Blues using other teams' desperation as preparation

News-DemocratMarch 31, 2014 

— While they were not happy with their performance Saturday in a 4-2 home loss to the Dallas Stars, the St. Louis Blues hope to use it as fuel for their playoff fire.

"Really, that's exactly who you want to play going into the playoffs," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the Stars, a team fighting just to make the playoffs. "You want to play teams that are playing you hard, teams that make you be on the top of your game or else you're going to get embarrassed."

The Blues should get plenty of competition with an eight-game stretch in the next 13 days to close out the regular season. That stretch begins Tuesday at home against Philadelphia.

Still fighting for first place in the NHL and home-ice advantage in the playoffs, the Blues know what lies ahead.

They also welcome higher expectations that come for a 50-17-7, 107-point team that could set new franchise records for wins and points.

"Now it's to the point where it's Stanley Cup or bust," Jackman said. "That's very satisfying for me. I've been here through some great times, through a lot of bad times and through the rebuilding process with the great friends I have in this room now.

"It's nice to be where were at, but it's not the end. We've got a lot of battles to go through to get to the ultimate goal."

Coach Ken Hitchcock put the team through a rigorous practice Monday hoping to smooth out some recent rough spots.

That includes turnovers, defensive zone coverage and a far-too-heavy offensive reliance on the top line of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie.

"What I'm troubled by, and what I'd like to see changed, is that we're in the 40-50 minute range for hockey, not the 60-minute (range)," Hitchcock said. "We were great against Toronto, went to sleep for 10 minutes, game on. We were asleep for 10 minutes against Minnesota, then game on. We all know what the playoffs are like. You can't sleep for 10 minutes or it's game over, not game on."

Hitchcock said the Stars' desperation showed.

"They just were a little bit more hungry in the competitive areas --in front of both nets, around both nets, in the corners -- than we were," Hitchcock said. "We'd have flashes where we were terrific and then flashes where we made some uncharacteristic big errors."

Jackman said being part of a team with the most wins in Blues history would be special.

"Getting all those wins is great," he said. "You look at those victories throughout the year and they keep you going and keep you motivated. They really keep the fires burning and (having) the most wins is definitely one of them.

"Maybe down the line it will look even better saying you're part of it, but really all those things are going to be moot if you don't win the Stanley Cup."

Miller adjusting

Blues goaltender Ryan Miller surrendered four goals on 27 shots Saturday, but is 9-3-1 since his arrival from Buffalo.

He is the starter for Tuesday's game against the Flyers and Hitchcock remains confident in his veteran goaltender.

"It's too late to worry about anybody; it's get them ready to play," Hitchcock said. "You're going to have good games and bad games, but this is the time where you've got to turn it over to the players, trust what they're doing and then you've got to teach them.

"I have no doubt that whoever we need, whenever we need them -- whether it's goalie, a defenseman or a forward -- they're going to come through for us."

Miller continues working on better communication with the defensemen and forwards. He smiled when recalling a recent mix-up against Toronto involving former Blues center Jay McClement.

"I got called on a puck in Toronto to leave it and it ended up being McClement," Miller said. "I've still got to learn the boys' voices a little bit better."

Miller said the Blues' intense puck control leads to longer stretches between shots and a bit different feel than his style with the Sabres.

The Blues hold teams to 26.3 shots per game, the second-lowest total in the league. Many goalies prefer to see more shots and Miller was seeing upwards of 34 shots a night or more while in Buffalo.

"Your job's just to stop the puck, so every night's going to be a different experience," Miller said. "It's certainly been interesting as far as flow goes, but it just represents that our team has the puck quite a bit and that's a good thing. You just learn how to take the lulls in stride and protect the net as best you can."

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

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