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Blues' Tarasenko not fazed by individual success

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- When St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko speaks with the media, nothing but a sincere attitude emerges.

Tarasenko isn't interested in basking in the fantastic, take-your-breath-away goals he scores, like the one Wednesday in the Blues' 6-1 win against the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round that tied the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Instead Tarasenko chooses his words carefully. They come from his mind and heart, and normally involve talking about his teammates and the Blues' attitude and goals.

With Tarasenko, it's all about winning games.

So when the sports networks and websites are filled with Tarasenko highlight-reel goals, including his second of the game Wednesday that gave the Blues a 5-1 lead, Tarasenko doesn't glow from ear to ear.

"It's only [one] goal ... just happy it worked," Tarasenko said.

Only one goal.

Easy for him to say.

But the goal Wednesday was reminiscent of the one he scored against the New York Rangers in a game at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4. Similar style, similar path. Split the defense, froze the goalie, curled the puck around him and slid in a backhand.

"You just shake your head at it," Blues captain David Backes said. "I can't do that in a video game when it's slowed down for me. You love having those kind of guys on your team. He came through offensively for us."

Said St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "Deja vu. It's pretty sick. The fact that he has the poise to do that under that kind of pressure is unbelievable.

"He's a guy that when he steps up like that in big moments, you see what he can do and I think that's only going to breed more confidence for him going forward."

Tarasenko is a game-changer, one the Blues haven't had since Brett Hull was piling up goals.

"He’s the most dynamic offensive player I've ever played with," Backes said of Tarasenko. "His ability to create offense on his own, whether he's scoring a goal, throwing it on the net or drawing opponents to him and finding an open teammate, it's pretty impressive to watch. His offensive numbers are only going to increase, and he's shown a level of being comfortable in the North American game this year compared to last year. If it continues to be that way, the sky's the limit.

"His sense of humor is good too with the English language. He'll give it back to you and he always likes to chuckle, he always has a smile on his face, and you like to see that."

Heading into Game 5 on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports, FS-N, FS-MW), Tarasenko leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with five goals on eight shots. He has nine goals in his past 10 playoff games. And his confidence seems to be growing.

"He’s had success against us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Tarasenko. "He’s a very good 1-on-1 player. I think he has the ability to create offense both through his 1-on-1 play off the rush and in the offensive zone. And obviously he has a very good shot. And those players play with good hockey players too. You can't put a good player on the ice and ask him to go do it himself. He’s surrounded well too."

Tarasenko normally is one of the first players out before practice. He works on his craft, wants to be a better player each and every day. He's growing into that role as the go-to guy.

"We need him to," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a big part of our team. We need him to rise up. For us to have success, our best players have to be significant."

Said Blues goalie Jake Allen: "I get to practice with [Tarasenko] every day and every time he gets over the blue line you know there's a chance of the puck going in the net. Opposing goalies probably feel the same way; I definitely would if I was playing against him. He can score from anywhere."

With the Blues on the verge of falling into a 3-1 series hole, Tarasenko took over, scoring two goals; it was his second multigoal game of the series after his hat trick in Game 2.

"He's grown as he's been here. It's his third year," Blues left wing Alexander Steen said. "He's a tremendous sniper. You try to look for him as much as you can. Obviously he's going to draw a lot of coverage. But for the most part he finds nice holes, and it seems like we read each other pretty well.

"If I see a hole, he kind of waits. He waits for the right time to jump into the hole as well. He's not too anxious. He's got great patience, and obviously his release is the best in the NHL."

Tarasenko led the Blues during the regular season in goals (37) and points (73) in 77 games.

The more he plays this way, the more attention Tarasenko will draw. But he's most interested in one goal and pleasing a fan base thirsting for team success.

"If you think about your success, you’ll stop playing," Tarasenko said. "It doesn’t matter how many goals you have. You need to make a next step.

"Our city [has been] waiting for a Cup for a long time. I think we can do this."

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