Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blues, Blackhawks head to pivotal Game 5

2-2 series is right about where both teams 
were expected to be when it began last week

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Now that the Blues and Blackhawks are evened up at two games apiece in the Western Conference First Round series, it shouldn't be a total shock that the best-of-7 series has become a best-of-3.

But the Blues, who won Games 1 and 2 on home ice but saw the Blackhawks gain momentum by winning at home in Games 3 and 4, don't have any confidence issues with a pivotal Game 5 set to be played Friday (7 p.m.; FSN, KY 98-FM).

Both teams are feeling like they could have won all four games. That's how tight the primary statistical categories are. But for the Blues, the pressure now lies at their feet to hold serve once again before playing Game 6 Sunday in Chicago. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Maxim Lapierre (right) comes away from the corner boards after checking
Chicago's Sheldon Brookbank (17) Wednesday night.

"Nobody's panicking ... we're not in a bad spot," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It's tied and we still have home ice. We have a good opportunity here. I don't think anyone's worried where we're at or anything like that. We're not. 

"We knew going there that it was going to be tough. It's not the easiest place to play. We still have home ice, we had a couple close games (in Games 3 and 4). It's not been one-sided games or anything like that. You just keep going. It's a three-game series now and that's the way you approach it." 

The Blues held an optional skate Thursday afternoon at their practice facility, the IceZone, inside St. Louis Outlet Mall. Center David Backes was not among them, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock offered no further update regarding the condition of Backes, who has not played since Game 2 with an upper-body injury after the severe check from Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. 

"I mean, he's not skating today, so read what you want from that," Hitchcock said. "He's not around, he's not skating, so we'll see tomorrow. Hopefully he's able to get back before Seabrook or by Seabrook's time, so it doesn't turn into a little bit of an advantage for Chicago." 

The Blackhawks have outscored the Blues 12-11 through four games (one being an empty-netter), but going down the line, there are so many components that make both teams dead-even. 

"Well, the series is even, the scoring chances are even, goals for (and) goals against are even, special teams percentages are even," Hitchcock said. "So it's us getting to our game, them getting to their game. Whoever does it more tomorrow is going to win the hockey game. I think they've been good for half the game in playing the way they need to play. We've been good for half the game. The series is probably right where it belongs. Neither team is giving an inch. Both teams are, for me, fully invested and trying to win this series. Nobody is going away. They're not going away, we're not going away. Both teams have (a) significant injured player (Backes) or suspended player (Seabrook) that affects the outcome pretty dramatically. So you've got to get through that too. Everything is just so even, you get down to a best-of-3. 

"We've got to take back the early momentum that they built off of coming back yesterday and getting that goal and then winning in overtime. We've got to build it back." 

The Blues, like the Blackhawks did at United Center, must make Scottrade Center a true home advantage. By doing that, getting off to a strong start is a must. 

"We've got to find a way to get into our game earlier," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We talked about that today, especially at home. When you have an opportunity to play in front of your home crowd and get to the game early, it's going to benefit us later on in the game. 

"Playing in front of our own fans. We won both of our games at home. We seem to dictate more at home than on the road, so if we can get off to an early start in front of the home fans, it's going to give us a little bit of an extra jump." 

"I think it's very important," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think the last few games, we haven't gotten off to the start that we've wanted. We haven't really played the entire first half of the game the way we wanted. To get out tomorrow to a good start, a simple, hard, direct-smart is going to be important for us going forward in the rest of the series."

That messages makes it an easier sell for Hitchcock, but his stark reminder?

"The game is at 7:08, not at 7:48," Hitchcock said. "We've been awful good in the second half of games and we're going to have to be awful good for the whole game tomorrow. I mean they're invested and so are we. They just seem to have a little bit of jump on us early. We're going to have to find a way to take that away from them and get them playing our game, more than us playing their game. I thought in the first period (of Game 4), we chased them a little bit. They looked like the quicker team and then as the second period wore on, especially the third period, we really got to our game in a big way and it was very effective." 

In the grand scheme of the series, being tied with three games to play is probably where it should be, and if it happens to go seven games, nobody should be surprised. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Porter (right) and the Blues hope to put Michal Rozsival (left) and
the Blackhawks in a 3-2 hole when pivotal Game 5 is played Friday night.

"We figured it would be 4-0 us. I'm sure they were thinking the same thing," Pietrangelo said. "We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series. If you watched the games we played (against Chicago) in the regular season, they were all one-goal games for the most part. Coming home, 2-2, we feel pretty good. We've got the home ice advantage with two out of the three now."

One thing that's certain, the loser of the series will be a tough-luck losing team. 

"It's a shame that someone has got to lose this series because of what both organizations are putting into this thing," Hitchcock said. "But somebody's got to go down and I'd rather it be them than us. Everything everybody can do to make themselves a part of this thing and help out, they're willing to do. If it means playing banged up, you play banged up. If it means you've got to get going and give 60 percent, give us what you've got. That's just the way it is in a series like this. These are very unique series. The series last year against Los Angeles and the one this year against Chicago are very unique ... to see this much energy get exploited at this early stage is very, very unique."

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