BY LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- Coach Ken Hitchcock liked the way the Blues were able to get more offensive zone time in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round, he will at the very least, start Game 4 today in the same manner.
The Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 and could take a commanding lead today (8:30 p.m., FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM), will move Alexander Steen to a line with Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer and play rookie Robby Fabbri with Patrik Berglund and David Backes.
Stastny, Fabbri and Brouwer were the hottest line for the Blues the last month of the season in terms of point production, but they have a combined two assists in the series (both by Fabbri in Game 3).
Hitchcock said there hasn't been any lack of play from any of the units, but when he did tweak it up a bit in the third period, the Blues had more success playing in Chicago's zone.
A lot of that had to do with the "STL Line" of Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko but it did balance the middle two lines as well.
"He's been good, he gets points every night, it doesn't really matter who we play him with, he plays well," Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "His speed is a big factor for us, really gives us quickness. Whatever line he plays on, his quickness and his ability to read situations really make the line dynamic. We like the way we played in the third period with these line combinations, so we'll start that way but we're not stuck on it. We won't hesitate to go back to what we had in the first two games at all.
"I don't think their roles change at all. They play their game, they're both effective in different ways. We like Robby's speed, his tenacity, the way he supports the puck, he does a lot of things that allow you to play with great tempo."
Stastny and Steen have played together before and like it.
"Yeah, me and 'Stas' have really good chemistry," Steen said. "I think we see the ice, see the game the same way, read off of each other pretty good. And then 'Brouw' has a heck of a shot, he's got great awareness as well. It's pretty easy playing with those two.
"... I think we're able to do a little tinkering like that throughout a series. It's not an unfamiliar line, we've played together quite a bit during the regular season as well."
Stastny said: "We want to play the same way. We've played together before. At the start of the third, I don't want to say sparked things up but changed maybe a different element that made us tougher, different to defend against. 'Steener' plays a different game than 'Fabs,' but he holds onto it a little more and brings guys to him. You know when he has it, you try and get open with speed and he'll find you.
"We've had so many injuries, it's easy for 'Hitch.' He can make one little move with these. We've played with 'Steener' for a while, but 'Fabs' has played with 'DB' and Bergy a little bit or vice versa or if you move 'Schwartzy' for somebody else. It's nothing new for us. That's the one thing when you do have a lot of injuries throughout the year, you get to experiment . We went through stretches of 10-15 games; it wasn't just one game or two games. We know what it's like and we'll both benefit from it."
The changes are geared to help the Blues more in the puck possession category, one that had a tremendous amount of success from the Lehtera line.
"You can always be better," Stastny said. "It starts on faceoffs and it starts in trying to mak them play defense as much as you can. When you're playing against top teams like that, no one wants to play in the 'D' zone and that's the way we think as well. We want to get as much 'O' zone time as possible and not throw it away when we do sometimes."
Fabbri, who has played with Berglund and Backes in the past, doesn't mind the move either.
"I think I've played on every line this year," Fabbri said. "Whichever line you're playing on, you know you're going to be playing with great players. The shifts me, 'Bergy' and 'Backs' got there last game, I thought it went well. It's a good combination of size, speed and all that. Just changing that up hopefully sparks us a little bit here and come out with another big game here.
"... I think my mindset stays the same with whoever I'm playing (with). Just play hard, play my game and veer too far off that. ... I feel like we've still been playing pretty well (with Stastny and Brouwer). Maybe not putting up the numbers, but it's just all a matter of getting everyone into the series, everyone producing, evening out everything. Whatever 'Hitch' feels is best for the team, we're all confident in the move. No one's hanging their head over that at all."
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The Blues are treating Game 4 as a must-win game, and that's alright with HItchcock.
Instead of giving the Blackhawks momentum and a chance to tie the series 2-2 and make it a best-of-3, the Blues would love nothing more than to go home with the chance to clinch on Thursday.
"Yeah, that's our whole focus right now is just this game," Stastny said. "Must-win for us, that's the way we've got to treat it. What happened last couple games doesn't really matter. This is an important one. ... From the get-go, you've just got to be ready. We know they're going to come at us with speed. Whether we have to weather the storm in the first, second or third period, try to get the crowd out of it early and stick to our game plan."
"I think we all know this will be the highest level of game in the series, we want to approach it that way," Hitchcock said. "We think in this game right now we have to be at our absolute best. We know what's going to happen on the other side, we want to be ready, we don't want to be surprised. We had a great preparation meeting yesterday and come back with good focus today. We know what the opposition's going to do, we've experienced before, we just have to be ready for it."
The Blues have parked the 3-2 win here in Game 3 and are focused on tonight.
"We need to forget the last game," Tarasenko said. "Chicago is a team that has come back a lot of times. It's not like them to relax. We need to play our best game, even better than Game 3 and try to win the game."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund--David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Petteri Lindbohm, Robert Bortuzzo and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Andrew Ladd-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Tomas Fleischmann-Teuvo Teravainen-Richard Panik
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Brent Seabrook
David Rundblad-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Dale Weise, Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson, Brandon Mashinter and Christian Ehrhoff. The Blackhawks report no injuries.