Saturday, May 4, 2019

With backs against wall, Blues can use January motivation, experience in elimination game

Down 3-2 in series to Dallas, Game 6 is 
must-win for St. Louis or season is over 

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues have been pushed against that wall, with their backs firmly pressed up against it.

The Blues face elimination for the first time after falling 2-1 on home ice in Game 5 against the Dallas Stars on Friday in the Western Conference second round. The Blues are down 3-2 in the series now needing to win Sunday in Dallas in Game 6 (2 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM) to try and force a Game 7 on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Enterprise Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tyler Bozak (left) and the Blues are in a must-win situation as they head to
Dallas for Game 6 against the Stars on Sunday afternoon.

And even though this is a one-game playoff to try and save their season, the Blues are accustomed to being left for dead and down and out.

When the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019, they were dead-last in the NHL with 34 points on the morning of January 3. Few gave them a fighting chance then to, not only make the playoffs but resurrect their season after going through a coaching change in November.

What this Blues group does have is the experience to pull together as one and have that us-against-the-world mindset and defy the odds when all are against them.

"We had to fight through some adversity to get to the playoffs and get where we are now, so obviously we have one game here we have to win or the season’s over," Blues center Tyler Bozak said. "I know not one guy in this room wants to be done. We’re going to go out there and give them our best game."

The Blues started giving teams their best games then, including reeling off a franchise-record 11-game winning streak that ended with a loss to, coincidentally, Dallas on Feb. 21. But they found a way then of pulling together, and now must find a way to pull together again.

"Hopefully, yeah," Blues right wing David Perron said. "There are two ways to look at it: you can take some of the experiences and be excited. There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s what we play for. In December and November, we felt like we were losing that opportunity. Now we’ve found it again and we've got to give it our best game."

The Blues can also draw on their road success, including 4-1 in these playoffs, but that lone loss came in Game 4, 4-2 at American Airlines Center with a chance to go up 3-1 in the series. But if they ever need a performance on the road, it's now.

"I think it's possible," goalie Jordan Binnington said. "Any team in the playoffs right now can win any certain night. It's an exciting time. We're down 3-2 right now so hopefully we can get the next game in Dallas and go from there."

"We’re confident on the road," Bozak said. "I think throughout the playoffs we’ve played our best hockey on the road and felt best on the road. I don’t know why; can’t give you an answer to that. but we’re not feeling like we’re at a disadvantage by playing on the road. That’s where we’ve played our best hockey."

History is not on the Blues' side, however.

The past four times (2016 conference final against the San Jose Sharks, 2015 first round against the Minnesota Wild, 2014 first round against the Chicago Blackhawks and 2013 first round against the Los Angeles Kings) the Blues have been in this scenario, tied 2-2 in a best-of-7 series, then losing Game 5 at home, they went on to lose on the road in Game 6 by a combined 19-6.

They have never lose a Game 5 at home when the series is tied 2-2 and come back to win the series in seven.

But then again, the Blues were 0-8 in their previous eight Game 6's before disposing of the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in the first round this season. So the Blues hope to continue rewriting a script that's needed more surprising and unsuspecting chapters to it.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (right) and the Blues have to solve Ben Bishop (30) and the
Stars on Sunday trailing the best-of-7 series 3-2.

"For us, we’re going to be excited," Bozak said. "It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and win a game and bring it back home. I mean, this is why we play in the playoffs, these moments, the adversity, there may be nerves in warmup or something like that, but once the game starts, everyone will be ready to go."

* NOTES -- An area of emphasis for the Blues heading into Game 6 will be puck management. It wasn't good in Game 4 and it certainly wasn't good for big chunks of Game 5.

When the Blues mismanaged the puck, the Stars were pouncing, and such was evident in the past two games, either directly or indirectly when Dallas got goals by catching the Blues on odd-man rushes or out of position.

"Puck management, line changes at the right times to set up the next shift, things like that," Perron said. "We did give some breakaways last night and chances that they’ve found a way to have in a lot of games with 'Bish' moving the puck pretty well, things like that. But at the end of our shifts, we have to be really smart and know who you’re out there against, know if your defensemen need to change, so you put it down low. That’s where our game is set up: we’re hard when we play down low and their guys can’t get going for easy 2-on-1's and breakaways. That’s the only thing for sure that we had too many of last night."

Scoring more often on the power play would also help.

After converting on 5 of 19 against Winnipeg in the first round, the Blues are just 2-for-16 in five games against the Stars, who were a perfect 15-for-15 in the first round against Nashville and 31 of 33 in the playoffs.

The Blues were 0-for-4 Friday and seemed to lose steam with each missed opportunity.

"Yeah, I mean, the power play has to be better," Bozak said. "We had opportunities throughout the series in special teams and we haven’t got the job done. That’s something we want to improve on and be better at. They do a good job. I don’t think they gave up a power play goal to Nashville in the first round, and they’ve done a really good job against us. 

"We’ve been watching video and trying to change things and tweak things. Ultimately we have to outwork the penalty kill and I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job at that. We have to get shots at the net, get traffic, take away the goalie’s eyes. They do a good job taking away the seams and those plays you want to make. It’s just more of getting shots on net and getting rebounds and making the plays after we do establish that shot."

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