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Blues' four-point plan to fight back against Kings

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent

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Blues' four-point plan to fight back against Kings
Blues must follow a four-point plan to engineer a miracle.

After falling in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, the St. Louis Blues are in a deep hole trying to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.

Only three times in NHL history have teams overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Philadelphia Flyers were the most recent to do so, beating the Boston Bruins in 2010 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The others were the 1975 New York Islanders, who beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference quarterfinals and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who downed the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blues are in this predicament for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it has to do with the eighth-seeded Kings -- the confidence with which they're playing as well as the system they've implemented. But the Blues have self-destructed and lost out in many of the areas in which they found success during the regular season and even in their five-game series win against San Jose in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

 

The odds are certainly not in the Blues' favor to become the next team to overcome an 0-3 hole, but for a team that finished tied for No. 2 in the NHL in points with the New York Rangers (109 points) and second behind the Vancouver Canucks, there are signs that it is at least possible under the right circumstances.

Here are some points of emphasis the Blues must turn their attention to for Game 4 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS) if they want to prolong the series:

Top-six forward production -- This is one that sticks out more than anything in the series thus far, as the Kings' top six forwards (Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner) have clearly outplayed the Blues' top six gunners of David Backes, Andy McDonald, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Patrik Berglund.

Through three games, the Kings' top six have eight goals and 22 points, and are a collective plus-22. On the flip side, the Blues' top-six forwards have combined for seven points and just two goals. They are a minus-12, with Steen, Berglund and Oshie each without a point. These are players that dominated in the series against the Sharks, but have been lacking in productivity against the Kings for the most part.

It's certainly affected their power play, which is 0-for-14 in this series after going 6-for-18 against San Jose. The Kings have had a decided edge in this area.

Make it a 5-on-5 game -- Brown has clearly gotten into the Blues' heads, as was evidenced in Game 3. The Kings' captain was able to induce three retaliatory penalties from the Blues, who seem flustered by Brown's ability to impose his will across the ice with his aggressive play and hard forechecking style.

BLUES VS. KINGS

Penner goes from pancakes to heroics

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent
Dustin Penner's regular season was a bit of a dud, marked more by his injury suffered eating pancakes than his on-ice production, but he's been coming through in the playoffs for the Kings. READ MORE ›

The Blues have to play disciplined and not take unnecessary penalties to make it a 5-on-5 game. When they take penalties, it's seemed to disrupt their rhythm. What's most shocking is that a large majority of the penalties have come from the Blues veteran core. And even though their penalty kill has been terrific in the series, allowing just one power-play goal in 16 chances, it is not the style of hockey the Blues want to play. A 5-on-5 game suits the Blues purpose best. They allowed the fewest 5-on-5 goals (102) in the League. Coincidentally, L.A. was No. 2 with 121 goals-against in 5-on-5 play.

Get goalie Brian Elliott right -- Elliott, who led the NHL during the regular season with a 1.56 goals-against average and .940 save percentage, became the No. 1 guy when Jaroslav Halak went down with a lower-body injury in Game 2, and it's become clear as the series has moved along that Elliott's confidence, for the first time this season, is fragile.

He's 0-3 with a 3.75 GAA and .845 save percentage in the series. Elliott's been one of the feel-good stories of the season and could easily be the comeback player of the year, but he needs to somehow regain his confidence quickly after allowing a number of leaky and back-breaking goals Thursday night. The Blues are not going to turn to Jake Allen, who made a cameo appearance in Game 2. This is Elliott's show for the duration of this series.

It's also clear that the Blues' defensive unit, which was tops on the NHL during the regular season along with their Jennings Trophy-winning goaltending tandem, needs to redefine itself after some discouraging breakdowns throughout the series. When top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was injured in Game 2, it shocked this Blues' squad and the rest of the unit has been unable to respond.

Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk, a steady pairing all season long, are a combined minus-8 in the series: Carlo Colaiacovo has at times been flustered and out of position playing without his partner and best friend Pietrangelo during the series. The most consistent pair has been Kris Russell and Roman Polak, but the Blues need to get back to that smothering style in their end along with getting quick transition pucks out of their zone.

The Kings' forwards are getting pucks behind the Blues' d-men, utilizing their speed and forcing the Blues into uncharacteristic turnovers because they have had trouble adjusting to the Kings' speed.

Establish a consistent forecheck -- A staple in the Blues' game under coach Ken Hitchcock has been their ability to play a north-south game and establish a heavy forecheck in the offensive zone. The Blues pride themselves on getting pucks behind the opposition and using their speed to gain possession of pucks. They've made it too easy on Kings defensemen to get to those pucks, turn and get the puck right back out of the zone and into transition going the other way.

The Blues have played too much of an east-west game, and that plays right into the Kings hands with their big, strong-checking forwards.

If the Blues can succeed in some of these areas, maybe they can prolong the series and, at least, according to Hitchcock, get the series back to St. Louis and back to their fans.

Quote of the Day

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