Friday, April 29, 2016

Late goal sends Stars past Blues in Game 1

Faksa nets winner after Blues push; Elliott solid but Stars grab 1-0 series lead

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars were supposed to have the smaller team, one vulnerable to the bigger, heavier Blues but one that can counteract what St. Louis can do with their quickness and speed.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round, the Stars utilized their speed ... and in a sense, beat the Blues at their own game.

Radek Faksa's rebound goal with 4 minutes 44 seconds remaining was the difference in a 2-1 win Friday before 18,532 at American Airlines Center to take a 1-0 series lead.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) makes a save in front of Dallas' Patrick Eaves
and teammate Carl Gunnarsson Friday at American Airlines Center.

Game 2 is set for Sunday at 2 p.m. (NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

Dallas outhit the Blues 32-26, and it was a Blues team that couldn't find a hit, especially when they were not playing pucks in good positions to force Dallas to play with its back to the play. The Stars' strength is its transition and quickness through the neutral zone, and the Blues fed the engine.

"I think they were winning a lot more battles," Blues captain David Backes said. "Whether that was them being really engaged or us being not that engaged, they were more engaged at the puck and won more puck battles and and as a result of that, created more offense and had the ice tilted towards our net. 'Moose' did a heck of a job keeping us in there giving us a chance and when you tie it up there you'd like to take another step in the right direction instead of having the rebuttal come back towards our end and them score. I don't think we played a great game today, but there were some things to build on. We need to be better on Sunday to beat a very good team over there."

Antoine Roussel and Faksa scored goals on similar plays, off transition odd-man rushes and both crashing the net and hammering home rebounds past Brian Elliott, who was sensational with 40 saves.

"Man, after the second period, 'Ells' gave us a chance tonight, gave us a real chance," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We needed to punch through. When it was 1-1, we were playing well, but we gave up a really poor transition goal. Three guys got caught flat-footed."

The Blues, who had five of the first seven shots in the game, ended the period with Dallas having 12 of the final 14 shots.

The Stars began the pushback, including leading the first period in hits 16-11 after having 13 of the first 16.

A lackluster game got worse for the Blues, who were outshot 17-11 in the second period and the Stars finally broke the scoreless draw.

Roussel drew first blood in this one after the Blues buzzed around the Dallas goal, but the Stars came out in transition, Elliott made a big stop on Faksa in the slot, but Roussel was there for the rebound at 9:36 of the second for a 1-0 Dallas lead.

"We had a chance at one end and it comes back the other way," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It was weird how the rush played out. Four guys up the ice and two, three guys at the net. Just popped right out to him. That's the way it goes. But that's one goal, first goal in the second period. We did a good job to tie it late and then they got that next one. So, I think as unsatisfied as we played, we had a chance at the end. But we'll get up tomorrow and go at the next one."

The goal continues a bad trend for the Blues in seconds periods in the playoffs. They've been outscored 12-3 in eight games.

"... The first 10 minutes were fine. After that, I didn't like the way we played in the last 10 minutes of the first and the whole second. We fed too many pucks in the wrong places and they just dialed up their transition because of it. We didn't play the right way. Got playing a little bit in the third when the game looked like it was going our way, we started playing the right way. We did the things we needed to do to win, but too many plays that fall right into what they do well in the middle part of the game ... way too many."

Elliott, who made a number of high-percentage saves, including one on Mattias Janmark while sprawled on the ice, kept it a 1-0 game and gave the Blues a chance.

They responded with Kevin Shattenkirk's one-timer from the top of the left circle, a booming shot that beat Kari Lehtonen, who was good himself -- especially in the third period, off a pass from Colton Parayko with 8:32 remaining.

The Blues got to their game, buzzed around then net, and came close to going ahead 2-1. But after Alexander Steen dumped a puck into the Dallas zone and went off for a change, Alex Goligoski split forwards Robby Fabbri and Troy Brouwer in the neutral zone that opened up a 3-on-2. With Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo backing into the defensive zone, Faksa flipped a puck to his right to an onrushing Ales Hemsky, who cut past Bouwmeester and went in on Elliott. Elliott made the save, but with Bouwmeester skating past the net and off the post, Faksa was able to hammer in the rebound with 4:44 remaining.

"Neutral zone play, neutral zone checking, not picking up people, got skated by," Hitchcock said, describing both goals given up. "... They're the No. 1 scoring team in the league for a reason. They've got great speed, but we don't have to feed it all the time, and that's what we did too much today, fed it way too much."

The Blues claimed their had their legs and plenty of energy. It seemed to be channeled in the wrong areas.

"Everyone was good, everyone had plenty of energy," Shattenkirk said. "We had a great … great job off there. We had three days off, we were totally recharged. We just tried to wait and see what they were going to bring a little too long, it took till the third to really get back to our game, we'll be ready to bring that to the puck drop on Sunday."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Colton Parayko (55) and Vladimir Tarasenko (91) celebrate
Kevin Shattenkirk's goal in the third period Friday in Dallas.

Now the Blues will try to beat Dallas at its own game Sunday instead of allowing Dallas to beat them at their game again.

"No, I don't think so. I think it's exactly what we thought it was going to be," Elliott said. "They threw a lot of stuff at the net and put a lot of bodies at the net. We were right there."

"You obviously think that we're going to get it done, that's the type of attitude you have to have. We had a big goal to get us back in it without about 10 minutes left. Obviously giving up one with five minutes left is not what you want to do. But we kept fighting. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series. So we're down one and now we've got to respond."

(4-29-16) Blues-Stars Game 1 Gameday Lineup

DALLAS -- Alexander Steen drew the tough assignment in Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks because coach Ken Hitchcock wanted his best two-way player against Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Steen will draw a similar assignment when the Blues open their best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the Dallas Stars today (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) and their star, forward Jamie Benn.

Steen and the Blues, who defeated the Blackhawks in seven games, limited the Blackhawks' star power to one goal in the series (Kane's overtime winner in Game 5). It'll be another daunting task for Steen to limit Benn, who had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in six games against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

"I think it's a similar style to their team," Steen said of Benn and the Stars. "A lot of firepower up front. It'll be a similar game plan for us."

To say he looks forward to facing the Stars' biggest guns is understating it.

"Yeah," Steen said. "I think the style of game we've been playing over the last few months, four months, this team atmosphere, team attitude where we're leaving each other in good positions on the ice. Everybody has their roles and their jobs. That's a big reason why we've been able to defeat the Blackhawks. It was a tough club to play seven games against. Now we've got a new challenge in these guys and we're excited, ready to go."

- - -

A lot was made of the Blues facing Blackhawks agitator Andrew Shaw in the first round and if the Blues will see something similar with what they will get from Stars wing Antoine Roussel.

Roussel, who had one goal in six games against the Wild, has been known to stir the pot a time or two while on the ice, and the Blues should expect more of the same.

"There are a lot better players to worry about over there," right wing Steve Ott said. "His element is his element, but I think we're little bit different players.

"... He's a good player, guys. He's a fast, energy type of player and I think every team has one of those guys if you really look around the league. If it was Shaw last series, if it's Roussel this series, he bring a spark to that hockey club. He's a good player ... you've got to be knowing when he's on the ice, knowing what hes' going to do, but whistle to whistle is where we're taking this thing."

Steen said: "It's playoffs. It's not going to affect us."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has other ideas.

"I don't think you can ignore that fella, just like I don't think you can ignore a couple guys on our team," Hitchcock said. "So you just have to play through it. There's a big picture here, it's about winning the hockey game. It's bigger than ice time. It's bigger than how much guys play, who they play with. It's about winning the hockey game. And he's a good player that does a lot of things that as a coach you like and we have a couple guys on our team exactly the same who are underrated on things you like and you've just got to learn to play through those guys."

- - -

Former Blues defenseman Kris Russell, who was traded to the Stars at the NHL Trade Deadline, has gone up against his former teammates before as a member of the Calgary Flames.

But for Russell, who spent two seasons (2011-13) in St. Louis, this will be the first opportunity to face them with the stakes much higher.

"I know how competitive players they are," Russell said of the Blues. "I had a good opportunity to play with them. They're guys that work hard. They bring it every night. It's a consistent team that works hard, a big, physical team. We know what we're going into obviously. We have a great group in this room, a lot of skill and high-end speed. We're excited about the opportunity to play them."

Russell, who was acquired at the trade deadline for defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward Brett Pollock and a conditional second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, got a new lease on life despite having to leave Calgary, which is an hour and 45 minutes south, southeast of his hometown of Caroline, Alberta.

"Right from the get-go, it's a great group of guys," Russell said. "The transition was easy, seamless that way. There's a lot of similarities with the way we played in Calgary. That helped a little bit. Obviously there's adjustments you've got to make. Trying to get familiar with a D-partner and trying to get some chemistry. But it's been going great. ... Obviously there's some things I had to change. There's a different structure with the way they play here, but I work with the video coach here; every team does that, but it's been good."

Stars coach Lindy Ruff feels Russell is finally fitting in after a tough start.

"Well, first thing is he’s had a little bit of a rough ride because he got injured, spent a good part out of the lineup, which has been tough for him," Ruff said of Russell. "Probably could have played some of those games, but I decided to make sure he was healthy to come back. I think he fully understands how we play, which is different from the environment he came from, which is a big adjustment. But I think he’s adjusting. He realizes that we’re a different type of team and we expect certain things and I think he’s gotten better the games he’s played."

- - -

The Blues announced on Friday that they will face the Washington Capitals in a preseason game on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center in Kansas City.

It's a matchup that could see Russian stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Ovechkin go against one another. 

Tickets will go on sale on Tuesday, May 3 at noon at, the Price Chopper Box Office at Sprint Center or by phone at (888) 929-7849. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more by calling Sprint Center Group Sales at 816.929.7177 or by emailing

- - -

Steen was asked about the differences in Stars goalies Kari Lehtonen, who will start Game 1 for the Stars, and Antti Niemi.

"No, they're pretty similar. Both Finnish," Steen said with a grin.

So you don't like them?

"I'm Swedish," Steen responded.

"No, I think they're pretty similar," Steen added. "It'll be important for us to get traffic, try and create some chaos right outside their crease, get to loose pucks and make it tough on their defensemen to defend."

- - -

Scottie Upshall, who took the past two days off for maintenance days, was back on the ice and will play tonight.

Upshall's impact, despite just playing 9 minutes 35 seconds, in Game 7 was noticeable in the first period.

"For sure. He had great legs right off the bat," Ott said of Upshall. "He hit the post, could have been a valuable goal right away. He also moved up and down the lineup during the game for a few shifts. When you have a guy that's playing like that, you find a way to get him on the ice and he's playing really well right now."

- - -

Playing Chicago, the Blues feel it will be beneficial in this series, considering the two teams play a similar style.

"Yeah, I think the way they're built, the style of game that they play," Steen said. "I think (Johnny) Oduya and (Patrick) Sharp probably brought over a little bit of a Chicago influence into this group. I'm sure it'll be similar."

Said captain David Backes: "There's a few similar style similarities. We can't think that we're any more prepared or that anything's going to come any easier for us. We've got to put all the work in, start from 0-0 and have a great effort for Game 1 and worry about Game 2 after that's over."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Scottie Upshall

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp

Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves

Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky

Travis Moen-Vernon Fiddler-Colton Sceviour

Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg

Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns

Kris Russell-Jason Demers

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Antti Niemi will be the backup.

Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) will not play.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Hitch vs. Lindy Part Four; Ott relishes facing former mates; 
Quenneville's message to Blues; getting better play; Stars respect Blues

ST. LOUIS -- When they first butted heads in 1999, the stage was the pinnacle for Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff.

Hitchcock and Ruff, veterans of 37 seasons of NHL coaching experience combined with 1,459 combined regular season victories (Hitchcock with 757, Ruff with 702), have lived through virtually everything in the NHL. Ruff was a player of 12 years for the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. 

Hitchcock got the best of Ruff when Hitchcock's Stars beat Ruff's Sabres in six games of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. But then in 2006, when Hitchcock was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers and Ruff still with the Sabres, tempers flared in postgame comments both made in light of the Sabres' 8-2 thrashing of the Flyers on April 24 in the first round.

Hitchcock, who dropped an expletive as he left the podium that night directed towards Ruff, was playfully asked Wednesday ahead of their first postseason head-to-head meeting since Ruff's Sabres dispatched Hitchcock's Flyers in six games 10 years ago, offered his own playful dab.

"No, I said enough in two Olympics, that's enough, too much," Hitchcock joked.

Apparently, both said plenty to one another at the Winter Olympics; first in Vancouver in 2010 and 2014 in Sochi, Russia (Hitchcock also was an assistant in 2002 in Salt Lake City). They were roommates as assistant coaches under head coach Mike Babcock.

"Both of us were together in the Olympics. We're born and raised maybe 50 miles from each other," Hitchcock said. "I'm from the big city of Edmonton and he's from Warburg (Alberta). There's some common ground there, too. When you're in that type of closed quarters for that long a period, you get to know people. 

"We had a rough start with the Stanley Cup Final there and smoothed it over. We became good friends through two Olympic games being roommates with a guy for two and a half weeks, you get to know a lot about a guy."

Ruff remembers the time quite well only because of the closed quarters the two had to share in Russia

"We were in the same room but this far apart for two weeks, like a doorman," Ruff said. "It was like being in a bathroom. She was tight.

"I look at what they’ve done. When you beat the champs, that’s been a heck of an accomplishment, and they’ve had a tough ride when it comes to first-round playoff series. And to get it done in Game 7 where I think there was a lot of pressure for them to get it done, I think they did a heck of a job. Facing Ken is a challenge. He’s a good coach. Matchups are going to be tough, details are going to be tough. There’s a reason he’s coached so long."

And 10 years later, they face one another again for the right to advance to the Western Conference Final. Game 1 is Friday at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), and what a coincidence it is that Ruff is on the bench that Hitchcock occupied once.

"Yeah, it’s a full about-face," Ruff said. "I like where our team is at, I like where our team has got to and I’m sure he’s sitting in the same place. It’s not about him or I, it’s about how the teams are going to play. We’ve been through enough wars that for me my focus is all about how our guys are going to play and I got to make sure our guys are ready to play."

Both coaches have evolved, both have grown, and both have adapted and become wiser to today's game and today's player.

"For me, Lindy's always been more of a risk-taker," Hitchcock said. "His teams in Buffalo, they played with a high level of risk. They were really almost hybrid teams. And then obviously you learn over time to coach through balance. That's why he's had success in Dallas. He's got the team playing through significant balance. I think we've both learned from each other. We had a lot of dialogue and a lot of debate under a lot of very stressful pressure situations. I thought both of us leaned on each other pretty hard to help Team Canada through stuff.

"I don't look at the opposite coach. You get to this situation, it's business. You're trying to help your team. You rely on a lot of information through regular season, tendencies, matchups and things like that. It becomes very personal to be honest with you. It's all about us and our team and our city. That's all that matters to me. This is another important time for us. We've taken a step and we want to continue to take steps. The focus for me right now is nothing but Blues and what can I do to help these players help to get to another level."

* Ott returns -- For Blues forward Steve Ott, the second round is a bit of a homecoming.

Ott, a first-round pick of the Stars in 2000 (25th overall), was revered during his playing days with Dallas, where he spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career. But as the antagonist of the opposition as the 33-year-old's career has evolved, he will likely be Public Enemy No. 1 when he enters American Airlines Center.

"It's exciting," said Ott, who has an assist in five games in the seven-game series against the Chicago Blackhawks. "Obviously I've played with a lot of those guys that are still on that team and to have an opportunity to play against them in the playoffs is something that I'm really looking forward to, but with the team that we have going there, it's a really exciting time."

So with former teammates (Jamie Benn, Vernon Fiddler, Jordie Benn, Alex Goligoski and Kari Lehtonen) on the other side, there is added incentive.

"I would say (so), to say the least," said Ott, who had 85 goals and 135 assists with the Stars. "I have friends over there, it's no hidden message but there's no friends when that playoff series starts and I would expect the same thing from them. You go out there and you battle hard and you definitely want to have the upper hand.

"When you have friends over there or guys you've played with for a long time, there's nothing better than trying to beat them and battle hard against them and challenge them. It's like if you have a brother, you never want to let down your guard."

Not only Ott and Hitchcock return to their former stomping grounds, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was part of the Stars organization, first joining them in 1991 and being named GM of the Stars in 2002, replacing Bob Gainey before being fired in 2007. 

Also, Blues executive vice president Brett Hull scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres that brought Dallas its only Stanley Cup. 

* High endorsement -- Hitchcock said that at the conclusion of the Blues' series win against the Blackhawks, he got a special ringing endorsement from Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.

The message: win the Stanley Cup.

"Yeah, that's what he said," Hitchcock said. "'Go try and win it. You've earned the right. When you beat a champion out, you've earned the right to try and go for it.' I'm sure it's probably the same thing that was said to Lindy. 

"We're down to eight teams after tonight. Nothing but tough games. I think all of us recognize that the intensity and the emotion of the games is going to go nothing but up. I think it's our responsibility to get our team up to the level that we have to compete at. We obviously expounded a lot of energy in the last series. We've got to get our energy back to get going again."

* Improved play -- The Blues had some terrific outputs from a number of individuals in their series win against the Blackhawks. 

But there were also some that will need to bring a more improved game against the Stars.

Last season in six playoff games, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk had 12 points to lead the Blues. This season in seven games, Shattenkirk has a goal and four points and is a minus-2. 

But Shattenkirk had three goals and five points in five games against the Stars in the regular season and has 21 points (17 assists) in 22 career games against the Stars, the most against any other opponent.

One would expect him to have a prominent role in the upcoming series.

"When you have stress and pressure, it becomes a big burden, and once the stress is over, now you're just dealing with the pressure of winning hockey games," Hitchcock said. "I think every player, every coach can deal with that no problem. You're dealing with it, and it's just hockey. And that's where we're at right now, it's just hockey, it's two really good teams going at each other, two teams that have had great seasons. Unfortunately we play in the Central Division. That's the way it is. We've got a really tough opponent, even probably tougher than the one we just knocked off. That's pretty significant. We're going to have to be even better than we were against Chicago if we expect to win and quite frankly I think we've got more in us too. I think just the pressure of playing is going to be a lifted burden on three or four guys here and I think you're going to see guys that maybe struggled with some of the burden of last series emerge as good players for us this series because they're just going to be able to play hockey."

Hitchcock wouldn't give specific names.

"Yeah I'm thinking of some guys and I sure as hell aren't going to tell you," he said. "But I think there's some guys that had a tough time with that stress and pressure. They felt responsible and now it's all gone. We can just coach and play."

* High praise -- Dallas, which lost four of five games with the Blues this season although two were in overtime and another in a shootout, has much respect for the Blues.

The Stars, who defeated the Minnesota Wild in six games in the opening round, 

"They’re a big, physical team that kind of clogs up the slot, can kind of play good lockdown defense," Stars center Jason Spezza said of the Blues. "They don’t give you much, they try to keep you to the outside. They’re probably similar to how Minnesota played by really getting five guys tight, but just a better version. They’re a team we have a lot of respect for and had close games with all year."

However, Stars right wing Patrick Sharp said not to read too much into regular season matchups.

"I don’t put too much stock in the regular season matchups because the playoff is a whole different animal, but playing against the Blues for a long time now, not surprised at the season that they’re having, they’re getting better every year, a tough team to play against, extremely tough in their building, tough to score, tough to get to the net, so we’ve got our work cut out for us," Sharp said. "But we’re excited where we are, we’re excited to move on in Round Two and can’t wait to get playing."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Blues top Blackhawks 3-2 in Game 7, win first 
playoff series since 2012 on Brouwer third-period goal

ST. LOUIS -- The dragon has been slayed. The Blues finally accomplished a feat that seemed irrefutable at times but became insufferable.

Four years of frustration and quick finishes in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were erased for at least one night when the Blues eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round on Monday at Scottrade Center.

Coincidentally, it was Troy Brouwer that bit the hand that once fed him
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues' Troy Brouwer (left) reacts after scoring what turned out to be the
game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Blackhawks.

Brouwer scored 8 minutes 31 seconds of the third period that held up to be the game-winning goal, and the Blues, who won the series 4-3, advance to the Western Conference Second Round and will play the Dallas Stars.

Brouwer, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, redirected Robby Fabbri's pass and the puck hit the post. He whiffed on a second try before backhanding a shot past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford to give St. Louis its first Game 7 victory since defeating the Arizona Coyotes in the first round of the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The goal was Brouwer's first in 24 playoff games, dating to May 8, 2013, when he played for the Washington Capitals against the New York Rangers.

"That was the ugliest goal I've ever scored and probably the most timely goal I've ever scored," said Brouwer, who played for the Blackhawks from from 2006-11. "I was joking with (Fox Sports Midwest color analyst Darren Pang) that if I didn't put that one in, I might quit hockey. 

"I just tried to stay with it; knowing the magnitude of the game, knowing how everything's been going. We'd been having great opportunities but haven't been able to put them in."

Fabbri made the initial play in the neutral zone when he knocked Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson off the puck and got it turned around going the other way. Center Paul Stastny found Fabbri before he slotted the puck to Brouwer.

Brent Seabrook nearly tied it for the Blackhawks with 3:30 remaining, but his shot through traffic hit each goal post. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was there to clean up the crease in front of Elliott and backhand the puck out of danger.

"I just got back as quick as I could," Pietrangelo said. "I got it at the last second. A half a second later and it's in our net."

Jori Lehtera and Colton Parayko scored in the first period for the Blues, and Brian Elliott made 31 saves in the first Game 7 start of his NHL career.

"Every game was just packed with a sense of urgency and emotion," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Every game felt like its own sudden death game. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to coach in it, to play in it, to strategize in it, it was a lot of fun.

"It was real eye-opening what a championship team can do like them when they can dial it up. You find yourself on the bench just in awe with some of the things they do. We had to find a way to battle through it. We knew that there was going to be a push. It came and came hard. You play in a series like this, you see why that team has won three (Stanley) Cups." 

The Blackhawks, who were eliminated in the first round for the first time since the Coyotes eliminated them in 2012, got goals from Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw. Crawford made 23 saves; he's 2-3 in Game 7 in his NHL career. 

Chicago is the first defending Stanley Cup champion to lose in the first round since the Boston Bruins in 2012. 

"Tough way to go out," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coincidentally was coach of the Blues' last Game 7 on home ice in 2000. "We had the perfect setup there and we did exactly what we’re not supposed to do or what we’re unaccustomed to doing, and it’s in our net and it’s game, set, match.

"Huge disappointment for me. ... In first rounds, that felt like the conference finals."   

Lehtera scored the first NHL playoff goal of his career at 1:00 of the first when he tipped Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the left point to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

"Ville Nieminen once told me, 'If you want pizza, you go to Pizza Hut,'" Lehtera said. '"If you want to score goals, you go to the net.'"

Parayko made it 2-0 when he scored his second NHL playoff goal at 13:43. Alexander Steen pinched behind the net and got the puck to Patrik Berglund, who fed Parayko for a big slap shot from the blue line.

"Everyone is telling me to shoot, so I let it go," Parayko said. "Good things happen when you shoot the puck, I guess. Equipment guy challenged me to eight shots tonight. Didn't quite get there. Anything I can do to help contribute to make our team win is something I'm going to do every night.

"... Yeah, obviously a Game 7, get the chance to try and move on to the next round. One step closer to getting the job the done. It's something you grow up wanting to do. When you get the opportunity like this with such a great team, it's something you want to really cherish and not take for granted. We can do it together. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Chicago had an answer late in the first. The Blackhawks broke out an ill-advised pass by Lehtera in the offensive zone for Jaden Schwartz, who fell to the ice. Richard Panik fed Hossa, who used Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson as a screen and beat Elliott high to the short side from the top of the right circle with 1:30 remaining in the period. 

The Blackhawks tied it on the power play in the second period, when Shaw scored his fourth goal of the playoffs. After Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was called for hooking Marcus Kruger, Shaw’s cross-crease pass to Hossa caromed off Bouwmeester and past Elliott at 3:20.

"That was my fault," Bouwmeester said. "You try to go down and block the pass, but you can’t go down in the middle of the net. ‘Cause then it hits you and does what it did.

"It was a pretty good relief when we got the third one."

That's when the veterans spoke up. There were 20 minutes remaining, 20 minutes to win and save their season, and save another off-season of uncertainty and perhaps an implosion of a lineup, coaching staff and perhaps front office.

"It was a combination of a couple of guys who have gone through it all ... 'Brouws,' 'Otter' ... the leadership group," Parayko said. "They just said we've got to stick with our game plan and good things are going to happen. That's what we did, we got pucks deep, made it hard on their players to make plays. That's what we had on our game plan, make it tough on them to get any momentum. Obviously they're going to at some point, but if you can keep that limited, that's the best thing for us."

Once Brouwer scored, the Blues felt Chicago would have a big push, not just at the end but in the entire game. 

"I'm sure leaving Game 6, they probably thought they had us cracked," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks. "They pushed us back hard and we had no answer for Game 6. We came back and had an answer tonight. That's what I mean about that knowledge, that inner thing if you're going to succeed long-term as a franchise. Whatever happens as we move forward, happens. I mean, we're going to play a hell of a hockey club. But we have knowledge now that we can use. We needed that knowledge. We needed to not just run up against the wall and fall backwards again. We've got it now."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) shakes hands with Blackhawks captain
Jonathan Toews at the conclusion of Game 7.

And for Elliott, who should feel a sense of vindication after being passed over time after time when the playoffs came around, this one must feel nice.

"It's hard to put into words what that means when it comes together on your side," Elliott said. "I'm really proud of our guys to go into a third period tied against a team that's done it and come out on top like we did.

"When the buzzer goes off, I'm watching the clock with two seconds left and 'Backs' is kind of coming towards me. It's kind of hard to believe that all that hard work in a seven-game series comes together and you come out on top. I'm proud of the guys."

Monday, April 25, 2016

(4-25-16) Blackhawks-Blues Game 7 Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will make one lineup change ahead of their first Game 7 at Scottrade Center since 2000.

Defenseman Joel Edmundson will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup for the final game of the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Edmundson was a healthy scratch the past two games.

"Honestly, I wasn't too pleased with the way I had been playing," Edmundson said. "I kind of agree with the choice they made by putting 'Bobbo' in. He played two great games when he got in. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the two wins when I was out, so I'm going to just come in and help the team out and get the win.

"I was making too many turnovers. I wasn't handling the puck great. Just didn't feel comfortable out there. I think watching the past two games kind of let me see how much time I actually have out there, kind of when I got sent down earlier this year. I regrouped and this is a regroup stage for me."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has used right-hander Kevin Shattenkirk on the left side, and by getting Edmundson back in, this evens out the lefty-righty split.

"I think this sets up our lefty-righty schedule," Hitchcock said. "(Edmundson's) a young guy, it's great experience for him. He's looking forward to it, we're looking forward to having him in. He caught his breath and he'll be a good player tonight. ... Just experience-wise. 'Borts' has played a little bit more. Hunch. 'Borts' is probably a little bit better red line in, 'Eddy' is better red line back, 'Borts' more attacking player back."

- - -

The Blues, who are 6-8 lifetime in 14 Game 7's, last played one here against the San Joe Sharks, a game that saw Owen Nolan score from just inside the red line on Roman Turek. 

But this is a fresh, new group that has 15 games worth of Game 7 experience, is revved up and ready to go.

"Maybe in junior, I don't remember. Not at this level unless you guys can refresh my memory," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of his Game 7 experience. "Great opportunity for us. There are some guys that have had it before. We're all really excited for it.

"You embrace it. You enjoy the challenge, embrace the challenge. We worked all year for home ice advantage. We deserve this and we'll take advantage of it."

Captain David Backes it's all about having fun.

"You need to," Backes said. "You've got an opportunity to knock off the defending Stanley Cup champion in your building. We worked our butts off all year to get this home ice advantage, now we've got it for a Game 7 and we need to have fun, enjoy the battle, enjoy the wounds and the nicks and the bumps and the bruises that you take for your teammate and your team to have success and here we go. Can't wait for the puck drop."

In a game with so much on the line, Hitchcock said the key for the Blues will come down to managing the puck.

"I think for both teams, it's how you exit," Hitchcock said. "For us it's all connected to puck support. When our puck support is on the mark, we look quick. We know our team speed is what it is, but we look quick when our puck support is there. For me, it's puck support. When we're skating for support demanding the puck, we can skate very fast. That's the first thing I would look at. The second thing I would look at is zone faceoffs. How many times are we in our own end or how many times are we in the opposition end? If we're in our own end a lot, it means our goalies either having to make saves or stoppages and that's a disadvantage for us. And if we're in the O-zone, then that's a big advantage. For me, those are the two things that you based on, again, if you really look at this series, what's made it so compelling and made it so emotionally engaging for teams and the fans and even the media, is that there is really no neutral zone time for either team. We're either in their zone or they're in our zone and it's made for very exciting hockey because it was a little bit low-scoring at the start, but the scoring chances were all there and now the scoring chances have been increased and it's high drama because there's absolutely zero time through the neutral zone. You're either attacking, defending and nothing in between."

For rookie defenseman Colton Parayko, the excitement level is on a high.

"It's exciting," Parayko said. "Even yesterday, I was kind of just thinking it's my first NHL playoffs, Game 7 just kind of getting thrown right into it. We have a great team, they have a great team. It's kind of something you dream of as a kid. ... Being a Game 7, it's kind of do-or-die. Everyone's going to be puttint it all on the line, them and us. Those are the games you want to be a part of. They'll be fun, obviously exciting and intense."

Make no miskate ... this is not just another game.

"Exactly," Parayko said. "It's something you've got be razor sharp all night. It's going to take a full 60 minutes to obviously win this one. If not 60, it's going to take a little bit extra. We're willing to do that if it goes a little longer. It's going to be a battle. Both teams are going to be prepared and I expect a lot of fun."

- - -

Speaking of Pietrangelo, this is the fifth season in which he's played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a goal and five assists, this is arguably his best postseason run.

"Yeah, I've kind of tried to lead the way on the backend there," Pietrangelo said. "I've been given a lot of opportunities here by the coaching staff to go out there and make plays and make an effort to lead the charge. 

"I'm feeding off my teammates, they've been great. 'Moose' has been unbelievable. The list goes on and on."

- - -

This will be Hitchcock's sixth game coaching in a Game 7; he's 3-2. On the ice side, Joel Quenneville is 3-4.

Troy Brouwer (six) and Kyle Brodziak (two) are the only players with multi-game experience, and the Blues' coach was asked if his experience could be beneficial.

"Not so much Game 7's because the last time, it's a little while, and as you get older, your memory fades, but for me, that's all I played in the Olympics," Hitchcock said. "There's nothing but Game 7's. I've learned from some very experienced people that the game is tonight and not this morning. Wasted energy is a real negative factor. If you're going to pump up the volume, but for me, the biggest thing for me is let the event itself pump up the volume. Don't spend any energy pumping it up this morning or thinking you're going to give them this big speed that's going to work out because you can throw them over the top. For us, we've had a very similar, methodical approach to what we've done all year. It's worked for us and we'll let the event tonight ... it's been a long time since we've had a Game 7 in this building. The place will be jacked and hopping and we'll let the event itself take care of the emotion."

- - -

The Blues are spending the day at a hotel as if they were on the road, to avoid any type of distractions.

"I haven't stayed in a hotel in St. Louis in about 10 years," Backes said. "It will be a new experience I haven't had too often. You cancel out all the distractions, you have a great meal together as a group, get to the rink tonight as a group, we're going to do everything as a group here, when we do that, we have great success. Away we go."

Hitchcock was asked if he was staying at the rink or going to the hotel, and in typical fashion ...

"No, I can hardly wait to get rid of you folks so I can go watch more Barnyard Builders," Hitchcock joked, getting a rise out of the media contingency.

For the record, Hitchcock meant 'Backyard Builders.'

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund--David Backes

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Scottie Upshall

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.

- - -

The Blackhawks' projected lineup:

Richard Panik-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Tomas Fleischmann

Andrew Ladd-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa

Andrew Desjardins-Andrew Shaw-Dale Weise 

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Erik Gustafsson-Brent Seabrook

Trevor van Riemsdyk-David Rundblad

Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Svedberg, Michal Rozsival, Christian Ehrhoff, Brandon Mashinter and Michael Leighton. The Blackhawks report no injuries.

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Breaking down Tarasenko's ice time, what it all 
means; Blues moving on; avoiding the history books

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues lost a second straight elimination game Saturday, 6-3 at the Chicago Blackhawks, in Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round, much was made once again about the ice time -- or lack thereof -- for leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko.

Blues fans took to Twitter and various talk forums starting with the 4-3 double overtime Game 5 loss on home ice as a sticking point, using players such as Troy Brouwer, among others, as an example of players getting so much more time than the team's star winger.

And things really escalated when at the end of the second period, a screen-grab was caught with coach Ken Hitchcock saying something to Tarasenko as the Blues were heading towards the locker room and Tarasenko waved his coach off in what appeared to be a sign of some sort of frustration.

It was discovered that Tarasenko, who got only eight seconds of power play time in the Blues' only power play of Game 6, wanted to get on the ice more. But looking at it, Tarasenko had just completed a shift when the penalty was called, and the Blues' second unit had zone time for virtually the entire power play, making it difficult for the top unit to come onto the ice.

"Yeah, what we weighed was, they just came off a long shift, and they were tired," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko and his linemates Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera. "So I was trying to cheat to get time, to give them a rest, but the referee wouldn't let us cheat. So he wanted our players out there right away. But we were trying to cheat to see if we could get a rest. But the group that went out there did a great job. They kept it in there, they had five scoring chances. Did a great job. But what are you going to do? You're not going to take it back into your end and regroup to make a change when you've got it in their end the whole time. And that happened to be the only power play."

Makes sense. But what about playing just 16 minutes 56 seconds? Well, that isn't even Tarasenko's series low. He played 15:14 in a 4-3 victory in Game 4, but that somehow went unnoticed. Wins tend to do that.

"No, I don't think it's ice time related," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko's apparent frustrations. "I think he felt like yesterday he could have helped on that power play. We didn't get a change on the power play because we had the thing in the end all the time, so ... that's what happens when you've got a guy like that that wants to make a difference. I love it, I love it in him."

Teammate Paul Stastny made no big deal about it when asked.

"He's emotional always," Stastny said of Tarasenko. "I think if he's not scoring, if he's scoring he's always emotional. I think that's what makes him such a special player. That part of the game, sometimes ... the top guys want to be out there 60 minutes a game if they could. There's always going to be little things caught in the heat of the moment. Like any good player, I think he shakes it off on the next shift. If he feels anything, he never lets it linger. He's never showed it, he's grown. Little things like that don't bother him."

But let's compare some numbers from not only Tarasenko but those of Blackhawks star players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Here are all three players' numbers, including time on ice, power play time, even strength time, shifts and average time per shift:

Tarasenko   TOI    PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 18:30, 3:47, 14:43, 25, 0:44 (OT)
Game 2 -- 16:05, 1:14, 14:51, 26, 0:37
Game 3 -- 16:33, 1:40, 14:19, 29, 0:34
Game 4 -- 15:14, 2:15, 12:59, 27, 0:33
Game 5 -- 21:28, 2:10, 19:18, 41, 0:31 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 16:56, 0:08, 16:48, 27, 0:37

Kane          TOI      PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 22:17, 5:22, 16:55, 24, 0:55 (OT)
Game 2 -- 23:41, 3:20, 20:21, 29, 0:49
Game 3 -- 23:14, 4:50, 18:24, 28, 0:49
Game 4 -- 23:17, 2:23, 19:53, 30, 0:46
Game 5 -- 31:16, 1:39, 29:37, 40, 0:46 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 22:02, 3:26, 18:36, 26, 0:50

Toews         TOI    PP    EV    SH  AVG
Game 1 -- 24:36, 4:55, 17:01, 29, 0:50 (OT)
Game 2 -- 21:00, 3:44, 16:43, 29, 0:43
Game 3 -- 22:20, 4:37, 16:11, 31, 0:43
Game 4 -- 21:00, 1:46, 17:15, 30, 0:42
Game 5 -- 28:43, 0:45, 24:32, 42, 0:41 (2OT)
Game 6 -- 21:10, 3:07, 16:56, 26, 0:48

On average, what sticks out is both Kane and Toews are getting more minutes per game, more power play time, on some instances more shifts and more time per shift, looking at the time even strength, the times look very similar for the most part.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville likes to use both players for longer shifts, which gives them overall more time, and with the Blackhawks having more power play time, it also boosts their minutes. And in Toews' case, he gets time on the penalty kill, which Tarasenko and Kane don't do often. 

So, what does Hitchcock say to those that want No. 91 to play more?

"It's hard because of the way he plays and the energy that he takes," Hitchcock said. "When you view a player ... knowledgeable hockey people don't look at time, they look at shifts, and shifts matter. He plays a short ice game with short shifts and that impacts his energy. He's a big body that plays a lot, he gets leaned on, he leans on a lot of people. It's very wearing. The game he plays is a physical game: it's at the puck, it's around the puck, it's one-on-one and its' very demanding.

"He's not going to be a 48-, 49-second hockey player, not and be effective. He's a guy that has to play in short bursts and that's what he does. He plays great in shorts bursts so his energy stays high."

Tarasenko may get shorter shifts, but he gets ample amounts of them.

"What did he have, 28, 30 shifts last night," Hitchcock said. "That's a lot of shifts and the ice time ... if you looked at it and you had 50 seconds on it instead of 33, well that's a 23-minute player - which is incredible. But he's not able to play that way ... maybe at 28 or 29 he can play that way or whatever, but he's a young guy who plays a big man's game that's physically demanding, especially at this time of the year.

"I had him 11 or 12 shifts in the third period. You just can't put a guy out on the ice any more than that, but he's a short-shift guy so you've just got to live with it. 
He plays a lot of shifts, but they're not long."

Tarasenko has been used as a penalty killer during the regular season, but the Blues know exactly what his forte is.

"As he gets older, he's going to be able to do that," Hitchcock said. "Toews is up there because he kills penalties."

But with a winner-take-all Game 7 set for the Blues and Blackhawks set for Monday (7:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM), could Tarasenko get more time?

"I'm not going to tell the opposition how much and when we're going to play him," Hitchcock said. "That'll be up to me."

* Forget about it -- The Blues were blitzed by the Blackhawks with three second-period goals to give Chicago a 10-3 edge, and two more in the third period to run away and erase the Blues' 3-1 deficit on Saturday.

But knowing that Game 7 is all set for Monday, the Blues spent Sunday getting their focus for geared towards winning the series.

But there was some explaining to do. What happened in that second period?

"It was just a letdown," said Brouwer, who will play in his seventh straight Game 7. "We had a great opportunity, put ourselves in a great spot to win the series and they didn't go quietly. They caught us off-guard a little bit. We're unhappy with our effort in the second period and it cost us winning that game, but the good news is we're all smiles in here today getting ready for tomorrow's game.

"... We came in after the first period and we were very excited. I think the emotions were maybe a little bit high and then we might have got caught off-guard a little bit in the second period, but that's not going to happen again."

Stastny said it was a case of not being ready.

"I think they came at us and we got caught on our heels a little bit," Stastny said. "We had a two-goal lead, it's almost like a different mind-set. There's still a lot of time left, we knew that wasn't going to be enough but they just kept bringing it to us. We've got to be more composed and support each other a little more, and i think we got away from that. I think we were trying to do too many individual plays and that's the way they want to play it. They kind of kept taking it to us and next thing you know they're up 4-3 and we had some chances to tie it up in the third and then they got that power play goal to kind of seal it.

"It's early in the game. If you're up two with a couple minutes left in the third, it's a different killer instinct. It's a 60-minute game, they're not going to quit. Two-goal leads in this NHL since the lockout aren't what they used to be. It's always a tough environment to play in. We were trying to get that next one knowing it was going to be the most important one but we couldn't do it. We've just got to find a way to settle down the whole bench, everybody sort of working together. That's what happens sometimes when you play in a hostile environment like that you start watching a little too much instead of supporting each other and that's what we did a little bit. Some of us didn't want the puck. You just need to kind of calm it down a little bit, get that pressure back in their zone  and kind of get a sustained shift and we couldn't get that."

Hitchcock doesn't see any hangover. He was asked about it Sunday.

"With the players or with me," he said laughing. "With the players? No. When I got on the flight, I was disappointed. You have a visual of the game and then you start looking at the game ... I really believe this, it's never as bad as you think it is and that was the feeling after watching it.

"The area and time of the game we thought we were poor in, we were a lot better than we thought. The area where we thought we were doing well, like in the first period ... we weren't good in the first six minutes. We weren't good at all. So you kind of strike a balance and then you just start forward and getting ready for it."

Looking at the big picture, if someone told the Blues they'd be playing a Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions with a chance to eliminate them on home ice, they'd take it in a heartbeat.

"We worked hard in the beginning of the series to make sure that we put ourselves in a good spot to win the series," Brouwer said. "We haven't been able to do it in those two games, but with our play at the beginning of the series, it gave us a good opportunity to have three cracks at it. We let two get away from us, but we've gone one tomorrow."

Does it matter in which manner the Blues got to this point. Hitchcock said it does.

"Yeah, it does matter how we got here," Hitchcock said. "How we got here was ... I think Toews (said) it (best), we gave them our best shots early and they gave us their best shot yesterday. Both shots are very similar. Both shots will be the determining factor in my opinion on who wins tomorrow. And what each team did to each other to get to where we got is the ebb and flow of two wonderful hockey clubs. They give it to us yesterday in the way they dialed the part of their game that they needed to dial up and we did it earlier in the series and they had a difficult time with that. It's going to be a real tug of war to see who gets to that game, but whoever gets to it is going to win that game."

* Changes in the lineup? -- Hitchcock was asked about lineup changes for the game Monday.

Of course he wouldn't disclose, but one he did make one point clear: Brian Elliott will start in goal.

"He's in goal," Hitchcock said. "Lineup changes? Possibly. On defense? Possibly. Anywhere. Whatever we think can work we're going to do tomorrow."

* Fine-tuning the defensive structure -- In Games 1-3, Chicago scored a total of five goals. In Games 4-6, they've scored 13 goals, and a common theme seemed to pop up.

When the Blues clog up the neutral zone and not allow Blackhawks skaters to accelerate and take advantage of their transition game, scoring opportunities weren't nearly as visible.

But when there are gap issues, especially in the neutral zone and the Blues' inability to contain Chicago's secondary layers of scoring, it's what turned things around.

"No, not necessarily. You have to respect their players," Brouwer said. "(Artemi) Panarin, Kane, Toews, when they wind it up in the neutral zone, you can’t get caught flat-footed. We’ll be backing off a little bit to try and match their speed and make sure that we're not giving up too much. They’re a skilled hockey team. They’ve done it for a number of years. That’s why they’ve got  a lot of championships in the past few years. We've been playing our game plan the way we want and as a result, we've been in every game giving ourselves an opportunity to win. We just haven't won the last two."

* Avoiding the history books -- The Blues will look at trying to avoid becoming the 29th team in NHL history at blowing a 3-1 series lead.

The last team was Brouwer's former Washington Capitals last season, but the Blues have already done it once, in 2003 when they lost a series to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games after leading 3-1; they've overcome a 3-1 series deficit twice (1991 vs the Detroit Red Wings and 1999 vs. the Phoenix Coyotes).

Chicago has never lost a 3-1 series lead and overcame one in their history, in 2013 against the Detroit Red Wings en route to the Stanley Cup.

"I think it’s as much pressure as you want to put on yourself," Brouwer said of the game. "We’re excited to play. I know a lot of guys in here haven’t played a Game 7 yet in their career. They’re excited for it. We’re going to have some fun with it. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a good spot this year to hopefully knock off the defending champions in a Game 7. Guys are excited for the opportunity tomorrow."

And remember, nothing will come as a surprise.

"There's not," Stastny said. "You've got to have fun with it, enjoy it and compete out there. It's a fun time to be in it. I think you'd rather be playing a Game 7 than not playing at all. I think we've got to embrace the opportunity, enjoy it and have fun with it."

* Shadowing Toews and Kane -- Stastny's line with Brouwer and Alexander Steen were given the dubious task of defending against Toews and whoever played on it. It was Marian Hossa and Richard Panik before Andrew Shaw took shifts there. And since Game 5, Quenneville has paired Toews and Kane together.

What it's done is limit that line's offensive production. Each has at least a point but combined, it's just one goal and three assists.

"Yeah it's been tough," Stastny said. "It's a challenge when you're starting in the 'D' zone. You've got to play a different game against those guys. You've got to be aware, try to make them play as much defense as possible. At the same time they're good players, they're going to get their chances too. So you've got to play defense yourself. It's been fun, it's been a good challenge and it's not going to stop till obviously the game's over tomorrow night."