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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 2:44 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Jackman hopes for another series clincher

ST. LOUIS -- Only one player that sat in the St. Louis Blues' locker room Saturday morning was part of the last playoff series in 2002.

Defenseman Barret Jackman, who only played in one game for the Blues in that playoff season when the Blues beat Chicago in five games in the opening round before succumbing to Detroit in five in the conference semifinals, remembers it fondly.

"It was exciting. The city was buzzing," Jackman said of the Blues' 5-3 win over the Blackhawks in Game 5. "The team was very confident and playing very well but really understood how important it is to get that last clinching game. It was a hard-fought game. It was exciting all-around."

Jackman's hoping for a repeat performance Saturday when the Blues, who lead the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, can close out the series with a Game 5 win.

"We really respect our opponent," Jackman said. "We really respect the game that we play against them. I don't think any of the games that we've won, we've been hooting and hollering after it. I think we realized the work that was put in. We still have another game and you never know what can happen in the playoffs and in the NHL. These teams are so close. It's a matter of bounces and we know that."

A standing room-only crowd of 19,500 is expected to pack Scottrade Center in hopes that the Blues will wrap up the series in five and not have to make that cross-country trip back to San Jose for a potential Game 6 Monday night.

"Their building is pretty loud, but I still think our crowd matches one of the loudest crowds I've ever been in," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "I'm so excited. But we have to focus on what needs to be done and be ready for their best game of the series."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.21.2012 / 12:46 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Projected lineups for Game 5

ST. LOUIS -- Here are the projected lineups for Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday night between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks from Scottrade Center:

SHARKS

Logan Couture - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Patrick Marleau - Martin Havlat
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
Daniel Winnik - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Colin White

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

The Sharks' healthy scratches include D Jason Demers, D Jim Vandermeer, LW TJ Galiardi, C Dominic Moore and LW Benn Ferriero.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen - Patrik Berglund - Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Jamie Langenbrunner

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

Goalie Jaroslav Halak (lower-body) is still day-to-day after being injured in Game 2. Healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Jaden Schwartz, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defenseman Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Sharks not satisfied with split in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Teams starting on the road in the playoffs may think a best-case scenario is splitting the first two games and returning with home-ice advantage for Games 3 and 4.

For the San Jose Sharks, why split? Be selfish and go for the gusto.

They have that opportunity Saturday, a chance to head back to HP Pavilion with a 2-0 series lead.

"Coming into here, we didn't want to split," defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "You want to concentrate on the first game. You don't want to come in here thinking you can get a split. You want to win the first one, and we did that, and now we want to win the second one. You have to have a winning mentality, so we want to win tonight as well."

Center Logan Couture agreed.

"You come into Game 1 wanting to win Game 1 and you come into Game 2 wanting to win Game 2," he said. "You go into every game wanting to win. You don't expect it, but you go in wanting to. Going up 1-0, we [now] want to go up 2-0."

But defenseman Justin Braun expects the Blues to come at the Sharks with full vigor.

"I expect, if not the same, a little more from them," Braun said of the Blues. "They crashed our forecheck hard. I expect them to do the same tonight.

"You can't really think about it one and one. Take one game at a time and that's your opportunity to get the win. Take advantage of that every chance you get."

The Sharks, winners of five straight games and eight of 10 going back to the regular season, feel they have an edge just because they've been in playoff mode for weeks fighting for their playoff lives.

San Jose has been used to clinching early in seasons past, but was not guaranteed a spot among the Western Conference's top eight until the final week.

"I know we've been in that playoff mode for a little while," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've tried to keep as much of a normalcy around our team as we've had around that push. We didn't go to extremes for preparation or anything like that. We wanted to keep it as familiar as it was. We'll continue to do that and evaluate from game to game. ... In our situation, that's all we've done."

It's been the right frame of mind for the players.

"You want to clinch it as early as you can, but I feel like we've been in the mindset of playoffs for the last three weeks," Braun said. "It's been a huge advantage so far."

Added Couture: "I think going into the playoffs, we went in the right way ... playing well and playing hard, really fighting for a spot. That helped us out a little bit. We're focused on this series now. We've put the regular season behind us. We've got a big game tonight."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues' Stewart understands reasons for benching

ST. LOUIS -- The biggest surprise may have been for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to finally pull the trigger on forward Chris Stewart, who has had an off-year by his standards.

Stewart will be a healthy scratch Saturday when the Blues play host to the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

After dropping to 15 goals following back-to-back 28-goal seasons, Hitchcock feels there's more that could be had from the Toronto native.

"We need more from him," Hitchcock said. "This is certainly not based on one hockey game. We just need more.

"From that position on our hockey club, that third line role, we need more tenacity, more determination, more second and third effort on the puck. We need all of that from that position. I think the opposition got in from their positioning and we need to get it from ours if we expect to change the outcome."

Stewart, who dressed in Game 1 and played on the team's third line with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Sobotka, was visibly disappointed after the morning skate.

"My number wasn't on the board. My play wasn't good enough last game," Stewart said. "We're fighting for our lives every day. I had the opportunity to step up and didn't get the job done. At the end of the day, it is what it is. This isn't the time of the year to pout or get down on yourself. We're a team, we've got to stick together and they're going to need me eventually in this series, and when I get the chance again, I'll be ready."

Teammates are on full alert: don't produce and your name could also be missing from the lineup card.

"I think it's a little bit of a message, but I think [Hitchcock] also has his game plan and the way he wants us to play," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "I think he's going to try to implement players in here, whether we're at home or on the road from a game to game basis and see what he can change up.
"That's another reason why they're in the lineup. You look at the guys coming in, there's some energy players there that can skate, hit, keep us on track as far as the way we can play and keep us sticking to our game plan."

It's a position Stewart's not familiar with, though.

"No. But you can understand," Stewart said. "I understand the game well, so I do get where [Hitchcock's] coming from. I do hope I get a chance to get back in there and show him that I can play. Now, I'll just wait for the time.

"There's obviously more to give. Also, you do need the opportunity. I didn't get the most ice time in the world last game [15:22], but it's up to me to earn it. I've got to go out there with the ice time I do get and show them that I deserve more. You look at our team and our depth, there's guys that demanded the ice time and I wasn't one of them. That's why am I where I am right now."

"It's a pretty bad feeling, but like I said, this is the time of year that it's no time to pout or be down on yourself," Stewart added. "We're all professionals here, and we're all a team. It's one game at a time."


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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Hitchcock makes three lineup changes after loss

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock said to expect changes for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

He wasn't kidding around.

The St. Louis Blues will make three lineup changes when they play host to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday after losing 3-2 in double overtime Thursday night.

Carlo Colaiacovo will replace Kent Huskins on defense and be paired with Alex Pietrangelo, while forwards Matt D'Agostini and B.J. Crombeen are in and Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves come out for a pivotal game in which the Blues need if they want to avoid what is staring at Pittsburgh and Vancouver: heading on the road down two games in a series.

"When you lose in a hockey game, whether you’ve lost by one goal, whether you’ve lost in overtime or whatever, if you go into the next competition thinking that everything should the same and expect a different outcome, I think that’s a huge mistake," Hitchcock said. "I don’t believe in that statement, 'Keep doing it over and over again and don’t change anything.' I think we're obligated to change. And I don’t mean dramatic changes, but there are things that as a series moves on, whether you’re having success or not, you have to look in the mirror and do better. There are things that we did very well, and there are things that we have to do better so we addressed both yesterday and today and just emphasizing the things that we did well.

"There are obvious things in our eyes just from our own game standpoint that you need to do better. I think as any series goes on, it really just becomes about you and your game and not so much the opposition. They are what they are and they play the way they play. I think everybody in the National Hockey League knew that when push came to shove, a team like San Jose would turn up the temperature when it was time because of their experience and their expectations. We knew that. We expect them to play well tonight, we just need to play a little better."

Colaiacovo missed the last game of the regular season in Dallas and Thursday night. He wasn't thrilled to be on the sidelines but was supportive of a team deep in the talent pool, as the Blues must sit six players each night with a healthy unit.

"At this time of year, you never want to be a spectator, especially with so much on the line," Colaiacovo said. "It's unfortunate with the results of the last game. I think we deserved a better fate, but that's going to make us hungrier for tonight. We're in a hole right now against a really good team and we're in a place where we've been really good all year -- at home. We need to get that hunger and that energy back and find a way to win tonight because we don't want to put ourselves down going into their building. I don't expect anything different from our team. We've been good at responding all year.

"The decision obviously didn't sit well with me, but I'm getting the opportunity tonight to get back in there. The biggest thing is when you're part of a team like this, it's a right feeling to be pissed off and to be upset about not playing but you're still here for the team. You're still part of a team of 26, cheering the guys on and doing whatever you can to help us get a win. That's been my motivation. My motivation's been to continue to work hard, not be happy with the decision but be ready when my chance comes."

Hitchcock said of Colaiacovo: "He wasn’t healthy at the end of the year. He’s healthy now so, just get back to the game he can play. They’re a good tandem. They play well together. He’s healthy now. He’s a good puck mover. They move the puck around with each other well. He’s good on transition, he’s a good first outlet player, passes it well. By getting healthy and getting rested, I think we’ll get a good player."

Crombeen replaces Reaves, who in only 8 minutes, 1 second gave the Blues plenty of life, energy and tremendous grit. But Hitchcock has a plan in mind.

"We consider [Crombeen]  and [Reaves] to be the same type of player, both high-energy guys," Hitchcock said. "One guy's got a little bit more experience and can play up the lineup a little bit higher if we need it."

Crombeen was scratched for nine of the last 10 regular season games as well as Game 1 on Thursday. He said when you get the chance, players better make it stick.

"I think everyone knows with the depth we have on our team, there's some guys that are sitting out that don't want to be," Crombeen said. "I don't think anyone ever wants to sit out, especially with this team. When you get the chance, you're definitely looking to take advantage of it. I've got to go out and let my play do the talking and make sure that he can't take me out.

"Obviously no one's happy sitting out. Everyone's pissed off, but you can't bring that to the rink. You can't bring that around the guys. You've got to be encouraging the guys and just working your hardest to make sure that you're ready when you do get the chance. ... I'm not going in trying to reinvent the wheel. Just go in and try to play my game and do what I do."

Hitchcock called D'Agostini "the wildcard."

The Blues are still trying to find out just how much D'Agostini can give them. He missed 25 games late in the season with a concussion. He played in a couple games down the stretch.

"I'm just excited to get out there and do my part and try to contribute to what we've got going on here," D'Agostini said. "You're obviously going to be a little upset when you're not playing. You try not to be too much of a downer around the guys. It does take a little bit of a toll on you, but at the same time, we've got one of the deepest teams in the playoffs. You've got to go with the flow when you're not in. Hopefully I just get out there and play my game and stick in the lineup."

"D'Agostini for me is a real wildcard," Hitchcock said. "He's a player that, when healthy, is a very effective player. He's got speed, he's got a great shot and again, he's another player when push comes to shove, can play higher up the lineup, too."





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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:01 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Stewart scratched for Game 2, projected lineups

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks from Scottrade Center.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen - Patrik Berglund - Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Matt D'Agostini

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

The Blues' healthy scratches include forwards Chris Stewart, Jaden Schwartz, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Jason Demers - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

The Sharks' healthy scratches include D Colin White, D Jim Vandermeer, LW Brad Winchester, LW Benn Ferriero and C Michal Handzus.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 1:02 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Uncommon ground for Sharks starting on road

ST. LOUIS -- The San Jose Sharks, who come in as the seventh seed and on uncommon ground in the opening round, will start on the road for the first time in an opening-round playoff series since 2007. They will look to take advantage of a situation by trying to wrestle home-ice advantage away from the St. Louis Blues.

"We haven't had that in the four years that I've been there and certainly longer in the organization," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Opening up on the road is new to us. I think it's something that we need to take advantage of. That may sound strange, but the pressures that go with being a one or two [seed] are different that being a seven and an eight team. We can spin that any way we want. We can say it's coaches playing mind games and all that type of stuff, but it's real. It is what it is.

"As a coach, I feel that playoff intensity but I feel different right now than I have in some of the other series, and that may be a really good thing for our team; it may be a bad thing. That's why we have to play it."

Center Logan Couture agreed.

"It's a different feeling. We're used to starting at home, but it's a different opportunity for us," Couture said. "This is a tough building to come in and win in. We're looking forward to that challenge. ... We want to get off to a good start. You want to get the lead in the first game. We're going to try to get the start going and hopefully get the first goal."

------------

The mental hurdle of going 0-4 against the St. Louis Blues this season is something the Sharks will look to overcome as these playoffs start.

The Blues outscored San Jose 11-3, but the Sharks, with their advantage in experience, hope to overcome the challenges and look to prove they can beat the Blues.

"You remember those games, but you also can't forget about them as well," Couture said. "It's 0-0 right now, it's a brand new season. We know we didn't play our best when we played these guys in the regular season. We've got a chance to prove to ourselves that we can beat them."

So what did the Sharks learn from those games against the Blues?

"We know they check tight, they check smart," winger Ryane Clowe said. "Some teams you feel like you get a little more space, but against them, it's more congested and they're in your face. ... At the start, everyone's hyped up. They're going to come out with a lot of energy."

Added Couture: "They forecheck really hard. They're a fast team, they don't turn pucks over, so we really have to bear down on our chances when we get them because they're so good defensively."

The Sharks skated with an edge this morning in anticipation of the beginning of the playoffs.

"I think there's an energy that comes with playoffs," McLellan said. "It's not just our group; I watched them skate a little bit. They had some energy and some excitement in their game as well. That happens in the first round.

"All that early emotion exists. You'd like to have a controlled emotion. Probably after five-six minutes, everybody settles in and starts playing. But there is an excitement. It's a shortened season now, it's a 28-game year. You know what you're playing for. Everybody's at the starting line. Excitement's spread out amongst the 16 teams."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:52 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues lack Sharks' experience, but ready for postseason

ST. LOUIS -- It will be eight years to the day since the St. Louis Blues franchise last won a playoff game. It came against the same opponent these Blues will face when this Western Conference Quarterfinals series starts Thursday night.

But when the Blues open the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m. EST on CNBC), memories of years past will not be a factor.

Only Barret Jackman remains from the Blues' 2004 team that lost to the Sharks in five games, so that drought is insignificant to the remaining 25 players on this roster.

The Blues, who finished the regular season at 49-22-11, are the Western Conference's No. 2 seed, and San Jose (43-29-10), which has made it to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons, comes in as the No. 7 seed.

The Blues, who won all four meetings with the Sharks this season and outscored them 11-3, will face a team with more than 1,000 games of playoff experience compared to the Blues' 484.

But after three hard days of practices leading into this series opener, it's time to draw the battle lines and drop the puck.

"I think we were excited and focused today, which is a very good sign," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Usually one of the days, you have a really poor outing and we didn't have that, which is a great sign. We wanted the temperature turned up from a compete standpoint and they responded. But I think they're tired of practicing and they want to get playing. Both teams will be more than ready. I think both teams will come at each other like nobody's business."

The Blues will have three skaters (Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves) on the ice in the postseason for the first time; Tommy Wingels will be the lone Shark to make his NHL postseason debut. But for a younger team looking to make its mark and one that wants to prove that the regular season was no fluke, expect the Blues to come out flying.

"This is my first playoff and I'm excited to be a part of it," Shattenkirk said. "I've been getting lots of text messages and calls from around the league from buddies who are out of it but said they're pulling for me and our team. It's a nice position to be in when you're still playing."

Added veteran Andy McDonald: "It's exciting, I think. Just being disappointing the last three or four years, it's been a work in progress, just a lot of ups and downs. We've kind of gotten better together, so that's why I think tomorrow is such an important game, important series, important start to something big. We've gone through it together and now everyone is excited about it."

Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal for the Blues after going 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season. With Brian Elliott missing part of practice Tuesday and Wednesday with an upper-body injury, the decision Hitchcock was anticipated to make became an easy one.

"Whoever got the start, we know is really going to play well," Jackman said. "I don't know if it's going to be a 1-2 rotation or ride the hot hand, but no matter what happens between the pipes, we have confidence in both guys."

And there was no bad choice in the matter, as Halak and Elliott combined to help the team win the Jennings Trophy, given for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL this season. They allowed 155 non-shootout goals in 82 games, which equals 1.89 goals per game.

"They're playing really good hockey right now," Blues winger T.J. Oshie said of the Sharks, who finished the regular season winning seven of nine, including four in a row. "Most of their players have been to the playoffs before more than once and they know how to play this time of the year.

"They're going to try to have the confidence to come in and try to push us out, but with us knowing how to beat them in the regular season, we've just got to apply that and stick to our game. We don't have to do anything spectacular. We've just got to play as a team."

The Blues continue to play with a healthy lineup. They have 26 players on the active roster and have a number of skaters at Hitchcock's disposal to choose from. The 20 guys that will skate in the opener are what Hitchcock calls guys playing "in the now." Those guys "in the now" are players that can elevate this team offensively, which ranked 21st in the NHL during the regular season.

"I really believe this. I really believe that we have another gear offensively," Hitchcock said. "I think we're better offensively than we get credit for."

The Blues appear to be ready. When the puck drops at Scottrade Center, which will be buzzing for playoff hockey, the Blues will buzz right along with it.

"Playoffs is all about passion and emotion for the game and growing up, back home, we played street hockey and we played for the fake Stanley Cup," winger David Perron said. "Now we're playing for the real one. Every single guy, that's why we started to play hockey. It's to play in the NHL and hopefully win the Cup. That's what it's going to be all about."
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:34 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Projected lineups for Sharks, Blues

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks at Scottrade Center.

BLUES

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen - Patrik Berglund - Andy McDonald
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Kent Huskins - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

The Blues are injury-free and their healthy scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Jaden Schwartz, Chris Porter and B.J. Crombeen as well as defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole. Elliott, who has been nursing an upper-body injury the last couple days, was back on the ice Thursday morning after missing a day and a half and has been deemed 100 percent by coach Ken Hitchcock.

SHARKS

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat
Daniel Winnik - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels
TJ Galiardi - Dominic Moore - Torrey Mitchell

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Douglas Murray - Brent Burns
Colin White - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss

The Sharks' healthy scratches include D Jason Demers, D Jim Vandermeer, LW Brad Winchester, RW James Sheppard, LW Benn Ferriero and C Michal Handzus.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Blues name Halak as Game 1 starter

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- There was plenty of drama leading into the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks. Like all postseason series, there's a storyline and angle from each side.

For the Blues, it was which goalie Ken Hitchcock would go with to open the playoffs.

But after it was disclosed Tuesday that Brian Elliott has been nursing an upper-body injury, Hitchcock's choice as a Game 1 starter against the Sharks on Thursday became a no-brainer.

Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday that Jaroslav Halak would start the opener and the hope was Elliott would be available as the backup.

Halak was 26-12-7 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season.

Elliott, who led the NHL in GAA (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season, suffered his injury on April 5 against Detroit, an injury Hitchcock said is very minor. There was a play early in the first period in which Elliott made a save on Pavel Datsyuk and in the process, teammate T.J. Oshie back-checking skid into the scrum and helped knock Elliott back into the goalpost.

Elliott was kept off the ice for practice Wednesday and is expected to back up Thursday night.

"Obviously Halak's starting," Hitchcock joked. "That one's done.

"It made the decision yesterday pretty easy. We'll start with Jaro and like everything else, hope for the best."

The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen from Peoria on Tuesday in hopes of just using him during practice sessions in the coming days until Elliott is fully recovered. The choice between Halak and Elliott was in a dead heat until Tuesday.

"Yeah, it was a big decision before Elliott got hurt. But we're pretty hopeful that he's going to be able to back up tomorrow and get himself ready, but we're not 100 percent," Hitchcock said.

Halak, who went on that magical run with the Montreal Canadiens in 2010 in which he helped knock out Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington and Alex Ovechkin, then backed it up by eliminating Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, will get his first crack at the postseason since that run. He was 9-9 with a 2.55 GAA and .923 save percentage in that playoff season.

"I think it's going to be a good battle. I'm excited," Halak said. "We'll see how it goes. One game at a time. Tomorrow is Game 1 and we need to focus on that one.

"That [playoff run in 2010 is] in the past. Right now is the present. I just need to play simple, play my game and we'll see how it goes. I know in the playoffs, it's a little different game that the regular season, but you still have to do the same job, stop the puck and help the guys. ... Just play and have fun. Don't put any extra pressure on yourself."

Halak, who was 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .956 save percentage against the Sharks this season, was mentally prepared no matter who Hitchcock was going with.

"No matter whoever [started], we need to play as a team and we need to play for 60 minutes or 60-plus or whatever it takes to win the game," Halak said. "I don't think it matters whoever is the guy. I think both of the goalies needed to prepare the same way, no matter if you play or not. It's still the same approach."

But going against the big-bodied Sharks, Halak is ready to go to battle.

"Playoffs is a different thing than the regular season," Halak said. "I never played them in the playoffs, but we know their team, we know their personality. I know they will probably shoot he puck and [try to] create some rebounds and always put somebody in front of me or Ells. We'll see what happens. One game at a time. We'll see what it brings tomorrow."


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He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers