Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Blues to help victims of Fort McMurray wildfire; Backes 
thriving; aftermath of Reaves' kiss; Tarasenko's kiss; Ott hitting wall

ST. LOUIS -- A day after the Blues' most lopsided Stanley Cup Playoff win since Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild last season, there were mixed emotions that ranged.

For Fort McMurray, Alberta native Scottie Upshall, emotions were high for a town he grew up in that is fighting for its livelihoods as we speak.

While the Blues were celebrating a 6-1 win against the Dallas Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round to take a 2-1 series lead, nearly 2,000 miles away, Upshall's home town was fighting for a second day a raging wildfire that has forced the evacuation of roughly 80,000 residents.

The good news is no lives have been lost, but when it finally comes to a conclusion, there will not be much left in the way of a town Upshall knows well.

Coach Ken Hitchcock is from Edmonton, a 5-5.5 hour drive away, Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, from St. Albert, Alberta who played two years with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the American Junior Hockey League; both have interest, as does Stars coach Lindy Ruff of nearby Warburg, Alberta and Stars forward Vernon Fiddler, who has relatives in the area.

Upshall knew he had a game to focus on Tuesday but at times, it was tough.

"Yeah, there was a lot of things going through my head yesterday when I woke up from my nap," Upshall said. "Most of my family was trying not to overplay it at all, but there was nothing to really overplay when something like that happens. Just worried about the safety of friends and family, more so at the time my nieces who were still in Fort McMurray while my brother and his fiance are here watching us play. It was a difficult time for a lot of people yesterday. I know there’s a lot of help that they’ve been getting and a lot of people sacrificing time and energy to help the city of Fort McMurray, so it’s sad.

"... We’re here to win games and we’re in a real great spot here in the playoffs, but at the same time, when lives are at stake and a community has kind of got their back against the wall, trying to fight for survival, it is tough. It’s really hard to explain. It’s a unique situation, very devastating. As long as everyone was OK – from what I’ve read the last few hours this morning, there’s been no casualties other than neighborhoods up in flames. Hospitals and downtown and it’s really tough. It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there was, doesn’t seem too long ago. And the places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take in. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing."

The Blues announced on Wednesday afternoon that the team and alumni will use proceeds from the Game 4 50/50 raffle and hold a silent auction to raise money to benefit displaced families.

Items up for bid will include Blues game-used items, playoff goal pucks, 3D art by Steven Walden, and more. To register for the auction, fans should visit using their computer or tablet, or text “blues” to 52182 using their mobile device. Bidding will begin on Thursday at 10 a.m. and will close at the end of the second intermission.

"We both have so many friends there and people we know, and guys I've coached with, guys that have played for me," Hitchcock said. "So you're trying to make contact. Last night when I got home trying to make contact with guys, and obviously this morning looking at it, it's a tough spot. There's some pretty nice areas, like Beacon Hill got hit pretty hard, so you're just ... not a lot of information coming out, how much damage is there, but it's obviously very substantial right now, especially when they've evacuated the whole town.

"You've got to talk them through it. He's got family here that flew in to watch the game and he's got family taking care of the little ones back there, so you've got to make sure he's OK. If the players are not OK, there's no point in them playing hockey. We were both able to make contact with family and friends today so that's a decent sign. Obviously today's a big day because of the change of the wind and temperatures going down so this is a big day, see if they can at least get this thing halted a little bit. But we'll see."

Ruff was also taken aback.

"That’s tragic," he said. "That’s close to home for me, and it makes losing the game seem irrelevant to the people in danger up there and the people who have lost their homes. That stuff sits close to the heart with anybody. When you hear some of the stories and what people are doing for each other. It’s heartbreaking what is going on up there."

The wildfires have destroyed over 1,600 homes and buildings. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate the city in search of safe refuge.

"Yeah, (it looks like) a movie that I don’t really want to watch," Upshall said. "I saw the freeway that I used to usually drive in from the airport. And both sides of the roads were kind of just 100 foot flames, which I saw a couple restaurants that I used to go eat at and those were gone. And it’s crazy. You know, thankful for all the supporters there that are doing their thing and everyone who’s still there who’s trying to get out or looking for places to stay, we hope everyone has a helping hand and we’ll be able to support them and do what we can from here. I’m sure we’ll all get together here nationally and help them out."

So in a way, playing the game is a nice escape.

"Yeah, the support group, that’s the main thing," Upshall said. "There’s probably a lot of people that are this morning waking up in someone else’s home or in someone else’s bed, having their kids really not understand what’s going on. That’s tough. But we have a good group here. Everyone last night kind of sent their thoughts and their prayers. It’s tough when it becomes national and global news for a city of 80,000 people. It’s pretty upsetting. But the good thing is it’ll get, the city will get through it. I’m sure they’ll get more help and get these fires under control.

"The hockey is a great escape route for it. Going out and getting to battle and be part of a team is, it always gets you through tough times, whether it’s having a bruise or going out and just being able to battle with your buddies and win games. That always sparks itself. I got a lot of texts yesterday, go out and win the game for the city. So that was pretty special."

* The kiss -- Much was made near the end of regulation of Game 3 of Blues right wing Ryan Reaves blowing a kiss towards the Stars bench after a fight with Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie.

Reaves came to the defense of teammate Alex Pietrangelo after he was checked from behind into the boards by Stars defenseman Stephen Johns.

Reaves' blown kiss turned into instant GIFs, mini video clips and still photos. There was even an instance where Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk demonstrated to teammate Jaden Schwartz what had happened.

"I didn't see anything," Schwartz said. "'Shatty' gave me a good instant replay of it. It was nice. I'm sure he (Shattenkirk) is pretty good at it. Not with me of course."

Pietrangelo didn't see it either, as he was collecting himself off the ice and is OK.

"I had no idea," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously I just saw 'Shatty' blowing 'Schwartzy' a kiss. That was interesting."

The Stars were not as amused.

"I think the players note that, yeah I think they do," Ruff said. "Our guys were embarrassed last night, and that’s stuff you take to heart. That’s stuff you use. We’re a proud team."

* The captain -- Blues captain David Backes is having his best postseason of his career.

Not only has Backes doubled his career playoff goal total (he has five in 10 games this postseason after having five his first 29 games), he has three game-winning goals (had three in 79 regular season games), he's playing a complete all-around game and as his coach said after the game, "He’s hungry, truly hungry. He wants it more and more and more. He’s not satisfied with anything. He comes down very quickly from a big performance. He’s back on task the next morning. He’s a very hungry player. There’s a lot of hungry hockey players in our locker room, which is a good sign.

"... All he's doing is working and playing his heart out. I don't know what a next level is, it's the playoffs and your focus is singular. He's just trying hard every shift. Like I said, it's an important time for both teams. It's an important time for us, it's an important time for individuals. He just wants to leave it all out on the ice, so what he's doing is what other players on our team are doing and other players on their team are doing, they're trying to lay everything out on the line and lay it out on the ice. I've said this before, David doesn't get enough credit for the greasy stuff he does. He's the spokesman for the team but he's also the image and style that we believe in, and that is that we're willing to go into the hard areas offensively and defensively. He's scored some big goals for us, but he's doing all the hard stuff, he's doing all the hard stuff that a lot of times coaches notice."

His teammates are noticing.

"He's been really good, really these whole playoffs, I think all year, he just seems a lot more comfortable this year," center Paul Stastny said. "He's let his game do the talking. Yesterday was a perfect example. He was physical, he was good with the puck offensively, good defensively. I don't know if you expect nine hits out of him every night and a couple goals, but he's led by example. In the past, it's been where he was a little more vocal and lately, I think he's let his actions speak and I think we've kind of followed him.

"He's always been a leader, I think we've always respected him, we've always looked up to him and just kind of followed his lead. Nothing's changed for us. I think he's been like that all year. He's just kept going and going. When things don't go our way, he doesn't complain. He just keeps going out there and what's the best for the team."

* Another kiss -- Ryan Reaves wasn't the only one involved in kisses Tuesday.

Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko was caught on television kissing his stick blade after scoring his fifth goal of the playoffs, one in which gave the Blues a 4-1 lead in the second period at the time.

"He does that all the time," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He’s either kissing it or chewing on the tape. It’s an awful tasty stick, I can tell you that."

Tarasenko is the first player since Doug Weight in 2003 to record two three-point games in the same playoff season after his goal and two assists in Game 3.

"He was good," Schwartz said of Tarasenko. "Puck was on his stick a lot, he was making plays, moving his feet. Everybody was good but he obviously led the charge offensively quite a bit and created a lot. Even defensively as well he was good.

"He's such an impactful player. He's our top offensive guy and when he's working, when he's doing a lot of little things right, then other guys feed off of that and then other guys feed off of that and it gives us momentum as well and we're able to create a lot, especially as a line, then other guys feed off it as well, so he's a big important part of our team."

* Ott's absence -- Reaves' inclusion in the lineup the past two games meant that Steve Ott, who returned in Game 3 of the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks after missing 57 games from torn hamstrings and a bout with colitis, has been a scratch the past two games.

Hitchcock has dealt with what he calls players when they "hit the wall" with Schwartz and Patrik Berglund, both who missed significant time this season.

Hitchcock recently had a conversation with Ott.

"Give us everything you’ve got for as long as you can do it," Hitchcock said what his message was. "When you hit the wall, we’ll regroup, we’ll get you back, which we knew he’d hit the wall. You can’t be out that long. Everybody who goes through it out that long during the regular season hits the wall. For us, for most guys it’s somewhere between 14-21 days before they hit the wall. We said when you hit the wall, we’ll work with you again, and get you ready to play. 

"He’s going to be a factor in this series yet, we need him to get back to where he was able to keep up to speed. You can only play on emotion so long on emotion in this business. Then you have to play on conditioning fitness and agility. We needed the first two parts to get back up to speed before we can put him back in."

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