Blues will take lessons from past and apply to present;
Monday practice lines; Rattie to stay; Backes going home
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- From a results perspective, the Blues would soon rather forget the past two playoff experiences.
But from a lesson-learned standpoint and if they can draw experience from the agony, then there's something to be said.
The Blues, who open their best-of-7 Western Conference first round series against the Minnesota Wild with Game 1 on Thursday (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN and KMOX 1120-AM), have won one playoff series in the past three seasons despite winning 130 regular season games (29 in the 48-game lockout 2012-13 season) and another 51 this past season.
Winning in the regular season hasn't been the problem. It's the 8-13 record in the postseason that has to change and the players are anxious to be better playoff performers.
Winning five of the last six games to end the regular season and going in with positive momentum helps, but having a healthy lineup on the ice Monday for the first practice before the postseason at the Ice Zone as opposed to last season, there's a different vibe coming from the room.
"First off, you look at we won five of our last six games, right? Last year, we lost the last six going into the playoffs," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who sat out the final game of the regular season, said. "We knew we'd start turning it up a notch here going into the final stretch and into the playoffs. I think we took care of that. You've got to take what you learned from last year. We know how hard it is to win, obviously. We know we're the higher seed and they're going to be coming out as hard as they can. It's the playoffs. You get into these playoffs, there's a chance for everybody. We certainly feel like we've got the best chance.
"We always feel like we've got a chance going in, but when you win five of your last six, obviously you're going to feel confident going into the first round here. We have a lot of guys chipping in in different ways."
The biggest lesson the Blues need to learn: if they go up 2-0 in this series, on home ice mind you, like they did the past two season against the Los Angeles Kings in 2013 and the Chicago Blackhawks last season, put the pedal to the metal and stay relentless, because the Blues do not want a repeat of six-game losses both times.
"I think we know what it takes for the first two games at home; we've done that the last couple of years," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've won our two at home. But past that, we need to get some road wins (the Blues are 1-9 the past three postseasons). We had a very good road record this year (24-12-5)and that's something we focused on. We wanted to become a good road team. It's hard to go into another team's building and keep that momentum and gain it, but I think we know what it takes now and we have to be able to bury teams."
Yes, this Blues team is different from last season's, or the season before than and so forth, but the results happen to be the same, and until those change for the better, the guard will always be up in regards to the fan base.
"I don't know what you learn. It's a new team, new players," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think the only thing you learn is how difficult and hard it is and how well you have to play just to remain competitive. The only experience you want the players to absorb is to embrace how difficult it's going to be and how challenging it's going to be and really enjoy and have fun with it. I think the teams that have players that have gone through that experience, that have had success in that experience, they have a benefit. If you've got players who know what the price is to pay, the way you have to play and how you move on daily and not get absorbed or overwhelmed knowing it takes four games to win a series, that's usually where you're able to maintain a level and not get too emotional about it. You really have to take it as one day, separately from the next in the competition because you're going to go through lots of emotional upheaval and you're just going to have to learn to deal with it."
No matter how hard of a front the Blues tried to put up last season, it became clear it was too much to overcome the injuries and subsequent losses at the end of the regular season. So they go in this time around with a clear head and playing well.
"We knew how important it was not to limp into the playoffs," Shattenkirk said. "I think we not only did a great job of preserving guys and not over-extending ourselves the last few games. I think that was something that kind of hurt us last year; we lost a lot of bodies. But we just knew that playing the right way and having that kind of momentum going into the playoffs is so important and we did a great job of it down the stretch."
* Practice lines -- After a Sunday off day, the Blues got back after it at practice Monday, and the forwards and defensemen looked pretty similar to what's expected to suit up for Game 1:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
That left forwards Chris Porter, Olli Jokinen and Ty Rattie along with defensemen Chris Butler and Robert Bortuzzo as the extras, but Hitchcock said they'll look at another group on the practice ice Wednesday after an off-ice workout Tuesday.
"That's the one we practiced (with)," Hitchcock said. "We'll change it up for Wednesday; we want to look at something different on Wednesday. We'll move two or three players around on Wednesday and see which one we like the best."
That includes Bortuzzo, who many feel has earned his way into he top six.
"I don't know that I'd go to the bank on that or some other options," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo being on the outside looking in. "We'll make some changes on Wednesday, we'll tweak a few things and see which combos we like; not only defense pairings but forwards, too.
"I want to see what the opposition has for a lineup and see what they've got. That's going to affect the way we play our team, our players also. I want to see what (Wild coach Mike Yeo's) got going. (Who) he plays with (Mikko) Koivu will determine a lot who we're going to play on the wings."
It was a great relief for Hitchcock, who had no idea who he was going to have at practice or play last season against Chicago.
"I was telling the coaches today, the first practice we had last year, we had a day and a half off and missed seven players," Hitchcock said. "So we are a completely different group. We had five lines, we had eight defensemen and two healthy goalies going at it. Everybody survived the practice and did fine. We'll be healthy to go Wednesday and be healthy to start on Thursday. It's such a different feeling because we were in this question mark, gray area last year up until the pre-game skate. We're not there. We know what's going, so we're able to prepare a lot differently, which I think is going to really help us."
* Rattie staying -- With 25 ready, willing and able bodies on the ice Monday, there was some question whether forward Ty Rattie would get assigned to the Chicago Wolves, who will be in the postseason and Rattie could be available for their remaining season. But Hitchcock confirmed Rattie will stay with the Blues for the remainder of the season.
"Yeah, he's a potential player if we have a problem in this series injury-wise or whatever; he's a potential player," Hitchcock said of Rattie. "We've really liked his game. We've really liked the way he's competed. We really like his board play and vision on the ice. It looks like he's a guy that can help us in the future for sure."
* Backes going home -- A native of Minneapolis, Backes is one player that is as motivated as anyone to play in this playoff series.
Or is he?
"It's going to be more expensive buying away tickets, that's for sure," Backes joked. "For me, it's Year 9 in the league and it's time we do some real damage in the playoffs. Whether we're at my hometown or in some foreign country somewhere, it doesn't really matter. We need to win games, that's really my focus."