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Ramsay: Blues must shut down Toews line

by Dan Rosen

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.

Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay was most recently an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.

The St. Louis Blues will have the last-change advantage as the home team in Game 5 of their Western Conference First Round series. Longtime NHL coach Craig Ramsay said it won't matter as long as Chicago Blackhawks forwards Bryan Bickell, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews continue to be as dominant as they were late in Game 4.

Ramsay said he thought the Blues couldn't match up against Toews, Hossa and Bickell once Chicago coach Joel Quenneville put them together on the same line early in the third period Wednesday night. The Blackhawks finally cashed in on the mismatch when Bickell got inside position to score a game-tying deflection goal with 3:52 left in regulation.

Ramsay expects Quenneville to keep that line together for the start of Game 5 on Friday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, CSN-CH, FS-MW). The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 following Chicago's 4-3 overtime win in Game 4.

"I think St. Louis just had a heck of a time with the size of Bickell and Hossa, and Toews is just so quick and strong on the puck anyway even though he's not as big," Ramsay said. "Suddenly they got the puck and decided to keep it. Chicago had not been running their cycles even though it looked like in Game 1 it would be easy for them, but here was Chicago getting the puck and not giving it back.

"On [Bickell's] goal, the 'D' is getting involved, they run a nice cycle, Hossa throws it to the point, just a tipped shot and they get a goal. But they can skate and they're big so suddenly if it's dumped into the corner and one of those bigger guys gets it, Toews arrives on the scene, and they just don't give it back."

As a byproduct, Ramsay said he thought Patrick Kane was more effective when he was put on a line with Ben Smith and Patrick Sharp. Kane scored the winner 11:17 into overtime.

Ramsay also said he thinks Smith should continue to play with Kane and Sharp because of his quickness. Smith was playing on the fourth line while the slower Michal Handzus was on the second line.

"I thought when Smith played with them they were more effective just because he can participate in the stuff," Ramsay said. "As good as Handzus is playing, it does come back to the other stuff and I think Smith gives them a little more quickness. He can get involved with them."

Ramsay noted that matching up against Toews, Bickell and Hossa would be easier for the Blues if center David Backes was healthy. He's questionable at best for Game 5 after sitting out the past two games with an upper-body injury.

If Backes can't return, Ramsay said he'd try to match Smith, Kane and Sharp with St. Louis' second line of Vladimir Sobotka, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. That would likely leave T.J. Oshie, Steve Ott and Alexander Steen to play against the physical Toews' line.

"Sobotka's line can play against anybody because those two kids [Schwartz and Tarasenko] are playing great," Ramsay said. "If it was me I'd play Sobotka's line against Smith's line because one thing with Kane and Sharp is they are going to get caught more and they are going to turn over a puck, and now with 9 [Schwartz) and 91 [Tarasenko] you can turn it right back at them, you can make them try to play defense. Then you've gotta play Steen, Ott and Oshie against the Toews' line. You also still have [Maxim] Lapierre that you can throw out there too."

However, Ramsay doesn't think the Blues should panic just because they've lost two in a row and they might have some matchup problems. He said he liked the way they attacked for most of Game 4, and it's something they need to keep doing.

"It appeared to me from the second period on that the Blues were trying to win, that they really were legitimately trying to win," Ramsay said. "They weren't trying to be careful. They knew they had to score some goals. They were trying to pick up pucks and they were trying to attack.

"As a coach you have to say, 'No, no, we like what we've been doing,' " he continued. "[Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] has been saying that on the bench when they do those interviews on TV during timeouts, and I hope that's the same message he's using in the dressing room."


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