A few offseasons ago, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had a graphic analysis of what the Blues needed to do to close out postseason series. His quote is dated, but especially relevant as the Blues head back to St. Louis with a 3-1 series lead over Chicago.
“We need that killer instinct,” Armstrong said before escalating his statement. “When you have a team down, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye and into their brain and kill them.”
The Blues are close. They have the knife and are within reach of the fatal stab after winning Games 3 and 4 in Chicago and bringing the best-of-seven series back home. A win on Thursday would seal a St. Louis appearance in the conference semi-finals.
“We have amped up our own game,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We knew what we were in for here in Chicago, we knew how tough it was going to be. But we just had to play grittier. That’s what we are trying to do is to play as gritty as we can because we know how tough the opponent is.”
The last time the Blues won three games in a series, back in 2012, they earned the clincher in Game 5. That was a matchup against San Jose. A win in this series would mean so much more coming against division rival and reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks.
But the Blues aren’t treating it as bigger, nor do they care about the past, good or bad. They are simply finding ways to secure wins and take everything on a game-by-game. Their results and effectiveness have become apparent frustrations for the Blackhawks, who have had several chances to push the Blues down and aren't used to being unsuccessful in their attempts.
“I don’t know if it’s (just) Chicago,” said Hitchcock when asked if his team believes they can close out the champions. “We just have a belief that we can beat anybody and we know we are up against a formidable opponent.
“There is a group togetherness in there that is strong and we are going to need it. We are going to need it to win this series and we are going to need it every shift.”
The Blues have been noticeably outshot in the series and the team has been on the adverse side of momentum swings on multiple occasions through the first four games. There might be similar happenings in Game 5 because the Blackhawks, who have become known for reaching an unmatchable level of play at critical points in the playoffs, aren’t going down without a fight.
But the tried and tested Blues fought so much adversity in the regular season that nothing about this series seems all that new or daunting.
“There are some things that happen to you during the year that force you to go one way or the other and the things that happened to us forced us to go one way and we went right way,” said Hitchcock.
But commanding lead aside, the Blues know the Blackhawks can pounce at any given moment. Putting Chicago away will require a level of desperation that the St. Louis squad has been able to reach over the last few games.
“It feels like every shift on the ice is the first and last shift a player is going to play,” said Hitchcock. “That’s the level of desperation and intensity that this series has going for it and we need to match that to give ourselves a fighting chance. The last three games, we have done that. We played well in Game 2 and then we came into (Chicago) and played the way we have to play to beat this team.
“They have knowledge that no one else has. When you have that knowledge, it is gold. We have to draw upon the knowledge that we have and build on it. But they know how deep they have to draw and we have to find a way to play our best game in our next game and then whatever it takes, we have to play even better every shift because they have that ability. We are expecting that coming back.”
If the Blues can’t close out the series Thursday, it will go back to Chicago for Game 6. The Blues may have found success in The Windy City this season and so far in the postseason, but that’s a risk they don’t want to take. It makes Game 5 crucial.
"It’s obviously an important game and they are going to have their backs up against the wall. We have to put it away,” said Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. “It would be nice to do it at home and that is going to be our goal. Being up 3-1 in the series is where you want to be right now and taking two games up there was our goal and we got it done. Now we have one more.”
It would be even more special for the players to prove to the fans in-person that the killer instinct is existent this season. They’d like nothing better than to do so in front of a sold-out Scottrade Center on Thursday.
“We are just hungry to move on and to prove to ourselves and we really have that belief going,” said forward Jaden Schwartz. “It’ll be exciting, fun. It’ll be loud and we are looking forward to Thursday.”
The Blackhawks have the knowledge, but the Blues have the momentum and are aiming for the jugular.