The Blues got taken to a clinic in Game 3 and responded more than impressively in Game 4.
We'll see if the Wild can do the same thing tonight.
Good day from St. Louis, where Game 5 is tonight at 8:30 p.m. This is the third consecutive playoff round in which the Wild has been tied 2-2. The Wild lost Game 5 on the road twice last postseason (it won Games 6 and 7 in the first round to beat Colorado) and has lost five consecutive Game 5s since 2003.
Scenario is simple: Wild win, it can close out the series at home Sunday. Wild lose, and it must avoid elimination Sunday and force a Game 7.
I'll be doing a live podcast from St. Louis with Jim Souhan today at 4 p.m. It can be heard at www.souhanunfiltered.com, iHeart Radio or easiest by subscribing for free on iTunes.
I'll be on KFAN at 5:15 p.m., KARE 11 with Dave Schwartz tonight at 10 and also on Bucky Gleason's TV show in Buffalo at 5:40 p.m. CT.
Pay attention at 6 p.m. today. We'll find out if Devan Dubnyk is a Vezina finalist.
You can tell the Blues expected the Wild to blow up its lines tonight. On the Blues' locker-room marker board before Game 1, the lines were set and exact.
Today, it read:
Cooke? Carter? Fontaine? Vanek-Coyle-???
The Wild didn't blow up the lines though. The only lineup change expected is Matt Cooke in for Sean Bergenheim, meaning
Coach Mike Yeo said he liked Cooke's Game 2 effort, but because they lost, he went with the Game 1 lineup in Game 3, won that game, so they went with the same lineup for Game 4.
What do you have to bring tonight, Cooke was asked.
"I think it’s pretty obvious my game," he said. "The more time we can spend in the offensive zone, the better it is for our line and the more chances we’re going to get and the less time we spend in our zone. I think above all else it’s my experience, my emotional level that can come in and support the guys in a tight game and in a playoff type atmosphere because I’ve had a lot to pull on."
This was funny. You’re not used to sitting out playoff games, what’s that like sitting three of the first four games?
Cooke with a grin: "I did it last year. I did. Seven times. I did."
OK, different circumstances.
Cooke said, "It’s never easy sitting out a game at all let alone in the playoffs. I feel like my game is built for this time of year and these type of games. It’s tough, but I had a tough year with injuries and guys have come in and played well and they deserved and earned a spot to be out there playing. I didn’t expect to come in and just leapfrog everybody because they were a part of the success down the stretch and I had to watch from the outside looking in."
Blues center Jori Lehtera may not play tonight. Hitchcock called him 50-50 after being nailed by a Jay Bouwmeester shot in a third-period power play Wednesday with the Blues ahead 6-1. Marcel Goc, scratched in Game 4 for Chris Porter, looks like he will draw back in for Lehtera if he doesn't play and Porter, Zach Parise's best bud, would stay in.
Porter, who wouldn't be a bad guy for the Wild to sign this summer, is fast, aggressive, physical and seems to be St. Louis' secret weapon in the playoffs. Scratched often in the regular season, he always seems to come in and make a playoff impact. The other night in Minnesota, he made life difficult on the Wild's defensemen and assisted on the first goal.
Hitchcock had some interesting stuff to say today on the series:
Why has each game been different?
"I think it's what it takes to win a game in this series. It takes a lot, a lot of emotional and physical input and I think you let your foot off the gas a little bit because you have to put so much into it and the other team gets angry and they dial up their focus for the push-back. The series is where it should be at based on play. Both games should have been 6-1. We were outplayed, put so much into Game 2. We looked like a little bit of a tired team and they were angry and they pushed back hard. We did the same thijng to them (in Game 4). Both teams ... I've never seen shift lengths so short in my life since I've been coaching the NHL. From the opening buzzer to the end of the game, your shift lengths are in the 30's, I've never seen that before. Usually you get it down there in the third period, but this opens the game; that's how much has been put into each shift by each player.
Is that coach-directed?
"No, that's not coach-directed. There's been two or three times where I haven't even gotten the next lineup blown back to the bench. There's physicality, but running around hitting people, this is every puck is contested at such a high level in this series that I think it's exhausting for the players. We've seen their players hunched over 20 seconds in, 18 seconds into a shift and I've seen the same with us because there's just no room. There's no space, there's no room. The third period for both teams in Game 4 looked like a breather. It was the first time there was any space on the ice for either side. It's just two teams that are so well-structured and so well disciplined in their play and they value checking so much that you've got no space, you've got no time."
Difficulty of carrying momentum?
"We've talked about that for two days now so we'll see. Winning is a relief when you have to put so much into it and we've got to get past the relief back into the hunger part of it. I liked the disposition of our team this morning. I know you don't play this morning, but I liked the disposition of our team yesterday and today we seemed more grounded, ready to compete again, ready to go at it again, so we'll see. I think this has the potential to be the best game of the series because both teams look pretty grounded, look pretty focused. Should be a helluva hockey game."
Score first goal, why so important (both teams 2-0 in that situation)?
"Because the value of both sides put into checking. Both teams strive or get their offense from their checking and you look at us, everything's connected. Everything's connected. We get so much of our offense from our checking and they get it the same way. They check different; we use more 1-on-1; they use more numbers but we both are very effective in what we do. It's just so hard to play against teams that are so committed to the details of the game. That's why both teams are so good because there's a strong commitment by both sides to the details."
Series coming down to emotion?
"Yeah. It's two things. It's the two teams that got their butts kicked. We lost 2-0, empty-netter but it felt like 6-0. We were mad. They let their foot off the accelerator a little bit, tried to take a breath; no chance, no chance. We're hoping we don't do the same thing because if you just take your foot off a little bit, because that's all it is, it looks bad, but all it is is just a little bit and the other team is ready to pounce and go at it. It also happens when you have so many players that are so similar. Mike uses four lines, we use four lines so there's no breathing room, there's no space, there's no three-line game where there's maneuvering going on. It's just all-out short shifts, get off the ice. All-out, short shifts, get off the ice. When you're in your mid-30's in the first period, a lot of energy going on."
Alex Pietrangelo's play so far?
"He's been our best player. Played unbelievable. All the little things that you love in his game have been there since ... started with about four games left in the regular season, carried through the playoffs; he's been outstanding. Every game. The better he plays, the more risk he plays with and then he gets away with it. Even with some of the risky stuff he's done, he's flaged down pucks, he's got back in; he's been outstanding for us."
No space for Jaden Schwartz?
Because they've got two players standing over him; not one, and that's hard to play. When you're a smaller player, it's even harder to play. I don't think it's been fun for Pominville at times either. Obviously Schwartz is a good player and he's getting covered over, but one thing happens, because he gets covered over, other people get space. There's a reason Tarasenko gets space, it's because of what Schwartz does to create it. It's hard. Both teams are just so committed to no space, no time, no play. Hard for people to fight through that unless you've got a real size area you can control.
Why is Steve Ott more effective as center?
"He doesn't get enough credit for how smart he is. He's really smart, composed with the puck in tight spaces. When he plays center, he plays with more control. He plays a little bit of like a wingnut on the wing; I don't know if you can say that, but he plays a little bit like a wingnut on the wing and this way when he's had to play in control, he kind of calms down and plays a positional game where you need him with some structure and he's very effective there."