It's a Blues-Kings rematch in the NHL playoffs

News-DemocratApril 28, 2013 

— After taking care of their part of the bargain by securing home-ice advantage for the first round of the NHL playoffs Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues were ready for anyone.

Their first-round opponent will be the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings after the Kings edged San Jose 3-2 on Saturday.

A year ago, the Blues were swept out of the playoffs in the second round by the Kings after defeating San Jose in Round 1.

"If our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, we're going to have to beat some good teams and some great teams," said Blues captain David Backes, whose team got two goals from Jaden Schwartz and knocked off Chicago 3-1 to clinch the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. "If we've got to beat them in the first round or the second round or the finals, whatever it may be. ... We need to say hey, whoever we line up against we need to put a great effort in and take care of business.

"In order to be the champions in the best league in the world, you have to beat some good teams."

By beating the Blackhawks, the Blues were guaranteed to open the playoffs against the Sharks or the Kings. Those teams played a late game on the west coast with the Kings holding on for a 3-2 win.

The Blues reeled off wins in 12 of their final 15 games to put themselves in strong position for the playoffs. The play of goaltender Brian Elliott and addition of veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold both were huge factors in that equation.

"Against San Jose, we played a very strong series," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We were able to kind of push them out of the series early, I think. Once we played L.A., we really just saw what it takes to be a playoff hockey team and a Stanley Cup championship team.

"They were firing on all cylinders. They were playing their best game at the right time of the year."

The Kings have won eight straight against the Blues. L. A. won the Stanley Cup last season as a No. 8 seed, but enters the postseason as the No. 5 seed this time around.

The teams last met on March 28 and the Kings won 4-2.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock seemed ready to move on to the postseason.

"Regardless of what happens, 90 minutes after the game we've moved on to the next event," Hitchcock said Saturday morning. "If it ends up in a win, great, we know we're the four seed and we watch TV."

This was not exactly the typical best-record-in-the-NHL Blackhawks the Blues were facing Saturday at Scottrade Center in the regular-season finale.

Chicago left several veterans at home and the lineup included many players recently called up from the Hawks' minor-league team in Rockford.

That list includes goalie Carter Hutton, who made his NHL debut at age 27.

Hitchcock was asked about Chicago coach Joel Quenneville's strategy of resting so many veterans. The Blackhawks already have the league's best record locked up and with nothing to play for, Hitchcock said he would have done the same thing.

"That's smart by them, they're not going to take a risk," Hitchcock said. "There's nothing at stake for them and what they get is a free look at their players for the playoffs, they get a free look at the players for whether they can keep up the pace in a important game for another team."

Injury update

While Hitchcock said both defenseman Barret Jackman (ankle) and forward T.J. Oshie (ankle) could have played Saturday, he rested both looking ahead toward the playoffs.

Both have been skating at practice sessions.

"(Jackman) could play tonight, we're not taking any risk there," Hitchcock said. "Oshie could play tonight, we're not taking any risk there. We'll wait until the first possible playoff game and then go from there."

Hitchcock said Oshie, who has missed 14 straight games and recently underwent ankle surgery, figures to make big impact upon his return.

Oshie has seven goals and 20 points in 30 games.

"That's a heck of a player to add at this time of the year," Hitchcock said. "We're really looking forward to that to be honest with you. We've missed him. We've won, but he's been a guy that plays the game the right away and he adds a lot to our team.

"That's a big add for us."

Hitchcock said Oshie's versatility and excitement level bring a lot to the lineup.

"He carries the conscience of the team," Hitchcock said. "He's kind of a three-zone player, he can play up and down your lineup and be very effective. He's great on the power play ... I think we'll use him in every situation."

Jackman seems to have a high pain tolerance when it comes to injuries, but he hates sitting out games even worse. He left Tuesday's game against Colorado after blocking a shot and was replaced Thursday by Kris Russell, who be in the lineup again tonight.

"I'd be on the ice if it were the playoffs," Jackman said. "It's better to take one more day of rest and be ready for Tuesday or Wednesday. It was hard watching the other night, tonight's no different. It kills me to be in the stands, but that's the way it goes."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or on Twitter @NormSanders

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