During his media session Monday, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes wondered aloud about one of coach Ken Hitchcock’s favorite sayings: being comfortable when things get uncomfortable. Backes acted like he didn’t understand the Hitch-ism, but in reality he certainly should.
Backes is extremely comfortable in a spot that few players and even fewer normal humans would be — staking out space in front of an NHL net while being hacked and pushed by defensemen and trying to get a piece of pucks being sent in his general direction at speeds of up to 100 mph.
Sound like fun? Not exactly.
However, Backes’ proficiency in that exact spot is a big reason why the Blues’ second-round playoff series against the Dallas Stars returns to St. Louis for Game 3 on Tuesday tied 1-1.
Backes staked out that net-front piece of property in overtime Sunday in Game 2, hopped over the initial shot from the point by Alexander Steen, then pounced on the rebound and whipped it past Stars goaltender Antti Niemi for the game-winner.
While Backes routinely practices deflections in front with coaches and teammates, the rough-and-tumble area in front of the net is a dangerous place. Former Blues forward Keith Tkachuk lost several teeth when his mouth got in the way of a shot by T.J. Oshie a few years ago, not to mention all the strength is takes to jostle with defensemen and impose your will trying to gain control or a fight for the puck.
I probably have to give credit to my years of playing baseball, guys pitching inside. It’s similar speed knowing that there’s a chance you get hit but the reward for standing in there is well worth it.
Blues’ David Backes on dealing with being in front of the net
“I probably have to give credit to my years of playing baseball, guys pitching inside,” said Backes, who has three goals and six points in nine playoff games. “It’s similar speed knowing that there’s a chance you get hit but the reward for standing in there is well worth it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to react and there’s a trust factor with the guy shooting the puck as well knowing that they’re going to keep it at net-high or below, which is four feet, which means I’m going to get hit somewhere below the neck which you can heal from any of those.”
Backes has showed a willingness over the years to exchange bruises for points and victories. This playoff run is no different and he already has two overtime game-winners, one in each series.
“It’s kind of a mindset that’s something we need done and I’m willing to go in there and stand there,” he said, “and (with) guys hopefully shooting right by me and into the net and we get to celebrate as a group.”
Speaking of dangerous, Blues goaltender Brian Elliott was dazed after taking a slap shot off the front of his mask early in the third period Sunday in Game 2.
The shot appeared to stun Elliott, who fell backward before being attended to by a trainer.
“He’s still got the telephone ringing today, so I don’t know,” Hitchcock said when asked how Elliott was feeling. “That (shot off the mask) makes a sound that just grips at you. You could hear the groaning in the stands when they replayed the shot on the video screen.
“The sound that came from that hitting him, that’s a really scary sound to hear. It’s the same thing, you look at four hours later, you’ve got (Marc-Eduoard) Vlasic taking one off the shield in San Jose, it’s the same sound. It’s a sickening sound to be honest. You don’t want to see that. We were so happy (Elliott) got back up and feels OK today.”
Tarasenko production slows a bit
Blues’ playoff scoring ace Vladimir Tarasenko was held without a point in the first two games against Dallas and has one goal and no assists in his last five playoff contests. Hitchcock isn’t concerned since Tarasenko is sitting on four goals and six points in nine playoff games this season and 14 goals and 17 points in 22 career playoff outings.
“I’ve seen a line that has high expectations and is learning how to play against extreme checking and getting better and better,” Hitchcock said of the Tarasenko line with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. “(Tarasenko) grabbed it yesterday; he caused two penalties because of his determination, which is a great sign. The penalty he got for us in overtime is typical Vladdy.
“I think these guys are learning that there’s a huge difference between regular season and the playoffs. They’re seeing that first-hand and they’re getting better and better because they’re getting used to how hard it’s going to be.”
Hitchcock said Blues winger Ryan Reaves would be back for another start in Game 3 on Tuesday. Reaves replaced Steve Ott in the lineup Sunday for his first playoff appearance since Game 2 against the Blackhawks in the opening round.
Dallas star forward Tyler Seguin resumed skating Monday but there was no word if or when he will return from an Achilles tendon injury that has kept him out of all but one playoff contest.
Dallas media asked whether Seguin would accompany the Stars to St. Louis and coach Lindy Ruff said, “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”
NHL Second-Round Playoff Schedule
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
Friday, April 29
Dallas 2, Blues 1
Sunday, May 1
Blues 4, Dallas 3, OT (series tied 1-1)
Tuesday, May 3
Game 3: Dallas at Blues, 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN)
Thursday, May 5
Game 4: Dallas at Blues, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Saturday, May 7
Game 5: Blues at Dallas, noon (NBC-KSDK Channel 5)
Monday, May 9
Game 6: Dallas at Blues, TBA
Wednesday, May 11
Blues at Dallas, TBA