Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Keys to the Series - Nhl Playoffs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Keys to the Series - Nhl Playoffs

Article excerpt

JAKE ALLEN VS. PEKKA RINNE

In the Minnesota series, Blues netminder Jake Allen rolled in with confidence (.942 save percentage in his last 15 games) while Wild counterpart Devan Dubnyk was trying to reverse his second-half slide. In this series both goaltenders are feeling fantastic. Allen carries a .954 playoff save percentage, and Nashville's Pekka Rinne is even better at .976. After earning three shutouts in 61 regular-season games, Rinne delivered two against the Blackhawks and allowed just one even-strength goal in the sweep. Like Allen, he is an aggressive puck handler who serves as a third defenseman. This should be some netminding duel.

NASHVILLE LANE CLOSURES

The Blackhawks became flustered with all that neutral-zone congestion the Predators threw into their path. Technically it is a 1-3-1 defensive scheme, with one forechecker up and the three skaters lined up to take away passing lanes and close in on puck rushers. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville termed this a "Red Rover" defense in meetings, hearkening back to the childhood game where we tried to channel our Inner Jim Brown and plow through the human chain. Nevertheless, the Blues must find ways to beat the traffic and carry or place the puck into the offensive zone.

RENEWED BLUES VIGOR

After Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach, the Blues closed the regular season with a 22-8-2 run. They allowed just 60 goals in that span and killed off 88.8 percent of their penalties. Trading Kevin Shattenkirk and creating ice time for Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo made the Blues more stout in their own zone. The return of forward Vladimir Sobotka for the playoffs made them even tougher to play against.

THE STASTNY EFFECT

While the Predators were controlling play against Chicago outscoring the Blackhawks 13-3 in their four-game sweep the Blues spent a lot of time chasing the Wild. Their shots per game (26.8) were the worst in the first round of the playoffs. But the Blues played the first four games without Paul Stastny, their key faceoff man at both ends of the ice. Stastny's successful return gives them a much better chance against Nashville and center Ryan Johansen, who won 60 percent of his draws against Chicago.

NASHVILLE'S HOT SCORERS

Johansen and wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson enjoyed strong finishes to the regular season. That success carried over into the Chicago series, with Johansen and Forsberg scoring a combined 11 points and each producing at least a point in every game. The volume-shooting Arvidsson scored twice and added two assists. Johansen played a robust series, using size to his advantage at both ends of the ice. He won the head-to-head battle with Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews. And this was the guy coach John Tortorella ran out of Columbus for indifferent play? …

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