Blackhawks have taken three straight, have
chance to eliminate St. Louis Sunday at home
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In every playoff series as tight as the one between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, there always seems to be a fine line between a winner and a loser.
When the Blues won Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference First Round series, the fine line was getting big goals late in games, then winning in overtime.
In Games 3-5, all victories by the Blackhawks, that fine line seems to come from the same tree but in different variances.
The Blackhawks, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday (2 p.m.; NBC, KY 98-FM), saw goalie Corey Crawford steal a win to get the defending Stanley Cup champions on the board. In Game 4, it was a clutch tying goal late before an overtime winner. On Friday night in St. Louis, it came down to a fortuitous bounce.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
T.J. Oshie (74) andhis Blues teammates hope to keep Jonathan Toews
and the Blackhawks grounded for one more game to force a Game 7.
Those are the small details that separate the two teams.
"It’s tight out there, it really is," Blues left wing Steve Ott said. "Both teams are extremely even in the sense of power plays, penalty killing stuff that's been going on. It's who's going to continue to stick to that structure the best.
"I know from being in that dressing room, the character we have in this room is by far the most I've ever been part of."
With the Blues having their backs against the wall facing yet another disappointing early playoff exit after a rousing regular season, they hope to draw from past experiences as a measuring stick for just how far they've come heading into a building that's been tough on opponents all season.
"I think it's just the resiliency that it takes," Blues right wing T.J. Oshie said. "It seems like whatever you can do to win a game in playoffs, you've got to do a little more than that. Whether it be guys step back and maybe try a little bit less because we're really focused on getting a lot of energy, getting a lot of hits. Maybe we need to step back a little bit and just calm down and play within ourselves and within our system. If it seems like they're getting rid of the puck a little bit, they can have have a little bit more confidence themselves to hold onto it and make the right play.
"It's tough. It's a tough time right now, but we don't feel like we're going to be coming home tomorrow and getting the golf clubs out either. We're confident that we're going to go in tomorrow and get the win and bring this thing back to St. Louis."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke of the Blues' biggest obstacle is trying to push through the Blackhawks' resolve, not their skill. And with Chicago getting a chance to end the series in front of their raucous home fans, there will be an even greater challenge trying to break that resolve.
"Yeah. They're going to try and knock us out," said Hitchcock, whose team has dropped seven straight road playoff games going back to 2012. "They don't want to come back to St. Louis. Not a fun building for them to play in. So they're going to try and knock us out, and we're going to have to be ready for it. But I don't want us going in there absorbing. That's not the way we play. We've got to play on our toes, we've got to play smart.
"We're capable. We've shown the ability to really play in that building the last two games. We've really played well in that building, but again, it's hard to dig yourself out of a hole every game, and we've been chasing every game for the last three or four games. That wears you down after a while. For us, you like our spirit, you love our heart, you love everything that goes on with it, but I want to see us playing better early and then that gives us a real fighting chance to win the hockey game."
The Blues, who are fighting through some of some of the same scoring demons (or lack thereof) that haunted them against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round last season, would love nothing more than to get the series back to St. Louis Tuesday for a Game 7. But first thing's first.
"It's going to start with one game at a time, but the next one's obviously the biggest game of the year," Oshie said. "We need everyone's best game of the year from me all the way through."
"This is time to park (Game 5)," Ott said. "We've got a game here in less than 24 hours to get ready for. There's a reason why it's the first to win four games and not the first to win three.
"These are the type of game you dream of as a kid, to have these opportunities, to play for your lives. Right now that's what we're going to have to do."
The Blues put up a valiant fight against the Kings in Game 6 before falling 2-1. They hope for a little more Sunday at United Center.
"It's a different team we're playing. Last year, it was ice by the inch. This is probably ice by the foot," Hitchcock said. "That's the best way to describe it.
"This is great hockey. It's got everything. It's got great goals, it's got great goaltending, it's got great plays, it's got great individual plays. It's just got everything. Last year was ice by the inch. It was how many players can we eliminate? How many can they eliminate? This is more ice by the foot. There's so much drama these games, you've got to admire both teams. Neither team's giving each other much here and both teams have tremendous resolve. Unfortunately, one of them's got to go down early. We just don't want it to be us."
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
The Blues can use some clutch goal scoring against Blackhawks goalie
Corey Crawford (left). Vladimir Tarasenko (91) is a viable option.
For Hitchcock, who's been through a plethora of postseason challenges during his 17 seasons, the message to his players before they boarded a plane for Chicago Saturday afternoon was simple.
"We have a chance to write our own legacy," Hitchcock said. "Everybody is probably writing, 'Here they go again. They're challenging the top teams, but can they get through the top teams?' Everybody is going to write that stuff. But we have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it's in our control. It's not in 'what's going to get printed' control, it's in our control. And I want to see us embrace this.
"Yeah, we're knocking on the door and we're knocking hard but we've got to push through. Just can't keep pushing up against the wall. We've got a real opportunity to push through the wall here. I want to see our players take advantage of this. I really want to see us play a hell of a hockey game. I want to see us really, really go at this thing and like I said, I want to see us with a little more composure in the right areas. I think we're going to eliminate some of their scoring chances because of it and maybe even get a few more ourselves."