Maybe it’s not such a bad sign that the St. Louis Blues dropped their playoff home opener 4-2 Thursday to the Minnesota Wild.
It reversed the trend from the past two seasons that saw the Blues go 2-0 at home against both Los Angeles and Chicago before proceeding to lose the next four games in rapid succession. The loss also dropped the Blues to 4-13 in their previous 17 playoff games, another bothersome trend.
Looking for more numbers to evoke panic and distress? Counting an 0-for-2 power-play performance in Game 1, the Blues have been successful on only four of their previous 65 power-plays in the playoffs. They also are 1-7-1 in games this season after a layoff of three or more days.
“We have not played well off of layoffs all year,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This is probably another example of that, but we’ve had a game under our belt and we’re going to have to play better. Killer instinct comes in a number of fashions and one of the fashions is you really have to simplify your game in the playoffs.
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“When we didn’t get the shots through at the start, we started to play a very complicated game that made us, at times, look slow.”
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk had trouble explaining the 1-7-1 mark in long layoff game as well.
“It’s a pretty weird stat,” he said. “They had the same thing too. It’s a matter of getting back into game form. Yesterday was a big game, there was a little bit of nerves there at the start. We just didn’t get to our game right away, which ultimately hurt us, not being able to get on top of things early enough.”
The only lineup changes for the Blues for Game 2 made by Hitchcock were flipping T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund on their lines. Oshie is back with David Backes, with Dmitrij Jaskin on the other win, while Berglund will play right wing on a line with Paul Stastny at center and Jaden Schwartz on the left side.
Oshie wasn’t surprised to be reunited with Backes as the pair have played together on and off for years.
“When we’re playing with someone else, we usually know it’s only a matter of time until we get back together,” Oshie said. “You want to play simple, get pucks deep. Hopefully we can get ‘Jas’ to the front of the net and get some loose pucks.”
Did Oshie feel he had good chemistry with Stastny and Schwartz, a line the Blues were using late in the season?
“I thought we were really good,” Oshie said. “I thought we were pretty good yesterday, too, but we’re going to give them a different look tomorrow and hopefully that will shake things up.”
There were no defensive changes, meaning Carl Gunnarsson stays in the lineup and Robert Bortuzzo will sit out his second straight game. Jake Allen is back as the starter in goal.
“We’re not making any lineup changes,” Hitchcock said. “We need to play better. We need to play our way at a higher level and if we do that, we’ll be in good shape. But that’s definitely what we need to do ... I think every aspect of our game needs to be amped up a little bit if we expect to beat this team here. They’re a real good team and we’re going to have to be on top of our game to beat them.”
The Wild used their speed and defensive aggression to hem the Blues in, forcing them to fire off a lot of shots from the outside instead of at close range where the success rate is higher. The Blues were outshot 25-22, including 14-4 during a rough second period that also saw them take three minor penalties that sapped more momentum.
Minnesota also blocked 20 shots, including five by defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
“I think in the second (period) we sort of took our foot off the gas a little bit,” said Allen, who allowed two goals or fewer for the ninth straight time. “I’m not sure the time, but if we would have kept pushing there ... I think we’re definitely going to learn a lesson from that. They’re a team that grinds, works hard and they’re speedy. So, we’re going to have to look at it (Friday), get back to the drawing board and be ready come Saturday.”
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo played a strong game, firing off a team-high six shots. His ice time of 25 minutes, 41 seconds was easily the team’s highest, with Shattenkirk and forward Alexander Steen close to five minutes behind.
“We started pretty well, had a lot of pressure early on,” Pietrangelo said. “We took some penalties there in the second that seemed to change the momentum there in that period, then in the third we had them on their heels. We just have to find ways to get pucks towards the net and get more traffic.”
Steen’s short-handed goal late in the third period was the first surrendered by the Wild since Jan. 3. The Wild also won their playoff opener for the first time since April 10, 2003 against Colorado and won at Scottrade Center despite dropping nine of their previous 10 playoff contests on the road.
Winning on the road for the current edition of the Wild shouldn’t be a huge surprise since coach Mike Yeo’s club had won 12 straight on the road until dropping the regular-season finale in St. Louis last Saturday.
Minnesota had won only once in St. Louis in the last 14 regulation games dating back to October, 2007.