While the St. Louis Blues said all the right things again Friday, it’s tough to overlook that 4-13 record in their previous 17 playoff games.
Sure, plenty of names and faces have changed during that span but there’s also a solid core group that has posted one of the league’s best regular-season records during that time under coach Ken Hitchcock.
Now trailing their best-of-seven playoff series with Minnesota 1-0, the Blues are hoping to dig a little deeper Saturday at Scottrade Center to even things up.
Did Hitchcock feel the Wild forced his club out of its game in the postseason opener?
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“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think they make you earn your stripes, so it’s our job to earn our stripes. They make you earn your ice, whether it’s in the (defensive) zone or in the neutral zone, they make you earn your stripes.
“They’re well-coached, they check well and I thought we had times where we let them off the hook when we didn’t have to and that fed the engine that fed (their) odd-man rushes. “
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said his team has a healthy respect for the Wild, the league’s hottest team since Jan. 15 with a 29-9-3 record counting Thursday’s playoff win.
“I think just one thing that I’ve seemed to learn from them is you can’t forget they played last year too, and they had a pretty good playoff run,” Shattenkirk said of a Wild squad that upset 2013-14 Central Division champ Colorado in the first round. “They showed a little more experience than maybe we knew they were going to have. They’re a great team.
“They’re deep like us, they play a very good team game, they have a goalie in net who’s pretty confident and playing great hockey right now. We have to find a way to expose them and be able to pick on their weaknesses and open them up this series.”
Falling behind 2-0 in the series is not a safe option. The Blues have lost 18 of their past 19 playoff series when losing the first two games, with the only win coming in a seven-game series back in 1972 against the Minnesota North Stars.
The Blues hope to generate a much better sense of urgency than they displayed Thursday in Game 1. It almost seems strange saying that since they were playing at home before a sellout crowd against a team that hadn’t won a first-round playoff game on the road since 2003.
Of the Blues’ 58 shot attempts Thursday, only 21 made it on goal while 20 were blocked and 17 others missed the net completely. Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues’ leader with 37 goals, was not credited with an official shot but had several attempts blocked.
The 21 shots were the lowest by the Blues in the playoffs since a May 3, 2012 game against Los Angeles.
As a result, Wild star Zach Parise expects a hungrier Blues team on Saturday.
“Anytime you lose the first game in the series, you want to rebound and have a great second game,” Parise said. “But at the same time, we can be better as well and we’re looking to put together a better second game.”
The Blues struggled to sustain much time in the Wild zone in Game 1, failing at times to press things in the slot and in front of the net. Part of that was Minnesota’s ability to throw a blanket over the Blues’ top offensive weapons, but part of it was also the Blues being unwilling or unable to press the issue until a more desperate third period.
“We just have to get in their structure,” Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. “We’re taking a lot of shots from the outside and they’re really good at fronting and working as a five-man unit to push shots a little bit lower and getting in front of them. We have to move our feet a little bit more and create some more opportunities.”
That’s exactly what the Wild want to prevent — and something they had success with in Game 1 when goaltender Devan Dubnyk cashed in his first career playoff win in his first postseason start.
Dubnyk felt his aggressive play in the crease was also a factor.
“The most important thing is getting the ice before they get there, beating the play and don’t sit back in your net and allow them to get there,” said Dubnyk, who occupies a lot of space at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds. “Once they’re there in your net, it’s extremely difficult to get around them. That’s when their strength and big bodies become an advantage for them.
“If I can beat them there and get that ice first, obviously that’s my ice and they have to go around me.”
Elliott stands behind the team
Always a team-first kind of guy, Blues goalie Brian Elliott on Friday made his first comments since rookie Jake Allen was named the playoff starter.
“That hasn’t changed since I started playing hockey,” he said. “Sometimes you’re going to have to make sacrifices for the team, and everybody in here has done that at some point in their career, this year and in the last game.
“Guys have sacrificed a little bit of ice here and there for matchups or whatever the coaches are seeing. This game comes and goes too fast to get upset about the little things. That’s the coach’s decision. It’s nothing I can I do, so I control what I can and come here every day with a smile on my face and try to do my best. I’ll be ready when called upon. That’s how it is right now.”
Elliott has his teammates behind him.
“Yeah, the group here is so tight” he said. “You pick each other up when someone is down. It’s an ongoing process through the team that you have to help guys ... it’s a give and take. That’s why this team is so good because we can do that with each other.”