Sunday, April 19, 2015

Blues were road warriors in regular season

Team looking to bank on third-best points mark in NHL; Ott agitates when needed

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Blues hope that the regular season's third-best road record can stand the test as the Western Conference First Round series with the Minnesota Wild shifts to Xcel Energy Center.

The Blues, who evened the best-of-7 series 1-1 with a 4-1 victory Saturday in Game 2 highlighted by Vladimir Tarasenko's first playoff hat trick, will look to wrestle away home ice advantage from the Wild, who took it with a 4-2 victory in Game 1.

Game 3 is set for Monday at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, CNBC, KMOX 1120-AM).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The series between the Blues and Wild shifts to Minnesota for Game 3.
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) & defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) make
a play in front of the net with the Wild's Zach Parise fighting for space.

"We’ve been a good road team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Sometimes, it’s because you’re a little bit nervous or you don’t want to get beat, and so you have a real edge to your game and your focus. And I think we’ve played good on the road because our focus has been narrow and simple, and when we play a simple game, it’s effective. 

"We’ve gotta go there and play really well. We’ve got to play within our structure, because we’re gonna have to win a game to take it back to get home ice back again, and so I think when we keep our focus narrow, we’re very, very good."

The Blues, who will look to end an eight-game road losing streak in the playoffs going back to April 19, 2012 (2-1 victory in Game 4 at San Jose of the first round), know what to expect. A fast and furious Wild team that will want to establish the tempo much like the Blues did in the last game when they built a 2-0 lead.

"Playing in a different building, they're going to have a lot of energy coming out to start and probably feed off their crowd a little bit," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "I've heard it's a loud building in the playoffs and we'll expect a big push from them early."

The Blues have been outscored 25-11 in their past eight road playoff games, but they're pointing on their regular season road record (24-12-5) as a means of being battle-tested and ready for what lies ahead.

"I think sometimes it's a little easier playing on the road," center Paul Stastny said. "There's less distractions, you just go out there and play. But you take that success you've had throughout the year, knowing that we've played in the toughest buildings and the toughest challenges and come out on top. We have to take that with confidence and take it going into the Xcel (Energy) Center tomorrow night."

"Yeah, you gotta feel confident going on the road, especially the way we played this year," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I thought we played some real good hockey down the stretch, especially on the road. We played some smart hockey. (We're) gonna need to continue to do that because that's not an easy rink to go in and play."

Instead of feeling intimidation, the Blues want to relish in the opportunity of playing in a tough environment in a pivotal game.

"They got a fun building to play in. It's loud, it's electrifying, it's bright," said goalie Jake Allen, who has a 1.51 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in the series. "They love their hockey in Minnesota, just like they do in St. Louis, so it's going to be fun. 

"We had the fortune of starting at home and now we go into their territory and try to do our thing there. So just keep playing a simple road game. We were a pretty good road team all year this year, so hopefully we can take that positive mold into Minny."

And when the Blues need an equalizer to off-set the Wild's physical nature that they will come with along with their transition speed game to try and combat the Blues early, veteran left wing Steve Ott may be the guy that will try and ruffle a few feathers.

Ott, who has five hits in the series along with a number of moments when he's been the recipient of some attention, is more than willing. And his teammates appreciate the efforts.

"He's been doing that for 11 years now, maybe? 12 years? 10 years? I don't know," Stastny said. "He's always been that guy who kinda plays his game, but also gets under people's skin and that's how he's been so successful in his whole career. It's kinda been like no matter what you do, it's always going to be there and that's why we're happy he's on our team. Because playing against him in the past, he does stuff like that and you know he gets under people's skins and sometimes he wins that mental battle, which is important.

"... There's been some games where early in my career, I think he got in my head a couple times. But that's what happens the first couple years is guys like that got to me, but as you get older you try to work through it, battle through it, just focus on what you can do, not worry about him."

"His game's to play physical and get under the skin," Pietrangelo said of Ott. "He did that when he played against me in Buffalo and Dallas. I'm well aware of what he does; I'm just happy he's on our side now. He's been playing great these last couple games and we need him to continue to do that."

And if the Wild faithful boo Ott, which will be expected, then the Blues know he's doing his job effectively.

"I wouldn't be surprised (if he gets booed), but I think he thrives on that," Allen said of Ott. "That's been part of his game for a long time. He's been in the league for a while. He knows his role, he knows what to do, he's a smart player and we're very fortunate to have him on our team."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Steve Ott (right) has been involved in a number of altercations
in the series with the Minnesota Wild, including Jordan Schroeder (10).

So when the Blues take the ice for Game 3, there's the importance of taking the series lead, and they'll put on their work boots ready to battle.

"It’s just business. It’s one shift at a time, it’s one focus, and that is win the shift," Hitchcock said. "... This is gonna be as loud a building as we had, and it’s a very emotional building. This series is as important to their franchise as it is to ours, so we’re expecting their best game, but I still think we’ve got our best game in us. I thought the second period of last game was our best so far, and that’s what we want to copy and try to build off of. And if we can get to that type of game more often, then it’s gonna help us. But right now, we need to make sure that we got a real narrow focus and we’re playing our game and get it out there as quickly as possible."

* NOTES -- The Blues have gone with the same lineup for the first two games. They held an optional skate on Sunday, with Alexander Steen and Zbynek Michalek as the only regulars to participate. There's been talk of perhaps if there would be any lineup changes at any point. 

Hitchcock wouldn't budge.

"No, I’m not going there," he said. "I'm not gonna tell you what’s going on."

* The Wild held an optional skate Sunday morning and coach Mike Yeo told reporters that forwards Justin Fontaine (stomach ailment) and Jason Zucker, who was hit on he hand by a Pietrangelo shot in Game 2, are expected to play Monday. Forward Sean Bergenheim, who played in Game 1, was a late scratch for Game 2 and could also return.

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