Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tarasenko scores twice in Blues' 3-2 win over Predators

Game-winner came with 3:51 remaining in Game 2 to even best-of-7 series 1-1

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko has heard all the questions.

What can you do to score more? Are you getting enough shots? How can you get the power play going? Etc ... etc ... 

Tarasenko is the Blues' go-to guy, their leading scorer. He's their lone legitimate threat to hit the 40-goal mark despite falling one short this past regular-season.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (right) celebrates with teammates, including Colton Parayko,
after scoring the tying goal in the third period of Game 2 on Friday.

But to offset when he's not scoring, Tarasenko has been doing what coach Mike Yeo said is "the little things." 

But there was a look in his eye, one Yeo said was evident on Thursday, and it came to light Friday night and Tarasenko followed it up by scoring twice, including the game-winning goal with 3 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round before 19,506 at Scottrade Center.

Tarasenko, who led the Blues in goals (39) and points (75) this season and was tied with teammate Jaden Schwartz with 36 assists, came through off a rush and was able to get a kick pass -- of all things -- from Joel Edmundson and beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne past the right pad.

The best-of-7 series is now tied 1-1 with Game 3 slated for Sunday afternoon in Nashville (2 p.m.).

"It's a great play by 'Schwartzy' and then I probably scream for 'Eddy' to leave it to me and 'Eddy' make a good play," Tarasenko said. "Another one of my goals (is) a big goal for us. 

"After first game, we can't lose this one, so it's tied series now and play Nashville on (Sunday) and have time to reset and do our best."

Jori Lehtera also scored for the Blues, the tying goal with 7:39 to play, and Jake Allen made 22 saves, including 14 in the third period, to help preserve the win.

Allen came up with a number of big stops, but none bigger than the one on James Neal with 38 seconds remaining to preserve the 3-2 lead.

"We knew it was going to be a long series," Allen said. "I don’t think either team thought it was going to be a sweep, for one side or the other. That’s going to be rare in these ages. We’re still in for a long series, just have to get rest and go into a tough building."

Ryan Ellis had a goal and an assist, Neal scored, and Rinne made 17 saves for Nashville, which lost for the first time this postseason after five straight wins.

This was all about the Blues evening the series and making it a best-of-5, and it was up to one of their best players to help get them there.

"Actually, I saw that look (in his eye) yesterday to be honest with you," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of Tarasenko. "What he's done in the playoffs speaks for itself. If you want to look up the stats and what he's done speaks for itself. It's tough on a guy like that when you have to answer the questions that you're not scoring and obviously the pressure you have to deal with and the matchups you have to face and the focus the other team puts on you. It's the mental toughness that he's been battling real hard through real impressively. Obviously he did a great job for us tonight. ... It's not like he's been playing poorly."

"We know when he gets his chances, they're going to go in," Blues center Paul Stastny said of Tarasenko. "Big-time goals from a big-time player that's done it all year for us."

The Predators took a 1-0 lead when Ellis' slap shot from the point double-deflected off Colton Sissons and Neal at 7:49 of the first period. It was Nashville's first shot on goal after the Blues had the better of the play early, but Alex Pietrangelo threw the puck off the wall to an open spot that Ellis took advantage of for a turnover.

The Blues tied it 1-1 during a five-minute power play. Tarasenko's wrist shot beat Rinne, who was screened by Paul Stastny, with 19.4 seconds remaining in the period.

"When he has time, it's more setting my position, let him shoot it around me and he did that," Stastny said. "Great shot."

The Blues got the five-minute major as a result of Nashville center Vernon Fiddler kneeing Blues defenseman Colton Parayko with 1:32 remaining in the first. 

Parayko went down in a heap of pain but was able to skate off on his own power an returned for the second period.

Parayko didn't feel like it was a malicious play.

"I saw him as soon as I came around the net," Parayko said. "Then I went to play the puck and it bobbled off me. I don't know if he took a different route or I went a different way, it happens so fast. It's just one of those things. I'm assuming he wasn't trying to do it. It's hockey and the game's so fast.

"(The knee is) good. It's sore, but it's good. It got turned around, just a weird hit. It's all good. Just glad to be back out there."

When asked if he was scared initially, Parayko said, "For sure. Obviously knee on knee is never good. I have my long legs that I don't think help. Use them kind of as leverage. It's good.

"I wouldn't say dirty. I think it happened so fast that maybe one of us couldn't get out of the way."

It was a reminder of when Parayko fell back on his leg against the New York Islanders, something that looked like a serious injury but he came back moments later amazingly.

"That one was a freak accident to that I couldn't believe," Parayko said. "That one was pretty scary. I'm very fortunate to be able to continue to play."

The Blues held the Predators to nine shots through two periods, but the Ellis gave the Predators a 2-1 lead at 3:07 of the third period when he picked off Vladimir Sobotka's pass and ripped one past Allen.

But there was no panic in the Blues, who scored seconds after a power play by Lehtera, who slammed in a loose puck after a crowded crease around Rinne after Parayko wristed a puck towards the Nashville goalie. It bounded up, Rinne kept Patrik Berglund's attempt out, but Lehtera was there to slam it home.

"Even to give up that goal early in the third period and to come back and win that game, says an awful lot about our group," Yeo said.

And it set up the late-game theatrics, with Edmundson providing what looked like an innocent kick.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo shoots a puck past Nashville's Miikka
Salomaki in Game 2 on Friday. The Blues won 3-2 to tie the series 1-1.

"I was hoping (Schwartz) would put it right in my wheelhouse for a one-timer, but if you can get it to the goal-scorer, you might as well," Edmundson said.

He did, and Tarasenko did the rest. And he did it in front of 11-year-old Ari Duggan, the cancer patient Tarasenko recently invited to go on a roas trip with the team.

"You can't score every game, but if you don't score come games, you need to help your team," Tarasenko said. "... You need to do defensive stuff and show the teammates your attitude. Just being a good teammate.

"It's playoffs and I don't really care who score and not score. We just need the wins to win the Cup. ... It was nice to see (Ari) here finally. I think she's pretty happy right now, too."

Friday, April 28, 2017

(4-28-17) Predators-Blues Game 2 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will make a surprising lineup change when they play a virtual must-win Game 2 against the Nashville Predators today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1 FM).

Rookie Ivan Barbashev will return to the lineup after missing Game 5 of the first round series at Minnesota and Game 1 of this second-round series, and make Magnus Paajarvi a healhy scratch for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Barbashev didn't register a point in the series against the Wild, and Paajarvi has three points in six games, including the overtime game-winner that eliminated the Wild and assist on Vladimir Sobotka's game-tying goal in the third period on Wednesday.

"'Barby' will play tonight," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they come out of the lineup. We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). This is in no way anything against Magnus. We're very grateful and appreciative of what he's done and very confident in what he can do for us. But Barby's been a good player for us for a long time, too. Having him out of the lineup, he'll be energized, he brings a physical element but there's more to his game than just that. He has the ability to make plays, he plays with a conscience as far as how he plays without the puck. But when he gets the puck in the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. And so we'll see what he can do here tonight."

Barbashev is eager to return after feeling like his game slipped a but in the series against the Wild.

"For sure it's going to make it better because I didn't play for a couple games," Barbashev said. "I'm back in the lineup and it just feels like I'm going to be better than I was before because my game slipped a little bit away the last couple games. Just a good learning thing for me just to be out of the lineup for a couple games and it's good to be back and I feel it's going to be a better game today.

"It's hard to say. Maybe when I got here at first, I was winning every battle in last couple games, (but) especially in series against Minnesota, I was losing a lot of (battles) and that's probably why I was out of the lineup. I'm just going to try and do my best tonight."

Yeo said he spoke with Paajarvi before Game 5 in Minnesota about perhaps playing a little tentative and the speedy winger responded.

"He bounced back, he had a great Game 5," Yeo said of Paajarvi. "There's obviously parts of our game last game where a number of guys we didn't feel were quite up to the speed and battle level that we needed, but he'll be fine. That was Game 1 after a bit of a layoff, and so we still have tons of confidence in Magnus and know he's a guy that can come back at any time and help us out."

Barbashev his objective is simple.

"Tonight, to help the team win the game," he said. "That's first thing. Just do my best, work hard, winning some puck battles and dig on the forecheck and be a good teammate to win the game.

"... It is a process, but I don't care if I'm up there (in the AHL) or down here. I'm always positive. I'm not trying to think why I'm not playing or something because I know the coaches are going to come and talk to me if something's wrong or not. Otherwise, it's just good learning stuff."

- - -

Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo spoke for the first time since his check that resulted in Kevin Fiala's broken left femur and knocked him out of the playoffs.

It happened early in the second period as Bortuzzo was driving Fiala to the ice and cut his speed from getting behind the net with the puck. As a result, Fiala crashed hard into the back boards and needed to be taken off on a stretcher.

Fiala had surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

"It happens incredibly fast out there, I'm looking to end his progress, poke the puck off his stick," Bortuzzo said. "I wasn't really focused on whether he was falling. Just mostly trying to impede progress. Like I said, it was an incredibly unfortunate result. I wish him the best.

"You never want to see something like that. It's a terribly unfortunate result to a play. You kind of just have to put it behind you. You wish him the best in his recovery but, you have to move forward and put it behind you. It's a tough sport out there."

- - -

The last thing the Blues want is to head on the road, despite their success, and have to face an 0-2 deficit in the series. So winning on home ice tonight seems to be imperative and in the process, try and derail Nashville's 5-0 start in the postseason.

"We've got to find a way to win this one," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We haven't had a good record at home here in the playoffs (1-2 this season, 5-8 the past two seasons); we know that. Opportunity here to kind of build something here and go into their territory feeling good about our game."

"It doesn't really matter what you want to call it," Bortuzzo said. "We're out here to win every night. It's going to be an intense atmosphere in a good building so we're hopefully going to use some of that to our advantage."

The Blues would be well-advised to try and draw their home crowd into the game early, as evidenced by how raucous they were when the Blues scored twice in the third and tie the game 3-3.

"It would be nice to get them into the game early," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "We just want to keep grinding until the game's over. If it's a one-goal game, it doesn't matter, we'll keep grinding until the buzzer goes, but we want our fans into it right from the get-go."

- - - 

Jaden Schwartz has six points (three goals, three assists) in six playoff games.

Edmundson (two goals, two assists in six games) is plus-7 the past two games.

Sobotka and Alexander Steen each have four points (two goals, two assists) in six games.

Jake Allen has a 1.87 GAA and .944 save percentage in six starts.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Sobotka 

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Magnus Paajarvi, Zach Sanford, Dmitrij Jaskin and Jordan Schmaltz. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are out.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-James Neal

Craig Smith/Calle Jarnkrok-Colton Sissons-PA Parenteau

Cody McLeod-Vernon Fiddler-Austin Watson

Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt, Miikka Salomaki, Pontus Aberg and Harry Zolnierczyk. Craig Smith (undisclosed) and Calle Jarnkrok (undisclosed) are questionable. Kevin Fiala (leg) is out.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

(4-28-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Blues need to limit special teams game, keep it 5-on-5; 
continuation of Game 1 third period; Fiala done; faceoffs still a problem 

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues came away with their 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round series against the Nashville Predators with a couple simple takeaways.

They were A) limit the amount of times they go to the penalty box, or stay out of it completely, and B) play the game 5-on-5.

The game, which was ultimately decided on a fluky goal scored by seldom-used Vernon Fiddler, who played just 8 minutes, 32 seconds on Wednesday, came down to the Predators' ability to scored two power-play goals.

Nashville, which leads the best-of-7 series 1-0 with Game 2 slated for Friday at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), was 2-for-3 with the man advantage and outshot the Blues 13-1 in that department (the Blues were 0-for-1 on the power play).

But when playing 5-on-5, the Blues held a huge 29-19 advantage in shots on goal and had a 64.4 percent to 35.6 percent Corsi rating in 5-on-5 situations. 

"We know it's a little bit different than the first round," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "That we've got to keep things 5-on-5. I think a big part is we kind of showed in the third period what we've got. We've just got to keep that for 60 minutes, have a good start and keep it 5-on-5, because they showed they've got some big weapons on the power play.

"... I think 5 on 5 we did a pretty good job. So like I said, special teams are big, you've got to be better there, we know we've got more to bring. But 5-on-5, I think we kind of kept it even and maybe even had more chances than they did. So 5-on-5, I think we're really confident, but we know we've got more here."

But the Blues took the wind out of their sails when a first-period penalty by David Perron led to a Nashville goal after the Blues had the better of the play in the game's first 10 minutes. Then a string of penalties (Joel Edmundson that made it a 4-on-4 situation, followed by Colton Parayko to turn it into a 4-on-3, and a Kyle Brodziak penalty that gave Nashville a brief 5-on-3) ultimately led to a third goal to make it a 3-1 game just as the Blues got back into it when Parayko scored to make it 2-1.

Those are the little things that need some adjusting.

"There's obviously some positives we can pull from it, but also at the same time, it's little things we have to focus on, things we have to improve on to continue to get better over the course of the series," Parayko said. "I think that we had a lot of good things, but obviously we have to focus on some things there to make us successful."

"Penalties killed us," Blues right wing Ryan Reaves said. "We've obviously got to eliminate penalties. Playoff hockey, teams are going to make you pay."

That's why as a coaching staff, Blues coach Mike Yeo and his assistants spent Thursday at their practice facility sifting through the positives and things that need fixing.

"I think it's a combination of both," Yeo said. "In all honesty, today was probably a little bit more on the things that need to be corrected. I prefer to keep some of the positives for the game day and we had to save a few of those. But yeah, certainly today, it's about finding answers. When you're in a playoff series, it's a process in terms of learning your opponent, but trying to improve your game, trying to find ways to limit them getting to their game and trying to find more ways to get to yours. And obviously learning about the game yourself and the feel of the game and the opponent you're playing. Obviously last game was the first step of that and today was the next.

"... This is up to us to make sure that we find a way. It's about adjustments, but like I said, it's about learning about your opponent and the type of games that you're going to be playing and so we have to prove that we're one step closer to that."

* Third period push -- Down two, the Blues had no choice but to push the envelope and go for it in the third period.

Arguably their best period of this postseason, the Blues rallied to tie the game on goals by Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka.

"Yeah, we got to our grind, that's our game," Reaves said. "We get it down low and we work them down low. It was tough for them to handle. I think you saw it the whole third period where we started taking over and we had shift after shift in their zone. But like I said before, we just started too late."

The Blues were poised to perhaps pull off the comeback until that ill-timed goal, one in which Yeo said three mistakes occured, the last in which goalie Jake Allen went for the poke-check and failed to come up with it before Fiddler was able to poke the puck himself through Allen's legs.

The puck got past Reaves in the neutral zone as he tried to stab at it, then defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's clearing attempt went right into Austin Watson, who was able to in turn push the puck into the path of Fiddler before he scored.

Allen took the blame, but Yeo said he doesn't have any doubt his goalie will bounce back.

"Yeah, I've got no issues. For me, I really appreciate and respect that (Allen) fell on the sword there, but there was three mistakes on that last goal," Yeo said. "For me, that was a good example of why we lost the game. It was all those little things that added up, that we didn't do, that we did in the first series."

* Fiala done for the season -- Predators forward Kevin Fiala, who sustained a serious injury early in the second period after crashing hard into the boards after being checked to the ice by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, sustained a fractured left femur and will be lost for the remainder of the playoffs.

The Predators announced that Fiala, who was taken off the ice on a stretcher, underwent successful surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and will be on the road to recovery.

"It's a tough loss, there’s no question," predators captain Mike Fisher said. "Everything went well I guess and he’s doing well. That’s the main concern. He’s one of those guys that’s played really, really well so far in the playoffs and is a big part of our team. To lose a guy like that is definitely tough but glad he’s doing OK."

Added Predators coach Peter Laviolette: "(Fiala’s) gone through a process where he finally had some stick and was a guy that we were counting on. He was now on a power play, he was now in the top-six mix, he was now taking down 16 or 17 minutes a night and he’s earned that. He’s worked hard, he loves the game, works hard at it in practice. He wants to get better, and it was getting to a point where he really was a difference-maker with the puck on his stick, as you saw in that overtime goal in the first round. It was a really, really nice play and a patient play. It’s unfortunate for an accident like that to happen on the ice."

As for Bortuzzo's check, the Predators didn't have any issues with it, nor did his Blues teammates.

"I didn't mind it at all," said Reaves, who had 10 hits in the game, including seven in the first period. "I think 'Bobbo' had a good angle on him. I think (Fiala) thought he could go around him. I didn't see any room for the guy to go and I think he thought he could and he just kind of got run into the boards going really fast - high-speed impact.

"It sucks obviously. It's a physical sport and you're trying to get your licks in, but to go down with an injury like that, it's too bad for him. He was having a good series against Chicago and a big part of that. So, I feel for him, I wish him the best for a speedy recovery."

* Faceoff issues -- For the sixth game in the postseason, the Blues were on the wrong end of the 50 percent marker on the faceoff dot.

After winning 11 of 19 in the first period, the Blues finished the game at 38 percent, and they continue to be last among all playoff teams at 41.9 percent.

"We have to be better, we have to be better at that," Yeo said. "Certainly they went in there and they dominated that area. I thought they dominated a lot of the 1-on-1 battles in the game, too, so they were better than us in all the small areas of the game and that's why they won."

The Minnesota Wild was 57.4 percent in their series against the Blues, and the Predators are second among the 16 playoff teams at 54.6 percent.

Late Fiddler goal gives Predators 4-3 win in Game 1

Blues had big push in third to tie, trail series 
1-0 after pair of mistakes that proved costly

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The momentum was there, the building was all set to erupt.

The Blues had turned what was an inauspicious beginning in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round series Wednesday against the Nashville Predators.

They fought back from a two-goal deficit in the third period and were all over the Predators with a relentless forecheck.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) pressures Predators defenseman
Roman Josi during Game 1 on Wednesday.

But a pair of mistakes at the most inopportune time came back to bite the Blues when Vernon Fiddler scored with 5 minutes, 5 seconds remaining to allow the Predators to escape with a 4-3 victory before 19,154 at Scottrade Center and grab a 1-0 series lead.

Fiddler, playing in his first game of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, took advantage of fortuitous bounce and halted the momentum the Blues had built up.

It was a play where Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester failed to get a clear out of his zone, and his attempt caromed off Austin Watson, who played a fluttering puck forward towards Jake Allen. In an attempt at a poke-check, Allen missed, and Fiddler was able to poke the puck through Allen's pads while he was sprawling on the ice and deflate the crowd, and seemingly, the Blues.

"It was just a quick transition," Fiddler said. "I saw Watson kind of get it in his feet outside and just tried to get to the net. He made a little flip pass and I just got a piece of it and just chipped it over the goalie. Lucky one."

Allen took the blame.

"Guys fought back great," Allen said. "A little mistake by me cost us. ... I did what I wanted to do."

P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg scored, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves for the Predators, who have won five straight Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Nashville left wing Kevin Fiala was taken off the ice on a stretcher 1:46 into the second period after his left leg slammed into the end boards after being checked to the ice by St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. The game was delayed 17 minutes by the injury and to wait for an ambulance to arrive and replace the one that took Fiala to the hospital. 

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Fiala.

"I don't think anybody could have thought or planned an incident like that with Kevin and yet our guys, you could hear them on the bench when it happened making sure their next shift was going to be a good one for Kevin," Laviolette said. "It's just one of those unfortunate incidents that happened in the game."

Colton Parayko had a goal and assist, and Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka scored for St. Louis. Allen made 28 saves. 

"I liked the pushback," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. 'I liked the fact we came out the way that we did. Certainly some things we can learn from that, but the reality is, the second period was not good enough. Ultimately it cost us the game."

The Blues had the early push but failed to score, then the penalties that ultimately would cost the Blues dearly in the game.

A David Perron goaltender interference penalty led to Wilson's power-play goal at 11:24 of the first period, a tipped shot off Subban's blast from the top of the left circle.

Then the Fiala incident occurred, and Subban scored 34 seconds after the delay following a failed clear, ultimately that turned into a slap shot from the point to make it 2-0.

"I don't think we responded to their first goal really well," Bouwmeester said. "Kind of gave them some momentum and the penalties are tough in the second, but back and forth game. 

"We can look at the third period and some of the time we spent in their end and take some positives. It's one game."

Parayko made it 2-1 at 8:04 after Kyle Brodziak forechecked the puck, got it to Joel Edmundson, who went D-to-D to an open Parayko, who had all sorts of time before he squirted a shot through Rinne and give the crowd life.

"I was just waiting for anything to open up, whether it be a pass or shot or kind of open through the legs," Parayko said. "It seemed like I had a lot of time to go in and pick my spot."

But the Blues then got into penalty trouble again.

What started out as a 4-on-4, a tripping penalty by Parayko led to a 4-on-3 before Brodziak was called for slashing and giving Nashville a 28-second 5-on-3 situation.

The Blues would kill the 5-on-3 but allow a Filip Forsberg goal to restore the Predators' lead to 3-1 at 12:11 of the third after Subban's shot was stopped by Allen and the puck caromed off Forsberg in front.

"First off, penalty kill. We need to be sharper there," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "If it was a 5-on-5 game, if we were just playing that, then I think we were better. They are a disciplined team. We have to do a better job. We gave up a 4-on-3, we gave up a 5-on-3 tonight. It's pretty tough to kill those in succession. Obviously, we've got to, if that's the case, if that's what we're dealt. But we've got to do a better job there."

Then came the comeback.

The Blues' forecheck was relentless. They pressured the Predators in their own zone and were rewarded when Schwartz made it 3-2 at 6:48 of the third period when he took Paul Stastny's pass in front and jammed a shot past Rinne.

Sobotka tied it 3-3 at 9:22 and came as a result of good speed by teammate Magnus Paajarvi, who drove the middle of the ice, forcing Predators defenseman Roman Josi to respect Paajarvi's move to the net to leave Sobotka a lane to take a wrist shot off the near post and in.

The crowd was going buts, the Blues had the momentum and the feel of a comeback win.

Not the case.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Magnus Paajarvi (left) battles for a loose puck with
Predators captain Mike Fisher on Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

"Yeah, I think in the third period, that was what we wanted to do," Bouwmeester said. "We wanted to kind of have a push and get things at the net. We did a really good job. A tough bounce to end it, but I think there's a lot of things we can build off of."

Yeo said Allen shouldn't have to shoulder the blame.

"I respect that he did that. But he doesn't need to do that," Yeo said. "We dug ourselves a hole in the second period. 

"I liked the pushback. I liked the fact we came out the way that we did. Certainly some things we can learn from that, but the reality is, the second period was not good enough. Ultimately it cost us the game."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

(4-26-17) Predators-Blues Game 1 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After days of preparation and turning the page away from the first round, it's time to drop the puck on the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues and Nashville Predators open the Western Conference portion with Game 1 at Scottrade Center (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

The Blues disposed the Minnesota Wild in five games, and the Predators served notice by sweeping the West's top seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nashville has been off since last Thursday, and the Blues completed their series on Saturday with Magnus Paajarvi's overtime winner.

"Yeah, they've had a little bit longer wait than we had," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of the Predators. "A little bit different having a four-day break in the middle of the playoffs, but a good couple days of rest and ready to go."

What's surprising is that this will be the first time in history the Blues and Predators will play against one another in the playoffs.

The Blues are the third seed from the Central Division, and Nashville comes in as the second wild card out of the west.

"We've played each other a lot," Pietrangelo said. "We're pretty familiar with each other."

- - -

It'll be a matchup of two hot goalies (Jake Allen of the Blues and Pekka Rinne of the Predators) who were the top two statistical leaders in goals-against average (0.70 for Rinne, 1.47 for Allen) and save percentage (.976 for Rinne, .956 for Allen) in the first round among starters.

But just because both goalies were in lockdown mode in the first round, doesn't necessarily mean this will be a race to two goals.

"I know that they have a ton of skill over there and we have to respect that skill," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of the Predators. "They've got 1-on-1 skill, they've got speed, they've got transition skill, and it comes from the forwards and the back end. To think we're just going to be able to hold them to one goal every game is going to be tough. So obviously we're going to have a focus and an attention to detail in our defensive game. We're going to have to make it as hard on them physically and structurally as we can, but we're going to have to press, we're going to have to find a way to create some offense against a team that doesn't give up much, especially through the neutral zone, especially on the rush, so it's going to be a good challenge for us. We don't have an expectation of how each and every game is going to unfold. It might change. Special teams might become a big factor one night, it might become a little loose, a little more wide open one night. For me, the biggest thing is we're ready for whatever and we're not surprised by it and we're ready to deal with it through the course of the game."

- - -

The Blues have won 14 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, and as teams advance, experience plays a big factor.

Not only have the Blues played 25 games the past two seasons in the playoffs, but the majority of their roster has the expereince.

"Experience matters," Pietrangelo said. "I think it really does. Last year we knew playing against Chicago, we let them back into it, same with Dallas. We played those extra games and went to seven games. It seems like this year, we have a little more jump, especially in that Game 5 to close things out and not extend it longer than we had to."

The Blues have 18 skaters on the roster that were a part of the run to the conference final last season and feel it could be a nice benefactor.

"I think so," Yeo said. "I don't think we can bank on it but certainly experience is a valuable tool for us as far as understanding and having a good grasp of what to expect and again, how to prepare and how to make sure you're ready. It should serve us well, just like these guys played last year too, they went past round one. I think both teams have experience in the playoffs, and both teams will lean on that, but every year's a new year as well too so you can't bank on that and assume that that's going to serve you well. For me, if it's anything, it's recognition of the preparation that you need going into games."

- - -

Alexander Steen did not skate again, and Ivan Barbashev was in his spot in line rushes, but Steen, who's nursing a lower-body injury, will play. 

The Blues recalled defenseman Petteri LIndbohm from the Chicago Wolves and assigned on loan defenseman Thomas Vannelli to the Wolves, who play in Game 5 of their first round playoff series against the Charlotte Checkers tonight in Chicago.

- - -

The Predators are expected to get left wing Colin Wilson (lower body) back after missing the first round series against the Blackhawks. 

Former Blues defenseman Brad Hunt, who was claimed off waivers by the Predators, is not on the lineup tonight.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Vladimir Sobotka-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, Dmitrij Jaskin and Petteri Lindbohm. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are out with injuries.

- - - 

The Predators' projected lineup

Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala-Calle Jarnkrok-James Neal

Colin Wilson-Colton Sissons-PA Parenteau

Cody McLeod-Mike Fisher-Austin Watson

Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Anthony Bitetto, Vernon Fiddler, Brad Hunt, Miikka Salomaki, Pontus Aberg and Harry Zolnierczyk. Craig Smith (lower body) is out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

(4-26-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Yeo stresses moving forward, putting last series on back-burner; 
shutting down Nashville's top line; Tarasenko being an offensive factor

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues were going through a full practice Tuesday, putting in plenty of work ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators, which begins Wednesday.

And as the Blues were going through their normal day's work, coach Mike Yeo wanted a little more sharpness, some more crispness out of his troops. 

So he stopped practice a couple times to get a message across at center ice.

The message was basically to get everything out from the five-game first round series against the Minnesota Wild. That's over. Time to turn the focus to a new challenge in the Predators.

Game 1 is scheduled for 7 p.m. on NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM.

"That's what it is right now," Yeo said. "We're asking a lot detail-wise and preparation-wise. You've been off for a few days and obviously you come off an emotional win so we have to crank it back up.

"I think that's it, exactly. We have to understand there's no carryover. I know that that's a group coming into our building that's going to be revved up, they're going to be motivated and they're going to be ready to go and we have to be ready to at least match that."

The Blues and Predators, who swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, can both be proud of their opening round accomplishments, but it's time to turn the page, get refocused and ready to face another formidable opponent.

"You start fresh," defenseman Jay Boumweester said. "It's a whole different focus and a different opponent. Having a few days to kind of just get your mind off of things and it allows you to reset, too. They've been off for probably over a week now. I'm sure they were thinking ahead. It's great that you;re moving on, but it's done and the next challenge is in front of you."

The Predators, who outscored the Blackhawks 13-3, haven't played since Thursday; The Blues, who outscored the Wild 11-8 in a series that averaged 3.8 goals per game in the series that was inflated by Game 5's 4-3 score, wrapped up their series on Saturday.

"A little bit of both," defenseman Colton Parayko said of the carryover affect or wiping the slate clean. "Obviously you try to carry over the things that you did well in your game, individually and as a team. I think the things that we're doing good, we want to continue to do that are good and that are going to be successful, especially against at team like Nashville. But we're going to have to reset a couple things to make sure we're level-grounded. We're at the beginning of a series and we know it's going to be a grind."

A lot of the emphasis was working on getting through the neutral zone, where the Predators tend to thrive on disrupting the play and turn it back into transition offense.

"That's going to be a big part of the series and it's going to be a challenge," Yeo said. "We're well aware of their neutral zone forecheck and one thing that's very evident to me is their F3's, their reloads, the way they have numbers through the neutral zone. Certainly it's going to be a very difficult series to try to get rush opportunities, but you know what, I think we're at our best when we're getting pucks in behind the defensemen, we're getting on the hunt, we're getting in on the forecheck, we're playing physical, and so we're going to have to find a way to get to that type of game."

* Predators top line -- The Blackhawks found out the hard way; The Blues are mindful of what they did.

It was quite the first round series for Nashville's top line of left wing Filip Forsberg, center Ryan Johansen and right wing Viktor Arvidsson.

The trio combined for 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in the four games against the Blackhawks, who had no answer for the speedy forwards.

"One hundred percent," Parayko said if the Blues were aware. "Those guys are really good players, players that will just keep going, keep battling and obviously they've got good kill. They've got hockey sense and whenever you get a chance to go up against players like that, it's very fun, especially in a series that could potentially go seven games. Throughout the long course of a series, it's head-to-head every night that makes it that much better, I think."

One would think Bouwmeester and partner Alex Pietrangelo will be seeing plenty of them, and they look forward to the challenge after doing a number on some of Minnesota's top players, including shutting down the likes of Mikael Granlund (two assists), Jason Zucker (one goal), Eric Staal (one assist), Nino Niederreiter (one assist and Mikko Koivu (one goal, one assist), who was held scoreless through four games.

"We had the same situation in Minnesota," Pietrangelo said. "Every playoff team's got a big scoring line up front. We're no different. It's going to be a good challenge. They're really good.

"... They're obviously creative up front. They're willing to take chances. They're willing to do things that maybe some other players won't. I think the big thing is keeping them off the power play. Guys, they may not score, but they feed off the opportunity to field the puck and digging some of the offensive momentum. Just play them hard and take away the space."

When Nashville's top line is on the ice, it doesn't necessarily mean the Blues' top d-pair will shadow it.

Yeo trusts all three of his pairs and will utilize them all.

"We do and we have to," Yeo said. "We've gotten to this point now, we've gotten into the playoffs and we've got through the first round because of the trust we have in our players. Different times during the course of the game certain players are going to be on the ice against their best players and they've got to be ready to do the job. As is always the case in the playoffs, you've got to be able to match the competitive level against their top players but depth is always so important in the playoffs. If you're not on top of your game and you're losing matchups below that top matchup, then you're going to be in trouble.

"... First and foremost, it's not just them. They're four lines deep right now, they trust every line, both in defensive and offensive situations, but that line in particular, one thing we all have to be aware of is a big part of their offense comes from their back end, the way that, certainly the way they create turnovers, it's a group that can skate, can all get up ice, transition very quickly, and be part of the attack or get the puck up into the forwards hands. You look at that top line and you see skill, you see speed, you see some hard competitiveness to them. They can break you down one on one, and obviously they've got a lot of hockey sense so it's a good challenge."

* Tarasenko time -- Blues leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko had three points in the first round series against the Wild, including one goal (in Game 5). 

Some would be surprised that the Blues were able to win that series in five with their leading scorer only netting one goal, but Tarasenko, who did play a more complete game in the series and assisted on Joel Edmundson's overtime winner in Game 1.

"We always need to be better, especially now," Tarasenko said. "It's always nice when you have space to grow and that's what we want to do as a team, every one of us. So we will try to do it in the second round."

Tarasenko has had his way against Nashville with 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 24 career games against the Predators, including five points (two goals, three assists) in five games this season. 

The 22 points are most against any opponent in the NHL.

"It's for you guys to decide how I play and for coaches," Tarasenko said. "I don't think any of us last year against San Jose really had chances. I don't score this year, I have a lot of chances and (Devan) Dubnyk catch them all. It's good we win the series. If it goes the other way, I will feel really bad about my game. But now, I feel like I tried to help the team as much as I can, whatever it takes -- shot blocking or some stuff like this. Looking for overall win." 

"I know he had one goal in the series and we'd like for him to have more," Yeo said of Tarasenko. "He hit a couple posts, I know going into the last game he had 16 shots in four games. He had the one big goal for us, he created two game-winners for us, and I'd say he helped us win four games and he helped us win a series. Some of those plays were obviously offensive and some of them were very, very important defensive plays and some was his leadership, so for me, it's about winning hockey games.Some nights we're going to need to score. If he can do it every night, great. If he can't, then he needs something else to the table and that's what he did in the first round."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Blues to lean on Carter Hutton for information

St. Louis goalie spent past three seasons as Predators 
backup, speaks highly of relationship with Pekka Rinne

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Beating the Minnesota Wild in five games had its advantages for the Blues.

Most obvious, the play on the ice had a lot to do with it, but getting information on players that Blues coach Mike Yeo, assistant coach Rick Wilson and center Kyle Brodziak knew from their days with the Wild perhaps helped Blues players gain an edge in certain areas.

The Blues are hoping more of the same when they face the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Second Round.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Carter Hutton spent the past three seasons backing up Pekka
Rinne in Nashville, St. Louis' next opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Want to know what makes Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne tick? Ask Blues backup Carter Hutton, who was Rinne's backup the past three seasons.

Want to know how perhaps Viktor Arvidsson gains an edge with his speed? Ask Hutton.

Want to know how Roman Josi moves the puck out of his defensive zone, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone? Ask Hutton.

Or want to know where Filip Forsberg's sweet spots on the ice are for his lethal shot? Ask Hutton.

The Blues hope that any information he can provide will be useful.

Anything to gain a competitive edge.

"Yeah, I think knowing some guys and their mentalities, the way they handle games, the ins and outs of every guy is important," Hutton said. "Before each series, we try to analyze it the best we can and obviously they're playing good hockey. It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we're pretty pumped for it."

And the Blues and their coaches will take any insight Hutton may have.

"Absolutely. For sure. 100 percent," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "You try to get as much information and use as many resources that you have available and obviously a player being inside their locker room is a useful tool for us. I know Marty (Brodeur) has talked to him. We'll talk more to him about even their team. We’ve talked to scouts, our scouts who followed the series. We've got all video and we can obviously go back on our past experiences against them. There's plenty of information as far as getting prepared. It's easy to see what they are. They're a team with a lot of skill, a lot of speed. They obviously checked very well against Chicago, made it very, very difficult on them. And they are very competitive. That's one thing that really shows up. So it's gonna be another great test for us."

Hutton, who was 13-8-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .913 save percentage during the regular season, his first in St. Louis, became very close to Rinne when Hutton was in Music City. 

The two would go to dinners together, spent plenty of time together as the 1-2 punch with the Predators, who were ousted in the second round last season in seven games by the San Jose Sharks, who then went on to beat the Blues in the Western Conference Final in six games.

Hutton said Rinne already sent him a text message saying he looked forward to seeing the Blues goalie and looking forward to the competition. There's no such animosity between the former teammates.

"He's a close friend of mine. I think we're going to take a week off here of being friends and get after it," Hutton said. "When the series lined up for us, he texted me and just was excited to see me and go against us, but at the same time, it's going to be a battle out there when it drops. We can be buddies after. It's going to be interesting and I think we're excited for the challenge here. They've got a good team, but at the same time, we've got a really good team in here.

"... He was just really good to me, kind of took me under his wing when I got there. When I first came in, I didn't know Nashville and there wasn't a night where I wasn't going out for dinner with him or ever paid for a bill, that's for sure. Along the years, he bought me suits for being his goalie partner, things like that. He's a good person. He's a good human, so he's just one of those guys that I'm happy for his success and the way he's going, but at the same time, I'm not too worried about him. We're going to take care of our business here and hopefully take it to him."

Hutton has had a first class seat alongside Rinne, who was 4-0 with a 0.70 GAA and .976 save percentage with two shutouts against the Blackhawks in the first round, and now with teammate Jake Allen, whose 1.47 GAA and .956 save percentage are only second to Rinne in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's going to be different," Hutton said. "They're both playing so well. I've been with Jake this season, you see how strong he's playing and how good he is. I think the biggest difference with us heading into this series, compared to (Minnesota's Devan) Dubnyk, compared to Pekka is Pekka handles a lot of pucks. He does a really good job of getting out and eliminating dumps. It's something that we have to be aware of. He's one of those guys that he's a streaky goalie at the same time, so I think we have to do a good job of getting traffic and getting in there. At this time of year, everything's so fragile, you kind of repeat a lot of things that are said, but it's going to be a battle of the goalies. We've got two of the best going at it here."

Hutton credits Rinne for his improved success; having to step in for Rinne in 2013-14 when Rinne had a hip injury, Hutton got a firsthand look at what it took to be counted on every day. And with the knowledge Rinne gave him, he got a full appreciation of just how good he is.

"I think he's kind of been over the years that I've played with him and against him here in my NHL tenure, he's definitely one of the best," Hutton said of Rinne. "He's a big man. He's very mobile. I think sometimes his strengths can be his weaknesses. I think if we can get him moving a lot, things are going to open up, but he's one of those guys, he tracks the puck so well. He eliminates a lot of second chances, he's got a really good glove. You can come off the wall and try to put it off the pad and he scoops it off the ice. His puck-handling is one of the better guys in the league. Sometimes on the glass, he eliminates pucks. Little things that I try to implement in my game from playing with him. Sometimes you play with a guy long enough, it's monkey see, monkey do. I think for me, he's been a big impact on my career. It's going to be exciting. It's kind of weird. It obviously worked out coming here in St. Louis and obviously getting a big matchup here against the Preds. It's going to be awesome."

Hutton will also have a good analysis of the Nashville skaters, who he faced in practice countless times.

"Personally, I think their defense is really mobile." Hutton said. "They have a lot of mobile defensemen and I think they got even more mobile with some of the guys they brought in since I left. They do a good job in the neutral zone. Their reloads are really good. That's something (Predators coach Peter) Laviolette takes a lot of pride in, their forecheck, and the way they reload on pucks and getting back on plays, eliminating second chances. 

"For us, just controlling the zone puck protection. You look at some of our really good players, when we have success, we're getting pucks in deep. You look at (Paul) Stastny being back, (Jaden) Schwartz, (Patrik) Berglund and (David) Perron, these guys that are so good along the walls. I think puck possession down low is really going to wear them down and then pucks low and high to the net and just creating off that."

Hutton hasn't played a second in these playoffs, but he's been instrumental as a teammate that can be a good sounding board when times get tough, and he obviously has to mentally stay with it just in case he's called upon at a moment's notice.
(Nashville Predators photo)
Goalies Pekka Rinne (35) and Carter Hutton formed a close relationship
for three seasons in Nashville. Hutton now is a backup with the Blues.

"I'm fine. I've been in this situation many times," Hutton said. "I did a playoff run with a couple teams as a black ace. I had a Stanley Cup and then did a conference final, first round, second round, I've done it all four rounds. 

"It's hard, right? You obviously want to contribute, you want to play, but I know there's other ways I can contribute. It's off the ice, it's being vocal in the locker room at times when guys are tired and you need a boost. Being a support bell for Jake here and helping him out the best I can. I stay ready because it's a fragile thing. Things can change quick and you can only control what you can. For me, I try to have a positive attitude and the outlook, the biggest thing here is that we're winning and that's all that matters."

* NOTES -- The Blues held an optional skate on Monday, giving the majority of the regular players, especially those who played big minutes against Minnesota, a second day off the ice before getting after it on Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday's Game 1.

"It's a quick turnaround for us, so we want to make sure we have a quality practice tomorrow, so today was just a day to get moving," Yeo said. "Guys that didn't skate got in the gym, got the work in that they needed there and obviously the guys that hit the ice, it was not an incredibly intense practice, just an opportunity to get moving, get feeling the puck. Like I said, we'll get back at it tomorrow with a real focused practice in terms of the habits that we need going into this series."

Among the skaters included defenseman Thomas Vannelli, who was recalled on Sunday after the Blues assigned Jordan Schmaltz to the Chicago Wolves to benefit them in their first-round series against the Charlotte Checkers.

Vannelli, 22, was a second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and split time with the Atlanta Gladiators and Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL this season.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

(4-24-17) BLUES NOTEBOOK

NHL announces second-round schedule; Blues, Predators to open Wednesday 
in St. Louis; Paajarvi's OT winner top moment in pro career; winning wasn't easy

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- With all first-round playoff series concluding before any of the eight matchups needed a seventh game, the NHL announced the second round schedule for the remaining eight teams on Sunday night.

The Blues and Nashville Predators will kick off the Western Conference Second Round series with Game 1 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center.

Game 2 will be Friday in St. Louis at 7 p.m. before the series shifts to Nashville for Game 3 on April 30 at 2 p.m. and Game 4 on May 2 at 8:30 p.m.

If necessary Games 5-7, times are to be determined, but Game 5 will return to St. Louis on May 5, Game 6 in Nashville on May 7 and Game 7 would be in St. Louis on May 9.

This will be the first meeting between the Blues, who finished as the third seed in the Central Division, and Predators, who were the Western Conference's second wild card, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Nashville won three of five games against the Blues this season, but the Blues won the most recent, 4-1 at home on April 2 that all but solidified the Blues as the No. 3 seed.

The Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild in five games, and the Predators swept the Western Conference No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's pretty easy for us to look at what happened in the last series and not underestimate that opponent," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "So they're a great team and that's life in the Central Division for you, and the Western Conference for you. You get to advance from one good team and you get to go play another."

"A similar case to us, good goaltending, they played really well in the second half," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of the Predators. "We've got a few days to look at them, try to find some things we can exploit, but it's about getting rest right now and getting ready."

"It's hard-working team," forward Vladimir Sobotka said of the Predators. "It's going to be same kind of series I would say. I watched them play against Chicago and they work hard so we need to get ready for this kind of team."

* Tarasenko up for award -- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on Sunday night.

The Lady Byng Menorial Trophy is awarded to the to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. 

Tarasenko, who led the Blues with 39 goals and 75 points and tied with Jaden Schwartz in assists with 36, has just 12 penalty minutes in 82 games; he was named one of three finalists along with Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Minnesota's Mikael Granlund.

Three finalists are named and the trophy is awarded at the NHL Awards ceremony after the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The last Blue to win the award was Pavol Demitra in 200 and is one of three to ever win it for the Blues, along with Brett Hull in 1990 and Phil Goyette in 1970

* Paajarvi's hard work culminates to biggest moment -- Magnus Paajarvi, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 5, the first player to score in OT for the Blues in a series-clinching game since Pierre Turgeon did it in Game 7 against the Phoenix Coyotes, has seen his ups and downs since being acquired by the Blues on July 10, 2013.

The shuttle between St. Louis and Chicago seemed to have Paajarvi's name on it; he went up and down between the Blues and the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves five times between 2014 and 2017 and was placed on waivers twice.

Not once, but twice.

Most players in that situation would look for a different challenge, but not Paajarvi. He's stuck with the Blues and has signed a trio of contracts.

So to get his first career playoff goal -- and an OT winner to boot -- had to be his top NHL moment.

Has anything ever topped this?

"No," Paajarvi said. "... I'm proud of it, but I'm not satisfied."

Of course not, and why would he be? Paajarvi could have left the Blues and the NHL and went to Europe or someplace else to make a living and polish his game, but he chose to stay here, work hard and finally find his place in this lineup.

The former first-round pick in 2010 (10th overall) found a comfort zone and Yeo embraced his role and what he could mean.

"At some point, I would say most players would pack it in or start thinking about other options," Yeo said. "He's a high-character kid. Anyone who knows him knows that he's high charcter and he's very, very coachable. 

"I had a good conversation with him (Friday), just felt like he was playing a little bit safe the last few games. I thought there was a little bit more. I wasn't expecting the overtime winner, but I thought there was a little bit more offensively that he could push through, and he was 100 percent on board and the attitude he had right from the start of the game was impressive."

And being a part of Blues history now helps cement Paajarvi's spot on this roster. 

"I think we should be proud, but not satisfied," Paajarvi said of the series win. "We should enjoy this (Saturday) night. If we see each other (Sunday) or Monday, regroup and watch all the video of Nashville and get onto the next one. We can't be satisfied. We've got to play a better game. Jake (Allen) has really, really kept us in a lot of games. I think he won it in Game 1. We've got to step it up in order to beat a really good Nashville." 

* Anything but easy -- For those that look at the basics may think that the Blues' five-game series win was a walk in the park.

It was anything but.

The Blues may have won four of five games against the Wild, but one of the lowest scoring series in the first round had the Blues outscore Minnesota 11-8.

Games were air-tight, but the Wild won a number of statistical categories, including faceoffs, shots on goal and attempts. The Blues won the only won that matters: the scoreboard.

"I've always had a tough time with these guys. They're a good team," said Blues center Paul Stastny, who's played the Wild now in three of the past four years in the playoffs, including twice with the Blues. "They've knocked me out of the playoffs two times, two of the last three times for me. I had a feeling if I was going to come back (from a foot injury), I would be playing against these guys. I was happy coming in here helping out and kind of put a little more balance in our lineup."

"They're really heavy," Paajarvi said of the Wild. "They're super down low in the offensive zone. It was hard for us to get out sometimes. We play kind of similar sometimes, heavy o-zone. You want to control the puck down low. Jake Allen has been unbelievable for us. We've got to step it up here for the next round."