Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Blues hope road magic continues for pivotal Game 5

Home teams 0-4 in series that shifts back to Winnipeg on Thursday with 
series tied 2-2; O'Reilly nominated for King Clancy, a finalist for Selke Trophy

BERKELEY, Mo. -- What have we learned about the first four games between the Blues and Winnipeg Jets in their Western Conference first round series?

We've learned that home is not where the heart is.

Visiting teams are 4-0 in the series between the Blues and Jets, who don't seem to be too phased by the home crowds of Enterprise Center and Bell MTS Place, where the series shifts back to for Game 5 Friday (7:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (right), defending a play against Winnipeg's 
Bryan Little on Tuesday, hopes the Blues can continue the road magic.

When the Blues won Games 1 and 2 in Winnipeg, 2-1 and 4-3 respectively, the hammer was back on their side, and at the very minimum, splitting at home for Games 3 and 4 would have been quite sufficient. But the Jets came in and did to the Blues what the Blues did to them: took two games on the road and evened this best-of-7 series 2-2.

"It's hard to say," Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said when asked about the road success. "Maybe a little more simplistic on the road. I don't think the crowds have come into effect either way. Our crowd came out humming and it was a benefit to us in Game 4, but we couldn't get the early goal. And their crowd has had spurts where it's affected them in positive ways and we've been able to manage it. It's hard to say specifically why the road teams have had success. Hopefully, it continues right now."

Now it becomes a best-of-3, and the Blues have to regroup after a 2-1 overtime loss in Game 4 on Tuesday and find a way to win again in Winnipeg's 'Whiteout'.

"I think just two good road teams, even in the regular season," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. "Obviously two tough buildings to play in. I'm not sure what the reason for that is. We feel comfortable on the road. Going into Winnipeg, it's obviously a tough building to play in, but we've had two wins in there so far so we're looking forward to getting five here."

Maybe the Blues will go back to the way they played in Games 1 and 2: less hitting/looking to hit and more pulling the Jets into the trap of looking for hits and countering with the puck on their mistakes of doing so.

In the first two games, the Blues were outhit 68-47 but were able to find areas of the ice when the Jets were purposefully looking to hit and didn't buy into those undisciplined penalties.

The results: a 2-0 series lead.

The Blues then came home, and in front of their jacked up crowds of 18-19,000 at Enterprise Center, they seemed to be more of the aggressors and fell out of sorts. The hits were 62-50 in the Blues' favor, and what it does is it tires guys quicker and prevents them from doing the things that play to their strengths. 

Forward Brayden Schenn, who has no points on three shots in the series, but has 15 hits in four games, is a perfect example, and one thing he understands with the series down to a best-of-3.

"You've got to pick your spots," Schenn said. "I think early on in Game 1, I was more physical than I was in the past couple of games, but now there's two, three games left, you've got to pick your spots. 

"These games are hard on everyone, they're a grind at both ends, there's not much space at both ends out there. For me, I've got to go out there and find a way to produce and put some points up and contribute that way for our team."

And in order to do just that, the Blues will need to stay out of the penalty box, remain disciplined, not chase hits and most importantly, get to the front of the net and score some of those close-range/deflection goals. 

The Jets have outscored the Blues 7-1 in the past two games at even strength and largely due to putting people in front of goalie Jordan Binnington.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues need to crowd the net more, like Pat Maroon (7) is doing here in
front of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

"You've got to give them credit, they're good, but I think everyone in this league, no matter how good you are, if you're thinking and acting on the same level as a line, you're going to find a way to break teams down and to create," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "That's our mindset going forward.

"It's absolutely a huge game for us. For us right now, it's the only one that matters. It's making the adjustments we need to make and taking it to them. It's going to be a tough one, it has been each game in."

* NOTES -- It was an award sort of day for O'Reilly, who was named a finalist for the Selke Trophy on Wednesday evening, as announced by the NHL.

O’Reilly joins Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and Vegas Golden Knights forward Mark Stone as finalists for the award. The Selke Trophy is given annually to the forward who best excels in the defensive side of the game.

O’Reilly, 28, was acquired by the Blues from the Buffalo Sabres on July 1, 2018 for three forwards and two draft picks. 

During the 2018-19 regular season, O'Reilly set career highs in assists (49), points (77) and plus/minus (plus-22), while he led the NHL overall in faceoff wins with 1,086. O’Reilly was one of just two forwards to post at least 77 points and a plus-22 while playing over 160 total shorthanded minutes. 

O'Reilly, who won the Lady Byng Trophy in 2014, represented the Blues at the All-Star Game and is looking to become the first Blue and second all-time since Rick Meagher (1990) to win the Selke.

O'Reilly also is the Blues' nominee for the King Clancy Trophy, awarded to an NHL player who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice and has made significant contributions to the community.

-- The start time for Game 6 on Saturday at Enterprise Center will have a 6 p.m. puck drop. The game can be seen on FS-MW and on KMOX 1120-AM. A Game 7, if necessary, would be Monday in Winnipeg at a time to be announced. 

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