Thursday, April 16, 2015

(4-16-15) Wild-Blues Game 1 Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen didn't do anything different. It was just another day for the Blues goalie. 

And Thursday apparently is just another day for Allen, who will be making his first NHL postseason start when the Blues host the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

"No. Nope. Another game," Allen said. "More exciting game, more meaningful game; that's all. I'm looking forward to it."

The only difference is the 8:30 start time, which allows for some extra zzz's.

"It's awesome actually. Great sleep last night, maybe even a longer nap today since it's an 8:30 start, which is a little odd," Allen said, who said preparation doesn't change. 

"... Not really," he said. "You've just got to time your nap a little differently I guess. Maybe add an hour and a half for when you start your nap and when you get up compared to a seven o'clock game."

Both Allen and Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk will be making their playoff debut starts tonight, but from the Blues' perspective, they won't do too much to change Allen's demeanor.

"Treat him the same way we do all year, communicate as much as possible," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "That's the big thing for us, especially on puck movement. The guy obviously likes to move the puck. He communicates on the ice; we've got to make sure we give it back to him. 

"Both our guys can move the puck, but any time you have a goalie back there that can move it and help on transition, too, it's going to be a big deal. All that comes in communication between us and him."

Communication apparently is key, but change Allen? Not a chance.

"I don't think so. We just play our game," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. "I think defend well and communicate. Communication is a huge part and make it easy for him. He's a good goalie; he's going to stop the first puck so we've got to make sure we let him see the puck and if there's any rebounds, we box people out in front and make it easier for him.

"It seems like nothing bothers (Allen) really. He just goes about his business every day and no matter what happens, it's pretty impressive for a younger guy like that. In the playoffs, you're going to go through that, highs and lows. You see him handling it pretty well."

Allen, from Fredericton, New Brunswick, will have the late, late prime time slot on the television set in parents Kurt and Susan Allen's household. When the puck drops, it will be 10:30 p.m. at the Allen's.

"It's going to be late for him, but I'm sure they will (watch)," Allen said of his parents. "He might go into work 20-30 minutes late tomorrow, but I'm sure they'll be up for it and watching it.

"(New Brunswick is) quite a ways away for me. It's tough to get them in (to St. Louis). Hopefully down the road soon."

Allen, who went 5-1-1 down the stretch with a 1.14 goals-against average and .957 save percentage, allowed two goals or fewer in all of them. He's allowed a goal or fewer in eight of his past 12 starts.

"I feel like every game this year has almost been like a playoff game," Allen said. "I'm trying to prove myself to keep my spot in the net. I feel there since Jan. 1, I've been trying to do that and taking those games as experiences. It's another test. We need 16 wins but just one game at a time. That's what I'm looking at, one save at a time, one game at a time. That should take care of itself.

"My job's to keep the puck out of the net. I feel that I've been confident and comfortable lately. The guys have been making it easy on me. I'm not going to try and do anything special, do what I've done to get me to this point. I'm sure the guys will do the same up front."

- - -

Defensemen Michalek and Carl Gunnarsson have close to 1,100 games of regular season experience playing in the NHL.

Their Stanley Cup Playoff resumes have them playing a combined 27 games. That will change playing for a much more experienced and polished Blues team, and they were acquired to give St. Louis the added depth on the blue line that St. Louis was missing in the past.

Both Michalek and Gunnarsson, acquired in separate trades with the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs, will be in the lineup Thursday with hopes of extended Stanley Cup Playoff runs.

The Blues are healthy, they're deep, and these two veteran defensemen give the Blues an element that was lacking when they were eliminated the past three seasons.

"This is what you play for. You're competing for a Stanley Cup," said Michalek, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline who last played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. "The last couple years, I haven't had a chance to do so. I'm not getting any younger, too, so you don't know how many more chances you're going to get going for the Cup. This is really exciting; I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to getting going tonight.

"This team has been good all season long. Now that everybody's healthy, it's good because if you want to make a playoff run, it's nice to have a deep team like this. Hopefully we can use it to our advantage and make a good run."

Gunnarsson, acquired at the 2014 NHL Draft for a defenseman Roman Polak, played seven games with the Maple Leafs in 2013, but that's it.

"I haven't played too many playoffs. This is going to be fun," Gunnarsson said. "We've got a good feeling in here. Different or not, you get a little extra excited for the game. Everything's kind of pumped up. You know it's going to kind of be a good atmosphere and everything's going to be up to high levels. I'm excited.

"We all feel like we've got great depth. We've been playing well at the end of the year, too. We feel confident about both special teams and all that. I think the whole group is confident on its own."

- - -

After four days of practice and rest in between, both the Blues and Wild are ready to drop the puck. Enough with the practices, enough with the meetings, enough with the passing time. 

Drop the puck already.

"Nah, I'd like to practice some more," coach Ken Hitchcock joked. "The players are really enjoying that. They have now cried 'Uncle.' 

"Yeah, let's get playing, find out what we've got, make adjustments, move from there. Two teams similar paths the last three or four years. Both got good leadership, both got good quality players on the top-end. Both follow in a similar path of trying to get to another level. It'll be good competition."

For the Blues, who will play Games 1 and 2 at home, they want to get the ball rolling early and establish the tempo to their style.

"I think both teams are going to try and set the tempo for the game and the series. or us, we have to make sure we get to that first, get to our game first and then we get that home crowd into it," Pietrangelo said. "We've got to use that as an advantage."

Does the head coach still get nervous this time of year?

"Not in the playoffs," Hitchcock said. "I do in  the regular season because there's so much watching of others. There's too many seams out there and you're watching the standings. Not now. You've got so much time to prepare. It's the fun part for us, I'm sure it's agonizing at times for the players because we're going over details. This is really the fun part for coaches. Then you have to adjust after today's game and make inroads on getting better, whether you win or whether you lose. I think the wake up call for all of us was the road teams won so many games last night. It shows you how even things are. You talk about home ice advantage, it turns on a dime and you have to make adjustments."

- - -

The Blues' healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, who was sensational in his play since being acquired from the Penguins.

But with a glutton of healthy bodies, Bortuzzo will be a spectator tonight.

"We're missing a player that can add to the group," Hitchcock said. "If we need to put Bortuzzo in, he's played very well for us. That's why, a month ago, when 'Shatty' came back, that's why we practice him so much on the left side. We just felt that Bortuzzo was a lot better player than we thought we were getting, which was good for him and great for us. We needed to put things in place so if get to that it's not going to be a surprise. Shatty played a lot with 'Petro,' he played the left side, did very well on it, we're prepared to make that change if we have to."

Gunnarsson is a player that's felt he's elevated his game after a rough stretch a week or so ago. He will play with Pietrangelo tonight.

"The last couple games it's been feeling good playing with Petro here back to where we were a couple months ago," Gunnarsson said. "We've got a good feel; everyone's got a good feel. 

"It'll be awesome. I can only imagine what's going to be tonight, playoffs and everything like that. Everything's going to be at a high level. I think the crowd's going to be there, too."

- - -

Former Blue Chris Stewart will play on the Wild's top line tonight. He was asked if he has any extra motivation playing against the team that traded him.

"I wouldn't say there's extra motivation," Stewart said. "The goal here is to win the Stanley Cup, that's plenty of motivation. If we win, it definitely will be sweeter."

Stewart was acquired by the Wild from the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL Trade Deadline.

"It's been great," said Stewart, who had three goals and eight assists with Minnesota in 20 games with the Wild. "I had an opportunity to play with some good hockey players here and hit the ground running. I feel comfortable and had a chance to produce too, so it's been good.

"I've been to the other side and the grass wasn't greener. To get an opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup, it's amazing. It's a dream come true. This is why you play the game. This is when the most fun of the year starts. ... You can't take that kind of stuff for granted. You never know when it's going to be your last time in the playoffs."

That won't stop Stewart from chirping his ex-mates, including Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves, who were both in his wedding recently.

"It's just like brothers. Brothers butt heads and fight and stuff like that," Stewart said. "It's not a big deal. We're going to keep it business during the series and talk about it in the summer."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

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 Boumweester-Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Olli Jokinen, Chris Porter, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo and Ty Rattie.

- - -

The WIld's probable lineup:

Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Chris Stewart

Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek-Charlie Coyle-Nino Niederreiter

Sean Bergenheim-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Jordan Leopold-Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal. Niklas Backstrom will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser and Niklas Backstrom. Darcy Kuemper is sick and will be scratched. Keith Ballard (concussion) and Matt Cooke (undisclosed) are out.

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