By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have no other choice but to play like their lives are on the line Friday in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators.
The Western Conference Second Round has Nashville with a 3-1 series lead and on the cusp of their first conference final in team history.
But the Blues know they have to win three games to advance to the conference final but can't look at anything else but Friday.
"One-hundred percent. You don't want to look at it as having to win three games in a row," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "It's kind of one of those things where you look at play one game at a time. It's the focus for tonight's game and I think if you kind of approach it with an attitude of must-win, an attitude of win your shift, win win your period, win your game, it's going to put us in a position to win the hockey game."
The Blues have twice in their history (1991 against the Detroit Red Wings and 1999 against the Phoenix Coyotes) overcome a 3-1 series deficit and would like to do it again.
But winning Game 5 is the first step.
"We've just got to put our best game out there for the remainder of the series," Blues center Patrik Berglund said. "It's easier said than done. We've got to come in tonight and really execute our game plan. When we play our game, a game that makes us really successful, I think everybody in here believes that we can definitely beat them."
The Blues hope to get a good start and get the home crowd hopping.
"It's a challenge for us," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "I believe we can come back, especially tonight with the home crowd, everyone will be here, great chance for us to get a win."
Even after losing 2-1 in Game 4, a game in which the Blues played a significant game but had it altered on a questionable set of calls early in the third period following a scrum, they will take much of the overall play and incorporate it into tonight's game, with a few goals added.
"We lost the game so I don't want to pat ourselves too hard on the back for that one, outchanced them, by our count, and I thought we stepped up our physical game, stepped up our compete, and the compete and the battle isn't just without the puck," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's not the way we make it hard on them in front of our net or down low in our zone or on the forecheck. For me, it's how we play with the puck too. They're coming at you hard, you have to be able to protect it, you have to be able to absorb the hit. There's some crosschecks you're getting in the back, you're going to have to take that and still skate out with the puck, I thought we did a better job of that last game."
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For the Blues, it's simple. Score first, win. Allow the first goal, chase the game.
When the Blues score first, they are 4-0 in the playoffs, 1-4 when they don't and they have allowed the first goal in the series in each of the first four games.
St. Louis has had the lead for 3:51, trailed for 124:43 of 240 minutes played and have been tied for 111:26.
"In every playoff game, to get the lead is really big," Berglund said. "We've been having good starts. I don't think our starts have been a problem. ... In my opinion, we need to get in front of the net more so you can create some more chances that way because right now, we feel like we're coming off those good starts but the real scoring chances maybe are not Grade-A scoring chances. If we can get some traffic in front of (Predators goalie Pekka Rinne), maybe we will be in better shape."
Scoring first would enable the Blues to get to their game quicker and allow them to perhaps dictate.
"Yeah, I think that would be definitely in our favor and beneficial for us," Parayko said. "Throughout the series, they've gotten the first one and for us to get the first one would be huge I think. It would allow us to see how they respond to something like that. In a perfect world, that would be good, but I thought we've done a good job of responding when they've scored though. We've always seemed to come back. I know we scored two goals in the third of Game 1 and Game 2. Every other game, I thought we've done a good job of responding. Obviously it's nice to get the first one. We'll just kind of not let anything phase us."
But playing well at the starts of games and not scoring first has been a bit taxing.
"It's tough when you're working so hard and you kind of feel like you're not getting credit almost," Parayko said. "But at the same time, it's one of those things we've got to continue to push and realize how well we're doing things. We can't let it phase us. It's obviously frustrating when you get a few good opportunities, but that's part of playoffs and what's going to make us better down the road. I think we've got to realize that and we've got to make sure that we continue to keep pushing.
"I think we're there, but playoffs are so tight. Each game is like a one-goal game. It's a matter of bounces almost, a matter of power play, but when you look at it, I thought we had a great game last game and we came out firing. We had a lot of good chances. I thought we checked last game as well. Just obviously a couple mistakes and that's it. It's something that we're going to look forward to tonight. The focus is tonight and only tonight. You don't want to look too far in the series, look back in the series. Give it everything we have."
And by giving it everything they have, Yeo feels like the Blues are due.
"Maybe we're due, I didn't say it was going to happen," Yeo said. "I'd like to think that.
"I think it's everybody. You look at playoff hockey, and when you're chasing, and when you're chasing as much as we have, it makes things more difficult. But no excuses. I'd like to think we're due for that but if we score the first goal, there's no guarantees that's going to cakewalk us to a win. We've got a lot of hockey to play after that point and if we don't give up the first goal, we can't let that be a reason we don't come away with a win tonight."
Some don't feel like it's a big deal.
"I don't think it really matters who scores first," Tarasenko said. "We're in a tough spot right now. We have to win three straight games and we're focused on this game first."
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Blues forward Alexander Steen was not on the ice for the morning skate -- a regular occurrence in the playoffs but he's played in every game.
Steen blocked a shot in Game 4 but continued to play. He's been dealing with a lower-body injury and perhaps hurt it more.
Yeo has always said that Steen will play when asked before but this time was not committed.
"We'll see," Yeo said. "I don't know. I'm not going to talk about the lineup right now."
Dmitrij Jaskin was skating in Steen's spot on a line with Vladimir Sobotka and Berglund, so best guess is Steen will give it a go. But the pregame skate should tell the story.
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On Thursday, Yeo had Jaden Schwartz and Sobotka flipped on lines, but on Friday, had Schwartz back on the top line.
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The Blues and Predators held a press conference with Blues president and CEO Chris Zimmerman and Predators president and CEO Sean Henry and discussed the joint effort to bring relief to those affected by flooding around the region.
On Wednesday, the Blues announced plans to generate funds during Game 5 of their second-round series with the Predators. The Blues will be donating all of the proceeds from their 50/50 raffle, memorabilia sales and Blues for Kids silent auction to the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts.
The Predators announced that all of the proceeds raised from the "Smash Car" at Bridgestone Arena, as well as the Nashville Predators Foundation’s Game 5 online auction would be donated to the relief efforts in St. Louis.
"As everybody knows the last week in St. Louis has been a big challenge with the rain and a number of areas really struggling with significant flooding," Zimmerman said. "It’s a challenge that we as a community has been through before, and interestingly the reason that Sean Henry, the president of the Predators, is up here with me is just seven years ago, May 1 and 2 of 2010, Nashville suffered one of the most significant floods.
"I think the important thing is for us is that we get this little window where there’s this great sports event going on, but we also actually realize that the sports franchise in our cities play a really critical role. One, to bring attention to suffering in this case the needs of our community, and on the other side seeing how we can step up both financially and in other ways to support the efforts. ... First and foremost we are all part of being a unifying initiative for the community and this is an important one."
Henry said that while the series is fierce, the big picture is what matters in this situation and is glad to help out.
"It’s so easy for us to get lost in the series, both me and Chris and obviously for the players as well, but every once in a while life steps in and that’s what’s happening right now," Henry said. "Ironically, seven years ago, Nashville went through a flood and it was incredible the outpouring that we received from NHL cities all across the league, and it’s our time to pay it forward, if you will. The amazing thing about it was our fans reached out immediately like, ‘What do we do? How do we help them?’ That’s when we said we need to do something and lock arms with our partners.
"We hate each other on the ice. We’re adversaries. I’ll do anything right now to beat them on the ice. Literally, tell me what it is and I’ll hit them, kick them, whatever we need to do. Fortunately it doesn’t come down to the two of us. But off the ice, we really are partners. We’re business partners, but more importantly when something effects one of our communities, if we can help we should. We have such a unique opportunity because of the type of series we’re enjoying right now that we get to leverage our fans passions for the logos to draw attention to the problem, draw attention to the need and most importantly raise a few dollars."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen
Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-David Perron
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 Jordan Schmaltz. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are out.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Harry Zolnierczyk-Mike Fisher-Austin Watson
Colin Wilson-Calle Jarnkrok-James Neal
Cody McLeod-Colton Sissons-Miikka Salomaki
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 PA Parenteau, Vernon Fiddler, Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt, Marek Mazanec, Frederick Gaudreau, Vladislav Kamenev, Alexandre Carrier, Petter Granberg, Jack Dougherty and Trevor Murphy. Kevin Fiala (leg), Craig Smith (undisclosed) and Pontus Aberg (undisclosed) are out.