ST. LOUIS - For guys like Blues captain David Backes, getting to the Western Conference Final has been worth the wait.
But it’s certainly been a long one.
The Blues captain has been in the League for 10 years, but this will be his first trip to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and neither he, nor his teammates, are taking it for granted.
“You know how much work it takes to get here,” Backes said. “We’ve had to sacrifice and do a lot of things to get here and now we’ve gotten a little taste and it’s just made us hungrier to have this opportunity as one of the last four teams. One of these last four teams (remaining) is going to win the Cup, and we’re thinking in this room, ‘why not us?’
“We’re going to put the work in to do everything we can to take care of what we can control.”
If the Blues can win this conference final, they’ll play for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1970. But before they can, they’ll have to dispatch a very good San Jose Sharks club that has already eliminated the Los Angeles Kings (five games) and the Nashville Predators (seven games). The Sharks are trying to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
It all starts with tonight’s Game 1 at Scottrade Center (7 p.m., NBCSN, Y98 FM).
“We know how intense this game is going to be tonight - a physical opponent and a team that’s going to force us to grind it out this whole series,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “The key is to establish our game, see how they react to it and what adjusts they make. We don’t want to go out there and wait and see what they’re going to bring. That’s one of the mistakes we made in the Dallas series and one of the things we’ve hopefully learned from.”
The Sharks won two of three games against the Blues in the regular season, although the Blues won the most recent game 1-0 at SAP Center. This will be the fifth meeting between the clubs in the postseason - the teams are 2-2 against each other, with the Blues winning the most recent meeting in 2012 in five games.
The Sharks are led in postseason scoring by Logan Couture, who has seven goals and 10 assists in 12 playoff games. Defenseman Brent Burns ranks second (15 points), while Joel Pavelski (13) and Joe Thornton (11) are third and fourth, respectively.
“They obviously took a very good Nashville team to seven games and had their best game of the series, if not the playoffs, in their Game 7 - similar to us in the second round,” Backes said. “This seems to be another one of those matchups where it could go either way, could be a lot of one-goal games and may take seven games again… We’ll keep playing until someone tells us we’re done or we get a new opponent.”
For the Blues and their fans, hopefully it’s the latter.
Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock reunited the STL Line in Saturday’s practice after changing it up a bit in the last series against the Dallas Stars.
“We just feel like from a chemistry standpoint, (Jori) Lehtera and (Vladimir) Tarasenko and (Jaden) Schwartz have had good chemistry,” Hitchcock said. “Because of the way Dallas’ lines were formulated, we needed a different mix in our first two lines and we found it. But I think going back, this line combination makes us more comfortable.”
Here is tonight’s projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
The Blues won back-to-back Game 7s for the first time since the 1968 quarterfinals and semifinals. They also have picked up five road wins, the most in a single playoff year in franchise history.
Patrik Berglund leads all current Blues with seven points (three goals, four assists) in five career playoff games against San Jose. Troy Brouwer has set a single-season career high in playoff goals, assists and points.
The Playoff Plaza Party begins today at 3:30 p.m. with live music from Vote for Pedro beginning at 4:30 p.m. Louie and Blue Crew will also appear at the rally, giving fans an opportunity to win great prizes. Food and drink will also be available to purchase.
The Annie Malone May Day Parade downtown could cause some traffic congestion if you’re coming to Scottrade Center. Fans are encouraged to head downtown early to beat the traffic. Click here for specific road closure details.