Looking for a way to change their ways — and ease the embattled minds of their long-suffering fans — the St. Louis Blues simply need to do one thing.
Beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Game 7 of their rollicking first-round playoff series at Scottrade Center.
Easier said than done, to be sure, but the Blues might want to check with veteran forward Troy Brouwer for some solid Game 7 advice. This will be Brouwer’s seventh straight Game 7 in the playoffs.
“I know a lot about Game 7s,” Brouwer said Sunday. “The fun that they are, the intensity they bring. How it brings out everybody’s best games on both sides. They’re fun to play and fun to watch. It’s as much pressure as you want to put on yourself.”
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Pressure is on both teams in a winner-take-all Game 7, but this Blues team may be feeling it just a bit more. They’ve been unsuccessful on two chances to close out the Blackhawks, watching a 3-1 series lead evaporate quickly thanks to a pair of Blackhawks victories.
We’re taking the Stanley Cup champions to Game 7, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
Blues fans already dealing with the psychological hangover of three straight first-round playoff defeats want no part of a fourth, especially against the rival Blackhawks.
“We’re excited to play,” Brouwer said. “I know a lot of guys in here haven’t played a Game 7 yet in their career. They’re excited for it. We’re going to have some fun with it. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a good spot this year, to hopefully knock off the defending champions in a Game 7.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Sunday there was never any thought of not starting Brian Elliott in goal, though other lineup changes could be a “possibility.”
“It’s a focal point for the National Hockey League, it’s a focal point in this city, it’s a focal point for our hockey club,” Hitchcock said of Monday’s showdown. “Guys are excited. It all comes down to this. We’re taking the Stanley Cup champions to Game 7, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Brouwer has been in six previous Game 7s, with his teams going 2-4, while Scottie Upshall has been involved in two. No other Blues have played in more than one and the majority of the roster will be making its maiden voyage in the intense heat of a Game 7 situation.
If experience is a factor, the edge goes to a Blackhawks team with three Stanley Cups in six years. Chicago is 32-7 in Games 5 through 7 of a playoff series under coach Joel Quenneville while the Blues are 1-8 in Games 5-6 under Hitchcock, never reaching a Game 7 in five playoff series during his tenure.
We want to be the champions. It starts (Monday) night as winning a game and hopefully moving on to the next series.
Blues forward Troy Brouwer
The Blues last faced the Blackhawks in a Game 7 situation in the 1990 division finals, losing 8-2. This will be the first Game 7 for the Blues since a 2003 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, another first-round series that saw the Blues hold a 3-1 lead.
The Blackhawks are 14-1 in their last 15 Game 6s since 2009 and are 2-2 in previous Game 7s under Quenneville.
As one of several experienced ‘Hawks with three Stanley Cup titles, veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook was asked if that gives his team an edge.
“I don’t think you ever learn how to play in a Game 7,” Seabrook said. “I think when you play in more of them, when you get the opportunity to play in more of them, you get – comfortable’s not the right word – but you get not as nervous, I guess.
“A Game 7’s a Game 7. It’s do or die every shift.”
Reversing the trend
Strong second periods have been pivotal to the Blackhawks’ comeback in the series. They used a three-goal outburst Saturday night to key their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the first period and have outscored the Blues 8-2 during the second period of the last three games.
In the series, the Blackhawks’ second-period dominance is at 10-3.
Do those three Stanley Cups give the Blackhawks a special kind of Game 7 magic they could invoke tonight at Scottrade Center, even on enemy ice?
“They’re a tremendous hockey club. It’s been ... no easy moment against that team throughout this series,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “But it’s testament again to our experience and to the guys who haven’t been here too long to really buy in and play the right way when we’ve been in this do-or-die position the last couple games.
“You see what can happen when we all buy in, we all play the right way. We’ve got a great chance ... a great chance to find a way to survive in Game 7 here.”
The Blackhawks have an unquestionable playoff pedigree, but the Blues can begin building their own with a victory on Monday night at home.
“The thing that is so difficult and sometimes people don’t realize is there’s only one champion,” Brouwer said. “Unless you’re that champion, you’re always going to be looked at as not quite getting there. We want to change that in our dressing room, for our franchise.
“We want to be the champions. It starts (Monday) night as winning a game and hopefully moving on to the next series.”
Since before this playoff series began, the Blues talked about putting their history of playoff failures behind them. This was a different team, they said, one infused with more resilience and hardened through adversity and past playoff pain.
“It’s going to change eventually, then why not do it tomorrow?” Blues center Paul Stastny said. “(The past is) always going to be brought up, but in here we have the mentality that what happened in the past happened in the past. There is a different feel around these guys, around this locker room. We all believe in each other.”