Blues hoping playoff recipe for success works away from home

News-DemocratApril 20, 2014 

Owning a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven NHL playoff series beats the heck out of being down two games, but don't expect any overconfidence from the St. Louis Blues.

Many players remain from the Blues team that went up 2-0 on the Los Angeles Kings last season in the opening round, then lost four straight en route to a painful playoff exit.

Now the Blues venture into enemy territory, trying to win Games 3 and 4 at United Center in Chicago against an angry defending Stanley Cup championship club.

Game 3 is Monday in Chicago.

"The way that these games have gone, you have to respect the fact that Chicago was a shot away in both these games," Blues goalie Ryan Miller said after his team's second straight overtime victory, a 4-3 win on Saturday. "We've got to stick with it. We know they're a very dangerous team and they're very accomplished. They won the Cup (last year), they have guys who have won it twice.

"They've gone through a lot adversity to win those Cups, so we expect the best out of them."

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook got a three-game suspension Sunday for his hit vicious hit on Blues captain David Backes a day earlier in Game 2.

Backes' condition is undisclosed, but both teams are not as good without either player in the lineup.

"It's tough to see that (happen) to your captain that does everything for your team, to go down," said Blues center Maxim Lapierre, who spoke of the high level of motivation that came after Seabrook's hit on Backes. "The message was just (that) we'll win the game and then guys just emptied the tank to try to get the win."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville have each seen physical, emotional and intense playoff series before.

"Kind of fun to be honest with you," Hitchcock said. "In a very sick way, but it's kind of fun. It means everything to the players on both sides. You're just riding along with them and trying to keep them going ahead.

"You're going to see big swings in emotion. You're going to see big errors, you're going to see great plays."

Throughout this season, the Blues have been pointing toward the playoffs. That's where they knew their season would be judged -- and not only by themselves, but by Blues fans hungry for any type of postseason success.

"It was a great lesson that we learned last year," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the team's top playoff scorer with one goal and four points. "Now comes the tougher part, going into the opposing city and playing on the road in a hostile environment.

"It's going to be tough, but we've got to stick with our game plan. That's what's allowed us to win these past two games and it's going to be even more important that we do it on the road."

All eyes on Tarasenko

Miller enjoyed the enthusiasm he saw from Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko during the Russian winger's 15-game absence because of a broken right thumb.

Tarasenko attacked his rehabilitation assignment so well he has returned two weeks early. He scored a goal in each of the first two playoff games against Chicago, including one with 6.4 seconds remaining in Game 2 to force overtime.

"He sat out so long and you could just see him itching to get back in," Miller said of Tarasenko, who has a seven-game scoring streak. "When he told me he was going to be playing in the first game of the series, he had a big smile on his face.

"That's the cool stuff about hockey, to see guys that are that passionate and that excited to play get rewarded."

Hitchcock believes Tarasenko is only scratching the surface.

"He's such a smart player," Hitchcock said. "(He's) 22 years old, you imagine what he's going to be like as a 25- or 26-year-old. He's such a smart player; he's got composure where most people just panic like crazy"

Strong work by Blues fourth line

Among the Blues' most effective units has been the fourth-line of Maxim Lapierre, Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter.

Porter has a goal and assist, Cracknell has a goal and Lapierre has an assist. They also have created numerous scoring chances with an attacking, physical style.

That reunited two-thirds of the popular "CPR Line" from last season that included Cracknell, Porter and Ryan Reaves.

"There's nothing flashy about our game," Porter said. "We get pucks deep and we create havoc in the offensive zone...try to limit our time playing in the defensive zone as much as possible."

Porter had only one assist in 22 regular-season games and didn't see a lot of action until recent injuries opened up spots. He and Cracknell each were on waivers this season and spent much of the year in the American Hockey League.

"I'm just grateful for the opportunity," Porter said. "You hear a lot of things, 'yeah, you'll be back for the playoffs,' but you don't know if it's going to actually happen. Once you get here, it's make the most of the opportunity and I'm glad to be contributing in the playoffs."

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

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