Rest a thing of past, now comes the playoff grind
ST. LOUIS (AP) Rest is supposed to be a good thing heading into the playoffs. But not too much, apparently.
Lose after a four-day break, like the St. Louis Blues did in their opener to the Minnesota Wild, and the familiar theme of rust affecting the outcome inevitably creeps into the conversation.
The Central Division champions are trying not to blame their early hole on inactivity heading into Game 2 on Saturday. After all, the Wild also were off four days and they came out on firing, getting an early goal each of the first two periods and limiting chances for goalie Devan Dubnyk in a 4-2 victory.
”Everybody has rust, everybody has the same amount of days off, one team practiced a little bit more than the other team, one team practiced a little bit longer,” coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday. ”But we all had our `A’ sessions, we all followed our routines. I think that’s a little bit of a weak excuse for this time of the year.”
Notes Wild forward Zach Parise: ”I mean, I can’t speak for them or anyone else, but I didn’t feel like it affected our team. I thought we were fine.”
The Anaheim Ducks know about rust. They pretty much locked up the Pacific Division a month ago and took a while to get up to speed in Game 1 against the Winnipeg Jets.
”I thought it was a really hard game from the drop of the puck to the last second,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”We’re a team that hasn’t had a really important game, a meaningful game in the scheme of things for a little while.”
Inside every locker room, there’s room for discussion. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk missed the finale to gain healing time for his surgically repaired abdomen and thought the time off did him good after playing nearly 21 minutes.
”Personally? I think last night was the best I’ve felt since the injury,” Shattenkirk said. ”For me, that was the most promising thing coming out of yesterday.”
The Blues had little success coming off breaks lasting three or days longer during the regular season, going 1-6-1. The puck drops for Game 2 around 40 hours after the final horn from the opener.
STATUS QUO: Neither Hitchcock nor Minnesota’s Mike Yeo anticipated lineup changes for Game 2.
The Blues vow to crash the net more and try to negate the Wild’s speed edge, which showed up from the start on Jason Zucker’s wraparound goal, by wearing them down physically.
”I would fully expect them to come out try to play a real physical brand of hockey and try to impose themselves on us,” Yeo said. ”I don’t think that’s a real big secret.”
The Wild’s plan worked pretty well, especially in the second period when they outshot St. Louis 14-4, so there’s no reason to change much.
”For sure we don’t want to sit around and say it’s a long series or anything like that,” Yeo said. ”I think the idea is when you grab a lead you want to push harder.”
Wild at Blues is set for 3 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN. A look at the three other NHL playoff games Saturday. All times EDT.
Red Wings at Lightning, Detroit leads 1-0, Game 2, 3 p.m. NBC
KEEP FIRING: The Lightning outshot the Red Wings 46-14 and came out of a 3-2 loss feeling they’ll be rewarded with a repeat effort.
”You put up close to 50 shots in a playoff game, you’re doing something right,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
”It’s unfortunate we couldn’t pull out a game when we felt we had the upper hand,” coach Jon Cooper said. ”But we’ve proven to ourselves when we do the right things, what you can accomplish.”
MORE PRESSURE: Detroit realizes there’s plenty of room for improvement. They want to test Lightning goalie Ben Bishop more often and stay out of the penalty box.
”We didn’t play near as well as we could,” coach Mike Babcock said.
”It was a huge win for us, but it isn’t over” said goalie Petr Mrazek, who stopped 44 shots in his playoff debut.
Although Tampa Bay was 0 for 7 on the power play in the opener, Babcock felt the Red Wings spent far too much energy killing penalties.
”We’re going to face the same challenge after every game,” Babcock said. ”We’ve got to play to play better.”
LEARNING CURVE: The Lightning were swept by Montreal in the opening round last spring after dropping the first two games at home. Cooper hopes that experience has prepared his team for what it faces now.”Are we going to see a game that one-sided in possessions and shots the rest of the series? Probably not,” Cooper said. ”But these guys have done a lot of winning together. And, I don’t think it’s been a fluke.”
Penguins at Rangers, New York leads 1-0, Game 2, 8 p.m., NBCSN
GAME BREAKS: Early goals nixed the Penguins’ chances in the series opener, but they kept it close. The Rangers scored both goals in the first period, the first in the opening minute.
”Besides our slow start we gave ourselves a reason to believe that we could be right there,” defenseman Paul Martin said. ”It’s going to be a challenge, but we think we are right there.”
CHANCES ARE: While the Penguins are seeking a series rebound, the Rangers look to convert on more rebounds. They scored 28 seconds into Game 1 when Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t control Rick Nash’s slap shot and Derick Brassard had an open net, but on more than a dozen more juicy rebounds the rest of the night, New York could do nothing.
Fleury made 36 saves, many of them spectacular. The Rangers will need to be sharper shooters in the future.
SID AND GENE: Sidney Crosby had 84 points and Evgeni Malkin got 70 in the regular season, each scoring 28 goals. In the series opener, they combined for three shots, and Crosby in particular was invisible. They’ll need to be far more involved – and dominant – for Pittsburgh to have any chance of upsetting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers.
”Sid had the puck a lot below the goal line,” coach Mike Johnston said, ”and Geno had a lot of shots blocked. I thought he had the puck in scoring position quite a lot.”
Jets at Ducks, Anaheim leads 1-0, Game 2, 10:30 p.m., NBC, Prime
COMEBACK KIDS: Corey Perry scored twice in the third period, including the tie-breaker, and added two assists in Anaheim’s opening 4-2 victory. The Pacific Division champions had 24 come-from-behind victories in the regular season.
FIRST TASTE: The Jets played their first postseason game since the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Canada four years ago and got goals from rookie Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford. Nine Jets made their playoff debuts.
”It’s a good story,” coach Paul Maurice said. ”The result of the game wasn’t hinged on experience. We came out right and played well, and now the series is on.”
A team located in Winnipeg hadn’t made the playoffs since 1996, months before that franchise became the Coyotes.
TRAINER’S ROOM: Jets C Mathieu Perrault was a Game 1 scratch after missing the season finale with a lower body injury. Perrault revitalized his career with Anaheim before signing with Winnipeg as a free agent.
Follow R.B. Fallstrom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rbfallstrom
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall, Greg Beacham, Will Graves and Barry Wilner contributed to this report.