Could Blues ramp up physicality more;
Tarasenko shines; fine line in series with Blackhawks
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The numbers say the Blues are the team delivering more of the physical play through four games in the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues have delivered 151 hits, or just under 38 hits average per game. Chicago is at 104 for the series, or 26 hits per game.
The Blues won Games 1 and 2 by playing their game, and despite losing captain David Backes because of an illegal hit to the head by Chicago's Brent Seabrook along with some heavy hits from Bryan Bickell, the Blues imposed their will little by little and won the first two games and got the Blackhawks to get away from their skill game.
But did they get away from that style a bit in Chicago?
"I don't think we've gotten away from it," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think maybe we just haven't been hitting with our sticks on the puck like we were the first couple games. It seemed like every time we were getting a hit, it was a turnover as well.
It wasn't just a hit and then still moving the puck like it has been the last couple games. We've still been physical, still guys hitting. I'm not sure what the numbers are for the time on ice for Revo (Ryan Reaves) and Ports (Chris Porter) and things like that. Those guys really drive the bus for us in the physical categories."
Bickell, who escaped punishment after his knee-on-knee hit to Blues center Vladimir Sobotka, in Game 2, also delivered a crunching hit to Sobotka in Game 4. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been the subject of some physical play as well.
The Blues, namely Reaves, Porter, Steve Ott, Maxim Lapierre and Backes, have been able to grind down Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, in particular.
"It is what it is, it's a physical series," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "(Bickell's) taken runs at Petro, he's taken runs at Sobe. We're taking runs at certain guys. It's not a fun series for your skilled players.
"I'm sure there's a couple of (Chicago) defensemen that wish this thing would be over or somebody would bypass them, but we're not doing that. They're not doing it with us. It is what it is. It's just the price that you pay to win. It wasn't fun for Drew Doughty last year, but they won the series. The bottom line is if you've got to take a few hits to make a play, it's just part of the game. (Bickell) is doing what he does well and we've got guys ... they've got a couple of defensemen on the right side that must be wondering what's going on."
* Losing the lead -- After the Blues scored three unanswered goals Wednesday to grab a 3-2 lead in the third period, they were less than four minutes from taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.
But Bickell's deflection of Michal Rozsival's point shot tied the game 3-3 with 3:52 remaining and Patrick Kane's overtime goal gave Chicago the win and tied the series.
"I didn't see the puck until it hit Bickell's stick," said Pietrangelo, covering in the slot on the play. "It all happened pretty quick when it went to the point.
"I think Rozsival just kind of threw it at the net. I don't think he was expecting much out of it, but we've got to find a way to cover those two guys in front, try and find a way not to let that puck get back to the point and keep it on the half wall. That's going to happen, and then we just fell a little short there in overtime."
Defensive linemate Jay Bouwmeester agreed.
"Anytime a goal goes in, something could probably have gone differently or whatever," Bouwmeester said. "That's the game. Obviously we had the lead in the third period and you don't want to give them anything, but that's the way it goes."
"Two things. First of all, we didn't block the point shot," he said. "And secondly, we had the exit and we didn't clear it earlier in that shift. And then is just, quite frankly, a heavy stick at the net. We didn't have a heavy stick on the guy and that's what we call 'critical ice.' We didn't have a heavy stick."
"Everything was going well for us," Oshie said. "We were playing hard, we were getting chances. I think we kind of took the game over at that point. They're opportunistic. They got an opportunity to score a goal and they went down and did that. We had a chance there to go up by two, but (Corey) Crawford did a good job of keepingt the puck out of their net and they scored."
* Costly non-call -- On Chicago's opening goal, scored on the power play by Andrew Shaw, Pietrangelo could be seen dropping his stick in the defensive zone immediately ahead of Shaw's midair backhand swipe. Upon further review, Toews got away with a slashing penalty that forced Pietrangelo to drop his stick and be rendered a bit helpless in defending.
"I'm not going to comment on the officiating, whether that was a penalty or not," Pietrangelo said. "They whack the puck out of the air, a good play on the goal."
Hitchcock and his coaching staff were able to see the replay, confirming their suspicions.
"We were not thrilled by that and less thrilled when we saw it on the tape today, but what are you going to do," Hitchcock said. "Those are the tough ones that go against you. They (officials) didn't think it was significant."
* Tarasenko drawing praise -- His two-goal performance gave him an NHL playoff-leading four after Wednesday's games, Vladimir Tarasenko drew praise from his coaches and teammates with his playoff performance.
The Blackhawks are also holding high praise for Tarasenko, who was a healthy scratch for for Blues in five of six games last season against the Kings.
But is it really all that surprising?
"Not really. The kid's good. He's a good player," Oshie said. "We want the puck on his stick as much as possible. He can shoot the puck like no one I've ever played with. He's a great player. I'm glad he's on our side.
"Maybe (Tarasenko's learned) a little (from last year's playoffs), but I think more so he needed to get that confidence that he was one of our go-to players, and I think now that now that he knows that, he has the confidence to go out there and the puck's on his stick, he wants to score goals. It doesn't matter how he does it, whether he has to beat a couple guys or just simply shoot the puck from wherever he's at."
Tarasenko wired two wrist shots. One put the Blues on the board and the second gave them a third period lead.
"Well, I think he has patience where most people panic," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He knows where to shoot it, he kind of shoots it where the goalie isn't ... he's good at it. He's more than just a goal scorer, he's a complete player. He's willing to check to get his chances, he's competitive in the right areas. He is smart. When he gets the opportunity to fire away, this isn't just shooting it for the middle of the net. He knows exactly where it's going. He knows which way the goalie is learning. For whatever reason, he's able to get himself some space in zone, which is pretty unique for such a young player."
And just think, Tarasenko jumped into the playoffs after missing 15 games with a hand injury and began playing two weeks ahead of where he was supposed to be. It's called a maturation process.
"Yeah, I'd agree with that," Oshie said. "I think for most of year, he's taken it to another level with the amount of goals he's scored and the difference-maker plays that he's made for us. You can definitely tell when he's not in the lineup and you can tell when he is. It's a great stage for him. He's a big part of our team, he's a big part of our offense. We need him going like he is right now."