HRABE: Bus Ride To The Playoffs — The Blues’ 4th Line
ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – When T.J. Oshie was placed on injured reserve a month ago, most people probably weren’t thinking about the Blues fourth line of Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves. In fact, there was a lot of talk about when Oshie would return and who would pick up the slack in the meantime.
For much of the last month, the fourth line has picked up the slack and much more. And to think, they were used to riding buses not too long ago. More on that in a moment.
The only member of the line with any real sense of so-called security at the beginning of the month was Porter. Porter signed a new new two-year, one-way contract with the Blues on April 4th, just days after Adam Cracknell was recalled from Peoria to take Oshie’s place.
The cliché about the last spin through a coach’s lineup card is that fourth lines are “energy lines.” Often times, they consist of bruisers who lay hits and lumber around the ice. This group has developed into much more than that; a legitimate offensive weapon. A weapon that is generating chances for the Blues night in and night out, all the way into the postseason.
“You’re all talking about our fourth line being our fourth line, but they’re more than our fourth line. They score. Fourth line is an energy line … those days are gone,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“Those are dinosaur lines. They don’t work anymore in the league. The hockey’s too good. Your fourth line needs to contribute, and boy, ours has come through in spades.”
It helps that Cracknell and Reaves are so familiar with each other as linemates.
“We’ve played together for a few years now. We know each other’s roles and we know each other’s strengths, and we try to play to each other’s strengths as much as possible,” says Cracknell.
“I think we keep it as basic as possible, but it’s as effective as can be for us.”
And sometimes, the only difference might seem to be their surroundings.
“We’ve talked about it before,” Cracknell continued. “We put our hours in on the bus trips. It’s all worth it, but you never forget where you came from and how we got here. It’s very rewarding to be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Some of us never thought we would ever be here, especially when you’re on an 8-hour road trip.”
So the fourth line, for the time being, seems destined to stay put on their latest trip, but on a team charter rather than a bus. This trip, and their role on it, is an important part of the Blues gameplan. But it wasn’t always like this.
Ryan Reaves is no stranger to being on the outside looking in during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And the 26-year old forward says that’s something that motivates him.
“It’s tough, because you’re sitting in a playoff series that you want to be in so bad…You’re jumping on the bike, you’re skating, and you’re watching the team do all the hard work for you,” Reaves recalls.
“It tough to stay up, But I think you need to remember it’s a playoff series…Not letting it get you down when you’re out of the lineup…is the key.
With all of the scoring still comes a certain punch, and Reaves says he was happy to be the one to deliver it early on in Game One against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
“I think I kind of knew it was going to happen,” Reaves smiled.
“I think I knew I had to get the crowd into it early and I kind of took it upon myself to send that message. It’s going to be physical, it’s going to be a battle, and if [the Kings] want to stay in it, it’s going to be tough.”
Most opponents of the Blues have found that to be the case this season. It’s a tough road, and one that Cracknell and Reaves are especially familiar with, by both bus and plane. A road that the Blues fourth line seems determined to stay on as long as they can into the summer, even if it took a few stops along the way.
Chris Hrabe hosts “The Sports Hub” weeknights from 9p-12a on KMOX.