After missing the St. Louis Blues’ morning skate Friday, center Jori Lehtera was scratched from the lineup for Game 5 as the result of being hit by a shot in the third period Wednesday by Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
“He took the shot, everybody saw it,” said Hitchcock, who called it a “50/50” shot of Lehtera playing in the morning before deciding to replace him in the lineup with Marcel Goc.
Lehtera has been centering one of the Blues’ hottest lines with wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Lehtera’s spot was taken by Paul Stastny, with Goc centering Dmitrij Jaskin and Patrik Berglund.
“It’s a big hole if he’s not in,” Hitchcock said of Lehtera. “If we would have played yesterday he would not have played.”
Turns out Goc didn’t play much Friday, either.
Goc only lasted about half the game as the third-line center, with Hitchcock switching Goc out for Steve Ott during the second period.
Despite Alexander Tarasenko’s goal-scoring eruption and Kevin Shattenkirk’s seven assists, Hitchcock singled out Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as the the team’s best player in the first four games of the series.
Along with averaging a team-high 27 minutes, 1 second of ice time, he has also has been on the ice in virtually every important situation.
“He’s been our best player,” Hitchcock said of the 25-year-old former first-round draft pick. “Played unbelievable. All the little things that you love in his game have been there since ... (it) started with about four games left in the regular season, carried through the playoffs.
“He’s been outstanding. Every game. The better he plays, the more risk he plays with and then he gets away with it”
Hitch on Ott
Moving gritty veteran Ott from winger to center for Game 4 did not stop Hitchcock from referring to him as a “wing nut” on Friday.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for how smart he is,” Hitchcock insisted. “He’s really smart, composed with the puck in tight spaces. When he plays center, he plays with more control. He plays a little bit of like a wingnut on the wing. ... I don’t know if you can say that, but he plays a little bit like a wingnut on the wing. This way when he’s had to play in control, he kind of calms down and plays a positional game where you need him with some structure and he’s very effective there.”
Porter always ready
Blues winger Chris Porter has never quite been a regular player during his tenure with the team, but he’s always found a way to make his presence felt in one way or another. Porter sat out the first three games of the series, then was inserted onto the fourth line for Game 4 and promptly delivered an assist and five hits.
In 13 career playoff games before Friday, the 30-year-old winger had two goals and five points. Is it tough keeping yourself ready to play even if you don’t know when the call is going to come?
“It’s fun,” Porter said. “There’s 100 other guys that would probably love to be in your shoes, practicing and then getting an opportunity to play.When you get in, you try to make the most of it and make your impact and draw on past experiences from the playoffs or regular season.”
That type of mentality helps the former University of North Dakota thrive in the role. Especially in the playoffs, where every move seems to be under a magnifying glass.
“Everything’s ramped up,” Porter said, “so the speed of the game ... every play matters and I think maybe just the sense of urgency and desperation brings it out. I guess I can’t really put a finger on it. It’s just nice to be playing.”