BLUES EXTRAS

Simple solution for Blues: 'Play better'

2012-05-02T00:30:00Z 2012-05-04T06:19:24Z Simple solution for Blues: 'Play better'BY JEREMY RUTHERFORD • jrutherford@post-dispatch.com > 314-444-7135 stltoday.com

The bright skies Tuesday in St. Louis actually helped Ken Hitchcock's cause, because that's the scene he set for the Blues the day after their debilitating 5-2 loss to Los Angeles.

"The sun came up ... it was a nice day," Hitchcock said. "You're in a hopeful situation. We're in the second round. The stress that goes with trying to get out of the first round is over. This is just the pressure of competing."

The Blues will be forced to compete now that Los Angeles has a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series, which is headed to Staples Center for Game 3 on Thursday night. In the franchise's 44 seasons, the Blues have trailed 0-2 in a seven-game series 15 times and rallied to win the series just once — in 1972 against the Minnesota North Stars.

To turn the trick this time, the Blues will need to create more scoring opportunities, after scoring just three goals on 58 shots in Games 1-2. The power-play unit must crack LA's stingy penalty-killers. And with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo not assured of returning Thursday, the back end has to regroup after a crippling performance Monday.

"We just have to look back on what we did as a team when we were playing well," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We realize that first period was as bad of a period as we've played in a long time. It's frustrating to do in that situation, but it is only one game. It's a situation where we've lost two games, but they've got a long ways to go. They've got to still beat us two more times and I don't think we're going to be a team that's going to roll over and give it to them easy. We've got the ability to play good hockey, and we feel if we do that, we can control our own destiny a little bit."

The Blues' offense, according to Hitchcock, is playing too much East-West, and the players agreed.

"The more we go North-South, it turns into a quicker game, which suits our style," forward Alex Steen said. "We have tendencies to go a little East-West. Once we're in the (offensive zone) and generate that first North-South shot, we'll have chances to go East-West. It's back to basics."

Meanwhile, the club seeks simplification on the power play, too. After going 0 for nine Monday, the unit is 0 for 26 against the Kings this season, including 0 for 12 in the playoffs.

"We're getting chances, but we're moving the puck way too quickly before we have to," Hitchcock said. "We're not managing the puck near as well as we did before. We're thinking there's more pressure than there is. So, we throw it into places that we don't have to, and they jump on it."

However, the Blues struggled the most Monday in their own end. The absence of Pietrangelo, the club's ice-time leader, was extremely noticeable.

"Without a doubt, it places a lot more responsibility on guys in a short period of time," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "He's a great player, and he drives the bus for us in a lot of ways. ... For us, we need to get our confidence back. I don't think we trust ourselves as much as we did in the regular season. There's no rhyme or reason why we shouldn't."

Pietrangelo traveled with the Blues to LA, but his status for Game 3 is uncertain.

"If he's able to practice (Wednesday), that's a big step," Hitchcock said. "But I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. He's injured. He's not ready to play. We'll just see how it works out."

In the meantime, Hitchcock had simple advice for his players.

"I keep using the words, but it's just 'play better,'" he said. "You look at some of the goals, we're in perfect position, we're just losing one-on-one battles, one-on-one battles we've won before. It's really competitive right now.

"I said to the players after the game, playing regular-season games is one thing. But when you play the same opponent night after night, it tells you a lot about your team and about individuals on your team. We have some guys, quite frankly, they just need to play better. For us to win, we need everybody playing on the bar. When the bar has been really high, we've been very effective and had everybody up there. But we've got some guys playing below the bar, and they need to pick it up."

HALAK OUT

Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak won't return for at least the remainder of the conference semifinals. Halak suffered an ankle injury in Game 2 of the first round, when he collided with teammate Barret Jackman.

"I felt after talking with (Halak), the time frame, if the series went seven (games), between getting in shape and getting full practices in, there's just not enough time," Hitchcock said. "So, we'll move him forward where he can go on a more gradual schedule and then ... if we get out of this round here, he'll be probable for selection."

BIG HIT

Right winger T.J. Oshie delivered Game 2's biggest hit, leveling LA's Dustin Penner, who is 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, about five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Oshie.

After the game, Penner tweeted: "Anybody catch the license plate of that truck? I think it starts with a 7..." Oshie wears No. 74.

Oshie, who hasn't scored in the playoffs, said that he wasn't looking to give life to the Blues, who trailed 5-2 at the time.

"I think trying to give myself life," Oshie said. "That's the first big hit I've had, I think. I need to be more physical. It's a staple that's in my game and it wasn't there in the first period and it needs to be there from here on out."

CROMBEEN FIGHTS KING

In the first period Monday, Blues forward B.J. Crombeen dropped the gloves with LA's Dwight King, who delivered the boarding hit on Pietrangelo in Game 1.

"It's one of those things, we had a slow start and it was an opportunity to get something going and also stand up for a teammate," Crombeen said. "I don't think you can go into a game thinking, 'I'm going to go at this guy.' If the situation's not there, you can't put your team in a hole. Like all the guys that play, they know when the time is right ... and you go and do it."

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