Entering Wednesday’s game 4 against Minnesota, the St. Louis Blues find themselves in a critical must-win situation or else they’ll once again be on the brink of another early playoff exit. It would be their third straight year being eliminated in the first round despite having Stanley Cup aspirations.
Although only down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Blues have been severely outplayed in the two losses, the most recent leaving serious questions about the effort being brought to the table.
The Blues only had 17 shots on goal in Game 3. None of them were difficult scoring chances and Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk had a pretty easy night on the way to his first career playoff shutout.
Now the Blues have to regroup and figure out a way to get more quality coring chances, fire more pucks on net, and provide some support for their goalie Jake Allen.
Game 4 in Minnesota will not be easy, especially since the Blues have lost nine consecutive playoff games on the road and counting. But the Blues have no choice. They’ll have to dig deep and find a way to play their best hockey of the season if they want to prolong their postseason.
At Tuesday’s optional skate, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t talk about any lineup changes that may come for Game 4. But there are several moves that Hitchcock may have already hinted about before Game 3 was even finished.
Hitch double-shifted guys in Jaskin's spot much of the night. He finished with 8:45 of ice time. Wouldn't be surprised to see a change.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) April 21, 2015
Young forward Dmitrij Jaskin may be taking a seat for Game 4 on Wednesday night. In the first three playoffs games of his career, Jaskin hasn’t done much at all, only having one shot on goal in the series. He started on a line with Patrik Berglund and David Backes but then lost his spot altogether with several Blues forwards double-shifting in his place.
Expect to see veteran Olli Jokinen or high-energy forward Chris Porter to possibly dress in Jaskin’s spot.
Desperately looking for any kind of spark in the third period, Hitchcock reunited the forward lines that have worked so well for him in the regular season. David Backes centered TJ Oshie and Alex Steen while Jori Lehtera was once again in between Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
Those top two forwards lines provided incredible production during the regular season, looking dominant at times. Look for those lines to stay together for Game 4 with Paul Stastny centering the third line with Patrik Berglund and possibly Jaskin/Jokinen/Porter. The fourth line of Ott-Goc-Reaves will most likely stay together, unless Hitchcock decides to put his star agitator, Ott, up on the third line.
Meanwhile, it’s a move that Hitchcock hasn’t made so far that has many Blues fans up in arms. The “Free Bortuzzo” campaign is growing in St. Louis and it may finally boil over.
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) April 21, 2015
As Blues defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson and Zbynek Michalek struggle in the playoffs, fans are dumbfounded that big-hitting defenseman Robert Bortuzzo continues to be a healthy scratch. If Hitchcock wanted to send a message to Minnesota, he would free Bortuzzo to wreak havoc.
With him in the lineup, the Wild forwards would pay a price when entering the Blues zone. It’s something that proved to be a major problem in game 3, as the Blues allowed Minnesota to easily enter the zone and set up their offense.
Last time #STLBlues split at home, then lost G3 on the road was 1991 vs. Detroit in division semis. That team lost G4, then won 3 straight.
— Brian Hank Haenchen (@Brian_Haenchen) April 21, 2015
Whatever the solution is to getting a Game 4 victory, the Blues will have to somehow figure it out and break an ugly road playoff losing streak in the process. After years of having goalie problems heading into the playoffs, the Blues finally have Allen to provide stability in the net. It’s now time for the offense to pick the team up.
With stability in net and leaders on defense, the last piece of the Blues puzzle to playoff success seems to be timely scoring. Stastny, Backes and Oshie have not registered a single point in the first three games of the series. The Blues’ entire offense has centered around sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who has three of the team’s six goals this series.
As Minnesota looks to eliminate Tarasenko, other players are going to have to step up and score some timely goals. If the Blues find a way to get that, they will get back in this series and show Minnesota that they can also be a handful. If not, then it will be one step closer to major changes that will come in the offseason, possibly starting with Hitchcock’s job.