Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blues Look to Carry Positive Attitude into Playoffs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Blues Look to Carry Positive Attitude into Playoffs

Article excerpt

Vladimir Tarasenko took exception to the question.

Many want to know why the Blues were so successful down the stretch, from February on, and Tarasenko read into the query Sunday that the reporter wanted him to link the team's improvement to Ken Hitchcock's replacement by Mike Yeo as the head coach.

"I don't want really want to talk about it because I know what you are asking me about they switch the coach," Tarasenko said.

That's not it. By now, everyone who's been following the Blues this season knows that the coaching change has had a huge effect. But it would be one thing if the club climbed the ladder a little in several stastical categorials. It's another thing to go 22-8-2 in the 32 games since Yeo took over Feb. 1, including 15-2-2 in the last 19 games of the regular season. It's another thing to be tied with Presidents' Trophy winner Washington for most wins in that stretch and No. 1 in departments such as goal differential, even-strength goal differential, save percentage and penalty-killing.

This speaks to the fact that the talent was in the Blues' locker room, and while Yeo was able to pull it out of them, there was something more at work as the team put itself in position to play Minnesota in a Western Conference quarterfinal series that begins Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

"Guys start to be closer to each other," said Tarasenko, somewhat softening up. "(Hitchcock) did a good job here and obviously Mike after. They both do a really good job to make us playoff team this year. ... We build a lot of confidence in this group and we believe in each other. We believe in our power to go all the way up."

The streaking Blues may be the trendy pick to win their opening-round matchup against a Wild team that struggled through March before winning its final four games of the regular season. But for many observers, the club will have a lot of climbing to do in the postseason to get to the top.

They may point to the fact that a franchise that went to the Western Conference finals last year is without David Backes and Troy Brouwer, who combined for 15 goals and 27 points in 20 games during the 2015-16 postseason run.

The encore could see the Blues open against Minnesota with rookie Ivan Barbashev centering the top line with Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko, a spot the 21-year-old has played all of three games. That's because Paul Stastny, who's missed 10 games with a lower-body injury, has yet to skate with the club and is likely to sit out the start of the series.

In addition, rookie Jordan Schmaltz, 23, could be in the third defensive pair if Robert Bortuzzo, who's been out five games with an upper-body injury, is not ready to go.

"It's going to be a new challenge," Yeo said. "That's the beauty of it and we'll meet with these guys. The thing that I like about it is it doesn't seem like these guys are going to shrink in that spotlight. …

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