ST. LOUIS - What a close series we have between the Blues and Blackhawks through four games.
The series is tied 2-2. The Blues have scored 11 goals, the Blackhawks 12. Both teams have two power-play goals in the series. Did we expect anything else from these Western Conference powerhouses?
“This series is probably right where it belongs,” Ken Hitchcock said following practice on Thursday. “Neither team is giving an inch. Both teams are, for me, fully-invested in trying to win this series. Nobody is going away. They’re not going away, we’re not going away.”
That should make for an exciting Game 5, which begins tonight at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (FSMW, Y98 FM).
The Blues won the first two games of the series and the Blackhawks have taken the momentum with wins in Games 3 and 4. But after four games, it comes down to a best-of-3 and a big opportunity for St. Louis.
“It’s about us getting to our game, them getting to their game, and whoever does it more is going to win the hockey game,” Hitchcock said. “It’s a big time for us. We’re trying to slay the dragon I guess you could say. We’re trying to prove that we belong in the top echelon…it’s a shame someone’s got to lose this series because of what both organizations are putting into this thing right now, but somebody’s got to go down, so I’d rather it be them than us.”
Added defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, “We’re not in a bad spot. It’s tied and we still have home-ice (advantage). We have a good opportunity here.”
CHICAGO - If the Blues could bottle what they did in Game 3 and apply it to tonight’s Game 4 (8:30 p.m., FSMW, Y98), they are optimistic about taking a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series back to St. Louis.
Despite a 2-0 loss Monday, the players and Ken Hitchcock said they were very happy with their effort.
“Best game by far. We played a great game,” Hitchcock said. “We did a lot of things that you want to, it was one of the best road games I’ve ever seen us play. They’re a good team, we knew this was going to be a long series. But we played hard and we played well. We did a lot of things we needed to do to win the hockey game, but you’ve got to give their goalie credit. He was good, especially late.”
In Game 3, the Blues outshot the Blackhawks 35-25 and didn’t give up many great scoring chances, except for a few while shorthanded late in the second period. Ryan Miller came up big on the penalty kill to keep the Blues in the game, but it was Corey Crawford who preserved the one-goal lead for the Blackhawks.
“We’re not disappointed in our play. We’ve been playing a good team game, working hard and really creating a lot,” Jaden Schwartz said Monday. “We didn’t get the right bounce. We’ll make a few adjustments but I think we’re happy with our effort.”
Added Hitchcock, “We’re really starting to gain our confidence back again, and we’re going to need every piece of it to beat this team.”
NO UPDATE ON BACKES
David Backes didn't skate with the team at United Center, and Hitchcock wouldn't comment on his availability for tonight.
But Hitchcock did offer this: "He's not going to play unless he's healthy. You never know. He could be skating at another rink, he could be doing something else, you don't know. There's a lot of rinks here in Chicago... The way he plays is going to have a huge impact on this series, so if he skated somewhere else and is in fine-tuned condition, you'll see him tonight."
So basically, we'll have to wait and see.
Hitchcock did say that Brenden Morrow (lower-body) will be out for the rest of the series.
CHICAGO - Patrik Berglund will return to the lineup for Game 3 tonight in Chicago (7:30 p.m CT, FSMW, Y98 FM).
Berglund has been out of the lineup since suffering an upper-body injury on April 11 in Dallas.
“He’s playing. He feels good and ready to go. He's been declared fit to play,” Ken Hitchcock said in his morning press conference. “You’re walking into a hornet’s nest (in this series), so that’s why we’re starting him on the lower side of the roster to see where he’s at from being mentally able to keep up.”
David Backes, who was hit by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook with 15:09 left in the third period in Game 2, won’t play tonight. Seabrook was suspended three games for the hit by the NHL Department of Player Safety.
“He’s our No. 1 center. He plays the most minutes on the hockey club, he plays in every situation,” Hitchcock said of Backes. “It has to be shared. Not one person is going to be able to take this slot, we don’t have that. It’s a big hole, but we’re more equipped to handle this than we would have been without Bergy.”
The Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 2-0, expect a tough test tonight at United Center.
Said Hitchcock: “We’ve got to play our best game today. We’ve got to play a lot better than we did in the first two games if we expect to win. We can play better, I think our players will, but we’re going to need to. We’ve got to really amp up our game if we expect to win in this building.”
That’s the list of players who were unable to play in the regular season finale on Sunday against Detroit.
Now, here's the good news. Of that injured list, only Oshie and Berglund won’t be ready for Game 1 tonight.
And here's the better news: Hitchcock reiterated at practice yesterday that everybody would be back at some point in the series.
“We’ve got guys in various stages, guys getting various treatments to get ready to play,” Hitchcock said. “As I said before, at some time during the series, everybody is going to be in. But I can’t tell you if it’s Game 1, Game 5 or 6 or 7 or whatever.”
Perhaps the most surprising player to return tonight is Tarasenko, who had surgery on his right hand on March 19 and wasn’t expected to be evaluated until after the end of the first round.
“He deserves an awful lot of credit. He’s worked extra hard to be in the best shape of his life right now, which is going to allow him to be able to keep up at this time of the year,” Hitchcock said. “I think if he doesn’t put all the extra work in that he’s done on ice, off the ice, everywhere, I don’t think we would have been able to play him.”
Tonight, the Blues begin their first-round playoff series against the Blackhawks, a team they haven’t faced in the postseason since 2002. The Blues won the regular season series 3-2.
The Blackhawks are reportedly getting injured forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back tonight. Toews sat out the final six games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Kane missed the final 12 games with a lower-body injury.
DALLAS - If the Blues are to snap their first four-game losing streak of the season, they’ll have to do it extremely shorthanded.
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock added to the team’s growing list of injuries when he met with with the media late this morning. New additions are Brenden Morrow (undisclosed), Vladimir Sobotka (lower-body) and Derek Roy (upper-body).
Here is a list of forwards that won’t be in the lineup tonight due to injuries:
ST. PAUL - The Blues look to avoid their first four-game losing streak since last season when they meet the Minnesota Wild (42-26-12, 96 points) tonight at 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center (NBCSN, KMOX).
The Blues have lost three in a row for the first time this season. The last time the club lost four straight was Feb. 1 – 11, 2013.
Despite the losing streak, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said he’s seeing improvement.
“We’re making progress. We probably had two sloppy games. Last game we showed a lot of improvement, a lot of good things, so I’d rather build on the positives,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of things that I like to see. The feeling with us and the players was that it was a good thing that we saw (Wednesday at practice) and a lot of good stuff (in Tuesday’s game), so we’ve just got to stay with the program.
“If we were guilty of anything, maybe we were guilty of looking too far ahead,” Hitchcock added. “Now the last three games caught our attention. Now it’s back to work.”
The Wild punched their ticket to the playoffs Tuesday night with a 4-3 shootout win against the League-leading Bruins. Minnesota trailed 3-2 in the third period until Ryan Suter scored with 1:05 left to play.
With the shootout win, the Wild locked up the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Since losing 5-1 to the Blues on March 27, Minnesota is 5-0-1, with their only loss coming in overtime on April 3 at Chicago.
“It’s a good challenge for us. They’re winning hockey games and they’ve won their way into the playoffs,” Hitchcock said after Wednesday's practice. “It will be a good test for us…a possible (playoff) opponent.”
Said Brenden Morrow, “We still have three games here to straighten it out and get some momentum. You want to have confidence and momentum going into that first game of the playoffs. Colorado is at our heels. We need to sharpen up.
“It’s been pretty smooth sailing for us throughout the year. Now we’re finding some adversity. We’re going to find out what we’re made of.”
Alexander Steen will play tonight when the Blues host the Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (NBCSN, Y98 FM).
Steen missed three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He returned to practice on Monday and skated with the team again today.
“He’ll play, he’s good to go,” Ken Hitchcock said. “This is the player’s call and the trainer’s call. When they leaned over the boards and said ‘I’m good to go,’ I think it’s my obligation (to put him in) considering he’s had an unbelievable year and he’s been our best player most nights.”
For a team looking for more offense, Steen is returning at the right time. This season, he has 33 goals and 27 assists (60 points). In this last four appearances, he has three goals.
The Blues will be facing a Washington Capitals team that is 4-3-3 in their last 10 games is coming off a 4-3 win on the road against the New York Islanders. The Capitals find themselves four points behind Columbus for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with four games to play.
Meanwhile, the Blues sit four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division and one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference. With a win tonight, the Blues would tie the Bruins for the League-lead with 113 points.
A HERO'S WELCOME
Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who was an honored guest of President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address in January, will attend tonight’s game and drop the ceremonial first puck.
Sgt. Remsburg, who is from St. Louis, was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on his 10th deployment. He was in a coma for three months and is recovering. He is partially paralyzed and brain-damaged.
Sgt. Remsburg watched today’s morning skate and visited the locker room, where he met the team.
“His sacrifices for our freedom, for allowing us to do what we do, does not go unnoticed,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We lose two big games on the weekend and think we’re having a tough go and are down in the dumps, then we see everything he has put on the line for us.”
To learn more about Sgt. Remsburg to see him during President Obama’s State of the Union address, click here.
Brian Elliott will start in goal when the Blues host the Buffalo Sabres at Scottrade Center tonight (7 p.m. FSMW, KMOX).
The move may come as a surprise since this is the first opportunity to see Ryan Miller meet his former club, but Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said it’s all part of a plan for the rest of the season.
“(The decision) is mostly based on the weekend games,” Hitchcock said. “We talked to (Ryan) and said ‘listen, do you have to play against Buffalo? Does it matter?’ He said he didn’t care one way or another, so it set our schedule nicely for what we wanted to do until the end of the season.
“We still have some flexibility based on the opponent and wherever we are standings-wise, but we want to make sure both guys get what they need.”
In his last start on March 23, Elliott made 33 saves to help the Blues to a 1-0 win against the Penguins.
“Since I’ve been here, this is the best I’ve seen him play,” Hitchcock said of Elliott after Wednesday’s optional practice at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall. “He’s really focused. He works his tail off. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever seen in practice, whatever the position is. I think you really want to reward that work ethic.”
Said Elliott, “You go out there every day in practice and those are your games when you’re not playing. You just try to get better every day and stop the puck. There’s not much to it.”
Elliott will face a Sabres team that made plenty of changes at the deadline, including acquiring former Blues forward Chris Stewart, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 shootout win Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.
“They’re playing for next season and building blocks and to get something started for that,” Elliot said. “We want to (be) continuing to play the way we want to play and not play down or play to someone else’s level. We want to play to ours.”
Elliott has 9-0-2 career record against the Sabres with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .940 save-percentage.
ST. LOUIS - Less than two weeks after their first meeting (a 4-1 Flyers win at Wells Fargo Center on March 22), the Blues get a chance to avenge the loss tonight (7 p.m. - NBCSN, KMOX).
“We didn’t have a bad game against them (last time). We missed some scoring opportunities and hit a lot of posts and they were victors in the end,” Barret Jackman said. “They’re a great team, they’re very physical, they’re fast and they play in-your-face hockey. We know (tonight) is going to be a tough game from the drop of the puck and it’s going to take three periods to get under their skin and push them back into their net.”
Said Ryan Miller, “They’re a hard-grinding team with a lot of skill. They like to throw the body around. They create offense from behind the net, they can create it off the rush, they can create it from the point. They’re pretty well balanced in that regard, so you just have to stay alert.”
The Flyers are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to Boston, while the Blues are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. After practice yesterday, Ken Hitchcock talked about getting his team back to a 60-minute game.
"What I'm troubled by that I'd like to see changed is we're in the 40-50 minute range for hockey, not the 60-minute," Hitchcock said. "We were great against Toronto, went to sleep for 10 minutes, game on. We were asleep for 10 minutes against Minnesota and then game on. You all know what the playoffs are like; you can't sleep for 10 minutes. It's game over, not game on."
ST. LOUIS - Ah…home sweet home.
Since the Olympic break ended a month ago, the Blues have played just four games at Scottrade Center and 11 on the road.
That changes tonight, when the team begins a five-game home stand and will play seven of their last 10 games at home.
“With all the road games we’ve had, I think guys are excited to finally play in front of their family and friends and play in front of the home crowd,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s certainly been a tough month for us in terms of travel and road games, but to have the success we’ve had, to be able to pick up some more points here at home is certainly a good feeling.”
First up is the Minnesota Wild, a team the Blues have beaten in eight consecutive games. The Wild currently have the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference at 37-25-11 (85 points) and are a team the Blues could potentially face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Every team we’re playing it seems like is either fighting for playoff spots, looking for more points to jockey around in the standings, trying to find home ice, whatever it might be,” David Backes said. “We’re never going to get a slack game in the last 10. We have to make sure we bring our A-game and that we’re concentrating on bringing what we have to the table.”
Added Ken Hitchcock: “We’ve had a really tough schedule here since the Olympic break, and now we’re at home and we get to have a few quality hockey practices along with some great competition in the games. I want us to take advantage of this. It’s also about sending a message to whoever comes in here, especially from the West. We want to send them a message that we’re back playing in a tough building.
“All we’ve done is one and out. We’ve come home, played a game and gone back out on the road. That’s what it feels like anyway. Now we’re at home, I want us to really get energized and really send a message to teams coming in here that this is not going to be fun (for them).”