Blues have no other choice - win or go home

News-DemocratApril 26, 2014 

— There is no secret formula that will save the St. Louis Blues' season.

Down 3-2 in their best-of-seven NHL Western Conference first-round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, it's a win or go home proposition Sunday at the United Center.

While it's true that four of the first five games of the series ventured into overtime and there has been little in the way of differences between the clubs, this much is certain:

The Blackhawks have found a way to get things done after losing the first two games of the series, roaring back with three consecutive wins.

In NHL history, approximately 86.4 percent of teams holding a 2-0 lead in best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series.

So what will the Blues do now?

They've lost seven straight road playoff games dating back to a 2-1 game 4 win over San Jose in 2012. They also failed to take command of a series in each of the last two years despite winning the first two games.

The Blackhawks are 8-1 in playoff Game 6 situations under coach Joel Quenneville.

Things are looking bleak, but the Blues still believe.

"We have a chance to write our own legacy here," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Everybody's probably writing 'Here they go again, they're challenging the top teams but can they beat the top teams?' Everybody's gonna write that stuff.

"We have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it's in our control. I want to see us embrace this."

Hitchcock's message to the team?

"Yeah, we're knocking on the door and we're knocking hard," he said. "We've got to push through. You just can't keep pushing up against the wall. We've got a real opportunity to push through the wall here."

Chicago's first win in St. Louis after five straight losses at Scottrade Center couldn't have come at a more opportune time.

The Blues tied it early in the third period Friday on a goal by Alex Pietrangelo and failed to convert several grade-A scoring chances that would have given the victory.

Instead, the Blackhawks got a breakaway goal by Jonathan Toews and headed back to Chicago with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to close things out at home.

"It's a tough time right now, but we don't feel like we're going to be coming home (Sunday) and getting the golf clubs out, either," Blues forward T.J. Oshie said. "We're confident that we're going to go in tomorrow and get the win and bring this thing back to St. Louis."

If nothing else, the Blues should be conditioned to these types of situations after so many first-round or early-round playoff exits in the last decade.

"When you're faced with elimination or do-or-die, your character has to rise," Blues winger Steve Ott said. "I'm a big believer when you have a roomful of guys like we have ... 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."

Blues defenseman Roman Polak, unhappy about his team's predicament, thinks there will be a Game 7.

"We have to bounce back," Polak said. "We're going to Chicago and we're going to win."

Ott said the Blues' belief system has not been shaken despite the dire predicament the team is facing on the brink of elimination.

"Both teams missed opportunities (in Game 5), they just happened to find the one at the end of the game," he said. "No different than Games 1 and 2 when we found the (breaks) to put us ahead in those games and win those in overtime."

Blues goalie Ryan Miller, acquired to give the team an upgrade in net, has a 2.32 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in the series.

Miller has been beaten for game-winning goals by Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews the past two contests.

"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."

Another thing the Blues are going to have to do is a much better job of finishing off quality scoring chances. Oshie had two of them in Game 5, including one when he was staring into an empty net.

Instead, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford flung himself across and managed to get a stick on a shot that hit the outside of the post.

"If the puck lays flat, it's a goal probably 100 percent of the time," he said. "Things happen where the puck rolls on its side and in that moment, you're trying to put it in, you're trying to put it in with authority and the puck just bobbles on you a little bit and it just goes wide.

"It's hard, it's a fast-paced game. When they slow it down, it seems like there's an entire net."

The Blackhawks get defenseman Brent Seabrook back after a three-game suspension for his hit on David Backes.

"Seabs is one of the steadiest D-men, I think, in this league," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "And pretty underrated too. What he brings to our team every night is huge."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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