If the St. Louis Blues start feeling they’ve been here before, it’s with good reason.
Not only are the Blues staring at elimination in six games in their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks, the parallels to their loss a year ago to the Los Angeles Kings are all to familiar.
As the Blues ready to face the Blackhawks Sunday afternoon at the United Center, they do so with five previous games that are nearly carbon copies of their Kings series.
Game 1: Both Blues victories with Alex Steen scoring the overtime winner.
Game 2: Both Blues victories with Barret Jackman scoring the winning goal.
Game 3: Shutout losses in which the Blues were the better team.
Game 4: Blues blow 3-2 third-period leads and lose 4-3.
Game 5: Alex Pietrangelo scores to force overtime but they fall 3-2 in OT.
Now the Blues have to change the next chapter, or else it becomes the final chapter on this year’s season.
“We have a chance to write our own legacy,” St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday. “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.”
A case could be made both teams deserved to win all five games so far, four of which required overtime.
However, the Blues are well aware they need a special performance to bring the series home for a Game 7 clash on Tuesday, where they’ll try to snap a seven-game road losing streak in the playoffs.
“When you’re faced with the elimination or do or die, your character has to rise,” Steve Ott said. “We need to all rise to a (higher) level. We all need to have our best game of the year and if we do so, we’re coming back to St. Louis.
“I think it has to do with your emotions. Four games in overtime, this is how tight and realistic of an opportunity this is for us. We’re ready to go. This is not a lack of effort or lack of compete, I think we’ve showed up and put a strong game and so have they.”
Nothing short will mean another disappointing season for a Blues team that was on the verge of reeling in the regular-season title.
“It seems like whatever you can do to win a game in playoffs, you’ve got to do a little more than that,” T.J. Oshie said. “It’s tough. It’s a tough time right now, but we don’t feel like we’re going to be coming home and getting the golf clubs out either. We’re confident that we’re going to go in and get the win and bring this thing back to St. Louis.”
In the breach most is Blues goalie Ryan Miller, who was acquired at the trade deadline to be a difference-maker.
Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford was the difference-maker in Chicago’s 1-0 Game 3 win. The Blues could use Miller pitching a shutout.
“We’re probably gonna have to steal a game to bring this thing back, so he’s gonna have to be part of the steal,” Hitchcock said. “He’s gonna have to be one of the robbers. He’s gonna have to be a big player for us. We know that, he knows that.”
For reference, Game 6 last year ended with a 2-1 Kings victory. The winning goal on Blues goalie Brian Elliott came in the final second of the second period.
BOOST ON ’HAWKS BLUE LINE
As if the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t already in a good enough position.
They now get No. 2 defenceman Brent Seabrook back into the lineup to help them go for the final kill.
As the Blackhawks look to punt the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Sunday’s Game 6 in Chicago, Seabrook is eligible to return from the three-game suspension he received for his hit on Blues captain David Backes earlier in the series.
“Seabs is one of the steadiest D-men I think in this league. And pretty underrated too,” blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson told reporters Saturday. “You don’t hear him too much around the Norris Trophy talks and things like that. I think Seabs is definitely one of the best players in this league and what he brings to our team every night is huge. It’s obviously going to be huge for us to get him back.”
Backes returned for Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss after missing two games and logged eight hits and a couple of shots on goal, along with a minus-2 rating in 21:35 of ice time.
“For not skating, for not playing, I thought he did fine,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He hit the wall a few times so we had to put other people on the ice, but for coming back — how long’s he not skated for, two weeks? (other than the first two games of the series) — and to play those minutes was impressive.”