By LOUIE KORAC
LOS ANGELES -- One thing that's been determined in this Western Conference Quarterfinals series between the Blues and Los Angeles Kings: the real estate is in limited quantity.
With a grand total of seven goals scored in the first three games of the series, Monday night's Game 4 shouldn't see goals scored in droves.
The Kings have certainly done their job by limiting the Blues to four goals in the series, but the Blues' stinginess goes back to when the team went on this current 14-4-0 run. In 18 games, the Blues have allowed 25 goals, or an average of 1.39 goals per game. Take away two of those games in which they've allowed nine goals, the Blues are allowing 16 goals in 16 games, or one per contest. That one goal per game falls right in line with the three goals the Blues have surrendered in this series as well but only lead it 2-1.
Goaltending (mainly Brian Elliott) will get most of the pub; the defensive side will also get noticed, especially since the additions of Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester, but the Blues rely on all three aspects of their defensive strategy: goaltending, shutdown defensemen and forwards buying into the defensive mentality.
"Even when you're in the offensive zone, you're setting yourself up to play defense," veteran Blues forward Andy McDonald said. "You're making sure you have a high guy, a third guy high to prevent an odd-man rush. When they get control of the puck, you're positioning yourself to play defense. Playing defense is completely a five-man unit and obviously the goaltender. ... You have to be a part of that. Even if you're an offensive player and score goals, you certainly have to buy in and be a part of the program and focus on the defense first and realize that this is the formula that they've set up for us to follow."
From a Blues defenseman's standpoint, they certainly appreciate the support.
"It's started from the offensive zone," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've done a great job of back-checking by our forwards, not really allowing them to sort of get any sort of transition rushes and when the puck does get in our zone, as defensemen we're doing a tremendous job of first touches, making quick plays, not allowing them to check us and force turnovers. That's allowed us to get right back on offense quickly."
However, in this Blues-Kings series, good luck trying to find the necessary real estate to make plays.
"Both teams compete on the puck and for the puck so hard," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's why there's no room out there. They compete on the puck offensively, they compete on the puck defensively. There's just no room. ... There's no room out there because, not that both teams aren't committed to defense, both teams are committed to hard play. When your teams are built that way, this is ice by the inch and you're going to have to find a way to fight through it because if you're looking for space in a series like this, you aren't going to find it."
The Blues have done a nice job of limiting the offense that the Kings stalwarts of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have been able to produce.
The five have a combined four points (two goals, two assists) in three series.
"They've got a lot of balance. Even (Jarret) Stoll and their group," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the Kings. "The fourth line was huge for them last year, too. You have to be aware of everybody, play everybody just as hard Obviously Kopitar and Williams and Brown, those guys are a little more dynamic, but you just have to be aware at all times and work as a unit.
"It's definitely stifling defense. The team that sticks with it the longest doesn't get frustrated and takes advantage of the opportunities will win."
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The Blues will enter Game 4 with one lineup change, as rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, a healthy scratch for the first three games, draws into the lineup and will replace Adam Cracknell.
"I think he saw the level of intensity, he understands it and he's been a good player," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko, who played 38 regular season games. "Until the [concussion], he'd a very good player. He came back from the injury a little tentative from the injury and I think when you have a player that contributes like he does and is strong on the puck and determined as he is and as big as he is, he's an asset that we can use. So for me, get up to the competitive level.
"I had a talk with him [Sunday], he's excited to play. I think he deserves to play based on his regular season. He can play left or right, and he certainly gives us some options moving forward if the game gets as close as it does."
Tarasenko, who sat on the bench and talked with Hitchcock during practice Sunday, is eager.
"Excited to make my playoff debut," Tarasenko said after the morning skate. "I love to play with these players."
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Hitchcock paid the ultimate praise upon center Patrik Berglund Monday afternoon. Although Berglund has only a goal to show in the series, he's a plus-2 and has been using every inch of his 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame.
"This is as well as he's played since I've coached him," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's at the top of his game right now. This is as hard as I've ever seen him compete, as determined as I've ever seen him play. He's got vision on the ice, he's playing terrific right now. I just hope he keeps it up."
Berglund, who just completed his fifth season, looks forward to gaining a split here in L.A. and put the Blues in line to clinch Wednesday in St. Louis.
"Every game is important and huge, but obviously if we can get a (win) in here, it's obviously a really good favor for us," said Berglund, who had 17 goals in 48 regular season games after having only 19 in 82 games a season ago. "I think we all feel and see how important this game is.
"I think we've been doing a good job. We haven't let in a whole lot of goals, Ells has been playing great, also the defense has been good. It's our scoring that obviously needs to get much better. We're planning on changing that."
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Hitch continues to fire playful barbs at his counterpart, Kings coach Darryl Sutter, this time in reference to the spat that occurred at the end of Sunday's game between Montreal coach Michel Therrien and Ottawa coach and former Blue Paul MacLean.
Hitchcock entered the press room and offered the following:
"(I) understand Mister Sutter is thinking it's going to be Montreal-Ottawa here, him and I left on the bench ... I don't like my chances," Hitchcock joked.
Earlier in the series in St. Louis, when Hitchcock was asked to compare he and Sutter in terms of coaching, he joked: "In the summer, he talks to cows and I talk to golfers."
Of course, the Sutter family are known to be avid farmers and have a farm in Viking, Alberta.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Tarasenko-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, Adam Cracknell, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) remains on injured reserve.
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The Kings' probable lineup will remain the same as Game 3, which includes seven defensemen:
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Colin Fraser
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin-Slava Voynov
Rob Scuderi-Alec Martinez
Jonathan Quick is in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.
Healthy scratches will be Brad Richardson, Jordan Nolan and Tyler Toffoli. Willie Mitchell (knee) remains on season-ending injured reserve. Matt Greene (lower-body) is not ready to return.