Friday, April 17, 2015

Blues not panicking but urgency there to even series

After losing Game 1, St. Louis can ill-afford to go down 
two games having to go to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Yes, it must be the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Blues are down in a series, and early panic has set in with their longstanding frustrated fan base.

But in light of a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series, the Blues understand the importance of winning Game 2.

For one, they have only won once in 19 tries in playoff history when falling behind 0-2 in a series (in 1972 against the Minnesota North Stars in seven games in the quarterfinals), and of those 18 series defeats, they've been swept 10 times.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues could use some offense in Game 2 on Saturday from Vladimir
Tarasenko (91). 

Not exactly favorable odds heading into Game 2 on Saturday at 2 p.m. (NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

But knowing that they're a win away from evening the series before heading to St. Paul, Minn. for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, the Blues aren't in any sense of panic.


"I think you just have to remember what the formula was," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of beating the Wild. "We were chipping pucks in, we were hard on our forecheck, the d-men were getting shots to the net, that's important. They seemed to be playing passive in their zone, getting into shot lanes, not allowing anything to the inside, it's going to be hard ice to fight for, but when we did it, that's when we're successful. That's what we need to work on."

The Blues, who scored twice in the third period, need to get to their game early and often Saturday. If they do, they'll get what is expected to be another raucous crowd behind them.

"We know how to win at home," Shattenkirk said. "We still have the advantage on our side that we have a home game tomorrow. I think that's how we're approaching it. The first one slipped away from us, that's for sure. Today we came with a fresh attitude. Tomorrow is important absolutely but we can't put too much pressure on ourselves."

The Blues knew this series wouldn't be an easy one, and why would it? They seem to draw some of the tougher first-round series opponents than any in recent memory.

Going back to facing Los Angeles in 2013 and Chicago last  season to the Wild, who finished with 100 points this season, the Blues should strap themselves in for a long series.

"I think they make you earn your stripes," coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Wild. "It's our job to earn our stripes. They make you earn your ice, whether it's in the d-zone or in the neutral zone; they make you earn your stripes. They check well. They're well-coached. 

"I thought we had times where we let them off the hook (Thursday) when we didn't have to and that fed the engine that fed the odd-man rushes. We gave up too many odd-man rushes, but it was a lot of the time when we had the puck. It was us having the puck in the offensive zone getting checked off the puck turning it over, forcing offense and them boom, they're gone. They've got the foot-speed to go. We fed that engine a little bit too much."

One way for the Blues to counter Minnesota's speed: better puck possession and get in on the forecheck.

"That and not turning the puck over in those crucial areas, at their blue line, when we have possession in the neutral zone, making strong plays, that's what's key to really not feeding into that team speed they seem to have," Shattenkirk said. "... It's the playoffs. They played to the best of their abilities and I think that's what every team does at this time of year. We knew they were fast, they showed it, they proved it, now we adjust to it, we know what it is, we know how to handle it."

The Blues fired only 21 shots at goalie Devan Dubnyk in the loss, 10 in the third period. A larger layer of pucks at the Minnesota goalie should create more rebound chances and opportunities to go hard to the net.

"I think it's extend the zone time," Hitchcock said of getting more shot opportunities. "The shots will come if we extend the zone time. If we're impatient, then it will be like yesterday, one and done. ... When we're engaged and we're in a routine, we're pretty good. But we've got to get back to that routine, so we'll be back into it tomorrow."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alexander Steen (20) celebrates after scoring a shorthanded goal against
Minnesota on Thursday with Vladimir Tarasenko (center) and Kevin
Shattenkirk (right).

Jaden Schwartz's goal was the perfect example of getting quicker shot attempts towards the goal. Shattenkirk quickly fired Patrik Berglund's pass and Schwartz was in front for the tip. Too many times the Blues were hurting themselves with hesitancy in shot attempts, and when they did, they usually were blocked or never got to the goal.

"There was the opportunity to shoot pucks early and I was guilty of it early on, was having it on my stick too long and then trying to get it to the net," Shattenkirk said. "They were packing it in pretty tight, so when we get those pucks on the point we have to get it there quickly so they can't set their defense again. That goal was a good example of it."

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