By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The are going back to old reliable tonight.
When the Blues face the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), they will go with the units that are quite familiar with one other.
Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie made up the Blues' top line for much of the season; the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko will rejoin forces and Paul Stastny will center Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, the Blues are looking for whatever brings them the best success, and coach Ken Hitchcock feels now is the perfect opportunity.
"They play well. It got blown up there at the end because of the two significant injuries (to Steen and Tarasenko)," Hitchcock said. "Then when we came back, Backes had good chemistry going with what they had (with Jaskin and Berglund). Then we just slipped Steen and Tarasenko in with Lehtera and they obviously played very well in the last game and have played pretty well, but ... these are the three lines that have been together the most during the year. We want to make them familiar with each other. We know it's going to be a hard game and there's great chemistry; there has been all year, especially with the first two lines and we want to stay with that."
On defense, it's more of the same.
Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo will be reunited, as will Carl Gunnarsson and Kevin Shattenkirk.
"And the same thing on the first two D pairs," Hitchcock said. "We've reached a stage with our own team where we've just got to expect a little bit more from guys, put them in positions to succeed, put them with the guys they've spent most of the year with. Unfortunately, 'Shatty' was out for a long, long time so things kind of got blown up on the back-end also. But they had great chemistry when they were together until he got hurt and we'll go back to it."
When Backes, Steen and Oshie were together as a line, it was among the top points producers in the NHL. Leading by example is something that Backes said they hope to get back to along with instant chemistry.
"There is. There's something that's worked for us for years," Backes said. "I thought we may have found something different with a few of the different combinations (recently), but you're down 2-1 in a series, it's time to make some adjustments and we really like the way that these line combinations have produced results for us and away we go.
"There's a lot of hockey sense on the line. With Osh and Steener's skill and ability and vision, I'm trying to slow somebody down out there so they can have a little more time. It just seems to work. We can't rely on the past though. We've got to go out there and earn it every shift, lead by example and go out there and get a job done. It's 2-1 down and we've got some work to do."
Backes and Oshie have no points in the series, and perhaps their reunification with Steen (who has three points) will jumpstart them offensively and get the Blues on the right path.
"(Hitchcock) told us last night that’s what we were going to do," Oshie said. "We’re confident in it. It’s something we know we’ve been successful at. We’ll be looking for a good push from all four lines tonight.
"That's part of our job when we come together as a line; we've got to set an example for the other guys. We did that most of the time in January when we were getting hot there. That's what we're hoping to do tonight."
The same can be said for Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, who have been the top defensive pair for much of their tenure here.
"We're on a position where we need to make adjustments," Bouwmeester said. "Hopefully that will spark us to playing better. Everyone's familiar with each other; all the lines are pretty much are what guys are used to or have spend a lot of time together. We've just got to find a way to play a good one. That's all we're really worried about right now, is what's in front of us.
"We've played a lot together last year, and even throughout this year, we've played a lot together. We're familiar with each other. We know what the deal is. But you still have to go out and play, do the little things and hopefully it amounts to success."
Pietrangelo said they can always go back to familiar pairings when the going gets tough.
"I think they know they can always go back to us when need be," Pietrangelo said. "Coach's decision; didn't know the reason behind it, but we're OK with it. We're OK with anybody playing with anybody. I've said that all year. We feel so comfortable playing with each and every guy. That's the luxury of having the depth we have."
Fan favorite Robert Bortuzzo, who's been skating and taking part in all on-ice activities since the playoffs started, will be scratched for a fourth consecutive game.
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The only lineup change the Blues will make is insert left wing Chris Porter into the lineup in favor of Marcel Goc.
Porter will go to left wing and Steve Ott, the Wild fans' villianous opposing player in the series, will slide into the middle and play center.
With the Wild's speed game causing the Blues issues, Porter's speed versatility could help alleviate some of those problems.
"I just want to help contribute and pick up where I left last year in the playoffs," Porter said. "They have good speed; we have good speed in our lineup, too. We're kind of feeding their transition with bad turnovers and stuff like that. I'm going to try and bring whatever I can tonight and hopefully I can contribute."
Hitchcock said it's time.
"Speed, hard on the forecheck, good puck protection guy," he said of Porter. "Always been a good playoff player for us. Time for him to come in."
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Aside from the end result, the best way for the Blues to fix that is to perhaps get to their game from the opening puck drop instead of reacting to how the Wild will play.
"It's asserting ourselves in our game, getting the puck deep and occupying the offensive zone," Backes said. "I think Games 1 and 3, they got to their game and we were chasing it. Game 2, we really asserted ourselves, got to our game and gave them some trouble. The start matters and whoever gets that initial push and seems to grab a hold of the game, but it's a full 60-minute effort or else these games ... it's not in hand by any means in the first 10 minutes or after the first period. It's a full 60.
"You can't let your foot off the gas. Another lesson we've learned in past years. You get that edge, you want to keep it. You want to take advantage while you have it. We need that tonight."
"Yeah. We had, what, four or five shots in the first period last game and we knew coming in here they were going to come out hard at home and all that, but they're going to do the same thing tonight," he said. "We have to kind of weather that storm and just play a simple game. Keep the puck out of their hands or keep making them go back in their end and get it and make them go a farther distance. For us, the start is huge. Just keep it simple and go after them."
The Blues feel their best game is still out t here, and tonight's pivotal encounter would be the best time to bring it out.
"We feel like we haven't played our best yet and we're still in the hockey games," Pietrangelo said. "We know if we play our game like the most part in Game 2, we're going to have a good result. They're thinking the same thing. It's a matter of each team following a game plan.
"There's always pressure. It's the playoffs. I think there's excitement for us to come in here and steal a game. Then we'll go back home and the series is tied.
The Blues' objective was to at least get one win on the road, and that goal can still be achieved.
"Yeah for sure, you're only worried about what's in front of you," Bouwmeester said. "It doesn't matter how you lose or how you win, the bottom line is the result. Noone felt good after the last game or the outcome of the game. We just didn't play very well. To put it frankly, if we win tonight, then we're back in a good spot."
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The NHL has yet to announce the start time for Game 5 on Friday night. The NHL and their television partners at NBC determine the times for the games.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund
Chris Porter-Steve Ott-Ryan Reaves
Jay Boumweester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Zbynek Michalek
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Olli Jokinen, Marcel Goc, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Niklas Lundstrom.
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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. Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, Matt Cooke and Niklas Backstrom. Keith Ballard (concussion).