Thursday, April 23, 2015

Blues explode, blast Wild 6-1 to even series 2-2

Scoring early, often makes series a best-of-3; 
Shattenkirk, Tarasenko, Backes, Berglund lead offensive charge 

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When the Blues didn't practice on Tuesday, a day after a 3-0 shellacking in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild, there seemed to be too much made of it.

Blues fans wondered why; even some media members wondered why. All that mattered was what the Blues thought.

They thought they'd better for Game 4. They knew they'd be better for Game 4.

They were better for Game 4, and now it's a best-of-3 series after the Blues turned the tables on the Wild on Wednesday in a 6-1 thumping to even the best-of-7 series 2-2.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba (55) can't contain the Blues' Vladimir
Tarasenko (middle), who scored on Devan Dubnyk Thursday in Game 4. 

The Blues snapped a nine-game road playoff losing streak, in which they were outscored 28-11. It was the most goals scored in a playoff game since April 10, 2003 in a 6-0 victory at Vancouver.

Game 5 is set for Friday at Scottrade Center (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

It was evident from the drop of the puck that the Blues were a completely different team. But to coach Ken Hitchcock and the players, this goes back a day.

"We got the sense yesterday," Hitchcock said after the victory Wednesday. "We knew how we were going to play yesterday.

Why did Hitchcock think that? 

"It's between us and the players," Hitchcock said.

Enough said.

The Blues talked with their actions and not words. They wanted to dictate and initiate from the start and they did just that. They didn't hesitate shooting pucks, they crashed the crease, created space in front of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was pulled in the second period after allowing  and scored what players and coaches call "greasy goals."

Their best players were called out, including captain David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Paul Stastny, who combined for no points through the first three games.

That quartet combined for two goals and three assists. Kevin Shattenkirk added three assists to give him seven in the series and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues' biggest offensive weapon, contributed two goals, including a highlight reel one-hander reminiscent to the one he scored at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers in November.

It added up to a must-win by the Blues in the most impressive fashion.

"We had to assert ourselves," said Backes, who had a goal and an assist in the first period. "I think we had 20 guys on the (same) page tonight, similar to Game 2. We've just got to stop this trend of every other game and play the same way in our building on Friday. Great job by 'Reaver,' 'Otter' and 'Ports' to get us started, get us on the board there and the rest of us follow suit. Lot of great efforts for guys on the scoresheet and off the scoresheet that played really well that helped us win this game. 

"We realized that we were too poor the last game and they walked all over us. We needed to play our game for 60 minutes, all 20 guys and the only goal they get's on the power play and the rest is pretty textbook by us and we need to channel that and play that same way on Friday."

When Ryan Reaves and the Blues' fourth line got the scoring started at 5 minutes, 34 seconds of the first period, there was sense that this could be a night of good things for the Blues. The addition of Chris Porter on the line paid immediate dividends.

"They did with they had to," Hitchcock said. "We used Ott at center ice, it's his natural position to be honest with you. He's better when he plays in the middle. Porter did it again. Porter comes in and plays great. He was strong on the puck, It's a big line, it brings a lot of weight. It's not fun to play against."

Shattenkirk agreed.

"That line, despite what's happened in the series, they have a pretty hard-nosed job and they have to go out there and try to draw momentum for us in good times and bad," Shattenkirk said. "For them to be rewarded with a goal like that, it's great for them and I think it only just builds their confidence and obviously it gets us going when we can get secondary scoring like that."

Tarasenko's tip of Shattenkirk's shot 1:25 after Reaves' goal made it 2-0, and Backes drove the net and poked a loose puck past Dubnyk at 10:06 and it was 3-0. 

The 19,390 at Xcel Energy Center went silent, and the Blues were thriving on the momentum built.

"Yeah, we had more shots the first minutes than we had the first period Monday night," Backes said. "That's a start that you're looking for and after that, you saw us occupy the offensive zone and putting pucks in spots where we could get it back and put it on the forecheck. It's all the things we talked about before the game, asserting ourselves physically and playing our game and not doing the up and on the ice the way they're successful playing.

"(Dubnyk) saved everything he could see up until this game, so we knew we had to get bodies in front of him, screen him and find second opportunities. First goal's that way, second goal's a tip, third goal's a rebound. The next couple are on the rush but we did a good job of occupying their zone with traffic, shots, second opportunities and it's no secret; that's our game. We did a good job tonight for 60 minutes."

The Wild got some life early in the second period when they converted a power play goal by Jared Spurgeon 1:41 into the period to make it 3-1. They were coming on hard and were poised to get back in the game. 

But Stastny's goal, off a breakout pass from Patrik Berglund, who had a goal and an assist and played arguably one of his best games as a Blue, made it a 4-1 game at 3:39 and burst the Wild's bubble.

"Our scoring is a direct reflection of our checking," Hitchcock said. "When we check, we score. 

"It looks like we've joined the tournament now and we're dialed in. We've got home-ice back, we're dialed into our game, we're going to be hard to play against when we're dialed in this. Not fun to play against."

And then there's Tarasenko, whose second goal was a thing of beauty. He took a direct pass from Jori Lehtera, fought off former teammate Jordan Leopold before thwarting off Matt Dumba's efforts, curled the puck around Dubnyk and slid a backhand in with unbelievable poise at 15:47 to make it 5-1.

"You just shake your head at it," Backes said. "I can't do that in a video game when it's slowed down for me. You love having those kind of guys on your team. He came through offensively for us."

"Deja vu. It's pretty sick," Shattenkirk said. "The fact that he has the poise to do that under that kind of pressure is unbelievable."

Tarasenko, who collided with Minnesota's Charlie Coyle in the third period, downplayed the goal. He was more focused on the victory.

"It's only goal ... just happy it worked," Tarasenko said. "We needed to win a game. It was down to 1-2, so we needed to tie the series. It doesn't matter how, like 2-1 or 6-1. Tomorrow, everybody will forget this game. Let's go from beginning right now. It was very good to score six goals after you score zero in (Game 3)."

Berglund, who had a goal and an assist to give him two goals and two assists in the series, scored off a backhand following an interception of a Mikko Koivu clearing attempt at 16:50 of the second to chase Dubnyk, who allowed six goals on 17 shots. Dubnyk was injured earlier in the period after a collision with Backes and a Pietrangelo shot that hit him on the backside.

"A lot of other guys contributing. Bergy had a great goal, 'Stas' has a great goal, Revo's great shot," Backes said. "All in all, it was a great team effort. The defensemen were doing a good job getting pucks out clean and we were able to go into their zone and get pucks back and occupy it."

"We gave ourselves a chance to win," Shattenkirk said. "We did a great job tonight of playing that game from the get-go and sticking with it for 60 minutes.

"Our best players played well. Our whole lineup played well, I think. We were able to get something from everyone tonight, whether it was penalty killing, power play, scoring, checking, you name it. We just had a great team effort, did a great job of just staying on top of them the entire game."

The Wild's speed and transition gave the Blues fits through the first three games of the series. Wednesday, it was all about positioning themselves well, getting sticks in lanes and intercepting pucks.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin (right) celebrates a goal by teammate Paul Stastny (middle)
in front of Wild defenseman and former teammate Jordan Leopold.

"I think we did a good job through the neutral zone with handling the puck ourselves," Shattenkirk said. "We didn't turn too many over. We made sure that we got it deep and we got it in the right places when we got it deep. We didn't allow them to keep that speed going and keep their momentum going when they got in the zone. They had to stop and play hockey. I think that's kind of the best way to kind of keep their transition game out of the mix."

Some teams would easily call a game like this their best. Not the Blues, and not Hitchcock.

"This is our game. It's not our best game," Hitchcock said. "We can play a lot better than we played today. We've still got things we've got to work on, but this is our game. 

"We're going to play this game and if it's good enough, we're going to put it out there, and if we win with it, great. If we don't win with it, so be it. But this is our game. We're going to play our game now. We're not going to chase it around the rink like we did the first three games. We're playing our game. We changed the way we used to be. We're playing it. This is the way it's going to be for the next little while. If they can match it, great on them."

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