By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Patience needs to be a virtue when it comes to the "STL Line" for the Blues, beginning with Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars today (8:30 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
After collecting 17 points in seven games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, the line of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera has been shut out in the first two games of this series.
"Our line has to step up a little bit too," said Lehtera, who has a goal and three assists in nine playoff games. "We're going to be fine.
"We have to play physical too, skate more and play more simple. ... We haven't played that good for the last two games, but it's our time to step up today."
Schwartz, who is tied for the team lead with seven points with Kevin Shattenkirk and Robby Fabbri, said the group is doing little things and that results will come.
"Yeah, I don't think you're going to score every single game throughout the playoffs," said Schwartz, who has three goals and four assists in nine games. "You want to stick with what works and you want to continue working and make sure you're getting chances and staying positive and trying to contribute as much as you can, whether it's on the scoresheet or doing other little things. I think that goes without doubt.
"... I think at this time of year, matchups are key. We're going to match up against other lines, other teams are going to match up differently against us. That's just the way it is. It's always a challenge and 'Vladi's in the top five in the league in goals. I think that's a guy they circle and they want to take his time and space away. We've got to make sure we're getting open for him and supporting him and doing our part to get open for him if they're going to try and take away his time and space as much as they can."
It's safe to say that what the Blues are seeing from series to series between the Blackhawks and Stars is different in many ways but similar in others.
"It was a different game. I think Dallas plays different than Chicago," Lehtera said. "Now we've seen it for two games. We're ready for the third one. ... It feels like different teams. Both are skilled of course, but Dallas is a good-skating team and they're skating all the time. If you give them the puck, they're gone right away. You have to play smart against them."
The "STL Line" was paired up for much of Game 1 against Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky, but saw stretches in Game 2 with Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp and Cody Eakin.
"It doesn't matter who you play against, it's going to be a challenge," Schwartz said. "They've got a good team that's deep, so I think they're comfortable almost throwing guys out in different situations on their team. They've got some guys you've got to be aware of. You've got to make sure you're taking their time and space away working back with the puck back when they do have it because they can make things happen pretty quick. Our line's seen that before, but it's a good challenge for us and I think we've got to take that with excitement and get ready. It's always fun playing against guys like that; you want to out-compete them when you play them."
Keeping Tarasenko, who led the Blues with 40 goals in the regular season, has been held without a point for three straight games. Keeping him focused will be key.
"From what I can see, that's what it is. You'd have to ask him, but I know from my standpoint, at this time of year, winning games is all that matters," Schwartz said. "When you're getting chances, you want them to go in, but you want to make sure you're doing other parts in the game, whether it's defensively or through the neutral zone. Whatever it is, you want to make sure you're doing other little things that can impact the game. last game, he drew that penalty going to the net, so it's something a lot of people might not notice, but it ended up giving us a power play and we scored to win the game. There's other things you can do to win the game. You're going to need contribution from everyone this time of the year. We've been doing a good job of that."
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Now that the Blues have wrestled home ice from the Stars, the idea is to keep it.
But Dallas, which won two of three against the Minnesota Wild, is one team comfortable playing on the road.
"I don't know," Benn said when asked about the road teams' playoff success. "It's just one of those things that's happened in one year, but when road teams come in, there's no one to impress. They're just kind of going out and keeping it simple. The momentum the crowd can bring to the home team can obviously be an advantage."
The Blues, who are 2-2 at home in the postseason this year, feel that home ice is an advantage and that Game 7 against Chicago was proof-positive.
"I still think (home ice) is a factor," Shattenkirk said. "I think teams have managed to kind of even it out a little bit, but I think when it comes down to it, it's still hard to play. When you look at Game 7 for us last series, home ice was really important for us that game. Having to do that on the road is tough. Those are the game where home ice matters."
So take Games 3 and 4 with the approach the with the mindset that they're Game 7s?
"It is," Shattenkirk said. "These are games you don't want to relinquish when we're playing in our building. That's the mindset every series, every year. You don't want to lose a game at home. We approach every game like it's a Game 7; you have to have that mentality."
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Stars coach Lindy Ruff is in Stanley Cup Playoff mode.
Ahead of Game 3, Ruff was asked twice regarding his starting goalie.
When asked if he thought about it for a long time regarding his decision whether to start Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi, Ruff's answer threw the media gathering for a curveball.
"We've been going with Lehtonen, so we're going to stay with him," Ruff said abruptly.
Niemi, who relieved Lehtonen after the first period of Game 2, was the first goalie off the ice following the morning skate and Lehtonen was still working with the scratches while Ruff was speaking to the media.
Another question came, asking to be clear, regarding the first goalie off the ice, Ruff cut the question off and said, "I'm not telling you who's starting, so you don't have to ask again."
Niemi made 19 saves before allowing a goal from Blues captain David Backes at 10:58 of overtime to even the series. Niemi's teammates are used to the musical chairs with the goalies.
"Obviously it's up the coach to make that decision," Stars center Cody Eakin said. "Like I said two days ago, whenever either one of them steps in, we're confident. They give us the ability to give us that confidence and allow us to play strong and give us a chance on any given night.
"Whether it's a switch or one starting versus the other, we're confident in both of them and we're going to play hard for them."
The Blues know that goalie Brian Elliott, who took a hard shot off the mask from Stars center Jason Spezza in the third period, will play Tuesday. Elliott was on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday and appeared to show no ill-effects from the shot.
The Blues are making no lineup changes.
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Like they did in Game 7 against the Blackhawks, the Blues are spending their gameday home games at a designated hotel, to get the feel of bonding as a team and to eliminate all the distractions that come with home games.
"It keeps your mind focused," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "You're with the guys and just enjoying being together. It's obviously an exciting time of the year and everyone is bringing a good vibe. So whenever you get everyone together, it's exciting.
"It's just nice, it's peaceful. Just put your mind where it needs to be. Obviously an important time, you want to be ready for everything. It gives you a chance to put out any outside noise and just focus on what's important."
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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-Ryan Reaves
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 Robert Bortuzzo, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Steve Ott, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie, Jordan Schmaltz, Ivan Barbashev and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Colton Sceviour
Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky
Curtis McKenzie-Vernon Fiddler-Travis Moen
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns
Kris Russell-Jason Demers
Antti Niemi will start in goal. Kari Lehtonen will be the backup.
Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) and Patrick Eaves (foot) did not make the trip.