Blues rule out G Halak for 2 games

The talk of the St. Louis Blues locker room was this

tongue-in-cheek prediction of a final score for the opener of their

second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings: Zero to

minus-1.

Goals would seem to be at a premium for the teams after their

opening round wins, and the Blues are confident they’ve got a

goalie that’s just as stingy as Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick. Two of

them, in fact.

Jaroslav Halak was ruled out Monday for the first two games with

an undisclosed injury but that’s no big deal for Blues coach Ken

Hitchcock. Brian Elliott emerged as a star this season, even though

it was in a job share with Halak, and he shut down the San Jose

Sharks as the Blues needed just five games to win their first

playoff series in a decade.

Elliott stopped 98 of 103 shots against the Sharks, a strong

follow-up after leading the NHL with a 1.56 goals-against average

with nine shutouts in the regular season. Elliott was the Blues’

lone All-Star and he’s been money for Hitchcock for a long

time.

”I don’t know why it’s a surprise when your body of work the

whole year, you look the same every night,” Hitchcock said. ”I

think we’re lucky we’ve got a guy like him.”

The coach also thought he’d get the same high level from Elliott

in Game 1 against the Kings even if he hadn’t played in the first

round.

”More work, less work – I don’t want to say it’s a holiday, but

when you’re only playing three games a week and you’re playing

against the same opponent, you get in a rhythm,” Hitchcock said.

”He’s been good for such a long time we just expect it.”

Halak has an undisclosed lower-body injury that is believed to

be a sprained left ankle sustained in a collision with teammate

Barret Jackman in Game 2 against the Sharks. He appeared to be

walking fine leaving the locker room after the first-round clincher

but was not at practice Monday.

Hitchcock had little to say about Halak’s progress, aside from

the fact there had not been a setback.

”Jaro’s not going to be around for the first two games, and

then we’ll see from there,” Hitchcock said.

Elliott appeared in two games against the Kings this season and

lost a 1-0 shootout March 23 in Los Angeles when Jeff Carter scored

in the fourth round. He met with reporters before Hitchcock’s

disclosure and downplayed his matchup with Quick, who had a 1.60

GAA and a .953 save percentage against the Canucks in the opening

round.

”I think both team defenses are pretty strong, we’re back there

and we’ll have to make a few saves here and there,” Elliott said.

”It’s going to come down to small breakdowns, small decisions with

the puck that might cost you.”

Specific dates for the Kings-Blues series won’t be announced

until other first-round series are completed, so both teams have

extra time to prepare.

The Blues are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and the

top seed remaining. But after bumping off the President’s

Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games, the Kings are no

ordinary No. 8 seed. Plus, they were 3-1 against the Blues in the

regular season.

The 1-0 shootout was the last meeting between the teams. Hence,

the predictions for a low-scoring series.

”When you beat the President’s Trophy winner, you become the

No. 1 seed, and I think everybody knows that,” Hitchcock said.

”We’ve just got to be on top of our game. If we’re on top of our

game it’s going to be a great series.”

The Blues allowed the fewest goals in the NHL with a strong

defense in front of Elliott and Halak. Forward David Backes, the

team captain, on Monday was named a finalist for the Selke Award

that goes to the best defensive forward.

Backes tied for the team lead with 54 points, was third-best on

the team at plus-15 and led the team’s forwards in shorthanded ice

time.

”I’m really proud of him because he personifies the way we want

to play the game,” Hitchcock said. ”I think that award, to be

honest with you, is almost as valuable as the most valuable player

award.”