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Blues, Kings fighting for every inch

by Louie Korac

LOS ANGELES -- One thing that's been determined in this Western Conference Quarterfinals series between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings: the real estate is limited.

With a grand total of seven goals scored in the first three games of the series, Monday night's Game 4 shouldn't see goals scored in droves.

The Kings have certainly done their job by limiting the Blues to four goals in the series, but the Blues' stinginess goes back to when the team went on this current 14-4-0 run. In 18 games, the Blues have allowed 25 goals, or an average of 1.39 goals per game. Take away two of those games in which they've allowed nine goals, the Blues are allowing 16 goals in 16 games, or one per contest. That one goal per game falls right in line with the three goals the Blues have surrendered in this series as well, but only lead it 2-1.

Goaltending [mainly Brian Elliott] will get most of the pub; the defensive side will also get noticed, especially since the additions of Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester, but the Blues rely on all three aspects of their defensive strategy: goaltending, shutdown defensemen and forwards buying into the defensive mentality.

"Even when you're in the offensive zone, you're setting yourself up to play defense," veteran Blues forward Andy McDonald said. "You're making sure you have a high guy, a third guy high to prevent an odd-man rush. When they get control of the puck, you're positioning yourself to play defense. Playing defense is completely a five-man unit and obviously the goaltender. ... You have to be a part of that. Even if you're an offensive player and score goals, you certainly have to buy in and be a part of the program and focus on the defense first and realize that this is the formula that they've set up for us to follow."

From a Blues defenseman's standpoint, they certainly appreciate the support.

"It's started from the offensive zone," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We've done a great job of back-checking by our forwards, not really allowing them to sort of get any sort of transition rushes and when the puck does get in our zone, as defensemen we're doing a tremendous job of first touches, making quick plays, not allowing them to check us and force turnovers. That's allowed us to get right back on offense quickly."

However, in this Blues-Kings series, good luck trying to find the necessary real estate to make plays.

"Both teams compete on the puck and for the puck so hard," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's why there's no room out there. They compete on the puck offensively, they compete on the puck defensively. There's just no room. ... There's no room out there because, not that both teams aren't committed to defense, both teams are committed to hard play. When your teams are built that way, this is ice by the inch and you're going to have to find a way to fight through it because if you're looking for space in a series like this, you aren't going to find it."

The Blues will enter Game 4 with one lineup change, as rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, a healthy scratch for the first three games, draws into the lineup and will replace Adam Cracknell.

"I think he saw the level of intensity, he understands it and he's been a good player," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko, who played 38 regular season games. "Until the [concussion], he'd a very good player. He came back from the injury a little tentative from the injury and I think when you have a player that contributes like he does and is strong on the puck and determined as he is and as big as he is, he's an asset that we can use. So for me, get up to the competitive level.

"I had a talk with him [Sunday], he's excited to play. I think he deserves to play based on his regular season. He can play left or right, and he certainly gives us some options moving forward if the game gets as close as it does."

Here is the Blues’ projected lineup for Game 4:

Jaden Schwartz - David Backes - Alexander Steen

Andy McDonald - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart

David Perron - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Tarasenko - Chris Porter - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Jordan Leopold - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Adam Cracknell, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen, Dmitrij Jaskin

Injured: Jamie Langenbrunner (hip, IR)

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