Blues getting a lot of energy and production with gritty fourth line trio

News-DemocratApril 27, 2013 

— Their time on the ice may be limited, but that has not prevented Blues forwards Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves and Adam Cracknell from creating as much havoc as possible when they are out there.

In just 8 minutes and 44 seconds of ice time Thursday, Reaves rang up a career-high two goals, collected six hits and also hammered out a win over Calgary's Tim Jackman during a third-period fight.

Cracknell dished out a career-high two assists and Porter also used his speed and hard work to set up a goal as the trio of former Peoria Rivermen teamed up for two goals and five points in a 4-1 victory over the Flames.

"We've known each other and kind of known each other's habits for at least four years now," Reaves said, "so I think we know where we're going to be on the ice and what each of us brings to the table."

The trio has comprised one of the Blues' top lines during an 11-3 April hot streak that has carried them to within a win of home-ice advantage in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blues close out the regular season needing a home win over Chicago on Saturday to clinch the No. 4 seed. The Blackhawks were playing Calgary on Friday and were expected to rest several regulars Saturday with back-to-back games and eight players called up from the minors.

"It's two good teams," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Chicago is arguably the best team in a long time in the league. It's a good challenge. We're going to have to be at our best to win the hockey game, but I think it's a fun game to finish the season with."

The chemistry built by spending much of the last three seasons together in Peoria is paying off for Reaves, Porter and Cracknell in St. Louis.

"You could see it coming for a month now, every time we play them together they play well," Hitchcock said. "They've got the right combination. They've got size and smarts and I think the confidence with scoring a a couple goals now is really going to help as long as Reavo doesn't think he's a goal-scorer now."

There's not much chance of that with four goals in 42 games this season and nine in his 130-goal NHL career. But Reaves' combination of size (6-foot, 1-inch, 224 pounds), strength and speed is definitely leaving an impact on Blues' opponents. The trio is expected to provide energy and a physical presence, but has also chipped in six goals and 14 points this month.

"We pride ourselves in playing in the (offensive) zone, we try to use our size and our speed and create momentum for our team," the 6-2, 210-pound Cracknell said. "That's our job and if we can stick to our game plan and keep putting pucks on net, we'll keep getting rewarded."

Like Reaves, Cracknell had a career-high two-goal game this season, his came April 4 against the Blackhawks.

"I think we've earned Hitch's and the coaching staff's trust to put us out there when they need to," Cracknell said. "We try not to get too much trouble. If we keep it simple that's the best way for us."

The simple formula includes speed, playmaking and strength -- all while paying close attention to positioning and zone time. Reaves attacks teams on the forecheck, separating pucks from bodies with heavy hits and a quick stick.

"We just try to keep it as simple as possible, but with Ports in the middle we know we have a lot of speed," Cracknell explained. "We're not going to try fancy plays through the middle, we keep it down the wall and we try to use our size, and take it to the net when the chance is there. We try not to force anything, we try to be as patient as possible and try to wear the other team down."

Regular season finale

The Blues enter the Hawks game Saturday with a season-best five-game home winning streak.

All Blues goalie Brian Elliott has done in April is go 10-2 with three shutouts, a 1.30-goals-against average and .947 save percentage. while stopping 267 of 282 shots.

After scoring just 11 goals in their previous eight games, the Blues have erupted for 10 in their last three contests.

"I think we're just going into the hard areas, staying in the hard areas," Hitchcock said. "Three of the goals (Thursday) same thing. We've been doing this now for three weeks."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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