Tuesday, April 25, 2017


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

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."

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