Friday, April 18, 2014


Fourth line spark; quick turnaround for 
Blues, Blackhawks; Tarasenko, Leopold shine

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It may not have been the 'CPR Line' that opened the playoffs for the Blues on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, but 2/3 of them on one line wasn't a bad combination either.

All three (Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves) were in the lineup during the Blues' 4-3 triple-overtime victory against the Blackhawks in Game 1, and although Reaves made his presence felt with some crunching checks during the game, it was Porter and Cracknell -- along with Maxim Lapierre -- that made the buzz early in the game. Cracknell, who hadn't scored a goal in 19 regular season games, scored his first playoff goal 4 minutes, 40 seconds into the game for a 1-0 Blues lead. 

Porter, along with Vladimir Tarasenko, led the Blues with seven shots on goal, and Lapierre saved what would have been an overtime goal by Kris Versteeg when he covered up a portion of the goal for a scrambling Ryan Miller, as Versteeg's one-timer caromed off Lapierre's knee and away from the goal.

Lapierre (22:51), Porter (19:01) and Cracknell (17:59) all logged in important minutes, and when the Blues' fourth line plays an important role, chances are the Blues are exiting the ice at the end of the night victorious.

"It was huge," Cracknell said. "We talked as a line before the game that we have to create energy. To win the Stanley Cup and go far in the playoffs, you need your third and fourth lines to be deep and to help out offensively and defensively. We got rewarded last night and it was a lot of excitement for our line and our hockey club. To get that win it was definitely huge."

Cracknell's goal came as a result of determination from the Blues in the Blackhawks' zone. After Porter got a hold of Alex Pietrangelo's sprawling backhand pass, Porter quickly threw a backhand in the goal mouth in front of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford. Like all forwards crashing the net should do, Cracknell was able to tap in a loose puck and for a moment, gave the team life and helped the standing room only crowd of 19,423 erupt.

"It’s nice to have the confidence of the head coach," Porter said. "I think last night we helped contribute to the energy and the physicality of the team.

"There’s nothing flashy about our game. We get pucks deep and we create havoc in the offensive zone and try to limit our time playing in the defensive zone as much as possible."

"They were good with the puck," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the trio. "They protected the puck, they created scoring chances, they followed the script and they really played well as a line together. Plus, 'Lappy' made a helluva save, a good road hockey save there. 

"They did the things we needed them to do. We needed them to draw even. They did more than draw even. It was a good sign."

With the potential of a return to the lineup from injured forwards T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund (both upper-body injuries), a winning lineup is tough to break up.

Oshie appears closer to a return than Berglund, and when that happens, Hitchcock said it's not a tough choice. It likely means Cracknell and/or Porter are the most likely candidates to vacate the lineup.

"I haven't really thought like that, but when a guy like Berglund or Oshie says he's ready to play, then somebody's going out," Hitchcock said. "We'll figure it out. You get players like that back into your lineup, it's going to do nothing but help. Somebody's going to have to go out. I haven't really thought that far. We kind of know every morning on gameday who's in. Today was a good day for the guys that were out. Another good day and we'll see how they feel tomorrow and we'll see when they get in." 

* Quenneville apologizes, fined by league -- Former Blues coach and current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville drew attention during the second overtime of Game 1 Thursday night.

With the Blackhawks already on the power play following a Ryan Reaves delay of game penalty, the Blackhawks contended that the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk popped the puck over the boards from behind his own net with 37 seconds left in the original penalty. It would have given Chicago a two-man advantage.

But after all four officials (referees Marc Joannette and Kevin Pollack and linesmen Shane Heyer and Matt MacPherson) conferred, they concluded that the puck deflected off a Blackhawks stick.

Quenneville obviously disagreed and offered a gesture to the officials by grabbing his crotch. 

The NHL fined Quenneville $25,000 for what it said was "inappropriate conduct." He apologized while speaking to media members at the team hotel earlier Friday.

"I was definitely excited," Quenneville said. "Disappointed with the call, but I apologize for my behavior. It wasn't very appropriate at all. It was a bush-league move on my part."

The money will go to the NHL Foundation.

"I saw the highlight of it. I was on the ice when it happened," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Joel's a passionate coach and he's intense on the bench. We could certainly feel that as players and I think sometimes he wants to get his skates on and go out there and play with us. He's got fire behind the bench that really filters through the team and makes us play that much better."

Hitchcock was asked about it Friday.

"Yes I saw what Joel did," Hitchcock said. "I'm not commenting on what Joel did (laughing). I saw it, but I'm not commenting. It would be inappropriate."

* Tired but happy -- The Blues held an optional skate Friday, and only 10 players were on the ice. Most were healthy scratches Thursday to go along with Oshie and Berglund as well as all three goaltenders. However, Ryan Miller left after about 15 minutes of an on-ice workout.

And with a 2 p.m. start for Game 2 on Saturday, players will be on the ice in competition again just 38.5 hours after finishing Game 1.

"Because you're not traveling as much, because you're playing the same opponent, there's a familiarity to it that I think you're able to get comfortable," Hitchcock said. "But this is why guys play. They play for this time of year. This is why you play. This is what everyone dreamed of, getting the chance to play in these type of series. 

"This looks like it has longevity in the series right now from just the game standpoint. If you talk to anybody on both teams, it feels like they've already played two hockey games. For us to keep things going, we've just got to keep it in perspective, get some more guys back in the lineup here in the next game or two and see if we can keep pushing Chicago."

"That's a quick turnaround," Pietrangelo said. "We were laughing about that yesterday. Three overtimes and then you've got to play a day game. But that's part of our job and we'll go with it. Got some good rest today."

Blues captain David Backes said the fatigue factor, if it plays a role, will affect both teams.

"I think with the depth of both teams - four lines playing for the most part - fatigue, if it's a factor, it's probably going to be pretty evenly displaced through the both lineups," Backes said. "I don't think it will be something that either team can rest on or think that they're going to have an advantage of. It starts at 0-0 again and we've got to build another great game. I think the coaching staffs on both teams have been in situations like this before and they'll be pretty smart about it and spread out the work load. You realize that your first two lines, if they're really tired, they're not as productive as the fresh third or fourth line guy and you start to distribute minutes that way. Again, it's whatever it takes to win and we feel like we've got 20 guys that are bought into our game plan and how we need to win."

That's why the Blues have already put Game 1 in the rear view mirror.

"The level is only going to go up," Pietrangelo said. "They're going to be hungry to get back against us and steal a win from us in our barn. We're going to have to find some energy and so are they. It's going to be a quick game ... it's going to get elevated. Both teams are going to be hungrier. We're just worried about taking care of our home ice and I'm sure they're going to want to try and steal one here. We're just taking it one game at a time. I don't think you can look too far ahead right now, especially against this team."

* Backes workhorse -- Just nine days after leaving a game after blocking a shot with his foot, Backes logged 33:33 ice time and 57 shifts. He had a team-high seven of the Blues' 42 hits and won 14 of 27 faceoffs.

Backes said he never would have envisioned such ice time before the game if someone would have asked him.

"I might have slapped them in the face and said, 'You're reaching a little bit there,'" Backes joked. "I told someone before the game that whatever this game holds ... I think I said 14 overtimes ... so thankfully it didn't go to that because I think we would have all been in the ER after that. 

"It was a little exaggerated with that number, but I figured the way these two teams have played each other, the added excitement and adrenaline from the Stanley Cup playoffs, it was going to be a close game. I'd imagine the next six games, if that's what it's going to take, are going to be close games."

* Bouwmeester OK -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who left the game Thursday seven minutes into the first overtime and didn't return until the start of the third extra session, was at the practice facility Friday and Hitchcock ruled Bouwmeester good to go Sunday.

The Blues' coach said Bouwmeester was "dehydrated," and challenged a notion that he has bounced back.

"I wouldn't call it bounce, but he's here and he's upright," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester, who logged 29:16. "I'm sure they've got a few guys that are dehydrated, too. He'll play tomorrow."

* More effective PK -- Despite killing five of six Blackhawks power plays, Hitchcock was succinct when asked if he liked his team's power play.

"No ... nope ... nope," Hitchcock said tongue-in-cheek. "We'll be better there."

The Blues, who allowed the Brent Seabrook power play goal, spent too much time in the zone, much to Hitchcock's disliking.

* Tarasenko shines -- Despite missing 15 games with a thumb injury, Vladimir Tarasenko picked up right where he left off Thursday night, and what's more impressive about Tarasenko's 23:52 time on ice in which he scored a goal, was his ability take the game over despite returning to the lineup at least two weeks less than expected.

"For me, what was impressive with Vlad was he was able to do a lot of things conditioning-wise that helped him a lot," Hitchcock said. "From a first playoff game standpoint, he looked like what he did in the regular season, which for us is a good sign. I more looked at it from is he going to have jitters. It's the first time he gets to play, but he's a really confident guy. I thought his confidence really came through in the end last night."

The Blues' numbers are pretty staggering when Tarasenko is in and when he's out. With Tarasenko, the Blues averaged 3.38 goals per game and were 44-13-7. Without him, they were 8-10-0 and averaged 1.78 goals per game.

Tarasenko nearly scored a second goal Thursday, but he was robbed by Corey Crawford's sprawling save in the second period.

"He's been out for 15 games, but he's been trying to get back in the lineup for 15 games with whatever it's taken to beg, borrow and steal to get back into the lineup," Backes said of Tarasenko. "So he loves the game, he's passionate about it, he lays everything on the line. First shift, he's blocking a shot (from Duncan Keith), making plays, out-skating guys and it's great to see from him."

* Leopold impresses -- Another player impressed by Hitchcock was defenseman Jordan Leopold, who played 27:27 and was a plus-1 in the game. Expect the left-handed defenseman to stay in the lineup Saturday.

"He was very solid, very competitive," Hitchcock said. "As the game went on, he got more and more composed when things were chaotic. He was able to settle things down. Very impressed."

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