Blues want to keep pedal to the metal in Game 3, not give Wild confidence;
Edmundson's parents see goals; faceoff issues; Sanford's debut; Bortuzzo back
ST. LOUIS -- Yes, the Blues have a sizable lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild, but it's no time to get complacent.
The Blues, who host Game 3 Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. (NBC, KMOX 1120-AM), not only gained home ice advantage in the series by winning Game 1, but began to squeeze the Wild's throats. by winning two games at Xcel Energy Center.
Now comes the real test as the Blues can literally put their foot on the Wild's throat, and they'll have the chance to do so in front of a raucous crowd that will be ready to blow the roof off Scottrade Center.
But the Blues know the Wild is a wounded animal and will come out scratching and clawing. That's why they have to be prepared for everything and anything.
"I think they're going to come here obviously motivated," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said of the Wild. "Any time you're down in a series, you want to get it right back. We've won two in their building. They're going to want to come and do the same thing here. They're going to be desperate; we know that, but it doesn't change our mindset or anything. I think you approach all these games literally the same. You can't really worry about what has happened. Going forward obviously, we'd like tow in the next one, next two, but it's going to be a hard road."
This is the third time in franchise history the Blues have won the first two games on the road to begin a series. The previous two times (1993 against the Chicago Blackhawks and 2001 against Ken Hitchcock's Dallas Stars), the Blues came home and swept both series.
Nobody is talking sweep here -- yet -- but a win tomorrow would sure put the Blues in a heck of a good position for Game 4.
And who better to lean on in this spot than Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose Wild team of 2014 when he was coaching Minnesota trailed the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 before winning that first-round series in seven.
And current Wild coach Bruce Boudreau just recently as last season was down 0-2 to the Nashville Predators with his Anaheim Ducks before the Ducks reeled off three wins in a row, then lost the series in seven.
"That experience alone, he can sell that," Yeo said of Boudreau. "I've been on that side with that group over there where were down 2-0 and came back to win a series. I know that they're not going to go away lightly. They're not just going to lose, we're going to have to beat them if that's the case, and for us to do that, we're going to have to continue what we've done and try to get better. We have to look at the tape, look at the things we've done well and continue to do those and also be wary of what they might adjust on. We have to look at the areas we need to get better, certainly there are a couple adjustments we can make tomorrow that should give us a chance to get on the attack and get on the hunt a little more and if we do those things, keep building our game a little more, we'll continue to get better."
The fact the Blues have allowed a 6-on-5 goal and one 5-on-3 goal to a team that has that kind of firepower says something. And going back to the regular season, the Blues have won in Minnesota three times, allowing one goal in each game, and in that 2-1 victory on March 7, it was another 6-on-5 goal late.
"It's good if you look at it that way, but we haven't scored much either," Bouwmeester said. "It's tight and it's going to be that way and that's just the way it is. You probably could have predicted that before the series. Just in regular season games we have with them, they're always close and back and forth. You never want to give up anything, but I think the way we survived the first game, it's always good to win, but we had to play better and we did yesterday. There's still room for improvement."
* Taking away what's best -- The Blues understand Minnesota has speed, has skill and was one of the best teams in the regular season at scoring goals (second at 3.21 per game behind Pittsburgh's 3.39).
So when the Wild openly talk about the Blues clogging the middle of the ice, having to figure a way through it and seeing the Blues' fourth line of Ryan Reaves, Scottie Upshall and former Wild center Kyle Brodziak get into the heads of some of Minnesota's top players, something must be going right.
"Any time a team plays a swarm or clogs up the middle, obviously yeah, you've got to break through it," Reaves said. "I think we're doing a good job of keeping everything to the outside. Any system, if you want to score goals, you've got to get through the middle of the ice. You can't be taking all your shots from the outside, and it's the same for us. They did a really good job of keeping us to the outside (in) Game 1. I thought we broke through a little more in Game 2.
"You've definitely got to slow them down. You can't be letting them sway all over the ice and drop pass here, a drop pass there. You've got to make sure you get your pins on a wall and not let them use their speed all over the ice.>
Yes, the Wild has outshot the Blues (52-26 in Game 1 and 24-22 in Game 2), but many of those shots are from the perimeter or the dots out, which are OK with the Blues considering the way goalie Jake Allen is playing.
And considering where Allen was, say, two-plus months ago says a lot.
"Obviously, there's no doubt that he's a top-notch goalie," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said of Allen, who has a 0.87 goals-against average and .974 save percentage in the series. "He's an unbelievable goalie. There's no doubt in our mind that no matter where he was at in the season and we know how good he is. It's all part of the process. It just kind of magnifies as a goalie just based on the fact that if you make one mistake, it's in the back of the net, but for us 'D' and forwards, we make so many mistakes a game that kind of go unnoticed because we have other guys that are bailing us out, and then we've got Jake bailing us out on every mistake we make as well. If he happens to make a mistake, it shows a little bit more, but he's our No. 1 goalie and he's been great all season long. Even from Day 1, he's given us a chance to win every single game and he's been great."
* Good luck from mom and dad -- No wonder Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson has scored in consecutive games for the first time in his professional career.
Edmundson, who had the overtime game-winner in Game 1, got the Blues on the board in Game 2, and he did it in front of Bob and Lois Edmundson, his parents who made the 11-hour drive from Brandon, Manitoba (west of Winnipeg) to St. Paul, Minn. to see their son in person.
"To St. Paul, it's about an 11-hour drive. They made that the day of Game 1," Edmundson said of his parents. "They woke up at 7 and drove straight to the game. I think they showed up right before game time."
"Their whole plan was to come down here anyways, but just them being there for my two goals, it was pretty special. They might be good-luck charms, I guess we'll see in Game 3."
Both will be in attendance for Games 3 and 4, too, completing the trip down to the Gateway City for Easter with their son.
"Well, they're the main reason I'm here," said Edmundson, who got his parents passes after the game to see him. "They sacrificed everything for me, myself and my brother, we're both hockey players. You know, Canadian kids, we wake up at 5 in the morning, get our gear on and drive to the rink. They did whatever had to be done and I think that's the reason I'm here."
Edmundson has sort of turned into the feel-good story of the series with his two goals after scoring just three times in 69 regular-season games.
"That's what's fun, when you've got a bunch of guys going out the right way and playing for each other, and you've got a good team, a deep team, and every night somebody new has a chance to be a hero," Yeo said. "Everybody's happy for 'Eddy' because he's one of those types of guys, he plays for his team. He plays with an edge, he's nasty, he's defensive, he blocks shots, he makes it hard on the opposing team, and he puts the team first. When a guy like that typically does so many things that are so important to you winning hockey games, so many things that aren't going to get you the attention that somebody else might get, when he gets his moment in the limelight, everybody's real happy for him."
* Faceoff issues -- The Blues may have two wins, but they can't sustain the kind of faceoff numbers like the ones in the first two games.
After winning just 41 percent of the draws in the opener, the Blues were even worse in Game 2, winning just 37 percent of the draws. Only Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, who each were at 50 percent, had numbers at the break-even point.
In fact, Sobotka didn't start taking faceoffs until linemate Alexander Steen started and finished 0-for-8.
"Every game is a new game, even when you're going against the same person," Yeo said. "We've seen that with all of our centerman at different points. 'Steener' could come out tomorrow and be on fire. Being at home, little bit more having your stick on the ice second, they have a lot of guys who like to come in sweeping, especially at home, so we put our sticks down, they have more momentum coming in. Maybe if we can get their sticks settled a bit it might help us. It could be a little different bit of a tactical approach tomorrow. That said, obviously there are two guys there who are very capable of it. If 'Steener's feeling it, that's great, let him go have it, if not, he'll let 'Sobe' go in there and 'Sobe's done a nice job, too."
That's where a lot of the problem lies not only in an ineffective power-play (0-for-6) in two games, but chasing plays by not starting with pucks.
"Very. It's been a grind," Yeo said when asked how important faceoffs are. "But we knew it was. We knew coming in that we were playing a team with real strong faceoff guys and not just one or two of them, they're deep right through. We knew we were missing 'Stas,' he's our best faceoff guy, and that will be a challenge for us and we're just trying to do our best to get through it."
* Bortuzzo returns -- Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo returned to the lineup Friday after missing six games with an upper-body injury.
Bortuzzo, who played 12 minutes, 35 seconds with partner Carl Gunnarsson, replaced rookie Jordan Schmaltz in the lineup after Schmaltz played just 9:18 in the OT win Wednesday.
"Yeah, body felt good," Bortuzzo said. "It felt like we jumped in pretty smoothly. It wasn't perfect, but it's that time of the year where nothing is perfect. You're doing your best to eliminate mistakes and getting pucks up to our forwards, play hard and do what we can to win."
* Saturday updates -- The Blues held an optional skate at Scottrade Center ahead of their Easter Sunday clash, and injured forwards Paul Stastny (foot) and Nail Yakupov (undisclosed) were not among them.
When asked about injuries, Yeo stuck with the day-to-day mantra, even repeating it when asked if Stastny, who's been out since being hit with Vladimir Tarasenko's wrist shot in Colorado on March 21, has been skating.
* Sanford's playoff debut -- Winger Zach Sanford, acquired Feb. 27 in the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals, made his NHL playoff debut Friday.
Sanford didn't factor in the scoring but played in the line with Steen and Sobotka and finished with 12:29 ice time, two shots, one hit and one blocked shot.
"The first few shifts I was feeling around and getting comfortable," Sanford said. "That's when I noticed the difference in speed, physical play, the certainty of guys' plays. There's no hope plays. Guys aren't letting up on checks. All around it's a harder game.
"I think a big part is getting into it early, maybe getting a couple hits, a couple shots, make a couple plays. I think I did a good job of that early and our line did, too. After that, I felt pretty comfortable."
"I liked 'Sanny's game," Yeo said. "Obviously he's a big body with speed, for a young kid playing in his first playoff game, on the road, against a team like that, for him to play that way, pretty impressive, and that goes for a lot of our young kids. You talk about 'Eddy' and 'Perry,' these guys are second-year players and you look at 'Barby' and the way he's playing, some of the matchups they're facing, so obviously we're getting good performances right now from these guys but what an experience for these kids, the growth they're going to get playing in these types of games is huge."
Sanford replaced Jori Lehtera in the lineup and is expected to remain in there.
"'Lehts,' we had a conversation yesterday. Everybody who's with us, whether it's 'Lehts,' guys who are injured, a guy like (Dmitrij) Jaskin, 'Schmaltzy,' these guys are all a big part of what we have going on right now. They've all been a very big part of getting us the chance to come in here and go head to head with a team like this, and we all believe they are a very big part of going forward to."