Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Developing killer instinct Blues' immediate challenge

Team must learn to not only win physical battle, mental one as well

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- If the Blues learned anything from the overtime loss at Chicago Monday night, it's that they certainly don't want it to become a cyclical theme.

Kind of like last season.

Remember those?

The blown leads, particularly in the third period?

Kind of tough to forget, aren't they? Especially when it happened again so quickly this season.

The 3-2 overtime loss to the Blackhawks was certainly emblematic of a number of their games that were decided a season ago. Even though they're only five games into the young season, the Blues (2-1-2) would certainly like to put a quick halt to losing games they seem to have a firm grasp of.

And in this ever-growing process of gaining experience on the fly, developing a killer instinct and squeezing the life out of the opponent would certainly be a good way to start.

"We have to learn how to do that," Blues winger Brad Boyes said. "I think we have to learn how to bury teams. We have to get to that winning mindset. When we're up, just keep going. Not falling back at all. Keep going and play to get the next one. ... You can't go into the third period trying to preserve (the lead). You've got to keep going, keep applying the pressure. It's playing to win, going after that jugular."

Teams that make the playoffs and succeed during the season have a knack for doing just that. Call it a swagger, if you will.

"Obviously, mentally it's a big part of the game, too," Blues defenseman Erik Johnson said. "You have to think you're going to play well, you have to think positive. If you think all those things, those thoughts turn into reality. You have to have a good mindset.

"I don't think there's any reason to hit the panic button right now."

The Blues, who were 0-1-2 on their recent three-game jaunt away from Scottrade Center, led the defending Stanley Cup champs 2-0 with just under seven minutes to play. The lead quickly evaporated, and so did the game. Even though the Blues earned a point in the loss, there's a hard lesson to be learned here.

A lesson they learned the hard way too many times a season ago.

"I think the big thing and the winning ingredient for winning teams is they go into every game and they expect to win," Johnson said. "I think we do go into every game and expect to win and know we can win. I think the thing we need to figure out is when we're winning, we need to close the games out and really finish those off.

"When you put yourself in a position where you're winning a hockey game and you can close it out, you have to have that killer instinct and shut the door and make sure that you know when you have the lead that you're going to close the game out. For the guys you put out on the ice at the end of the game, there's got to be no doubt in anyone's minds. I think we're going to get better at that. We have to. We can't lose leads like that, either home or on the road."

The Blues, who had a bad first period -- falling behind 3-1 -- in losing 4-3 at Nashville to begin the trip, then took a 2-0 lead early at Dallas before succumbing to the Stars 3-2 in a shootout. David Perron scored twice in Chicago, with the second goal giving the Blues a 2-0 lead midway through the third period.

But instead of putting the pedal to the metal and finishing off a tough Blackhawks team in their building, the Blues got somewhat complacent and a questionable penalty got Chicago back into the game and the Blues could never seem to regroup.

Losing these types of games last season cost them precious points in the standings. Ultimately, it would have the Blues on the outside looking in when the playoffs rolled around.

"You take your foot off the pedal for a second and a team like that will make you pay. They're Stanley Cup champions for a reason," Johnson said of the Blackhawks. "... You can't get lax against a team like that. I don't think we did, but they got the power play goal and once they do that, some momentum starts building. Unfortunately they beat us."

With a chance to put their money where their mouth is, the Blues will get Chicago again here Friday. Pittsburgh rolls in Saturday. This time, if there is a lead in the third period, what better way to begin the process of encapsulating those late leads than against the champs.

The Blues must learn sometime if they are to make any noise.

"We've got them coming back, so we've got to make sure we let (Monday's game) go," Boyes said. "We've got to make sure that we get back to business. We've got 82 games in a season and we've played five so we've got a lot of time left. We've got a lot of games ahead of us. We take what we can out of it and we move on."

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