Wednesday, May 8, 2013

(5-8-13) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie didn't shy away from the attention after Game 4.

The Blues' winger was critical of himself in particular following the 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings saying, "Being on the ice for all four of the other team's goals is pretty embarrassing."

Oshie and Patrik Berglund were on the ice for all four, and fellow linemate David Perron was on the ice for three of them (the first Kings goal was scored on a 4-on-4 situation).

With Game 5 slated for 8 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM and NHL Network nationally), look for the trio to have a chip on their shoulders with the series all squared at 2-2.

"We've got to step up our play," Oshie said. "It wasn't like we had a bad, entire game. I think it was four major instances where our reloads weren't right, we were maybe a little aggressive, our routes weren't right. On one, I had a bad stick.

"It's little things, but I think it's just those little things that win you playoff games. It's the little things that LA's doing right now, and that's why they got the last two wins against us."

It would have been natural to think that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would break up the unit previously known as 'The Kid Line.' But Hitchcock will keep the glue that has upped the play of a line that was strong for three games.

"He's our conscience," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "He's the guy that set the standard of performance. He's disturbed and disappointed that they were on the ice for goals against, odd-man rushes against. He was disappointed by that. I think he knew at the end of the game that when we had the 2-0 lead, we started trying to apply the knockout punch and got caught.

"We've done that a little bit this year and that's just the maturing process of a young team trying to learn how to win against a really good team. I thought that's the one thing we're guilty of. We tried to hit the knockout punch way too early and got caught pushing down, gave up odd-man rushes and let them back in the game. When you give up odd-man rushes on the road, they usually end up in your net. We were just way too aggressive in trying to keep pucks in and that's where I think Osh is disappointed, that they got swept up in the emotion of the game. We gave up the wrong chances to the wrong people."

Despite scoring his first two playoff goals, Oshie -- along with Berglund and Perron -- each finished minus-3 in the game but Hitchcock believes the unit will bounce back.

"I think for us, wherever we put (Oshie), that line plays the right way," Hitchcock said. "When it doesn't, he grabs it right away and gets it to play the right way. That's why Berglund's line, they were terrific in Game 2 and 3, and it wouldn't surprise me if they were good again tonight.

"They had a sub par effort (in Game 4). They know it, and they'll jump back."

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David Backes was a notable absence from Wednesday's morning skate for the Blues, but considering he finished Game 4 Monday, it's likely that Backes took the proverbial "maintenance day" and is likely to play tonight. Alex Steen centered Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line in Backes' spot.

Of course, Hitchcock wouldn't comment on Backes' status.

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The unit known as the 'CPR Line' of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves was in tact again Wednesday morning and appears that it will be united once again tonight.

Hitchcock broke it up for Game 4, adding Tarasenko to the mix in place of Cracknell.

Tarasenko only played 5 minutes, 51 seconds in the game and many questioned why he was even used in the first place considering Cracknell and his linemates were playing well. But Hitchcock used the move as a safety blanket.

"I think the ice time thing for me with Vladi, I should have probably pushed him up earlier in the game when the players that we were asking him to cover for because of various ailments, I probably could have gone to earlier because they tired out a little bit, but as far as making that decision, not one bit," Hitchcock said. "He's part of our team. You've got to cover over. When you're not sure on two or three guys that are going to be able to finish the game, you've got to be careful. It's great to finish with a bunch of workers, but if the puck's not part of the game ... last I looked at it, the puck's still part of the game, and he's good that way. We did it as a safety net for us, which I thought was really smart going in.

"The difference in the hockey game wasn't the 'CPR Line.' The difference was we gave up a bunch of odd-man rushes when we had no reason to. That's what led them back in the hockey game. We gave up too many easy scoring chances against top players. When you're looking at (Colin) Fraser on a 3-on-2, you're not sweating bullets. When it's (Jeff) Carter and (Mike) Richards or (Anze) Kopitar and (Dustin) Brown, you're sweating bullets. That's what happened. We gave up the wrong odd-man rushes to the wrong people and they slammed it right in the net."

Crackell wasn't disappointed in the decision to be a healthy scratch. he was more disappointed in the loss.

"It's not tough at all," Cracknell said. "At the end of the day, it's all about the team. Vladi sat out for an extended period of time. Maybe things weren't going right, especially if we're struggling offensively, you want to bring a guy like that in that's maybe a little more hungry. He's a pure goal scorer. If you can get him going, it's a good thing. To lose that one in LA, especially with a lead going into the third, it's a tough thing. ... In the stands, you have no control. It's tough to watch."

- - -

The 'CPR Line' has been a force for the Blues throughout the series, a series that's as physical as advertised. When the series opened here in St. Louis, the unit was punishing, agitating and of course, physical.

They helped push the Kings out of their element of being the aggressors. They'll look to do so again in a game that means taking the series lead.

"I think we kind of take it on ourselves to be the leaders of that department," Reaves said. "Now that we're back together, I think it's crucial for us to get it going early, get it going often and try to get the team to follow suit.

"It's going to be physical. They're going to try and push us out early. We've got the home ice advantage, so they're going to try and take our crowd out of it early. We have to try and get our crowd into it early. It's going to be physical, it's going to be fast, it's going to be fun."

When the Blues, who do get the last change on home ice, get the sense that pushing the Kings back will be necessary, it might be in Hitchcock's best interests to get his police unit on the ice to restore order.

"We see the game turning the other way, we look at each other and we're like, 'We know we need a shift. We know we have to get it deep,'" Cracknell said. "I think we respond to that very well. We respond to the challenge as well. That's what we need. We can't play any other way. We can't be a fancy line or anything like that. We're straight meat-and-potatoes type of line. It works for our benefit if we can do that for our team.

"You look at the series, it's been very physical, especially you're going into Game 5 now. Guys might be starting to get some bumps and bruises. As a line, you want to try and wear down the opposing team. Try and get it down low, maybe get some hits on their 'D,' try and maybe re-aggravate those injuries or bruises. Just try and make them a little more tired. I think you're going to make mistakes when you're tired, so we can try and wear them down. Maybe we can capitalize on that. As a line, just be physical and bring a lot of energy."

That's why the trio is looking forward to creating havoc when needed.

"I think it's going to be the fastest game you're going to see in the series," Reaves said. "This kind of takes the stranglehold. It's a best-of-3 now and you always want to be in the position where you only need one more win to win the series.

"I think once we get our opportunity to get out there when they give their push, that's definitely got to be our focus, to kind of take that game back over and make sure we get the crowd back into it, kind of take them out of it if they get a little momentum, try and swing it around a little bit."

Hitchcock wasn't forthcoming on Cracknell's availability, sticking to the vest as far as personnel decisions.

- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:

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 are expected to include Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Vladimir Tarasenko, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) remains on injured reserve.

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The Kings' projected lineup:

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

Keaton Ellerby

Jonathan Quick is in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.

Healthy scratches are  expected to 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.

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