ST. PAUL - If the Blues are to come back to St. Louis tied or leading their best-of-7 series with the Wild, it will be in large part because they carried their regular season road success into the postseason.
The Blues earned at least one point in eight of their final nine regular season road games (6-1-2) and finished with the NHL’s third-best road record overall, going 24-12-5.
“We’ve been a good road team,” Hitchcock said. “Sometimes it’s because you’re a little bit nervous or you don’t want to get beat, and so you have a real edge to your game and your focus. And I think we’ve played good on the road because our focus has been narrow and simple, and when we play a simple game, it’s effective.”
The Blues hope to carry that simple, focused game into tonight’s Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (FSMW, CNBC, KMOX).
“We have a lot of success playing a simple game on the road, playing a north game, keeping things out of our end,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “We’ve got to play the same way on the road as we play at home. You’re not going to get the match-ups you want, but we’re built on depth, so we’re not too worried about that.”
The Wild won 22 games at home during the regular season, which ranked 19th in the League. In their last 10 games at Xcel Energy Center, they were 4-5-1. But in the playoffs last season, the Wild went 5-1, so the Blues know they’ll have to earn their wins in this building.
“We’ve got to go there and play really well,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to play within our structure, because we’re going to have to win a game to take it back to get home ice back again, and so I think when we keep our focus narrow, we’re very, very, good.”
Through two games, Blues captain David Backes said he can feel the animosity between the teams ramping up.
“It’s been there since the realignment with the Central Division,” Backes said. “You see those guys four or five times a year, (in) preseason we see them twice a year now, and now we’re getting a little postseason action. There’s plenty of familiarity and things boiling…It’s a heck of a series so far. They’ve been pretty tight games, pretty entertaining games. It’s going to be another one tonight.”
ON THE DOT
Blues forward Jori Lehtera has won 20 of 26 faceoffs in this series, which leads all NHL players in the postseason at 77 percent.
In fact, as a team, the Blues lead the League with a 57.9 percent success rate in the circle.
“I’d like to join that party a little bit. It’s been a great team effort all the way around,” said Backes. “Starting with the puck always helps, you don’t have to chase it down. Either way, it’s one battle to start the play and then after that, the next battle is just as important as that one was.”
Added Hitchcock: “(Faceoffs) are going to be really important moving forward, especially in this building. We haven’t had great faceoff success in this building. They’re a more determined group there. But it’s helped us maintain possession of the puck and keeping it away from the top two lines on their team. That’s important.”
Based on the morning skate, no line changes for Game 3. There are subject to change, of course.
Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Alexander Steen - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrengalo
Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
The Blues will be hosting watch parties throughout the St. Louis area for all road playoff games this season. Fans are encouraged to enjoy the games at Buffalo Wild Wings, HotShots, Ballpark Village or Llewelyn’s Pub. For featured locations for each road playoff game, visit stlouisblues.com.
Vladimir Tarasenko posted his first career playoff hat trick in Game 2, becoming the first Blue to accomplish the feat since Mike Sillinger on April 12, 2004 vs. San Jose. Tarasenko is the 13th Blue in team history to record a playoff hat trick.
Alexander Steen has points in four consecutive playoff games dating back to Game 5 against Chicago last season (one goal, four assists).