Blues' Tarasenko becoming a headline act in playoffs

News-DemocratApril 24, 2014 

— T.J. Oshie became more of a known commodity following his electrifying shootout performance at the Winter Olympics in February.

Oshie's St. Louis Blues teammate Vladimir Tarasenko is turning the NHL playoffs into his personal coming out party.

Tarasenko leads the NHL with four playoff goals on just 15 shots, netting two more Wednesday in Game 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The second gave the Blues a 3-2 lead in the third period, a lead they eventually relinquished in a 4-3 overtime defeat. His goal with 6.4 seconds remaining in Game 2 forced overtime and helped set up a Blues' victory.

Tarasenko has the attention of just about everyone now, despite having missed the final 15 games of the regular season with a broken right thumb

"This kid's good," Oshie said Thursday. "We want the puck on his stick as much as possible. I think he shoots the puck like no one I've ever played with.

"He's a great player, I'm glad he's on our side."

Scoring four goals is tough enough, but Tarasenko has picked the corners with his lightning-quick release.

"It's really amazing how quick his release is and the places he can put the puck," Oshie said. "It's a skill a lot of us wish we had."

The 22-year-old former first-round pick was mostly an observer during last season's opening-round playoff loss to the Kings.

He played in only one game and wasn't much of a factor after dealing with a concussion that kept him out of the lineup for an extended period.

With four goals, he's got as many as Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane (three) and Jonathan Toews (one) combined.

Oshie was asked about the difference in Tarasenko from the 2013 playoffs to the current series.

"He needed to get that confidence that he was one of our go-to players," Oshie said. "Now that he knows that he has the confidence ...when the puck is on his stick, he wants to score goals. It doesn't matter how he does it, whether he has to beat a couple guys or he has to just set up and shoot the puck from wherever he's at."

Throughout the season, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has praised Tarasenko's overall game, hockey IQ and toughness, not just his elite-level skills.

"He has patience where most people panic," Hitchcock said. "He kind of shoots it where the goalie isn't, he's good at it. A pure goal scorer. ... He's more than just a goal scorer, he's a complete player.

"He's willing to check to get his chances. He's competitive in the right areas, but he is smart."

Hitchcock said Tarasenko also possesses that special scorer's touch, a sixth sense of knowing exactly where to be at the right time.

"This isn't just shooting it for the middle of the net, he knows exactly where it's going," Hitchcock said. "He knows which way the goalie's leaning and for whatever reason, he's able to get himself some space in (the offensive) zone -- which is pretty unique for such a young player."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville agreed.

"He's got a great shot, doesn't need a lot of room to get it off as well," Quenneville said. "(There's) just an awareness when he's on the ice. Every series there's always somebody that seems to get a hot stick -- he's definitely the guy right now for them.

"He's got it going so lets make an awareness to keep an eye on him."

Kane's back, and producing

Kane, who like Toews returned from an injury to begin the playoffs, is quickly returning to his old sniper self.

Kane missed the final 12 games with a left leg injury, but looked fine lugging the puck down the ice Wednesday and snapping off the game-winner in overtime.

Kane had a pair of goals Wednesday in Game 4, including the overtime game-winner. Scoring big goals is nothing new for Kane, who scored in overtime against Philadelphia to give the Blackhawks the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Still only 25, Kane already has 32 goals and 75 points in 78 career playoff games. He's also been an integral part of two Stanley Cup titles.

"When he got on the board early in the second (period), I think he just, he wasn't thinking anymore," Quenneville said of Kane, who tied his playoff career high with three points on two goals and an assist. "He just went out and played. He was making things happen every time he got the puck.

"It was nice to see him play with that confidence."

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

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