ST. LOUIS -- Louis Blues would like to be the first team in the Stanley Cup Playoff series with the Minnesota Wild to sustain momentum build off the previous game after a victory.
Both the Blues and Wild, who will play a pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) have alternated victories in the series through four games.
The Blues won 6-1 in Game 4 to reclaim home ice advantage and would love nothing more than to take control of the series with a home ice victory Friday. But they know it won't be easy.
And the Blues had to do it without center Jori Lehtera, who did not play in Game 5 nor did he participate in the morning skate with a lower-body injury that he sustained midway through the third period of Game 4 after being hit with a shot on the power play by teammate Jay Bouwmeester.
Marcel Goc took Lehtera's spot in the lineup and played after being a healthy scratch Wednesday. Paul Stastny moved up and centered a line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and Goc slotted between Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund.
"Going back (to familiarity), we're very familiar with playing these lines together. 'Stas' has played with these guys a lot, so there's not a big drop-off. We're going to miss (Lehtera) on power play; that's going to be a little bit of an adjustment, but it's a big hole if he's not in. If we would have played yesterday, he would have not played, but he's looking pretty good right now. We're assuming that he's going to play."
No matter what, Berglund said the Blues can adjust accordingly.
"We're just going to try and go out and build on what we did last game," said Berglund, who has two goals and two assists in the series. "There's always going to be ups and downs with people, whatever, but we're just going to focus on the first 20 (minutes), the next 20 and the 20 after that.
"We'll see what happens. I can't say much at all now, but you've just got to adjust and move forward, and that's exactly what we're doing."
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The level of consistency has been tough from game to game for both teams in this series.
The Wild won Game 1, then the Blues responded accordingly in Game 2, only to see Minnesota play angry and repond in Game 3, and then the Blues took their turn in Game 4.
"I don't think it's consistent. I think it's what it takes to win a game in this series," Hitchcock said. "It takes a lot, a lot of emotional and physical input and I think you let your foot off the gas a little bit because you have to put so much into it and the other team gets angry and they dial up their focus for the pushback. The series is where it should be at based on play. Both games should have been 6-1. We were outplayed, put so much into Game 2. We looked like a little bit of a tired team and they were angry and they pushed back hard. We did the same thijng to them (in Game 4). Both teams ... I've never seen shift lengths so short in my life since I've been coaching the NHL. From the opening buzzer to the end of the game, your shift lengths are in the 30's, I've never seen that before. Usually you get it down there in the third period, but this opens the game; that's how much has been put into each shift by each player.
"We've talked about (momentum) for two days now so we'll see. Winning is a relief when you have to put so much into it and we've got to get past the relief back into the hunger part of it. I liked the disposition of our team this morning. I know you don't play this morning, but I liked the disposition of our team yesterday and today we seemed more grounded, ready to compete again, ready to go at it again, so we'll see. I think this has the potential to be the best game of the series because both teams look pretty grounded, look pretty focused. Should be a helluva hockey game."
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said the Blues will have to keep their aggressive play moving forward.
"Every game is important," Gunnarsson said. "We had a good feel going into the last game and we had a good feel coming off the last game and played well. What we did, we did well, but we know they're going to come hard and push back. It's not going to be the same story; it's going to be a tight game tonight."
Defenseman Barret Jackman said the strong start is key.
"Whoever has the strong start's going to have the momentum," Jackman said. "I dont think the last game really matters. I think it's all about who gets to their game the quickest and who puts pucks in deep and puts pressure on the defenseman to make mistakes. That's our game and that's what we've got to start with."
Jackman said he's anxious to see the St. Louis crowd tonight.
"Playing in St. Louis is a lot of fun and the fans are hungry," Jackman said. "They want to see some good hockey. That's what we're planning on giving them."
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It's no secret that the team that scores first dictates how the game typically finishes.
In this series, the team that scores first is 4-0, and there's a reason behind it.
"Because the value of both sides put into checking," Hitchcock said. "Both teams strive or get their offense from their checking and you look at us, everything's connected. Everything's connected. We get so much of our offense from our checking and they get it the same way. They check different; we use more 1-on-1; they use more numbers but we both are very effective in what we do. It's just so hard to play against teams that are so committed to the details of the game. That's why both teams are so good because there's a strong commitment by both sides to the details."
Does that mean the series is coming down to emotion?
"Yeah. It's two things," Hitchcock said. "It's the two teams that got their butts kicked. We lost (Game 3) 2-0, empty-netter but it felt like 6-0. We were mad. They let their foot off the accellerator a little bit, tried to take a breath; no chance, no chance. We're hoping we don't do the same thing because if you just take your foot off a little bit, because that's all it is, it looks bad, but all it is is just a little bit and the other team is ready to pounce and go at it. It also happens when you have so many players that are so similar. Mike uses four lines, we use four lines so there's no breathing room, there's no space, there's no three-line game where there's maneuvering going on. It's just all-out short shifts, get off the ice. All-out, short shifts, get off the ice. When you're in your mid-30's in the first period, a lot of energy going on."
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Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been a workhorse for the Blues most of the season. He's leading the team in minutes once again in the postseason, but HItchcock has likened the complete package.
"He's been our best player. Played unbelievable," Hitchcock said. "All the little things that you love in his game have been there since ... started with about four games left in the regular season, carried through the playoffs; he's been outstanding. Every game. The better he plays, the more risk he plays with and then he gets away with it. Even with some of the risky stuff he's done, he's flaged down pucks, he's got back in; he's been outstanding for us."
Berglund can be classified as a player playing his best hockey as well.
"I think it started in the regular season with 10 games left," Hitchcock said. "He's just having more fun playing hockey. No pressure on himself, not stressing about what he's not doing; it's just coming and competing and playing. He's really playing well right now. He's playing very effective, but it started with 10 games left in the regular season."
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Steve Ott, who moved from left wing to center in Game 4 after Chris Porter was inserted into the lineup in place of Goc, seems to have found a niche.
Playing down the middle of the ice gives him more flexibility to make plays with the puck, something he wasn't able to do along the boards playing wing.
"He doesn't get enough credit for how smart he is," Hitchcock said of Ott. "He's really smart, composed with the puck in tight spaces.
"When he plays center, he plays with more control. He plays a little bit of like a wingnut on the wing; I don't know if you can say that, but he plays a little bit like a wingnut on the wing and this way when he's had to play in control, he kind of calms down and plays a positional game where you need him with some structure and he's very effective there."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Marcel Goc-Patrik Berglund
Chris Porter-Steve Ott-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-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, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Niklas Lundstrom. Jori Lehtera (lower body) did not play.
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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
Matt Cooke-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, Sean Bergenheim and Niklas Backstrom. Keith Ballard (concussion) is out.