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Round 2
Round 3
Stanley Cup Final
POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:24 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Shutout earns Elliott second straight start

ST. LOUIS -- The philosophy for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is simple: earn a shutout one game, start the next.

So there's no debating who's in goal when the Blues host the Detroit Red Wings tonight: Brian Elliott.

After a 19-save performance, including some acrobatic ones in the waning seconds of Saturday's 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Elliott earns another game in a big Central Division showdown instead of No. 1 Jaroslav Halak, who's also played solid.

"For me, a shutout ... you've got to reward. That's just the way I feel," Hitchcock said. "I think for us, the goaltending is also a product that we're not giving up odd-man rushes, we're not giving up easy scoring opportunities, we're not giving up breakaways. If you play in the zone, I think both guys are good. But no goalie looks good when you're giving up a ton of odd-man rushes. We've got to eliminate them and if we do that, then we give ourselves a chance every night."

Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second in save percentage (.946) behind Minnesota's Josh Harding (.948), is 6-1 on the season and gives the Blues (8-7-1) a nice 1-2 punch these days.

"We kind of push each other in practice," Elliott said of himself and Halak. "I try to stop every puck that comes my way. Having two guys is great for the team."

Halak is only 2-6-1 on the season and his current numbers (2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage) don't crack the League leaders. But considering he once sported a season-low 3.53 GAA and .835 save percentage, the players are noticing the confidence both netminders have.

"Let's talk about our goalies. A 1-2 punch ... they've been playing great," winger Alex Steen said. "The way our goalies have been playing the last little while has just calmed everything down in the D-zone. I think we've played some pretty good hockey."

Added Hitchcock, "It looks like we've got two guys that can play. It's a good feeling."

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In an effort to get their second line going a bit, Hitchcock won't move anyone onto it, just switch a couple wingers.

Patrik Berglund will stay in the middle, but the Blues will move Chris Stewart to the left side and Matt D'Agostini to the right against Detroit.

The move is in hopes of getting the line scoring on a consistent basis, despite the trio getting scoring chances.

"We practiced with it two days ago and really liked it," Hitchcock said. "For whatever reason in the game against Tampa, Dags ended up on the right side a lot. He showed great speed and the ability to bring the puck to the net.

"For me, it doesn't matter whether Stewy plays right or not. When you've got a quick stick like he does, which you need to play on the off-wing, he's effective either way. For me, it's more for Dags."

The two players have no preference on moving.

"It's no different," said Stewart, who played left wing in Colorado. "It's a little easier to attack when you're on your off-wing there as opposed to cutting to your back end there. It's a little easier to protect the puck. It shouldn't be any difference.

"We're playing with poise, getting opportunities off the rush too. That's always a good thing. It's just a matter of time before we start capitalizing."

D'Agostini and Stewart would up playing opposite sides in Saturday's 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.

"It's not that much of a change," D'Agostini said. "We're reading off of each other during the game. ... I've moved from left to right, right to left before during the season, so it's not a big change.

"We've played well the last couple games. We've been playing in the offensive zone most of the time, but we just haven't been able to bang that many in yet. The law of averages, they'll go in sooner or later."

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The Blues will insert winger Chris Porter into the lineup tonight in place of enforcer Ryan Reaves. It will be Porter's first game under Hitchcock and first since Oct. 30 at Edmonton.

"I've watched him in practice. He's got great speed. He gets after it," Hitchcock said of Porter. "We're looking at this being a really quick game. Detroit just drops the puck and plays. There's no stuff after the whistle. They play as hard whistle to whistle as anybody in the National Hockey League.

"We just feel like we're going to need to play with tempo tonight to match theirs and we think Porter has a chance here. But this is, for me, a look. I don't really know much about him as a player. I'd like to look at him because he's looked very good the past two practices. He's looked like he's dug in and bit and wants to play some hockey. So I want to give him that opportunity to see what he does."

Porter's been a healthy scratch the last five games and has no points in seven games played.

"I've been working hard," Porter said. "When your name's called, you have to go out and perform. That's what I plan on doing tonight. ... My game is based around speed and physicality. Hopefully, I can bring that tonight. Obviously Detroit carries the puck. They don't like to dump the puck too much. I'll have to be good defensively. Hopefully, we can minimize their chances offensively and play in their zone all night."

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Upon further review, Blues defenseman Kent Huskins does in fact have a fracture in the left ankle that he injured in a game Oct. 28 in Calgary, and will be out the next eight weeks.

Huskins, who was initially diagnosed with the fracture by doctors in Calgary, then was looked at by doctors here who determined it was a deep bone bruise. Huskins skated Monday and had no problems with straight line skating. But when came down to turns, there were problems.

Blues trainers immediately sent Huskins to the hospital, where X-rays determined a fracture. Huskins will have a screw inserted Wednesday.

"They skated him hard yesterday in straight lines ... no issue," Hitchcock said of Huskins. "Then they started to do turns with him and there were issues. They did another test on him, and they found the fracture. They never found it skating the first time. They never found it skating ahead the second time, but on the turn part of the practice, it started giving him pain."

It means Ian Cole, recalled from the American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria, will be here for the near future.

"This obviously gives a guy like Cole a long-term opportunity here," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully, Ian takes advantage of it. We've got our seven (defensemen) here and this is what we're going to be going with."
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 11.15.2011 / 2:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Past relationship for Babcock, Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS -- New Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his Red Wings counterpart, Mike Babcock, are friends -- good friends, as a matter of fact.

The two go back a long way with Team Canada. Babcock was the head coach and Hitchcock was an assistant for Canada's gold medal winning squad at the Winter Olympics of 2010.

The two have also coached against one another plenty in the Western Conference, with Hitchcock having stints in Dallas and Columbus.

"I worked with Hitch at the Olympics," Babcock said. "I got to know him good then. When he was let go in Columbus, he's a hockey junkie and so I talked to him a lot. When you talk to a guy a lot, he ends up knowing how you're thinking and how your team's playing. He's a smart hockey guy and he's going to do a good job here. They've got themselves a real good coach."

There was some discussion this past summer about Hitchcock joining Babcock's staff in Detroit as an assistant but that never materialized.

"We talked about it, but I think both of us felt that I still wanted to be a head guy," Hitchcock said. "I think he wanted to get young energy in there. I was probably too old for his staff. We talked about it, though.

"We're good friends. We went through the toughest experience you can go through in life, and that is to represent your country. We came out OK. We did it together. There was a good feeling amongst the staff and especially with Mike and I because we had a major responsibility game planning, scheming and stuff like that."

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The Red Wings will be without Ian White indefinitely after the defenseman suffered a broken cheekbone during Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas, the Wings' fourth straight win.

It means Mike Commodore, who's only played two games because of a knee sprain, will be slotted into the lineup and play on the third pairing with Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson moves to the top pairing with Nicklas Lidstrom.

"I'm thinking he'd be a good matchup guy," Babcock said of Ericsson. "Move the puck six feet at a time, and do what you do well: be physical, play hard."

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In talking to Babcock in previous years, he's always been a big fan of the Blues.

"I just think they've been a good team here for a long time," Babcock said. "Probably a playoff team, but they've run into some injuries. It hasn't gone as good as they wanted.

"I thought Andy Murray did a good job with them, I thought Davis Payne did a good job and now 'Hitch' has got a more finished product here. It looks like they're deep in all positions. They're playing hard and they're playing what I think is right and well."
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POSTED ON Saturday, 11.12.2011 / 2:31 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues downplay facing Tampa Bay's 1-3-1

ST. LOUIS – Philadelphia’s response to Tampa Bay’s defensive formation created plenty of reaction around the NHL, and now it's up to the St. Louis Blues to dissect the Lightning's 1-3-1.

The Blues and Lightning will play here Saturday night, and the game also marks the return of former Blues captain Eric Brewer.

According to the Blues, there's no big storylines when it comes to their matchup.

"I think you make too much of that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They play with structures, so how do you counteract the structures? It's like any team. If you allow a team to set up in their structure, they're going to beat you. It doesn't matter if it's 1-3-1, 1-2-2, 2-1-2 ... doesn't matter, they're going to beat you. So you have to attack the structure before they set up.

"It's like any fore-checking system. It's the same thing as an offensive zone fore-check system. You've got to find a way to get by it before it sets its course. So for us, it's about not allowing them to control the tempo of the game. I think the other thing is it's easy to set up in a defensive structure when you've got the lead all the time. So for us, it's get the lead and force the other team to have to open things up a little bit more."

Blues players saw portions of the game or on highlights from Wednesday night and don't think it's that big of a deal.

"It was just a matter of Philly being stubborn," wing Matt D'Agostini said. "I think they were just trying to fluster Tampa, try to get them to come after them a little more than they obviously do. … They play with a D-man back there, so as long as we get good dumps, we can go in and hit their D and like last night, play in their end as much as we can."
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POSTED ON Saturday, 11.12.2011 / 2:29 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Ex-captain Brewer returns to St. Louis for first time

Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer will make his first trip back to St. Louis since the trade last season that sent the veteran to Tampa Bay for a third-round pick and prospect Brock Beukeboom.

Brewer spent nearly six seasons in St. Louis, but was dealt in February and helped the Lightning reach the Eastern Conference Final last season.

"It worked out pretty well," Brewer said. "It could have worked out better, but I can't complain. ... It's been good. They have a very good hockey program. It was something that wasn't tough to say no to. I've liked it."

Brewer, who was the Blues' captain, enjoyed his time in St. Louis.

"It was good," Brewer said. "I really enjoyed it here. It's comfortable here. I can walk here and know people. I was treated very well. It was nice to see some of the guys that were real good to me."

Brewer also talked about the firing of former coach Davis Payne, who he played for here.

"I'm surprised, yeah," Brewer said. "He was very good when I was there. ... He's going to do well. He's a good coach."
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POSTED ON Saturday, 11.12.2011 / 2:27 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Russell set for St. Louis debut

Newly acquired defenseman Kris Russell was on the ice Saturday morning and will make his Blues debut tonight.

Russell, acquired from Columbus on Friday for defenseman Nikita Nikitin, will wear No. 4 tonight -- ironically Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer's number  when he was the captain in St. Louis -- and will be paired with Roman Polak.

"I heard rumors that I was coming to St. Louis," Russell said. "It was a stressful night for me (Thursday) wondering what was happening."

Russell, who has two goals and an assist in 12 games with the Jackets this season, will be reunited with Ken Hitchcock, who coached Russell in Columbus.

"He's actually the only guy I know here. I don't know one guy here," Russell joked. "... You just be yourself. There are a lot of good players in this league. (Jackets) assistant coach Danny Hinote had great things to say about St. Louis. I trained with Chris Mason and he's been here. He had nothing but the best to say about the city and franchise. I'm excited. It's a getting-to-know period.

"(Hitchcock is) a guy that gave me the opportunity to play. I was really fortunate for that. I think he really helped me with my defensive side of the game. Coming out of juniors, I was strictly offense, always up ice and a little lackluster in my own end. But Hitch said you have to be a good two-way player. I feel like I've come a long way."

The Blues will sit Ian Cole, who's played well in his two games since his recall. Hitchcock said it's nothing personal.

"Whether this was Kris Russell or Billy Smith, it wouldn't have mattered," Hitchcock said. "To me, I just know what it is to be a new player. You want to make him a part of it. ... The one thing that Kris Russell brings to us is transition on that left side. I think that we have the transition on the right side. If we can help ourselves on the left side and be better, that's really going to help us.

"That's not to say Ian Cole becomes a seventh guy either. That's not it for sure. To me, it's all about winning the next hockey game and whoever gives you the best chance goes. ... I want to make Kris a part of it. Whoever's the seventh, probably will be sitting out, and to me, that depends strictly on performance."
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POSTED ON Saturday, 11.12.2011 / 2:25 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Hitchcock shakes up Blues lineup

The Blues will make a switch with their forward lines, moving Alex Steen up to the top line and dropping Vladimir Sobotka down to the third line.

It's a move coach Ken Hitchcock says is more about execution and not a promotion/demotion.

"That's a coach's swap because I have this phobia about three lines making one line for power play and two lines making one PK pair," Hitchcock said. "It's not based on, 'Oh, this guy's going to help there.' They're both going to help either line, but it's more just continuity. It ends up for me when you're coming out of special teams, it ends up in massive confusion because you're using three lines on two sets of power play, using two and sometimes three lines on PK and then you're coming out trying to put a line together where all three guys don't even play together. This is about continuity that I want to see."

Hitchcock got Sobotka out on a line with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner in Thursday's 3-2 shoot out loss against Toronto and liked it.

"They were really good and created the pressure," Hitchcock said.

Here is what the Blues' lineup tonight should be against the Lightning:

Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny Grachev - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

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

Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Hitchcock has an interesting take on getting Elliott in goal tonight. Elliott is 5-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

"As Chief Taylor (Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero) once said, 'After Bernie (Parent) played 60 in a row, it's his turn,'" said Hitchcock, referring to Parent's 37 consecutive starts as he got a rousing laugh from the media gathering. "It's (Elliott's) turn. ... I gotta tell you, I haven't seen Brian play this year. I want to make him part of the team.

"He's part of the team. He's played well."

The Blues are without defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and forwards David Perron (post-concussion syndrome), Andy McDonald (concussion) and B.J. Crombeen (shoulder). Along with Cole, winger Chris Porter is a healthy scratch.

Here’s the projected lineup for the Lightning as well:

Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Martin St. Louis - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Nate Thompson - Dominic Moore - Tom Pyatt
Ryan Shannon - Blair Jones - Adam Hall

Eric Brewer - Matt Gilroy
Marc-Andre Bergeron - Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark - Bruno Gervais

Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal; Dwayne Roloson is the backup.

The Lightning will be without Mattias Ohlund (knee, is on injured reserve), Victor Hedman (upper-body, is day-to-day) and Ryan Malone (upper-body, is also day-to-day). Hedman was on the ice for the skate this morning but now a likely target for a return is Monday.
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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 2:12 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Berglund, Stewart find new role on penalty-kill

ST. LOUIS -- If the sellout crowd Tuesday night didn't notice who was killing penalties against the Blackhawks, that's understandable.

It's not often Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart are playing against the man advantage. As a matter of fact, they never play there at all. They are typically playing on the Blues' power play. But new coach Ken Hitchcock has changed that as well. Only he hadn't realized the two members of the Blues' second line never played in those situations before.

"I didn't know that they weren't on the PK," Hitchcock said. "They just looked like they could check so out they went.

"I just felt like that anybody that's got a good stick and anybody that's got a smart stick needs to kill penalties. I trusted Stewy before. He was a good player. I had him for a month (for Team Canada at the World Championship this summer), but he was a darn good player for me. He's got a really good stick, Berglund's got a great stick. For me, you've got to have those guys kill penalties."

Why?

"To me, good players have to play 20-plus (minutes)," Hitchcock said. "Your top forwards have got to play 20-plus because you've got all these stoppages and time outs. You've got three or four periods where you've got 90 seconds. There's all kinds of time to rest. I don't know why these guys can't play those types of minutes.

"When you play top players in critical situations, there's ownership that takes over. They know that they can't get scored on, they know that the coach trusts them and plus, there's only one way to kill penalties: You have to stop and you have to start. There's no easy ice. You've got to make sacrifices, you've got to block shots, you've got to get pucks out, playing against other teams' best players, you've got to compete like hell ... it forces you to compete.

"You have no choice, because everybody's counting on you. I've always done that. I've always played top players killing penalties. I haven't worried about a shot off an ankle or whatever. That's the chance you take. (Mike) Modano killed penalties, (Rick) Nash was an unbelievable penalty killer. I just feel like the top players have to be out there in every situation. Nothing more unnerves a power play when the top players are going out there because they're one bobbled puck away from giving up a 2-on-1 or a goal against. They anticipate the play."

Both players have taken the added responsibility accordingly.

"It's a really tough mission to go out there and kill penalties, a big responsibility," Berglund said. "You've really got to work hard for your teammates. I just tried to stay aggressive and move my feet."

Added Stewart, "A game like yesterday, if you weren't on the PK, you were going to be sitting on the bench a long time. It shows that (Hitchcock) trusts me to put me in a situation like that, so it's obviously a big confidence booster.

"I'll invite all the ice time I can get. I want to be a guy who can play in those key situations."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 2:10 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Stewart gets 'three gorillas' off back with PP goal

ST. LOUIS -- After scoring a power-play goal Tuesday night, Blues forward Chris Stewart said it felt like getting "three gorillas" off his back, since he hadn't scored the previous 10 games.

New coach Ken Hitchcock's take on Stewart:

"We need Stewy to use his skills in confrontational areas," he said. "For me, running around and banging bodies is not what I want. Winning races to pucks, winning loose puck batttles, second and third whacks in front of the net, traffic at the front of the net ... that's his game. That's where he needs to play because there aren't many players in the league that have that size and those hands."

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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 2:06 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wilson preaches Leafs must keep shooting puck

ST. LOUIS -- The Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season, jumping out to an impressive 9-5-1 start.

But the Leafs, who are without starting goalie James Reimer (head injury), have dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season to Boston and Florida, getting outscored 12-1.

However, Wilson said that the Leafs just need to keep shooting the puck and eventually they'll start to go in.

"Just keep shooting the puck," Wilson said. "It's carpet bombing. Eventually, one of your bombs is going to land where it's supposed to.

"The simple philosophy is Phil Kessel: get as many shots as I can; the more shots increases the more opportunities to score. What we've got to do a better job of is stopping in front of the other team's net and be willing to get our noses bloodied in order to score a goal."

Hitchcock's not buying into the downfall talk regarding the Leafs.

"I've watched that team play," he said. "I've watched that team play twice and they're dynamic. They're on the wrong side of things now but only for two games. They only need a crack about this big and then they score. They're the top rush attack team in the league. They've got speed and skill on those first two lines ... it's pretty scary. You're going to have to really play smart against them."

The Leafs will come to town with Kessel, who leads the NHL in goals (11) and points (22).

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POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 2:04 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Blues, Maple Leafs

Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game at the Scottrade Center between the St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs:

BLUES
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Matt D'Agostini - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny Grachev - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start for the third straight time; Brian Elliott is the backup.

No changes from Tuesday's win over Chicago, as Nichol, who left early in the first period Tuesday with an upper-body injury, skated Thursday morning and deemed himself fit to play.

The Blues' healthy scratches include winger Chris Porter and defenseman Nikita Nikitin. Defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) will miss his fifth consecutive game. Wingers Andy McDonald (concussion), David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) and B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) remain on injured reserve.

Defenseman Taylor Chorney was placed on waivers Wednesday and to nobody's surprise, he was reclaimed by the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers originally placed Chorney on waivers and the Blues claimed him on Oct. 11. Chorney played in two games with the Blues, recording no points.

MAPLE LEAFS

Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Matthew Lombardi - David Steckel - Matt Frattin
Joey Crabb - Philippe Dupuis - Mike Brown

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn

Ben Scrivens gets the start in goal; Jonas Gustavsson will be the backup.

Since James Reimer (concussion-like symptoms) has been out of the Toronto lineup, the Leafs have been trying to figure out who will grab the bull by the horns and run with the goalie situation.

Scrivens, recalled on Oct. 27 from the Toronto Marlies, made his NHL debut Nov. 3 in Columbus, stopping 38 shots in a 4-1 win.

"He played really well in Columbus," coach Ron Wilson said. "We believe in both our goalies. Every once in a while, you're going to struggle. Sometimes a goal scorer doesn't score. ... The goalie's responsibility is to work hard in practice and come prepared to play, so tonight, I've decided to go with Ben."

Defenseman Cody Franson is a healthy scratch. The Leafs are without winger Colby Armstrong (ankle), center Tim Connolly (upper-body) and Reimer, all on injured reserve.

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It's hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they've played -- clearly, that was our best game we've played in the series -- and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.

— Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on his team's 3-2 loss to the Canadiens in Game 3 on Sunday