Watching the skill and effectiveness of St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in the first round of the playoffs, it’s tough to remember he sat out 25 games in February and March after undergoing abdominal surgery.
His pre-playoff test included playing seven straight games before sitting out the regular-season finale.
Shattenkirk picked up three more assists Wednesday in the Blues’ 6-1 win at Minnesota, giving him an NHL-leading seven assists in the playoffs. He also began Thursday tied for the NHL’s overall playoff scoring lead with seven points.
“It’s still tough,” said Shattenkirk, who needed surgery to repair tears in his abdomen and groin. “There’s still areas where you’re catching up and, in your mind, you’re trying to get over the hump now. Every game has been better and better. Game 3 was a step back for me.
“Just had a good chat with (Blues assistant Brad) Shaw ... just getting back to what I do well and not trying to overdo it.”
Shattenkirk and dynamic Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who has five goals on eight shots in the series and nine goals in his last 10 playoff games, have been the team’s top offensive weapons.
“I think that’s just something that I know I need to bring to the team,” Shattenkirk said. “I get the opportunity to play in a lot of offensive advantages, starting in the offensive zone. That’s part of my job on the back end, to create offense for this team. Things have been falling in for me lately for sure.
“A lot of second assists by some great efforts from other guys, but I just have to keep that going for the team. I know we have other guys on the back end who are taking a lot of the defensive responsibilities.”
Both Blues’ playoff wins over the Wild were chock full of Tarasenko and Shattenkirk highlights, including Tarasenko’s tip-in of a shot through traffic by Shattenkirk in Game 4. The signature goal was Tarasenko’s second one Wednesday, when he moved left and tucked the puck past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with a jaw-dropping one-handed move he pulled off earlier this season against the New York Rangers.
“Deja vu,” Shattenkirk said. “It’s pretty sick. The fact that he has the poise to do that under that kind of pressure is unbelievable.”
Does Blues coach Ken Hitchcock give Tarasenko the green light to shoot whenever he can?
“I wish the green light was a lot greener for him shooting, because he doesn’t shoot enough for us,” Hitchcock said, as the 24-year-old Russian winger had a team-leading 37 goals on 264 shots during the regular season (14 percent). “If he gets to that stage where he shoots more often he’s even going to be more dangerous. He’s able to do things creativity-wise and puck play-wise that other people ... they’ve probably got a yellow light or on a couple guys you’ve got a red light. You’ve got to let (players like Tarasenko) do what they do because they see things on the ice that we don’t see.”
Blues winger Alexander Steen marvels at Shattenkirk’s ability to put the injury and surgery behind him and return to the same form that made him an NHL all-star this season.
“Shatty has the hockey sense, the awareness, the skill set, all that stuff. He just possess it,” Steen said. “So we’re not surprised. We knew he was going to get back.”
Shattenkirk talked about Tarasenko’s cutting-edge offensive ability, which includes his hat trick in Game 2.
“I think we’re almost used to it by now,” Shattenkirk said. “We’ve seen him for a few years now and he’s displayed this kind of skill for a long time. But now he has the confidence to pull it off in games so he just has to stay consistent with that.
“Still as a young player, I think that teams are just going to be harder and harder on him now in a series. It’s not going to come every night and he can’t get discouraged. I think last night he came out with the right attitude to just play through everything, and when he got his chances he was able to capitalize.”
Jake the Snake
Blues rookie goalie Jake Allen has stopped 87 of 93 shots in the series for a a healthy .935 save percentage.
“I’ve got to tell you, without him in Game 3 we’re probably (losing) 6-1 the other way,” Hitchcock said. “He was terrific. What he’s done is he’s really kept us coordinated back there even though it’s been pretty chaotic. Both teams put so much pressure on the other team’s defense that it is a little bit chaotic, but just the way he’s handled himself and the way he’s moved the puck has calmed us down quite a bit.
“His calmness back there has really grown on the players.”
Winning on TV, too
The Blues’ 6-1 victory in Game 4 Wednesday was the highest-rated Blues telecast in 19 seasons on Fox Sports Midwest. The Blues-Wild game averaged a 12.4 rating and was also the highest rated TV program in the St. Louis market that night, peaking at a 15.7 rating (193,000 households).