OK," Tarasenko said after Saturday's morning skate. "It's a good experience for me. The guys win, and I can't be sad when guys win. I'm so happy we lead 2-0. If the team wins, that's the main (thing)."
When asked what he continues to work on, Tarasenko said: "Just what the coaches tell me."
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Hitchcock is a stickler for matchups when the Blues are on home ice. The veteran coach wants certain lines to play against the opposition's best players.
Playing on the road, that won't be an option, since Kings coach Darryl Sutter now will get the last change.
But Hitchcock's not concerned.
"We're not looking to match up front at all. It doesn't really matter," Hitchcock said. "The matchup we'll get will be from the back-end. We're not worried about the front at all. Just play ... especially with the puck confidence that we have in (Chris) Porter's line. We can play that line against anybody and not feel like we're taking a back seat."
Shattenkirk is one who will get certain matchups as part of the defensive unit.
"You're going to get caught out there sometimes," Shattenkirk said. "There's nothing you can do about it. They're going to have some moments where they are gonna really be able to pin you down. And there's going to be moments where you're going to have to adjust to it. Guys are going to have to play against different lines and be able to respond."
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The Blues, particularly Hitchcock, talked about how the game is different playing at Staples Center.
Hitchcock called rinks around the league "more rectangular," but referred to Staples Center as more rounded.
"Corners. The corners come up quick," Hitchcock said. "Around the net, you feel like you're in the corner. It's just a rounded building. It's the same surface, but the configuration here really makes it a different feel, different for the on-ice players, different feel for the coaches. Things happen a lot quicker in this building and you've just got to be ready for it."
Blues goalie Brian Elliott agreed.
"It's kind of a different style rink," Elliott said. "It's a different style of town altogether. You just have to approach it like we did at home. You want to take the crowd out of it and just play your game and not react to what they're going to do. Just play your game and not really worry about things. When we're doing that, everybody kind of takes care of their role and things take care of themselves."
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The Blues' probable lineup, which is the same as Games 1 and 2:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott starts in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Vladimir Tarasenko, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen, Andrew Murray, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jeff Woywitka, Jani Hakanpaa, Taylor Chorney and Evgeny Grachev. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) remains on injured reserve.
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The Kings' probable lineup will see a tweak on defense:
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin-Slava Voynov
Rob Scuderi-Alec Martinez
Jonathan Quick gets the start in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Brad Richardson, Keaton Ellerby and Tyler Toffoli. Willie Mitchell (knee) remains on season-ending injured reserve. Matt Greene (undisclosed) is also injured but skating.