By LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- As the Blues are about to step on the ice for what could be the final time of the 2013-14 season, the objective is to do anything possible to keep their season alive and bring the Western Conference First Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks to Scottrade Center for Game 7 on Tuesday.
The Blues, who won the first two games but have dropped three in a row to be faced with elimination for today's 2 p.m. game (NBC, KY 98-FM), they won't look at it from the standpoint of it could all end today. Just go out there, do the best they can and let the chips fall where they may.
"I think you just make a mountain out of a molehill," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said during the pregame. "It's a hockey game and you've gotta play. It doesn't matter if you play, keep playing, go home or whatever, it's a hockey game. You've got to play it. It's a three-hour event and you just gotta be ready to play your game. You can't get overwhelmed.
"I told the players (Saturday) night you can't get overwhelmed by what's at stake for both teams and waste any energy on amping up the volume. The volume is already at full blown right now. You just gotta play and save your energy for the start of the game, the actual event. When you get on the ice, it will take care of all the energy you need. You just gotta stay calm and focused. We gotta play our game and not let them dictate and play their game."
So for the veteran Hitchcock, there are no pregame 'Win One for the Gipper' speeches necessary.
"We talked (Saturday) about the things that need to be done, but you get to this stage and you can be really matter-of-fact," Hitchcock said. "I think it's good. This is the second time where we're getting a 100 percent complete evaluation on our team. We're not saying, 'Well, are we here or are we there?' We're playing against the top team. It was the top team last year that gave us a 100 percent evaluation of what needed to change. Well here's the top team again. There's no gray areas. We're getting 100 percent of exactly what we're doing well and what works and what we need to get better at. I want us to learn from that and really make a full blown adjustment that we need to make, and then I want us to play our game, which has given them real trouble. Our game, when we're on board with it, and we're able to play it, has really given them trouble. And their game has hurt us as well."
The Blues played well in Games 3 and 4 at United Center but fell 2-0 and 4-3 in overtime, respectively. Playing well and winning are two different elements, however.
"The battle that we're having is against their experience at closing people out," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks, who are 10-2 in closing out teams under former Blues coach Joel Quenneville. "That's the battle we're having, because we're about to get their A-plus game today. They're not gonna want to go back to St. Louis, so we know we're going to get their A-plus game. This is going to give us another evaluation on our team that we need, but we're getting their A-plus today, so we just gotta be ready for it. If they get to dictate, they're going to win. If we get to dictate, we're going to win."
Getting to their game early would be a good place to start.
"Our game is based on making them stop and play," Hitchcock said. "Our game is based on that. When they're able to play on the move, and they're able to play on the move with transition, they are as dynamic as anybody in the league or better than anybody in the league. When we make them stop and have to play, we are really good at our game. We saw that here in the (2-0) game. They had to stop and play and it was very frustrating for them and we were coming at them in waves, but when they get loose on them they're dynamic.
"If you look at the series, even the last game is a microcosm of the series, the scoring chances at the end of the night are even. That's not good for us. As many as we're getting, we can't give up that many if we expect to beat them because it means they're getting scoring chances. The biggest challenge for us is at the end of the night through this series they have gotten too many scoring chances off the rush for us to win hockey games. We've gotta eliminate their scoring chances off the rush and drop their total down. For the most part, the games that we've won, their scoring chacnes were lower than ours. But when they're even, and they've been even in this building, it's been that small advantage for them and we've gotta get that dropped down."
Hitchcock politely wouldn't comment on any potential lineup changes, so barring any changes in the pregame warmup, the Blues lineup is projected to stay the same:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko
Steve Ott-Patrik Berglund-Derek Roy
Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak
Ryan Miller will start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Adam Cracknell, Magnus Paajarvi, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole. Brenden Morrow (foot) is out.
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The Blackhawks will get defenseman Brent Seabrook back from the three-game suspension handed down after the hit to the head of Backes, and Quenneville would not comment on any other changes:
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Ben Smith-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig-Michal Handzus-Joakim Nordstrom
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will get the start in goal; Antti Raanta will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Sheldon Brookbank, Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Kris Versteeg and Klas Dahlbeck. Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder) is on long-term injured-reserve.