(HockeySTL) -- An Alexander Steen overtime winner, a Barret Jackman game-winning goal, and a 2-0 series lead are all things that are coincidentally familiar to last year’s Quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings. At least, the Blues hope they are coincidental.
The Blues are not in a position unbeknownst to this group of players. A year ago, they left St. Louis with a 2-0 series lead over the Kings, both games having been won by the same heroes of this year. The Blues like the familiarity of last year, so far. But they are hoping it ends after Game 2.
The Blues seemingly had all of the momentum in their grasp following the first two games of last year’s series, as they do against Chicago this season. But after losing the next four, the Blues know all too well how quickly things can change.
In what seemed like a flash, the Note would lose the momentum on the road to the Kings, and be overthrown after a devastating Game 5 at home. As much as it stung then, last year’s failure will help the Blues this season, as they look to end the repeat.
“We are in a similar situation,” Ken Hitchcock said. “(Chicago) is a great team with lots of experience. There is no panic on their side. We have to find a way to keep going. It’s not about whether you lose two in Chicago; it’s just about keep going.”
Coincidentally, the Kings were the defending champions of last season, as the Blackhawks are this year. They didn’t buckle under pressure, they didn’t panic, and they overcame. While the Kings mustered out two wins on home ice, it wasn’t the end of the series. How the Blues responded in the fifth game was.
“I thought the best hockey game we played, ever since I’ve coached here, was the game in L.A.,” said Hitchcock. “The two games in L.A. were as well as I’ve ever seen us play, and we didn’t win. We just played great and didn’t win.”
The Blues became disappointed leaving Los Angeles, and would be unable to right the ship in time to stave off elimination. The team expects that struggle to come in handy in the mirror-image of a situation that persists in the present.
“It was the way we responded when we came back home…that was the problem, for me,” Hitchcock said of last season’s series. “We were discouraged because we thought we threw our A-game at them, and they beat us. That’s what great teams are supposed to do.
“We lost the series against L.A. in Game 5 here. We were discouraged by a very experienced, great hockey club beating us. I didn’t like that part. That was discouraging for me. I hope that’s what we’ve learned from that. Just keep going. Maybe it isn’t pretty but this has the potential to be a long, hard-fought series…just gotta keep going.”
If the Blues were to lose two in Chicago, as they would in a worst-case scenario, they would still hold home-ice advantage, and ultimately a big advantage in the series. That’s something they failed to capitalize on last season against the Kings.
So far, the Blues have been able to capitalize on their opportunities to put the Blackhawks away. But in terms of the series as a whole, there is a lot of hockey to come.
The first two games between the Blues and the Blackhawks have been seen as evenly matched, for the most part, but the Blues have simply been one goal better than Chicago.
However, another way of looking at the first two games of the series is that the Blackhawks were a couple of goals away from being on the other end of the 2-0 lead. It could have gone either way, just as this series could still go either way.
But the Blues feel the experience they have gained from facing L.A. in the last two postseasons will better suit them to overcome the adversity that is awaiting them in Chicago.
“It was a great lesson that we learned last year, I think,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “Obviously, now comes the tougher part, going into the opposing city and playing on the road in a hostile environment. It’s going to be tough. We have to stick with our game plan; it’s what has allowed us to win these last two games and it’s going to be even more important when we go on the road.”
The puck drops on Game 3 Monday in Chicago, which is an environment the Blues have been unable to win in since 2010. As much excitement as there has been in the first two games of the series, much more is expected.
“It feels like some series I was in back in the good old days with Dallas,” Hitchcock said. “It is packed with everything. You just have to ride it out, keep pushing guys forward.
“You are going to see swings in emotion, errors, and great plays but you are just going to have to be able to ride it.”
But the head coach admittedly enjoys a series that is as well-fought as this one, even if it does leave him nervous on the bench.
“It’s kind of fun, to be honest with you,” he said. “A little bit in a very sick way, but it’s kind of fun. It means everything to the players, on both sides. And you just ride along with them and try to keep them moving ahead.”
If the Blues can go into Chicago and steal a win in at least one of the two games, they would have to defy massive odds to lose the series. However, Chicago is no stranger to defying such odds.
Just last season, the Blackhawks were down 3-1 to Detroit and would end up completing a series comeback. The Blues know not to doubt the defending champs, but they currently stand in as good a position as possible. A win in Chicago would buck the last season look-a-like and would be massive for the Blues moving forward.
“It’s a tough series,” said Hitchcock. “Both teams have battled like crazy. We are lucky that we held serve and now we have to take it into Chicago and try to get a win."