In a series of constant momentum swings and emotional runs, the St. Louis Blues return to Chicago on Saturday hoping to finally put the Blackhawks in their rear-view mirror.
It won’t be easy to take out the defending Stanley Cup champions at home in the sold-out United Center, but the Blues haven’t taken the easy path at any juncture this season.
A team that didn’t put its first full lineup on the ice until just before the playoffs began because of injuries, the Blues are used to slogging their way through adversity. Patrick Kane’s double-overtime game-winner in Game 5 cut the Blues’ series lead to 3-2 as the series shifts to Chicago for Game 6 at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“They’re a resilient bunch,” said Blues winger Troy Brouwer, who still has several former teammates on the other side from the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup championship club. “My last playoff series with them was when we were down 3-0 to Vancouver and lost a Game 7 in overtime.
“I know first-hand a long time ago what these guys can do and when they don’t have a whole lot of options. They’ve done even more since I’ve left there and they’re really good at it. (They are) a team that knows how to win.”
No one disputes that, not with the ‘Hawks three Stanley Cup titles in the past three seasons, but the Blues are trying to show they belong in the postseason party just as much.
They’re a resilient bunch ... I know first-hand a long time ago what these guys can do and when they don’t have a whole lot of options.
Blues forward Troy Brouwer on the Blackhawks
“We knew this was going to be difficult,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We knew this was going to be hard and we knew it was going to be a huge challenge. We’ve just got to find another way to make them crack some more.”
Looking for some numbers that might give the Blues hope to end the series on Saturday?
The Blues have won their last three games at United Center (one in the regular season), but also are trying to win four straight on the road vs. the Blackhawks for the first time in franchise history.
They are 5-1 in their last six trips to Chicago and Western Conference road teams were 12-5 in the 2016 NHL playoffs before Friday. The last time the Blues were able to win three road playoff games in a series was 1999 against the Arizona Coyotes.
A down note? The Blues have held a 3-2 series lead nine times in franchise history and are only 4-5 in those Game 6’s with a chance to close out the series.
Who has momentum?
“I don’t know that anybody has an upper hand in this series, there’s so much equality and everything,” Hitchcock said. “There’s not much difference in anything. We know that neither team is in control of anything right now other than you get to play the next game.”
Even some Blackhawks players have talked about how this Blues team is different from those in past years.
“It’s tough to say, but maybe they’ve got some experience under their belt,” Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I think there may be a little bit more focus on just playing hockey and not get too involved after whistles and stuff like that. I think they’re more on a mission, so to speak.
“I think they set their minds to really go past the first round and try to go far — and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that. We’re excited for (Saturday’s) game here at home, and hopefully we can keep battling here and keep making this a long series.”
I think they set their minds to really go past the first round and try to go far — and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent that.
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson on the Blues
The Blackhawks may also get a lift from the return of Andrew Shaw from his one-game suspension for making a homophobic slur and an obscene gesture toward the officials in Game 4. Shaw has been a pest around the net throughout the series and also has been an effective scorer with two goals and four points in four games.
Does Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville worry about another emotional outburst from Shaw?
“The situation has been addressed and he knows what’s at stake,” Quenneville said. “We just want him to play hockey.”
Alexander Steen said this Blues squad has more resiliency and is more prepared for postseason success than in past years.
“I think (it’s) the bite in us, the intensity within the group is something that’s different this year,” Steen said. “We know what we’re capable of and I think we’ve shown that in the first five games here in the series. I think we’ve played some really good hockey.
“But in saying that, there’s a couple of areas where we can improve even more and hope to get the ‘W’ tomorrow night.”
Defensive coverage would be one key area. The Blackhawks dominated the second period with three goals in Game 5, forcing the Blues to score twice just to force overtime.
Game 5 saw the first goal of the series by Kane, though Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is still looking for his first .
A big reason for that is the defensive play of Blues center Paul Stastny, whose line has been matched against Toews for most of the series.
Toews has three assists, but no goals despite taking 15 shots.
“I know Paul’s got his hands full, and he’s done a heck of a job,” Hitchcock said. “He’s got his hands full. It’s a premier player in the league and it’s a hard match. I think Paul understands every drop of the puck could be the next and last drop of the puck when you play against that man.
“He’s done a heck of a job at remaining highly competitive against a very competitive player.”
Kane hadn’t scored a goal until Thursday, but leads the ‘Hawks playoff scoring with a goal and six points in five games.
Toews feels the pressure has shifted back to the Blues despite Chicago needing a win to keep the series alive.
“Well, there’s no doubt that the longer this series goes, the more pressure will be on that team,” Toews said. “But at the end of the day, they’re as hungry as ever.”