Blues return home hoping to regain their aggressiveness

News-DemocratMay 7, 2013 

— If the St. Louis Blues hope to win their playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, they need to figure out a better way to deal with prosperity.

A 2-0 lead in the first five minutes of Game 4 in L.A. melted away quickly and dissolved into a 4-3 Kings victory that evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

A 2-0 series lead is gone, replaced by a 2-2 deadlock and the resulting best-of-three slugfest. The home team has won each of the first four games with Game 5 set for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Scottrade Center.

Now the Blues hope to turn things around in the friendly confines of Scottrade Center, where have allowed a total of eight goals during an eight-game winning streak.

"I think we gave them everything they got," Blues goalie Brian Elliott said Tuesday after the team returned home to St. Louis. "I think we made the mistakes and they capitalized on them. If we play our game and we keep it within reach, then we go to work at the other end."

That was the winning formula used by the Blues while winning the first two games of the series in St. Louis.

The Blues were relentless forecheckers in the first two games and much of the third. They repeatedly pounded the Kings' depleted defense with body checks by getting pucks in deep and chasing them down.

That was remarkably different than the Blues' team that showed up in Game 4. Quick goals by David Backes and T.J. Oshie put the Blues on top, but they abandoned their successful defensive foundation in search of more offense.

The results were two turnovers that led to Kings goals. The Blues lost two leads, or three if you count the 2-0 series lead they once held.

"We got a little sloppy," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think we assumed the game was going to be a little easier just because we got two quick ones. But especially with a team like that, they know it's a long game and they're willing to stick with their game plan the full 60 minutes-- and know that they can still be successful despite the score."

Before their final push that led to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, the Blues also had trouble holding and securing leads.

"That's an area for our team that we have to really get better at is playing with the lead," Shattenkirk said. "We seem like we go back on our heels a little too much and kind of wait to see what they were gong to bring. We have to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going forward."

The Kings have lost their last eight road games, including the first two games of the series against the Blues at Scottrade Center.

"The home-ice advantage is huge," Shattenkirk said. "We've gotten a lot of good energy from our crowd here. We love playing at home, we always have. I definitely think we let one slip away yesterday, but it's nice to know that we still have two more possible games at home versus their one."

However, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is wary of claiming any advantage --home-ice or otherwise -- at this point in what has become a major battle.

Through four games, the Blues and Kings have already combined for 335 hits. L.A. has a slight advantage (174-161), but both teams are throwing everything at the other in a bud for survival.

"We weren't in control of anything," Hitchcock said Monday when asked about the Blues' quick start in Game 4. "We were just up 2-0. They deserved to win; they were better than we were from start to finish. We had some spurts, but as good as we were in Game 3 they were that good in Game 4.

"They just competed longer and harder than we did and deserved to win. Both teams have held serve, now it's our turn to see if we can do it."

Hitchcock inserted rookie Vladimir Tarasenko for winger Adam Cracknell in Game 4, temporarily abandoning the aggressive "CPR Line" of Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves.

There could be more roster moves for Game 5.

"It's been very intense, hard hockey but they went up to a gear that we're going to have to find an answer to," Hitchcock said.

Elliott believes many of the Blues' Game 4 problems were created by themselves.

"I thought we gave ourselves a chance in the first period -- and I also thought we gave them the chance right back,' he said. "It's just about controlling what we need to do and not trying to do anything too special. I think some of us tried to maybe do too much out there and didn't trust each other.

"That's what we need to do, trust in each other and play as a team."

Shattenkirk said the Blues' respect level for the Kings remains high.

"They're an experienced team," he said. "They went down by two goals and they stuck with their game plan -- and I think that's something we can learn from them."

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

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