In one corner of their dressing room, captain David Backes talked about the need to replace the agony of last spring's first-round exit with the thrill of victory this time around. Steve Ott discussed with a couple reporters from Buffalo how well the first three weeks have gone for him and goalie Ryan Miller since they were traded to the Blues from the Sabres.
St. Louis defencemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo talked about how much better they have played since their Olympic gold-medal performance in Sochi. Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen were, as usual, in demand as local media types got caught up with the former Maple Leafs.
Blues associate coach Brad Shaw was giving a dressing room tour to a couple of family friends. Later, head coach Ken Hitchcock held court with reporters.
All this commotion caused the Blues' speedy forward Jaden Schwartz to shake his head.
"Shouldn't there be a time limit?" he said, pointing to the scrum around Backes that prohibited Schwartz from getting to his stall.
Taking his shot
The importance to the Blues of players like the 21-year-old Schwartz and 22-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko should not be ignored. Behind Steen's team-leading 30 goals, Backes is next at 24, followed by Schwartz (22) and Tarasenko (21).
"Until the playoffs it was a real quiet start for Jaden last year," Hitchcock said. "Now, he's on. He has a confidence level right now that shows that."
Schwartz began his first full professional season in the AHL with the Peoria Rivermen because of the NHL lockout last year. By the time the curtain was raised on the NHL season, he had nine goals in 33 games with Peoria, but scored only seven times in 45 outings with the Blues.
This season, Schwartz, who scored in six consecutive games before and after Christmas, has shot the puck more, ridding himself of the trepidation that showed in his game a year ago.
Schwartz, who sees time on the power play and penalty killing units, is third on the Blues in shots on goal with 161, behind Steen (190) and defence man Kevin Shattenkirk (168).
"[Schwartz] is more engaged in the game now," Hitchcock said. "He deferred a lot last year. There were times that I thought he didn't belong. So he deferred the puck to other people. He became more of a passer than a shooter. He still was pinching himself that he was in the NHL. Now he knows he's an important player.
"He's had the same evolution as Tarasenko. They both deferred everything to everybody else. Now they're able to do it themselves. They shoot the puck more. They go to the net. They initiate. They have the confidence now that they belong."
Schwartz especially felt he belonged in late January, when instead of spending an off day in Manhattan, he and his St. Louis teammates boarded a bus for a three-hour return trip to Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
Three years ago, Jaden lost his sister, Mandi, at age 23 to leukemia. She was a Yale University player when she passed away. The day the Blues travelled to the school was the annual "White Out for Mandi" evening to raise awareness about the disease that killed her.
The Blues practiced at Yale and then were among the school-record crowd of 1,125 to watch Mandi's old team tie Brown 2-2. Jaden dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff.
"That was a special day," he said. "I appreciated what they did and how many people showed up that night."
Showing up in the playoffs is something that Schwartz and the Blues are determined to do this spring. In 2012, Schwartz joined the Blues after his collegiate career ended at Colorado College, but he didn't play in the postseason, when St. Louis was swept in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angles Kings.
The Kings took care of business again last year, when they knocked out the Blues in six games in the first round.
"We learned a lot after what happened to us in the past two years," Schwartz said. "It happened. It's part of building a winning team. We'll take that with us."
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