Blues Face Top Seeded Jackets

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  1. Dr.Sens(e)

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    (AP) Columbus: With both teams healthy and rested, the Western conference semi-final kicks off this evening with the St. Louis Blues visiting the top seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.

    It is a roll reversal for the Blues, who were the top seed in the Western Conference the last two seasons.

    “Well, I don’t think we’re too worried about that†said Blues Coach Marc Crawford.

    “It didn’t do us much good in the past, now did it?â€

    In both of the past two HFNHL as the top seed, the Blues were upset in the Western conference playoffs, first by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round in 2003, and then by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2004 conference final.

    This time, the Blues are the underdog.

    “I don’t think this group of guys think we’re out-gunned or a real under dog against anyone†said Captain Chris Pronger. “Our biggest nemesis all season has been ourselvesâ€.

    Indeed, the Blues were picked by most pre-season pundits to once again reign supreme in the Western conference during the regular season, but a serious lack of chemistry amongst their forwards compounded by several injury bugs during particular stretches, left the Blues as the 6th seed, as the team struggled to score goals and lost too many one goal games.

    At first glance, the series seems to be a close one, but all season the Jackets have had a more cohesive forward unit, while the Blues have struggled to score goals. That, and the presence of future hall of famer Martin Brodeur in net for the Jackets, seem to be the main differences between the teams.

    “They’ve had our number this year†said Crawford of the Jackets 4-0-2 record against the Blues in the regular season. “But a seven games series is a lot different than playing a game here and a game there through out the yearâ€

    Where the Blues might hold a slight advantage, is in a physical group of mobile blue-liners like no other in the league, who have consistently worn down opponents and are tailor made for a long playoff series. The Blues first round opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, like the Blue Jackets, were one of the top 5 in HFNHL scoring this season, but were shut down by the Blues, scoring just seven goals in five games.

    Crawford keeps one of Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara and Derien Hatcher on the ice at all times in an attempt to limit second opportunities in front of Blues goalie Nikolai Khabibulin while wearing down the opposition’s forwards.

    What could prove the Blues Achilles heel in this series however, is their top two lines inability to score consistently. Where as the Jackets have several lines that seem to be greater than the sum of their parts, the Blues have tended to be the opposite, with their top lines scoring but two goals in five opening round games, a continuation of the frustration they have felt through out the season.

    “We have to better this round†said Joe Thornton, who along with line mate Daniel Alfredsson, have been unable to find a cohesive third wheel this year.

    The duo have played with no less than five left wingers during the year, which has included several stints with the likes of Dany Heatley, Steve Yzerman, Peter Schaefer, Jarkko Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov.

    It is expected Craig Conroy will once again center Heatley and Scott Walker on one of the top lines, and given the Blues best line in the first round was the line of Vincent Lecavalier, Yzerman and Samsonov, it seems that line will remain in tact. That leaves one Ruutu or Schaefer as the left winger for Thornton.

    While Ruutu played the last two games of the Oilers series on the Thornton line, Crawford said he would make a game time decision on the lines.
     

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