ST. PAUL - If the Blues are to come back to St. Louis tied or leading their best-of-7 series with the Wild, it will be in large part because they carried their regular season road success into the postseason.
The Blues earned at least one point in eight of their final nine regular season road games (6-1-2) and finished with the NHL’s third-best road record overall, going 24-12-5.
“We’ve been a good road team,” Hitchcock said. “Sometimes it’s because you’re a little bit nervous or you don’t want to get beat, and so you have a real edge to your game and your focus. And I think we’ve played good on the road because our focus has been narrow and simple, and when we play a simple game, it’s effective.”
The Blues hope to carry that simple, focused game into tonight’s Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (FSMW, CNBC, KMOX).
“We have a lot of success playing a simple game on the road, playing a north game, keeping things out of our end,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “We’ve got to play the same way on the road as we play at home. You’re not going to get the match-ups you want, but we’re built on depth, so we’re not too worried about that.”
The Wild won 22 games at home during the regular season, which ranked 19th in the League. In their last 10 games at Xcel Energy Center, they were 4-5-1. But in the playoffs last season, the Wild went 5-1, so the Blues know they’ll have to earn their wins in this building.
“We’ve got to go there and play really well,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to play within our structure, because we’re going to have to win a game to take it back to get home ice back again, and so I think when we keep our focus narrow, we’re very, very, good.”
Through two games, Blues captain David Backes said he can feel the animosity between the teams ramping up.
“It’s been there since the realignment with the Central Division,” Backes said. “You see those guys four or five times a year, (in) preseason we see them twice a year now, and now we’re getting a little postseason action. There’s plenty of familiarity and things boiling…It’s a heck of a series so far. They’ve been pretty tight games, pretty entertaining games. It’s going to be another one tonight.”
ST. LOUIS - After a 4-2 loss in Game 1, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock says he won’t change his lineup.
But he might make a tweak.
“There’s going to be instant chemistry there,” Oshie said after the team’s practice Friday at the Ice Zone. “We’ve played together for so long that when we play with someone else, we usually know it’s only a matter of time before we get back together.”
Late in Game 1 and at Friday’s practice, Hitchcock swapped Oshie with Berglund. For now, that’s the only tweak he’s expected to make.
“Not making any lineup changes,” Hitchcock said. “We need to play better. We need to play our way at a higher level, and if we do that, we’ll be in good shape. I think every aspect of our game needs to be amped up a little bit if we expect to beat this team. They’re a real good team, and we’re going to have to be on top of our game to beat them.”
It’s a safe assumption that the Blues weren’t on top of their game when the best-of-7 series opened on Thursday. Hitchcock liked the energy in the first period and in the third, but said his team was outplayed in the second.
“I thought they out-checked us. I thought their determination to defend was greater than ours was,” Hitchcock said. “There were ebbs and flows. We were really good in stages, they were better in more stages. I think their checking and their compete on the puck was at a little bit higher level throughout the lineup than ours was.
“They make you earn your stripes. It’s our job to earn our stripes,” Hitchcock added. “I thought we had times where we let them off the hook when we didn’t have to, and that fed the engine that fed the odd-man rushes. We gave up too many and it was a lot of the time when we had the puck. It was us having the puck in the offensive zone, getting checked off the puck, turning it over, and boom, they’re gone. And they’ve got the foot speed to go. We fed that engine a little too much.”
ST. LOUIS - Tonight might be Jake Allen’s first NHL playoff start, but he’s no stranger to postseason hockey.
Allen played 29 playoff games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He won a Gold Medal and was named MVP at the 2008 U-18 World Junior Championships, and he won a Silver Medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve watched a lot,” Allen said. “I’ve been around people and associated with people that will pay off. Some guys have a lot more playoff experience than I do, but (there’s) a lot of big games I’ve played in, and I’ve felt every single game for me in the NHL is a big game.”
Tonight’s Game 1 will be another big one for Allen, but he’s proven he’s ready for it. In critical games down the stretch, Allen has gone eight consecutive games giving up two goals or fewer. In April, he went 3-1-0 with a League-leading 1.01 goals-against average and a .964 save-percentage. In addition, Allen earned two big 2-1 victories against the Chicago Blackhawks over his final three games to help the club wrap up the Central Division title.
Starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a moment Allen says he’s been looking forward to since he was a kid.
“It was a pretty cool feeling to be honest,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t think I’d be starting Game 1 at the start of the year. It’s been a whirlwind year for me and took five years to get to this point. It’s paying off.”
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock made his goalie decision public after the team’s practice Wednesday at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall.
“It’s a decision we couldn’t be wrong with, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said. “Jake has gotten really hot down the stretch, which was really good for us because we needed it, but just his overall development, and then the way he played in the last month, we wanted to give him a chance to go in the playoffs.”
“It’s been quite the year for me, a little bit of ups and downs,” Allen said. “I found myself and found my game. Now I get an opportunity…I’m excited for the chance.”
ST. LOUIS - Although Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t show his hand, he did indicate that the lineup could look different when the Blues host the Minnesota Wild at 2 p.m. (NBC, Y98) in the regular season finale today at Scottrade Center.
“We’ve got to integrate those guys in quickly and see how they look and how our team looks when they’re in,” Hitchcock said Friday. “They’re our most creative players, they’re the guys that have led our team in scoring all year. They’re going to do nothing but help us, but how it affects the way we play with everybody else is going to be a little bit of a change. Getting them in the lineup and having them play (Saturday) is real good for us.”
Without Steen and Tarasenko, Hitchcock was forced to shake up his lines and make adjustments, saying his club transitioned from more of a puck possession team to more of a “territorial” one.
Steen will be making his first appearance since sustaining a lower-body injury on March 28 vs. Columbus. Tarasenko will play in his first game since March 30 vs. Vancouver. Both players have been skating for several days but have joined the team practices more recently.
Outside of that, the roster is anyone’s guess.
With the Wild being a potential first-round playoff opponent, Hitchcock wants to keep everyone guessing.
“We’re going to make some changes,” he said. “We’re going to sit some people who are a little banged up and I’m sure they’re going to do the same thing. I don’t think either team is interested in showing their hand.
“You’ve got to do what’s best for Game 1 of the playoffs right now. What’s best for Game 1 is some guys need to get and get playing, and some guys need to get a little bit healthier. We’re still going to ice a lineup that’s capable of winning the hockey game.”
The game has significant playoff implications. A Blues win could put them in first place in the Western Conference (pending the result of the Anaheim / Arizona game later tonight). The Blues could play either Minnesota, Chicago or Winnipeg in the first round.
Here's the scenario from the NHL on how the Blues can win the West tonight:
The Blues would clinch the top seed in the Western Conference if they defeat the Wild in regulation or overtime AND the Ducks post a shootout win or a loss of any kind against the Coyotes OR if they defeat the Wild in a shootout AND the Ducks lose to the Coyotes in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Wild AND the Ducks lose to the Coyotes in regulation.
Got all that?
ST. LOUIS - Two gameday blogs ago, we talked about how a regular season game doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday’s Blues / Blackhawks matchup at United Center.
While that was true - the 2-1 Blues’ victory catapulted the club into first place in the Central with three games to go - it’s tonight’s showdown that’s really about as big as regular season games can get.
With a win tonight, the Blues can claim home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a win AND a regulation win from the Minnesota Wild against the Nashville Predators, the Blues would win the Central Division title for the second time in four seasons and guarantee home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
In addition, the Blues would also pull even with the Anaheim Ducks (107 points) for first in the Western Conference with one game to play.
“You can’t pick who you’re going to play, there’s so many scenarios out there,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “But man, home ice - it’s important and we want to get it. That’s the focus for the players, that’s the focus for us. (Chicago) is thinking the same thing, they want home-ice too. We’d like to win tonight to secure that.
“You’ve got to pour everything into these two (remaining) games,” Hitchcock added. “I think both these teams recognize how much it matters, how important it is.”
Jake Allen will make his third consecutive start tonight and expects another tightly-contested game like Sunday, when he made 38 saves.
“It’s going to be another intense, physical game,” Allen said after the morning skate. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us because they’re fighting for the points like we are.”
“It’s always a fierce battle,” Chris Porter said of the Blues / Blackhawks rivalry. “A lot of physicality, usually good goaltending and low-scoring games. Home ice is huge, that’s what you work all year for. To wrap it up on our home ice would be huge.”
ST. LOUIS - If the Blues sweep their three-game home stand, they are guaranteed to win their second Central Division title in four years and snag home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
In fact, the club could clinch home-ice advantage with a win tonight against the Winnipeg Jets and a regulation loss by the Chicago Blackhawks.
“When you’re in control and you go lay it on the line and play as well as you can, you get rewarded. That’s extra motivation,” said Ryan Reaves after today’s morning skate. “Home ice (advantage) is huge. We want to play in front of our hometown, we like playing here, we like the hometown fans behind us, so that’s a big thing for us right now.”
Winning the division (and home-ice advantage, for that matter) is easier said than done, though. At this time of the year, nothing comes easy. The Blues’ three remaining games are all against division rivals hellbent on securing better playoff positions for themselves, or in Winnipeg’s case, just trying to get in at all.
The Jets currently sit in the final Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Their 2-0 win last night against the Minnesota Wild moved them past the Los Angeles Kings, who fell 2-1 in a shootout in Vancouver.
“They had a big win last night, they’re going to be guns-a-blazing again trying to get off to an early start like they normally do,” said Steve Ott, who plays in his 100th game as a Blue tonight. “For us, we’ve matched their physicality, we’re a hard team to play against and we need to make sure our game pushes forward like it has. When we’re playing our big body style, we’re tough to play against.”
For Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, beating the Jets is about not letting them dictate the game.
“I think the biggest key for us is the first period,” he said. “They have a very strong push in the first period and we have to negate that. That’s what’s given us our success - we haven’t allowed them to dictate as much as they do in most games.
“You can see what’s at stake for everybody right now,” Hitchcock added. “You see players doing things that in the middle of the season, there’s no way they would go down and block the shots they are, but they’re doing it now. Everything matters, every shift matters and you can see it.”
CHICAGO - Regular season games don’t get much bigger than this.
With four games remaining for both teams, the Blues and Blackhawks are separated by just one point in the standings. First round playoff matchups, home-ice advantage, maybe even a division title - all of those things could be significantly impacted by two Blues / Blackhawks games over the next five days.
It begins tonight at United Center, where the Blues will wrap up the road portion of the 2014-15 season with a 6:30 p.m. contest (NBCSN, Y98 FM).
Players don’t need to be reminded about how big these games are. They already know.
“It should be another big, tense game. It always is when you play these guys,” said Jaden Schwartz, who scored his second career hat trick in Friday’s 7-5 win in Dallas. “You get up for the games, the fans are always into it and they’re always exciting games to be part of, especially this time of year. We play them twice, and they’re big points…there should be nothing held back in these games.”
“Against Chicago, it’s always a big game,” said Patrik Berglund, who has six points (four goals, two assists) in his last four games. “We’re just going to prepare like we always do, try to go out there, play our game and get two points.”
The rivalry, which hasn’t seen a game since Feb. 8, will look a bit different tonight. The Blues are without forwards Alexander Steen (lower-body) and Vladimir Tarasenko (lower-body), while the Blackhawks are without Patrick Kane (collarbone).
“(Chicago) did what they had to do to keep getting points,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They hunkered down defensively. Unless you really earn it, they give you nothing. There are no free scoring chances, there’s no free ice. You’ve got to earn everything.
“They’ve done a heck of a job making the similar changes that we have to make right now,” he added. “We’re built a completely different way right now with (Steen and Tarasenko) out of the lineup. We’ve had to make changes on the run and we’ve done a heck of job these last two games.
Tonight’s game will be the 29th all-time meeting between the clubs. The Blues won the first matchup this season (3-2 on Oct. 25) but have lost the last two to the Blackhawks.
“Our game is how much time can we spend in the offensive zone and control the puck,” Hitchcock said. “How little time can we give them on transition and rush attacks? How we manage the puck…when we manage it really well against Chicago, we play really well. When we play careless and are knocked off the puck easily, then it’s advantage Chicago.”
After tonight, the Blues are hoping it’s advantage St. Louis in the standings.
DALLAS - With last night’s convincing 4-1 vs. Calgary, the Blues punched their ticket to the postseason for the fourth consecutive time and 39th time in franchise history.
But there won’t be any time to celebrate.
The Blues get right back to work tonight at American Airlines Center in Dallas, where they’ll meet the Stars (7:30 p.m., FSMW, KMOX) and need to continue collecting points to chase first place in the Central Division and secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The recipe to accomplish that? Just build on last night’s win against the Flames.
“What an effort from the guys,” goalie Jake Allen said after Thursday’s game at Scottrade Center. “Coming down to the wire, clinching a playoff spot, a couple of our key players (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) out, guys stepped up tonight. It was impressive.”
“We worked hard at both ends,” added forward Paul Stastny. “I know it’s cliche-ish, but we held onto the puck a little more. We tried making some plays throughout all four lines, and I think as a team we played pretty sound hockey, and then even when it was a one-goal game, just kept going.
“It was nice [clinching] on home ice. Now the next step for us is get better until April 15 or whenever the playoffs start, but our focus is trying to get home ice.”
Brian Elliott will be back between the pipes tonight in Dallas. The Stars find themselves out of the playoff picture but have won seven of their last 10 games.
The Blues and Stars have split the first four games of the season series. The road team has won each game.
ST. LOUIS - Despite their recent struggles, the Blues have a great opportunity to turn things around tonight against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
In fact, with just one point tonight, the Blues can clinch a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season and 39th time in franchise history.
“We’re very fortunate to have that opportunity in front of us, especially with the amount of games we have left,” said Jake Allen, who will start tonight for the Blues. “We need to create some momentum starting at home, and tonight is a great opportunity for us. Create some momentum, get the ball rolling for the playoffs and clinch a playoff spot.”
The Blues can also clinch if the Los Angeles Kings lose in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers, but the club would rather focus on what it can control.
“(We need to) focus on good team play, focus on being mentally ready to play and battle,” said Olli Jokinen. “Every team we play needs points, they’re not any different than us. There’s less room and space out there.
“Just focus on tonight. You can’t lose your focus and start thinking about who we’re going to play in the playoffs. You’ve got to focus on the task ahead and that’s the only thing that’s been a little bit off. Gotta to get the focus back and try to get two points tonight against a very good hockey club.”
Getting two points tonight won’t be easy. The Flames are third in the Pacific division with 91 points and sit just three points ahead of the Kings.
“They wait for you to make mistakes,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Flames. “When you make mistakes, they make you pay.”
ST. LOUIS - T.J. Oshie watched Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets at home while he battled the stomach flu. Seeing the team trailing after 40 minutes, he entertained the idea of trying to make it for the third period.
Of course, that wasn’t realistic. He couldn’t even keep a full meal down until Sunday night. But he skated today, is feeling better and will be back in the lineup tonight when the Blues meet the Vancouver Canucks at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (FSMW, KMOX).
Where will he find the energy needed to compete?
“Red Bull,” Oshie joked after the morning skate.
But seriously, though.
“It’s not too hard to get up for an NHL game, especially when you sit out and you have to watch your team on TV and they lose a game. You want to get out there,” Oshie said. “I’m excited to get my legs back underneath me. Obviously it’s going to take a few shifts maybe in the first period to start feeling good again, but hopefully (David Backes) can carry me until then.”
The Oshie-Backes line will be without Alexander Steen (lower-body) tonight. Steen was injured in the first period Saturday against the Blue Jackets but has been labeled day-to-day. Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Steen is feeling better and is a “short-term” injury.
Without Steen, forward Olli Jokinen will slide into his spot on the top line.
“Yesterday’s (practice) was one of his best days with us,” Hitchcock said of Jokinen. “It’s a good fit for (Backes), because Olli can take faceoffs on the left side…this is a good fit and we’re going to give him lots of ice time and get a real strong evaluation in the next couple games on him.”
The Blues are facing a Canucks club that currently sits second in the Pacific Division with 91 points. Vancouver has lost two straight, most recently a 4-3 overtime decision against Dallas on Saturday. But against the Blues, Vancouver has won both meetings this season: 4-1 at Scottrade Center on Oct. 23 and 6-5 in a shootout at Rogers Arena on March 1.
“We’ve had really good games against them,” Hitchcock said. “They’ve been hard fought and pretty emotional. It’s two teams that play a very similar style. A lot of it is based on puck pursuit and physical game. They’re fun games to coach in and they really test us.”
Oshie said he expects a hard game tonight.
“They’re battling for their lives over there. It’s been the same story the last month or so though, so nothing new to expect for us,” Oshie said. “We just need to play our game, focus on ourselves, get back to our 200-foot game and a full 60.”