By LOUIE KORAC
LOS ANGELES -- As coach of the Dallas Stars in 1999 when he led his team to the Stanley Cup, Ken Hitchcock was in this familiar position: down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and facing elimination on the road.
Not only did Hitchcock's Stars go into Denver and down the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals, they won Game 7 at home, it was culminated with a victory over the Buffalo Sabres in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
Fast forward 14 years later, where Hitchcock's Blues are down 3-2 against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, on the road, in a tough building, needing a win to keep their season alive.
So what can these Blues draw from their veteran coach that they must apply against a Kings team that has won three straight in the series?
"You have to outplay the team," Hitchcock said after Friday's morning skate. "You can't expect to play at the same level and win the hockey game. It doesn't happen. I've been in this situation a number of times and come through, and it's been the same similar landscape. We have to outplay them today. If we play at the same level, it's not going to be good enough. We've got to find ways in every aspect. Our special teams have to be better and our 5-on-5 play has to be better if we expect to win the hockey game. Because when you're the defending Cup champion, you have some experience in critical times and critical areas on the ice that you can rely on that's familiar ground. We're not on that ground yet. If we're going to leave no doubt, we're going to have to outplay them."
Message delivered as the Blues and Kings play Game 6 Friday night at Staples Center (9 p.m. on FSN, Y-98 FM and NBCSN).
The Blues are the first team in the series to lose at home in Game 5, a 3-2 overtime setback that has them on the brink of elimination. They hope to draw on the good play they displayed in that game, aside from what has seemed to be the missing link between winning and losing: scoring.
"We've got to play another game like we did at home last game but bury a few chances and limit a few of the mistakes that we made," captain David Backes said. "Special teams battles are always a key. We need 20 guys in here that want it more and are more committed and put it all on the line.
"The character we've shown throughout the year should have prepared us for a situation like this. We'll see how it all comes out tonight. We've got a group of guys in here that's ready to get back on the ice and prove that Games 1 and 2 weren't flukes."
It's one reason why the Blues seemed to have a loose, laid back but focused attitude skating today.
"I think we're pretty confident in the games that we've been putting out there, the product that we're putting out there," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They're an experienced team. They didn't get flustered by a 2-0 deficit [in the series]. They came home, they did what they needed to do and then they came into our building and snuck one out last game. Now it's our turn to do it here.
"This is a tough building to win in. They feed off of their crowd and they play very well at home, so it's going to be important for us that we make sure we keep our emotions in check and really just be ready for anything that comes."
A year ago when the Blues were swept by the Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Kings overwhelmed them in a number of areas. It's not the sense that Hitchcock gets from this series, which is why he believes they can win here tonight.
"A year ago, we were hoping that they didn't show up, and if you look, we maybe got 10 scoring chances a game," Hitchcock said. "The scores were closer than the games were. There wasn't a feeling on the bench for me that we were going to push through at times. But we've come a long way. We're pushing them to the limit, they're pushing us to the limit. Both teams have had to put a lot of energy into every period to get through it. Both teams are being pushed against the wall in a lot of these games. From that standpoint, we've come a long, long way. But I think the reward, what we're trying to convince the players is if we win tonight and get it to Game 7, there's even a bigger reward. Convincing the players of that and getting us to do it I think would even give us more and more confidence because we're in a position where both teams feel like they deserve to move on, but one's going to. I just want to see from a growth standpoint us get that opportunity."
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The Blues have already dropped a pair of one-goal games in Staples Center in Games 3 and 4.
They lost 1-0 in Game 3 on Slava Voynov's second-period goal, a game in which the Blues were lamenting the missed opportunities they had that could have put them up 3-0 in the series. They then fell 4-3 in Game 4 when they led 2-0 five minutes in and 3-2 heading into the third period.
They're both cases of a missed opportunity here, or better execution there that the landscape of the series could be different. But these are the very reasons why the Blues believe they can win in a building that's seen the Kings win nine in a row -- because both Games 3 and 4 were winnable games.
"I think you have to take a lot of good things out of the games we weren't able to get a win," Shattenkirk said. "Maybe with the exception of Game 4, we executed our game plan pretty well and we stuck to it, which I think is even more important. We didn't stray when we went down a goal or anything like that. I think that was a problem we had during the year. We've cleaned it up here in the playoffs. We haven't gotten the result we needed.
"It's tough to think you were up 2-0 and now you're down 3-2, but it's do-or-die games from here on the way out and I think that's a position we're ready to really grab and take and run."
So what do the Blues need to bring from the drop of the puck?
"Just our best effort," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "We know what we're up against now. We've just got to win one hockey game. We've played well at times during the series. If we can just have a complete game, play for a full 60 minutes, then we give ourselves a pretty good chance.
"I think (the mood) is good. We have good energy. We know that if we put a full game together then we give ourselves a good chance. That's all that we can really control right now is our effort and the way we're going to compete. Everyone knows the situation, but I think my experience here this has been a pretty loose group and we play good when we have a little bit of fun. The feeling in here hasn't changed too much."
Added Hitchcock: "I think the feeling with us is that every player in that room knows we can't play the same. We're going to have to outplay them. I think everybody knows that, but I think there's a real high level of confidence that we can do that.
"I know we're going to get their best push because they don't want to go back to St. Louis. But I also believe we have it in us to outplay them."
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The Blues' probable lineup, the same as Game 5:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott starts in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Vladimir Tarasenko, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) remains on injured reserve.
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The Kings' projected lineup, which could include a change at forward:
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams
Dwight King-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan-Colin Fraser-Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr-Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi-Alec Martinez
Jake Muzzin-Slava Voynov
Jonathan Quick is in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.
Healthy scratches are expected to be Brad Richardson, Jordan Nolan and Keaton Ellerby. Kyle Clifford did not take part in the morning skate and could play, as coach Darryl Sutter said it was a "maintenance day" for Clifford. If he's in, Nolan would be the candidate to draw out. Willie Mitchell (knee) remains on season-ending injured reserve. Matt Greene (lower-body) is not ready to return.