Friday, April 18, 2014

Game 1 victory proves Blues didn't forget how to win

Oshie questionable, Berglund doubtful as 
Blues look to go up 2-0 in series vs. Blackhawks

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The lingering question hanging over the Blues since they ended the regular season is how can the Blues recapture the winning ways that led to a franchise-best 52 wins.

Even with a rash of injuries late and goal-scoring down nearly a goal-and-a-half the second half of the season, six straight losses to end the regular season was something that needed to be overcome quickly with the defending Stanley Cup champions coming to town.

The Blues' 4-3 triple-overtime win against the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series was just a subtle reminder that the Blues haven't forgotten how to win. Injuries played a role down the stretch and the Blues knew reinforcements were on the way, and as veteran forward Brenden Morrow calmly said earlier in the week, "the cavalry's coming."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues center Derek Roy (12) assisted on Jaden Schwartz's tying goal late
in the third period Thursday vs. Blackhawks and Niklas Hjalmarsson (4).

The Blues got back five of their injured players back and after an exhausting marathon that took more than 100 minutes to complete, victory tasted sweet in a series destined to be lengthy.

Game 2 is Saturday (2 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday.

"We scored a lot of goals, won 52 games ... we didn't forget what the feeling is," said Alex Pietrangelo, who played a career-high 44:08 Thursday night. "It was a little bit of a bump in the road, but it's a good learning lesson to get that one [Thursday night] under our belt. I think it's good for the confidence. We feel pretty good right now. We believe what we have in the room, whether there's negativity coming from the outside or not. We believe in this team, we have all year, and that's why we've been so successful."

The Blues held an optional skate Friday afternoon at their practice facility inside St. Louis Outlet Mall. Ten skaters took the ice, and two of them were injured forwards T.J. Oshie (upper body) and Patrik Berglund (upper body). 

For Oshie, it was another day on the ice gearing himself up for a return to the lineup. He's questionable for Saturday. Berglund skated with teammates for the first time Friday. He's more inclined to miss the game Saturday. Both missed Game 1.

"I didn't see them," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Until someone taps me on the shoulder and says he's a game player, he's out. Our lineup's going to be fluid every day. Every day it's going to be fluid. I told you guys before, we're going to have everybody playing in this series at some period of time, so that obviously means by Game 5, we expect everybody to be ready to go and hopefully nobody gets injured. Touch wood, but that's our expectations."

Blues captain David Backes said a healthy Oshie is good for the team at any point. 

"He's a horse for us, an Energizer bunny that never stops," Backes said. "You talk about fatigue, he's a guy that would have a few days of rest (going) into a series which has a lot guys that have played some big minutes in the last 36 hours. So it'll be hopefully a jolt to the arm if he's in. If not, we've proven that we can win if he's not in the lineup. We'll have to have the same sort of performance again."

The Blues' preparation was simplistic Friday: come in for meetings, hydrate and go home and rest.

"Food, hydration, sleep ... I feel pretty good today," Pietrangelo said. "I think most of us do. It was tough to sleep [Thursday night] by the time you get home, eat and relax and the brain winds down. 

"I feel fine today. Trainers have done a great job giving us the proper information and how to deal with it."

Even the coaching staff had trouble sleeping after 100 minutes, 26 seconds of hockey.

"You're back at it so early this morning, all of us are going to get out of here right away as soon as we're finished talking to you all and get some rest," Hitchcock said earlier in the day Friday. "Big game comes up early tomorrow. We're going to have to be ready. The players, we brought them in, especially late today so that they were hydrated again and ready to go for tomorrow."

It's a greater feeling for the Blues, who will carry a 1-0 series lead into Game 2. Calming the game down was a gradual process Thursday.

"I just think we got better and better as the game went on," Hitchcock said. "I think our best period was our third period. We took a couple penalties unfortunately [in overtime], but I thought our best period was our third period. We were good early, and then they gave us a real push, went up 3-2, caught us kind of napping defensively and then they had a big start to the third period. That's where we needed Ryan [Miller]. First four minutes of the third period, they were all over us and then we started to really play after that. The last 35 minutes of the game, we were good and then the overtime, who knows what happens. Either team could have won it in overtime a million times. I would have been disappointed not taking it into overtime the way we played the third period and the chances we generated. It was good for our team."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Ryan Miller (left) stopped the final 35 shots against Thursday night vs.
the Blackhawks after allowing three goals on seven shots.

The Blues know winning Saturday only means they will hold serve. They expect a greater push-back from the Blackhawks.

"Yeah, we've taken lessons from the past experiences in playoffs and know that it's one game at a time," Backes said. "It's not all going to be roses. 

"Whatever happens in the next game, we put it behind us and worry about the next one. If it gets outside of that, we're kidding ourselves and we're going to be in trouble. This group in here knows that it's one game at a time and the next one is tomorrow afternoon and we've got to take care of business."

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