Blues lean on Alex Pietrangelo as series moves to St. Louis
Predators and Isles look to rebound in Tuesday's Game 3s
Alex Pietrangelo is used to playing a lot — especially this time of year. The St. Louis Blues linchpin defenceman 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 savouring 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 defencemen, with Pittsburgh's Kris Letang right behind Pietrangelo at 29:24 per game. 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.
Predators hope for better fate at home
After winning the first two games late at home, San Jose figures to be in prime position in Nashville. The Sharks led the NHL with 28 road wins and swept all three in Los Angeles in the first round, giving the team plenty of confidence.
"It's good knowing that we have that, but that doesn't guarantee anything," said captain Joe Pavelski, who had the tiebreaking goal in a 3-2 victory in Game 2. "We understand this series is only to get tougher."
The Predators have come up empty thus far, but controlled play much of Game 2.
"We should be encouraged by the way we played," defenceman Mattias Ekholm said. "Bottom line, we just need to score a few more goals. You aren't going to win scoring one goal or two goals."
The Predators also must do a better job avoiding penalties and killing them when they do happen. San Jose is 3 for 5 on the power play, including the first goal in Game 2 capitalizing on a call for too many men on the ice.
"We have to stay out of the box," Josi said. "They are so dangerous on the power play."
Islanders look for aggressive response
The Islanders realize they'll need a better effort coming home after dropping Game 2 4-1. The Lightning have outscored them 6-2 the last four periods.
"We've just got to make it a little harder and slow them," captain John Tavares said. "They're obviously a quick team, make plays, skate well. We got to get a little bit more aggressive and hungry on the forecheck."
The Lightning limited the Islanders to just eight shots the last two periods in Game 2 after dropping the series opener 5-3.
Tyler Johnson had two goals in Game 2 for the Lightning. They can also lean on a strong penalty-kill, which has allowed two goals in nine chances in this series, and just three in 34 overall in this postseason.
"We need three more," Johnson said. "Just focus on our game and do what we can do and just play like we did [in Game 2]."
The Islanders faced a similar scenario in the first round against Florida, splitting the first two games on the road. New York won three of four to close out that series in six games.
"They're playing pretty aggressive, but I think mostly it's just us looking ourselves in the mirror and just being better," Tavares said.