Canucks’ No. 1 line silent heading into Game 4

ST. LOUIS (AP)—The St. Louis Blues’ strategy in their series against Vancouver is simple: If they stop the Canucks’ No. 1 line, they’ll win.

So far, the Blues have held the high-scoring trio of Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison to two assists in taking a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series heading into Game 4 Wednesday night.

“They’re the heart of their team,” Blues rookie defenseman Barret Jackman said. “Any time you can shut them down, it’s going to kind of have a trickle-down effect.”

In the regular season, that line accounted for 272 points. Naslund finished second in the NHL in both goals (48) and points (104). Bertuzzi, perhaps the top power forward in the league, had 97 points.

The Blues have neutralized them by assigning their top defensive pairing, Jackman and Chris Pronger, to them and assigning a defensive role to the second line of Doug Weight, Dallas Drake and Martin Rucinsky.

“No one’s sniffing for goals and no one’s trying to make too many plays happen,” Weight said. “They’re great players and they’ve had world class-type years, but you certainly try to rise up to the challenge.

“You have that responsibility not to take dumb chances and we all believe in that.”

The Canucks knew it wouldn’t be easy this time of year, no matter how effective that line was.

“It’s been a bit frustrating for us, no question,” Morrison said. “I know our line hasn’t had an odd-man rush in three games.

“You just have to have the mindset that it’s going to be a battle and we just have to be ready for that one opportunity.”

Coach Marc Crawford said if anything, the line is trying too hard to make things happen.

“If overcaring is maybe a fault, then they may be guilty of that,” Crawford said.

The defensive role for Weight, one of the Blues’ highest-paid players at $8 million per season, has actually opened things up for him offensively. Weight had two goals and an assist in Game 3 and has three goals in three playoff games after totaling 15 in 70 regular-season games.

“I’m going to get some great chances to score,” he said. “It’s just a matter of me burying it.”

The scoring slump of the Canucks’ top line extends to the power play, where the team is 3-for-24 in the series. They were 1-for-8 in Game 3, totaling six shots, although Marek Malik got his first career playoff goal with the man advantage.

“Our power play has been big for us all year long,” Morrison said. “It hasn’t come up big yet, but we’re still positive in here.”

Bertuzzi believes a few minor adjustments, and a little luck, could make it tougher on the Blues’ strategy.

“Obviously, there’s not a lot of room out there,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to play like we’re capable of playing. One bounce here, and you can turn things around.”

The Blues held the Canucks to 14 shots in Game 3, tying a 35-year-old franchise playoff record for shots allowed. Crawford counted 59 shots for his team, some of which sailed wide, but estimated there were more than 20 blocked shots.

“We’ve got to get a few more through,” Crawford said. “We attempted a lot and they blocked an awful lot. We’re going to have to put on a little bit more deceptiveness, especially on our point shots.”

The low volume made life easier for goaltender Chris Osgood. Defenseman Bryce Salvador led the way with several blocks.

“We’ve been suffocating at times,” Osgood said. “They’re in our end, moving the puck around and taking shots, but we’re just blocking shots—a heck of a lot of shots.”

Neither team has been happy with tight officiating that created 17 power plays in Game 3. That continued a series-long trend that has hurt continuity in play, with 50 power plays overall.

“It’s tight and it’s tough, and that’s the way it is,” Blues coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got to deal with it.”

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Chris Osgood Det 14 13