BY LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- The question posed as the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks head into tonight's Game 6 of the Western Conference First Round is can it be good for the Blues that a rookie is becoming one of their best players on the ice?
The way Robby Fabbri played in Game 5 with a goal and assist (both in the third period) only points to that the 20-year-old is getting better and better as this series has progressed.
Fabbri scored the goal -- a nifty one at that -- that pulled the Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, within one at 3-2, then had an incredible effort to assist on David Backes' tying goal.
Even though it's his first Stanley Cup Playoff series and against the defending Stanley Cup champions to boot doesn't seem to be having an affect on Fabbri, who has four points in five games.
"He's like a lot of young players in our league right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Fabbri. "I don't know if it's from international competition; I think a lot of it is, but there's just so many young players that aren't afraid of the moment anymore. You think this is going to be overwhelming, but for some of these guys, it's exactly the exact opposite; they're loving it. He's one of those players. I think the league's just loaded with these guys now. I think a lot of it is because of Under-17, Under-18, World Junior. Playing so many big games by the time they're 20, 21, they're used to it but man, has it ever changed. You used to have to protect these guys and now you need to get them out there more. It's just changed so much here in the last three years."
Fabbri, after beginning the series with Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer, a line that was so hot towards the end of the regular season, has regained new-found success with Backes and Patrik Berglund.
"He's a big-game player," left wing Scottie Upshall said of Fabbri. "He stepped up last night and made two great plays to change the game. We're looking for him to continue that. He's been great for us all year. It's nice to have his game step up in such a key time and for him to be able to do that for us being so young and not much playoff experience, it's huge and we're hoping he builds on that. That lifted us up to a new level last night and we carry that on to Game 6."
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The Blues get a second opportunity to close this series out after failing to do so in Game 5 at home, a 4-3 double-overtime loss.
The last time Chicago lost three home games in one series was 2012 when the Phoenix Coyotes beat them, also in six games. Coincidentally, they lost Game 6 at home on this date today.
"I don't really care when we win," Hitchcock said. "I just want to win. I don't care when it is. ... We just want to win the series. It doesn't matter when, if, where, whatever. We'll play them on the street if they want. We just want to win this series."
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk agreed.
"It doesn't matter where, we just want to win it," Shattenkirk said. "We'd like to win it here because it's today. We don't want to wait until Monday to try and do this. We're ready to come in here tonight and play our best game of the series."
In the past four days, the visiting team has had its way in the playoffs, winning 13 of 16 games, including 4-for-4 on Friday.
"It's interesting because I think it's generational to be honest with you," Hitchcock said. "I think sometimes as coaches, we can get in the way of what we think works and what we think the players' mindset is. I think we're now in a generation of players all think they can play against anybody and they want to play. And I think when we start matching up all over the place and take them out of their rhythm, they don't like it. I think that's something that's going to be around for a little while now. I think players have such a high level of confidence to play the game right now. I think when you're on the road, you just play. You're not worried about matchups, you just go out and play. I think the players appreciate that and like that more and I think we're going to be seeing that in the next 10 years of this generation. Everybody feels like they can play in both ends of the rink and they want the opportunity to do that. You do get that as a road team, not so much as a home team."
Shattenkirk said those numbers mean the league is so well-balanced.
"The reason teams have done so well on the road I think is because we have so many great teams in this league now," Shattenkirk said. "There's no real rhyme or reason to it. The way we've approached this series is on a game-by-game basis and we know how hard of a building this is to win in. We just have to control our emotions, control the momentum swings of the game. That's what's made us successful in the last two games."
Losing Game 5 in the past had a totally different meaning for the Blues. They had the chance to take a series lead and gain a strangehold on the series the past three years, and Thursday, they had the chance to win it. Losing could have sent them into a panic state, but no more.
"Not any more. It was something, I don't think it was, how is it going to look when we blow a lead, I think it was more, being worried about making the wrong plays and worried about making mistakes," Shattenkirk said. "When you get to this time of year, mistakes are going to be made, it's how you react to them and how you minimize those mistakes. That's how this team approaches it. We don't hang our heads on anything, whether we're up by two or down by two, we just refocus in every shift and I think it just allows us to refocus on winning the hockey game and taking it one step at the time."
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The Blues held an optional skate today a day after not skating at all on Friday, instead opting to have players rest and show up for a flight and Saturday, wanting to throw everything into winning tonight.
"Well, we look at the off day," Hitchcock said. "We looked at yesterday at night, where everybody was at. We get information from the training staff and we felt like, 'The game is tonight, we need to pour everything into the game.' We know what we've been through and we just felt like today was better to go at it this way knowing where we're at, so we made that decision to keep some people off so that we could pour in tonight and not waste any energy or physical exertion this morning with some guys."
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The Blackhawks, to no surprise, are using so much of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson on defense, that the question was posed to Hitchcock whether it made any sense to try and wear them down.
"It's a total waste of time," Hitchcock said. "I don't know, unless we hit another ankle somewhere, it's a total waste of time. You can do what you want with stoppages in the game, the breaks you get, how to manage the ice, it's a complete waste of time. You're just better off playing through it. ... I think the players nowadays on mobility they have and the way they train, I think players actually look forward playing 30 minutes a game, especially elite ones. I think there's times quite frankly when you play them 22 or 23 minutes, they get bored and they get disinterested. It's the way players condition themselves and train right now, they train like they can go forever. I think talking about pushing guys out of series. They're not going to push guys like 'Petro' and 'Bouw' out of series; it's not going to happen. They're not going to tire them out. We're not going to do the same to them. We're going to have to point it in a different direction."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund--David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Andrew Shaw-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Teuvo Teravainen
Andrew Ladd-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Richard Panik-Andrew Desjardins-Dale Weise
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Erik Gustafsson-Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk-David Rundblad
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Svedberg, Michal Rozsival, Christian Ehrhoff, Brandon Mashinter and Michael Leighton. The Blackhawks report no injuries.