Saturday, April 29, 2017


Blues stuck with process in Game 2; Lehtera responds to benching; staying 
hot on the road; Blues-Penguins to play in Kraft Hockeyville preseason game

ST. LOUIS -- The difference between Games 1 and 2 for the Blues in their Western Conference Second Round series against the Nashville Predators was pretty clear-cut.

Staying out of the penalty box, and reacting accordingly to adverse situations. 

That was the message from the team as they departed for Nashville and the shift of the series to the Predators' home, Bridgestone Arena, where Game 3 will take place in Sunday (2 p.m.; NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM).

Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said after the Blues dropped Game 1 to the Predators 4-3, they didn't react well after being scored upon first after having a solid start to the game.

On Friday in Game 2, the Blues were not only scored upon first, but Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis gave Nashville a 2-1 lead early in the third period, and in what amounted to be a tight game, it could have given the Predators a huge lift and a potential 2-0 series lead.

But St. Louis' ability to stick with the process and not only get the tying goal but the winning goal from Vladimir Tarasenko with 3:51 remaining, his second of the game, enabled the Blues to level the best-of-7 series 1-1 following the 3-2 victory.

"For me, it just comes to preparation," Blues coach Mike Yeo said Saturday. "We addressed it with home ice and sort of a difference in mentality that we've had playing here.

"I think we did a much better job of that. We saw that even though we gave up the first goal, even though we (got behind) in the third period, we continued to play and that's our belief system is that if we play our game for 60 minutes, at the end of the night, we should come on top."

The Blues, who allowed two power-play goals in Game 1, did not need to use their penalty kill in Game 2. Only a third-period Patrik Berglund minor was offset by Ellis' coincidental minor.  

"I think we did a much better job of making them react to us," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think it's part of the reason why you saw them take more penalties. We didn't take any, other than the one on the 4-on-4, I think we kept our mind in the game and didn't get too distracted and let them make the mistakes. Going into their rink and their environment, we're going to continue to need to do that."

* Lehtera responds -- Being a veteran player and told you will be a healthy scratch, particularly as a vetaran player, is never easy.

So when Blues center Jori Lehtera was scratched for Games 2-4 in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, he came back with a more focused mindset once re-inserted in the lineup for Game 5 against the Wild.

Yeo had the conversation with Lehtera that he needed to be better, and the Blues' coach didn't mince words just because he was dealing with a veteran player.

"No, not really," Yeo said. "I think that's our job as coaches to be honest with players and to give them feedback. Sometimes that's positive, sometimes that's negative. That's one of the areas I feel I've grown as a coach is that because a player's a younger player, that doesn't mean he should get firmer feedback. Players need to be coached and they want to be coached and that goes from the top of your lineup to the bottom."

Since then, Lehtera has a goal an two assists, including the tying goal in Game 2 Friday against the Predators by going to the net into the dirty areas and jamming a puck in from close range.

"Well, it's not easy, but he's played real well here the last couple of games he's been in," Pietrangelo said of Lehtera. "We're going to need him to continue doing what he's doing. It's always good to have some healthy competition to get in the lineup. Whoever's in, it seems like they're playing really well, so we're lucky to have the depth that we have."

Lehtera, who's helped on the faceoff dot, has primarily centered Vladimir Sobotka and Magnus Paajarvi, and on Friday, Ivan Barbashev.

Lehtera said he needs to play with more heart, and that's something Yeo appreciated hearing.

"I think he's been terrific," Yeo said of Lehtera. "I loved the quote that he used and he said it himself, he's playing with heart, and I think that's shown up in his game. The goal that he scored last game is a playoff-type goal and it's good on him."

* Blues to play in Kraft Hockeyville preseason game -- The Blues will play in the Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017 preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced by USA Hockey on Saturday.

The game will be played at an a yet to be determined date at the Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, Penn., which was the winner of Kraft
Hockeyville USA 2017. 

Belle Vernon, Penn. won the Kraft Hockeyville USA contest, now in its third year of partnership with the NHL and the NHLPA.

It is is awarding $150,000 in arena upgrades to The Rostraver Ice Garden for the
opportunity to host the preseason game between the Blues and Penguins. It will be televised on NBCSN.

"After tallying millions of votes, we’re thrilled to name Belle Vernon Kraft Hockeyville USA 2017," Nina Barton, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Kraft Heinz said in a statement. "When we brought Kraft Hockeyville to the U.S. three years ago, we set out to help improve local rinks and unite hockey communities across the country under a common interest, passion and sense of pride. Johnstown and Marquette have been excellent stewards of that purpose, and we can’t wait to see how Belle Vernon brings their new title to life."

* Road warriors -- The Blues venture into Bridgestone Arena looking to remain unblemished away from Scottrade Center in these playoffs. 

The Blues were 3-0 in Minnesota in the first round and are 12-1-1 in its past 14 games on the road dating to March 5 and outscored the opposition 42-21.

"I think we're using everybody. We're keeping it simple," Pietrangelo said. "We're not letting the other team's environment get to us. We're kind of keeping it even-keeled throughout the game, the ups and downs. We did that last night and need to continue to do it."

It's been a common theme in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Heading into games on Saturday, road teams were 4-2 in the second round and 27-21 overall.

"It's been the trend," Upshall said. "We had some success through great goaltending and some timely goals in Minnesota. We're in a new challenge now going to Nashville. Teams on the road just go out and play simple hockey. This time of year, that's kind of the recipe that works. We're going to keep this thing going. We got a big win at home, which we needed. This series is a best-of-5 now and we're excited to get to Nashville."

The Blues, who outscored the Wild 8-5 at Xcel Energy Center in the first round, know it will be another tall task going into Nashville, where the Blues will have to at least win one game after losing on home ice.

"Music City, they've got a loud building," Upshall said. "It's smaller, it feels like the fans are on top of you with the way the seats are. We have to do another great job of being a good road team. 

"As a group, we need a great start, taking their crowd out of it. We did a great job in Minnesota, their building was loud. This time of year, you've got to just really focus on having a great start and being relentless, not focusing on the end of the game but just taking things as they come. We've done a good job of that so far."

Nashville won both games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, outscoring them 7-3 and will look to seize momentum early with a Sunday afternoon start in front of its home fans.

But during their 14-game run, the Blues have allowed more than two road goals three times.

And three seems to be the magic number for Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose team is 21-1 when the Blues score three or more goals since taking over Feb. 1. 

"Our belief system is that if we play our game for 60 minutes, at the end of the night, we should come on top," Yeo said. "We’re going to need to keep [getting timely goals]. They become timely goals because all the games are so close. And that’s not just our series. You look around the League right now and obviously parity is a word that’s been tossed around an awful lot because of upsets, because of the number of overtime games and close games." 

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