ST. LOUIS – Alex Pietrangelo is used to playing a lot – especially this time of year. The St. Louis Blues linchpin defenseman plays with a high motor and appears to have no issues piling up the ice time.
Pietrangelo is fourth overall in the playoffs averaging 30 minutes, 34 seconds, including more than 35 minutes in the Blues’ overtime victory in Game 2 in Dallas on Sunday. Among the surviving eight teams, he’s at the top of the list.
"The more you play him, the better he plays," coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday, a day ahead of Game 3 against the Stars in a series knotted at a game apiece. "I think he keeps his focus razor-sharp, and when he’s like that, he’s going to help us."
A key to Pietrangelo’s success is channeling attention deficit disorder and putting excess energy to good use. He’s constantly talking, compensating for soft-spoken defensive partner Jay Bouwmeester.
"He is go, go, go and guys sometimes wish he had a muzzle on him at times," Backes said. "He’s a big reason why we’re still playing."
Pietrangelo leads the rush at times and has a goal and five assists in the playoffs for a team savoring its first victory in the second round since 2002.
Several teammates believe Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in 2008, was the Blues’ MVP in the first round. He was instrumental in holding down Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
"I like having the opportunity to play on a big stage," Pietrangelo said. "Sometimes it’s hard minutes, but I’ll take that as long as it’s going to help us."
All of the minutes leaders still in the playoffs are defensemen, with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang right behind Pietrangelo at 29:24 per game entering Monday’s action. The Islanders have two players getting heavy rotation, Nick Leddy (28:33) and Travis Hamonic (27:03). Nashville’s Roman Josi (27:22) and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (27:02) also are high on the list.
Two mainstays are watching now, Chicago’s Duncan Keith (31:27) and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty (30:49).
Pietrangelo’s minutes stand out even more given he’s not on the first power- play unit, duty that’s not usually as taxing as regular shifts.
"You have to recognize that those are heavy minutes he’s playing," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He’s getting challenged, he’s playing against top players, he’s killing all the penalties."
The odds of Pietrangelo getting more extremely heavy duty would seem to be high, given the Stars and Blues have met seven times with four going to overtime and one decided in a shootout. He can be a calming influence, although inside he’s going 100 mph.
"I’m still amped up, you can ask my teammates," Pietrangelo said. "I’m always on the go."
Dallas has a bit of goalie intrigue. Coach Lindy Ruff yanked Kari Lehtonen after the Blues’ three-goal first period in Game 2, and Antti Niemi finished strong, stopping 19 consecutive shots before Backes got the winner in overtime.
"I’ll let you guys know (who’s starting) about five minutes after warmup tomorrow," Ruff told reporters.
Lehtonen said only that "I might know" who’s starting Game 3.