ST. LOUIS -- A chance to clinch on home ice Wednesday in front of 19,791 fans, the largest crowd at Scottrade Center this season, the Blues had their first real hiccup of the first round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild, losing 2-0 in Game 4 and thus not having the chance to sweep the series.
Now the Blues have to go back to St. Paul and Xcel Energy Center, where they won Games 1 and 2 by identical 2-1 scored (Game 1 was in overtime) to try a second time to close out this series, a series they don't want to see go too far and give the Wild, which has felt like it's played well throughout, some life.
"We have to not look at big picture. We have to look at small picture," Blues coach Mike Yeo said Thursday. "I think we got caught up in looking at big picture yesterday and it showed up in our play. I think we were on our heels right from the drop of the puck.
"That said, the game was actually sitting for us there for quite a while. That second period, when we gave up that second goal, there was a period of time when it felt like things were starting to turn. So we weren't good enough last game, it was still right there for us. Every game is going to be close, it's going to be hard fought. I said this last night and I still mean it, it's a very good hockey team over there and they're not going to just lay down for us. We're going to have to beat them and in order to do that we'll have to play our best and that's why it's important we don't get caught up thinking about the big picture stuff but we just concentrate on our game and ourselves."
The Blues have to like the fact that their defensive structure is still fine in this series. They've allowed an average of 1.25 goals per game despite being outshot 145-107 in the series.
"Well we gave up two last game and both goals I felt like we gave them, and that's not on Jake (Allen)," Yeo said. "There was some miscommunication and you could have argued that it was icing (on the first goal), but it's a turnover in the neutral zone on the first one and something in how we made it happen that's not the way we've been operating lately ... and then the second goal is a bad change. So there's some things that we can do better and some areas that we can still tighten up. Obviously it's a bit of a different game too when they get the lead there. They were trying to play defensively, so maybe they weren't pressing as hard.
"For me, I just look at last game and we weren't physically invested, we weren't ready and we weren't sharp right from the start and because of that we were chasing all game, so we have to be ready tomorrow."
On the other hand, offensively, it's been a challenge. The Blues have scored 1.75 goals per game this series, so it's simple: the first one to two normally wins, and whoever's scored first is 4-0.
"Yeah, well and again I think what's important that you continue to play if it doesn't happen," Yeo said of scoring first. "So certainly, obviously you'd love to score the first goal. It's two good defensive teams that make it hard to battle back. But if it doesn't happen, we have to make sure we keep playing the right way. For a little while, we started to find our game in the second period but obviously not consistently enough, and giving up that second goal was tough yesterday."
The Blues must find ways to battle to the middle of the ice and get more traffic in front of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who pitched a 28-save shutout in Game 4, his second shutout of his playoff career (both against the Blues, with one in Game 3 of the first round series in 2015).
"That's what it is. It's a grind," Yeo said. "That's the type of game we're playing this type of year. It's a fight for space all over the ice but certainly around the net it's certainly more evident."
"To generate more offense, we need to get to the hard areas and shoot the puck," left wing Magnus Paajarvi said. "They're very good defensively, as are we. It's a tight series. We have to find ways to get into those areas where you score and that's in front of the net."
* Get Tarasenko going -- Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has two assists in the series but has yet to score, and for the Blues, it's almost amazing in itself that they're up 3-1 in the seriesand tarasenko has yet to light the lamp.
Going back to Game 5 of the second round series with Dallas, Tarasenko has played in 13 Stanley Cup Playoff games since and has scored in two of those games (an empty-net goal at Dallas in Game 7 and two mop-up goals in Game 6 against San Jose in the conference final). But even more concerning is that going back 21 games when Tarasenko last scored a postseason power play goal in the first round of Game 4 against Chicago, he has zero power play goals in the Blues' last 58 opportunities, and none in the past 20 games. The Blues are 12-for-58 in that span (20.6 percent).
"There's no question, we need our best players to play their best," Yeo said. "That's not just in the playoffs, that's anytime, it's certainly magnified right now. What we need from Vladi, from all our top players, is make sure we understand if we're going to play well, if we're going to beat these guys, then we have to be great defensively. That's how we got up 3-0 in the series and realistically that's what we need to do if we want to close it here. We need everybody on page with that, we need everybody on board with that, but with that, we can't be satisfied. That's not just enough. We have to push offensively and try to make plays. So how we do that is going to be critical. It's making sure we're not playing high-risk, but at the same time finding ways to break people down 1-on-1, finding ways to create and to execute when we have opportunities.
"(Tarasenko) had a couple good looks again last game, he's getting at least two, three looks a game now. Certainly we'd like to increase that, we'd like to give him a little bit better shot of it. He's getting heavily checked, no question, but that means somebody else should be open on the ice. Maybe that's why Schwartzie has two goals in the series. If they're keying on him, it means somebody else is available. We have to do a little bit better of job of isolating people, finding people and certainly when he gets an opportunity, that's what he does, he finishes."
* Boudreau fuels some fire -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, speaking Thursday upon the Wild's arrival back in Minnesota, voiced his displeasure at a check that Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo put on Wild forward Zach Parise in the closing seconds of Game 4.
As Parise was playing the puck off the boards up the ice, Pietrangelo came in with a hard check that sparked a scrum as the seconds ticked down to the end of the game.
“I thought it was cheap. It was cheap," Boudreau said. "They knew the game was over. There was one second left.
"If this was 1984 or 1978, that guy would've had a stick right in his face. You know? But they don't do that anymore."
When asked to respond, Yeo said, "It's a rough series. I didn't really think anything of it."
* Notes -- Yeo said that forward Vladimir Sobotka, who briefly left in the third period after being struck by a Tarasenko shot in the leg, is fine.
The Blues assigned defenseman Jordan Schmaltz to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League so he could help the Wolves in their first round playoff series against the Charlotte Checkers.
Schmaltz, 23, played in nine games with the Blues during the regular season, posting two assists, and in Game 1 of this series against the Wild; he was replaced when Robert Bortuzzo returned from an upper-body injury.
"We just want to make sure he's active," Yeo said of Schmaltz. "It's tough on a player to sit around, especially right now, we're not having a lot of practice time – we'll have a practice tomorrow – but get him into the lineup and get him playing. We obviously have to make sure everybody's sharp, everybody's playing."