ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues need to regain their home ice aura, and fast.
Coach Ken Hitchcock will do his best to make it happen for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.
The Blues had the NHL’s best home record in the regular season, but after their 3-2 loss in double overtime Thursday night they’ve dropped three in a row. Hitchcock promises changes, although not in goal, where he’ll stick with Jaroslav Halak over Brian Elliott.
“It’s our turn to make adjustments,” Hitchcock said after about half the team—and none of the main cogs except for Elliott, coming off an unspecified upper body injury—skated for about 45 minutes. “Anytime you lose, you don’t want to stand and live on the just-abouts.”
Hitchcock could sit defenceman Kent Huskins, who had several shaky moments, in favour of Carlo Colaiacovo. He could go with Matt D’Agostini or B.J. Crombeen at forward over Chris Stewart, who has been unproductive.
Hitchcock refused to divulge any changes.
“We’re not living on the fact that we played well and lost,” Hitchcock said. “We want more.”
Defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk played more than 33 minutes and took 11 shots, six more than any player on either team. But he also accepted blame for the winning goal by Martin Havlat after he failed to clear the puck out of the St. Louis zone.
“I have my stick on it and it’s a play that’s got to be made,” Shattenkirk said. “That’s what these games boil down to, plays like this. It’s kind of my first reality check, I guess, and first real taste of playoffs and how one mistake can really come back and bite you.”
Elliott was healthy enough to be the backup in Game 1 and led the NHL with a 1.56 goals-against average and nine shutouts. Hitchcock is committed for now to Halak, who was brilliant in the 2010 playoffs with the Canadiens and perhaps has a higher upside.
The Sharks couldn’t have asked for much more from Antti Niemi, who made 14 of his 40 saves in the first overtime. Niemi won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
“They had some point-blank shots and he made some great saves,” captain Joe Thornton said. “He’s a fantastic goaltender and he made some great saves.”
Havlat stepped up, too. He swatted a rolling puck past Halak for the winner early in the second overtime, his second goal of the game. That more than made up for his tripping penalty on Halak in the third period, which led to Patrik Berglund’s go-ahead power-play goal.
But the Sharks weren’t satisfied, either.
“We know that they’ll be better, we know they’ll change some things, they’ll adjust in certain areas, and we have to do the same,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Winning one and losing two gets you nothing, I think.”
Hitchcock said before the playoffs that one loss isn’t a big deal, home or road, and players seemed aboard.
“The outsiders are always trying to find a story line or reason or excuse,” captain David Backes said. “We’ve got a great group of guys in there and a lot of character. We’ll climb that mountain that we have to climb.”
The Blues took their first lead in the third period on Berglund’s second goal, and Hitchcock thought the team was at its best in the first overtime. He said the Sharks’ last two goals were both blown coverages.
“We didn’t make them earn it,” Hitchcock said. “We didn’t close on people fast enough, we didn’t pick up the right people. We might have gotten away with them before; we’re not getting away with them now.”
Unlike the Blues, who coasted into the playoffs, the Sharks have won eight of 10. Though they’re the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, they can lean on the experience of back-to-back appearances in the conference finals. St. Louis hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004 and hasn’t won a playoff series since 2002.
The Sharks appear to have forgotten that the Blues swept the season series, outscoring them 11-3 in four games. And that they had to claw their way into the post-season.
“It doesn’t matter how you get in the playoffs, once you get in anybody can beat anybody,” Havlat said. “We’re confident.”