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Blues could get Backes back for Game 4

2014-04-22T18:00:00Z 2014-04-23T06:49:15Z Blues could get Backes back for Game 4By Jeremy Rutherford jrutherford@post-dispatch.com 314-444-7135 stltoday.com

CHICAGO • After scoring eight goals in the first two games of their playoff series against Chicago, the Blues were shut out 2-0 in Game 3. But there remained a strong confidence in the offense Tuesday, and meanwhile the club could get a boost in its overall game with the return of David Backes in Game 4 Wednesday at United Center.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock provided no update on Backes, who missed Game 3 after being illegally hit by Chicago's Brent Seabrook in Game 2, but the captain looks to have made enough improvement that his return appears to be better than a 50-50 proposition.

That would be welcome news considering Backes scored 27 goals, which ranked second on the club, and registered 57 points, which ranked third, during the regular season. 

Including the regular season, Monday's shutout marked the eighth time the Blues have been blanked in their last 28 games.

The offense had 34 shots on goal against Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who was spectacular at times, and thus the Blues did not feel that Game 3 was a continuation of their scoring issues late in the regular season. In the team's previous seven shutouts, the offense averaged just 23.5 shots per game, cracking 30 only once.  

"The quality was there," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who had three shots on net Monday.  "(Crawford) played really well. We have to find ways of getting those tips in the back of the net. I think we had a few open nets, too, that we missed by just a couple of inches. If those go in the game changes."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock credited Crawford, but also pointed that that the Blackhawks goalie might have made some fortunate stops.

"We saw three from our bench he made he didn’t even see," Hitchcock said. "They just hit him."

The Blues outshot Chicago 15-7 in the first period, and still trailing 1-0 in the third period, they finished with an 11-7 advantage in the final frame. 

“I thought we played a lot of the game in their zone," Pietrangelo said. "We carried the tempo of the game, especially the second half of the game. But second half of the game we really turned it in our favor. We put pucks deep. We played the way we want to play and got them on their heels.”

The Blues have now outshot the Blackhawks by a total of 62-43 in the third periods and overtimes combined in the series.

"It seems like it’s kind of been the same trend the first three games of the series," Chicago forward Patrick Kane said. "Last night, we kind of got away with it and ended up winning the game.

"It’s a good team. You have to give them credit for the way they play. I feel like they’re a group that really wants to prove themselves too. It’s a tough matchup for us and a great challenge."

That's why Hitchcock was saying after the game that the Blues just had to stay the course.

"If we continue to play at this pace and at this level, we’re hoping that that’s good enough to win the next game," he said. "We get another day and a half off or so. We’re going to have more energy to do the things we need to do. We’re a hard-scoring team."

Goaltender Ryan Miller, who received no offensive support after his early miscue, says he has faith as well.

“I believe this team can score at any time," Miller said. "We just got into a situation (Monday) where it just didn't work out. You saw a few pucks were laying there for rebounds, we tipped one just wide, a couple pucks even just scooted by the net. That's the game of hockey, a game of inches.

"We were working hard and got rewarded the first two games, and (Monday) we worked hard but just didn't get that final reward. But you have to keep believing you can do it, keep moving forward. Just business as usual here.”

***

FACE-OFF FAILURE

The Blues were demolished on face-offs in Game 3, winning only 41 percent of the draws. After two periods, the club had won only 16 of 46 (34.7 percent).

Vladimir Sobotka, who was the NHL's leader in face-off winning percentage during the regular season at 61.9 percent, won only two of seven draws in the game. 

Steve Ott, meanwhile, had a productive night in the circle, winning 14 of 20 draws. Take away Ott's success and the Blues' final numbers were 13 of 33 (39.3 percent).

In fact, at one point in the game, the Blues moved Ott onto the line with Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko, bumping Jaden Schwartz to the top line with Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie

"We had no choice," Hitchcock said. "We had to put somebody in there who could take a face-off. We had no choice."

Sobotka missed the end of the regular season with a lower-body injury. He was also on the receiving end of a kneeing penalty in Game 2 and he left Game 3 briefly after being hit on the hand or arm by a slap shot Chicago's Patrick Sharp.

The Blues would benefit on face-offs from the return of Backes and also a healthy Sobotka. They have now lost the battle in the circle in all three games against the Blackhawks (57-43, 51-49 and 59-41).

***

DAY OFF

The Blues are not practicing today, as they get set for Game 4 Wednesday at United Center.

Hitchcock and a select group of players are expected to be available at the team hotel at 4:30 p.m.

Any updates from those interviews will be posted after that time.

***

TOP-RATED TV

Monday night's Game 3 between the Blues and the Blackhawks was the highest-rated Blues' game ever on FOX Sports Midwest, according to Nielsen Media Research.

It earned a 11.9 household rating and reached 14.7 by the end of the game, meaning 184,000 households in the St. Louis market were tuned in. Here are the top five Blues' broadcasts:

1. April 21, 2014, 11.9, at Chicago (1st round, Game 3)

2. April 16, 2012, 11.0, at San Jose (1st round, Game 3)

3. April 17, 2014, 10.4, vs. Chicago (1st round, Game 1)

4. May 8, 2013, 10.0, vs. Los Angeles (1st round, Game 5)

5. May 1, 2001, 9.9, vs. Dallas (2nd round, Game 3)

 

 

 

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

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