St. Louis Blues

Pressing Playoff Question: Which teams should be most worried about their goaltending?


Short answer?

Several of them.

The long answer is, well, longer — just consider what’s about to transpire. Goalies in Ottawa (Andrew Hammond), Detroit (Petr Mrazek), Vancouver (Eddie Lack), Winnipeg (Ondrej Pavelec), Minnesota (Devan Dubnyk) and Tampa Bay (Ben Bishop) will all be making their postseason debuts, and we still don’t know who’ll start in St. Louis (Brian Elliott or Jake Allen) or Anaheim (John Gibson or Frederik Andersen). Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ended the year mired in a slump, and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s postseason struggles are well documented.

So yeah, just a few goaltending concerns out there.

Let’s start with the unresolved situations in St. Louis and Anaheim. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock hinted Elliott may be the guy based on his body of work against Minnesota this year, but refused to confirm anything — possibly because Allen was the better goalie down the stretch. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau was even more coy, opting not to elaborate on Gibson’s health (he’s dealing with an injury) or how it could impact the starting goalie gig.

Clear as mud. Moving along…

In Vancouver, head coach Willie Desjardins won’t confirm the obvious — it’ll be Lack, not Ryan Miller, who’ll open against Calgary. Lack took over for the injured Miller in mid-February and impressively backstopped the Canucks to the postseason, with Miller getting just one start over the final two months of the season, a shaky 6-5 OT win over Edmonton in the season finale.

The real question with Lack is the length of his leash. As mentioned above, he’s never made a postseason appearance — a far cry from Miller, who has over 50 on his resume, and was Vancouver’s starter for the majority of the season.

The Vancouver situation is not unlike Ottawa’s. There, Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond will roll into the playoffs as the club’s white-hot No. 1, on the heels of a remarkable regular season in which he lost just once — yeah, once — in regulation. But like with Lack, one has to wonder what happens if Hammond falters; sitting behind him is veteran Craig Anderson, who had himself a fine year (2.49 GAA, .923 save percentage) and, lest we forget, won a playoff round for Ottawa in 2013.

Detroit’s in a similar boat to the Canucks and Sens. Jimmy Howard, the No. 1 for most of this year, has been parked in favor of rookie Petr Mrazek. It’s a roll of the dice from Wings head coach Mike Babcock, who’ll be relying on Mrazek — he of the 40 career NHL games — over Howard, who has 45 career playoff games.

Once place with no playoff veteran is Winnipeg, where both Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are headed to the postseason for the first time. Pavelec’s the No. 1 based on his clutch work down the stretch — the Czech netminder posted three consecutive shutouts to close out his year — but it’s important to note that, for long periods this season, Hutchinson was the Jets’ go-to guy and only had 10 fewer starts than Pavelec did.

Then there’s Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

There’s no question about who’s No. 1 — Bishop and Dubnyk are locked in — but certain unknowns remain. Bishop should’ve gained some much-needed playoff experience a year ago, only to miss the Lightning’s entire opening-round playoff loss to Montreal with a dislocated elbow. How will he respond to the pressure this year? The same question can be asked of Dubnyk who, with his 29th birthday just weeks away, is the oldest of the goalies making their playoff debuts (and the most improbable.)

Finally, there’s Rinne and Fleury. The former hasn’t been very sharp since the All-Star break, going 12-11-4 with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage — a far cry from the Vezina-worthy numbers he posted in the first half. Fleury’s hardly been Pittsburgh’s problem, but he now finds himself in unfamiliar territory; with a defense wrecked by injury and an offense that’s struggling to score, the Pens almost need Fleury to go out and win them some games (as opposed to past years, when all they needed for was him not to lose ’em.)

Scrolling back, that’s 10 of 16 playoff teams mentioned in this article.

Think goaltending might be a hot topic this spring?

Blues beat Wild, set up Blackhawks-Predators series


The St. Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 4-2 in a game where a lot of key players had the afternoon off, but that doesn’t mean it meant absolutely nothing. For one thing, this outcome clinches a first-round series between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.

(Nashville gets home-ice advantage as the second seed in the Central while a Calgary Flames loss clinches that same edge for the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific’s No.2 vs. No. 3 series.)

St. Louis also kept its hopes of being the West’s top seed alive. The Blues moved to 109 standings points, two ahead of the Anaheim Ducks, who must win in regulation to take back the No. 1 spot.

Blues boast the better B-team

Despite some incentive for both teams – the Blues seek that top seed, the Wild may have had a chance to move out of the wild card – plenty of players got a breather on Saturday. Really, it makes sense to do so, as this day off could mean a week out of game action. Maybe that opens the door for rust to form, yet considering how bruising 82 games can be, it seems reasonable enough.

The Blues got off to such a slow start that their home fans gave them a Bronx cheer for an early shot on goal, yet they soldiered on and eventually won by a comfortable margin.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 37th goal of a brilliant breakout season to remind us that some big stars were still playing:

Brian Elliott won his 26th game of the season. This could be a helpful couple of wins for the 2015 All-Star, even if he backs up Jake Allen in the playoffs.


So far, we know that the Blackhawks will face the Predators and the Vancouver Canucks will take on the Calgary Flames out West. The Blues and Wild won’t know their first-round opponents until this evening’s busy proceedings come to an end.

For all we know, Saturday could have been a first-round preview … albeit one without some top attractions.

Goalie Nods: Miller returns, Pavelec gets break after three straight shutouts

News and notes from around the crease…

Ryan Miller will start for the first time since Feb. 22

Miller suffered a knee injury that has cost him more than a month of ice time and potentially his opportunity to lead the Canucks in the playoffs. That’s because Eddie Lack was great in Miller’s absence and has been solid for the bulk of the campaign. Lack did admittedly get off to a rocky start, but he quickly put that behind him and now has a 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage in 41 contests.

Those numbers are superior to Miller’s 2014-15 statistics, but Vancouver still might need him during the playoffs. With that in mind, he’ll have an opportunity to shake off the rust in tonight’s game against Edmonton.

Ondrej Pavelec will be a healthy scratch despite three straight shutouts

At any other point in the season, Pavelec being benched, let alone scratched, after posting three consecutive shutouts would be a big controversy, but with the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff position secure, this isn’t a shocking development. By starting Michael Hutchinson against the Calgary Flames this afternoon, it gives him a chance to stay sharp ahead of the postseason while also allowing Pavelec to get a breather after playing in three games over four days.

Connor Hellebuyck, 21, is projected to serve as the backup goaltender for Winnipeg today.


Sharks at Kings: Alex Stalock will play between the pipes for San Jose. It’s not known who will play for Los Angeles, but Jonathan Quick is typically a good bet.

Wild at Blues: Devan Dubnyk vs. Brian Elliott

Pens at Sabres: Marc-Andre Fleury will start for Pittsburgh. There’s a fair chance Anders Lindback will play for the Sabres, but that isn’t confirmed.

Habs at Leafs: Carey Price vs. Jonathan Bernier

Devils at Panthers: Cory Schneider vs. Al Montoya

Blue Jackets at Islanders: No confirmed starters yet for this one, but Islanders goaltender Michal Neuvirth has an undisclosed injury and Kevin Poulin was recalled as a result.

Red Wings at Canes: Petr Mrazek vs. Cam Ward

Bruins at Lightning: Tuukka Rask will probably start for Boston; Ben Bishop will get the nod for Tampa Bay.

Preds at Stars: Carter Hutton vs. Jhonas Enroth

Hawks at Avs: Scott Darling vs. Semyon Varlamov

Ducks at Coyotes: Neither team has revealed its starter.

NBC, NBCSN will combine to air three games today


NBC and NBCSN will conclude its coverage of the 2014-15 regular season by airing three of Saturday’s games. They are:

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings

Start Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Where to watch: NBC (Depending on your region) or you can watch the live stream by clicking here.

The San Jose Sharks went into this season hungry for redemption after Los Angeles overcame a 3-0 series deficit in the first round of the 2014 playoffs to eliminate them. Meanwhile, the Kings were going for its third Stanley Cup championship in the span of four years.

In the end neither squad will get what they want as they enter today’s contest without any hope of making the playoffs. So with the possibility of a 2015 postseason rematch gone, these two teams will have to settle for one final regular season contest.

“Both teams still have something to play for – they’re our rival,” San Jose’s Logan Couture told CSN Bay Area. “I’m sure the building will have some Sharks fans in it. We’re going to want to go out strong, and they’re going to want to go out strong, too.”

Minnesota Wild at St. Louis Blues

Start Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Where to watch: NBC (Depending on your region) or you can watch the live stream by clicking here.

The St. Louis Blues are entering the day with a chance to wrestle the top seed in the Western Conference away from the Anaheim Ducks. Doing so would mean opening the playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets instead of the Minnesota Wild or Chicago Blackhawks. Winning the Conference title would also of course guarantee that St. Louis would get the home-ice advantage in each series until the Stanley Cup Final.

The Wild are going into this game with control of the first Wild Card seed, but they have an opportunity to take the third Central Division seed away from Chicago. Minnesota winning this afternoon would put the pressure on Chicago tonight to secure at least one point tonight or slide in the standings.

On an individual level, Blues forwards Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko will both return today from their respective lower-body injuries. They’re two of St. Louis’ top-three scorers, so getting them back before the playoffs is huge.

Boston Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning

Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where to watch: NBCSN or you can watch the live stream by clicking here.

Boston has made the playoffs for seven straight seasons and claimed the Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14. Despite that, the Bruins have been wildly inconsistent this season and are consequently entering the day with a mediocre 41-27-13 record.

Boston is one point behind Pittsburgh in the battle for a Wild Card spot (something not many people would have predicted going into the campaign) and the Penguins control the tiebreaker ROW. That means a consolation point won’t be enough for the Bruins tonight; they have to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in order to even have a shot of making the playoffs.

Before the game starts, the Bruins will likely be watching Ottawa play Philadelphia (12:30 p.m. ET). A win by Ottawa, which controls the first Wild Card seed, wouldn’t knock Boston out of the playoff race, but it would lessen its odds. If Ottawa loses in regulation time to the Flyers, then the Bruins have the comfort of knowing that they will make the playoffs as long as they win tonight. If Ottawa wins or gets a consolation point, then the Bruins will need the lowly Buffalo Sabres to beat Pittsburgh in order for Boston to have a chance.

This game has some significance for Tampa Bay too. The Lightning currently hold the second seed in the Atlantic Division, but if they win and Montreal loses on Saturday, then Tampa Bay will take the division title.

Steen, Tarasenko back from injury, will play in Blues’ season finale


The St. Louis Blues will have a shot at clinching the top seed in the Western Conference on Saturday, and they’ll go after it with two of their best offensive weapons back in the lineup.

Vladimir Tarasenko, out since Mar. 31 with a leg injury and Alex Steen, out since Mar. 28 with a lower-body ailment, will both play when the Blues face the Wild at Scottrade (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals with 36, has missed all five of the team’s games in April. He’s going to be an incredibly important player come playoff time; the Russian winger emerged as St. Louis’ most dynamic sniper this season and, last spring, showed an ability to raise his level by scoring a team-high four goals in six games during a Round 1 loss to Chicago.

Steen, who had 24 goals and 62 points in 73 games this year, will also be a key figure for the Blues — but in a different sort of way. He needs to show something more after struggling to make an impact in previous playoff appearances. In 25 career postseason games for St. Louis, Steen has just five goals and a minus-5 rating — last year he only scored one goal against the ‘Hawks, after netting a career-high 33 in the regular season.