CHICAGO – The St. Louis Blues don’t want their recent playoff history repeating itself.
The Blues face the Blackhawks in Game 4 of their opening round series at Chicago on Wednesday night.
The Blues lost 2-0 in Game 3, but still lead the series 2-1.
But the Blues’ series against the defending Stanley Cup champions seems to be unfolding as it did last season when they took a 2-0 lead against Los Angeles and then dropped the next four games.
“Within our walls, I don’t think anyone is even thinking about last year,” defenceman Barret Jackman said. “The media comes in and you get all the comparisons.
“But really it’s about what we’re doing now. We’re playing good hockey. We’re playing against a team that is very hungry and has a lot of good experience.”
But it’s hard not to see the parallels.
Last season, the Blues used their tight defensive style to pull ahead of the Kings in their opening post-season round by grinding out a pair of 2-1 wins in St. Louis.
It seemed as if the Blues, hungry for a deep playoff run, had set the tone.
But the Kings won Game 3 in Los Angeles 1-0 behind goalie Jonathan Quick, and used that as a springboard to four straight victories.
Fast-forward to 2014.
The Blues posted two 4-3 overtime wins in St. Louis last week to jump ahead of the Blackhawks, but Chicago trimmed the series gap to 2-1 on Monday night with a 2-0 win as Corey Crawford was perfect.
Blues forward Alexander Steen said after the game it won’t happen again.
“Last year is last year and this is this year,” Steen said. “We’re playing a different team. We’re focused on what we’re doing now and not what we’ve done in the past.”
The Blues were better than Blackhawks for most of Monday’s game. St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock was almost beaming after the game when said his team had delivered it best effort so far in the series.
“I said last night we played good, but not good enough,” Hitchcock said on Tuesday. “I thought we were 80 per cent in and if we’re going to beat them tomorrow or win, we’re going to have to make stronger commitment in our game.
Hitchcock knows from experience what his team is up against—the defending Cup winner for the second straight year.
“You’re not knocking off just a team in the league, it’s a different animal,” Hitchcock said. “You’re knocking off the defending champion.
“They’re not the defending champion because they have skill. It’s because they’ve got resolve. You’re trying to beat their resolve.”
So the Blues hope to double down, focus on every one-on-one battle shift-after-shift, and be even tighter against Chicago.
They’ll probably still be without injured forward David Backes, although Hitchcock told reporters, “We’ll let you know tomorrow.”
The Blackhawks hope to match that, while sparking more offence against the Blues’ smothering coverage.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday that it’s “very likely” that top forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will again be together on a line with Bryan Bickell for Game 4.
“I thought the line was effective last night, Quenneville said, “(Although) they didn’t get the production together with some the chances that looked like they could have finished.
“We know playing St. Louis there’s not a lot of scoring chances, there’s not a lot of room. You’ve got to be willing to play a tight game, but those guys can generate a little more.”
Kane says he’s excited to play with Toews. Usually the two are separated to give Chicago more offensive balance, but Quenneville put them on the same line in last season’s playoff run to jumpstart the Blackhawks’ attack.
“We had success last year in the playoffs together,” Kane said. Anytime anyone gets a chance to play with (Toews) they get excited because he’s such an easy player to play with.”
Not only the Blues, but the Blackhawks have some playoff history to draw on.
“I think our team has been through a lot,” Kane said.
“We’ve learned a lot and have a lot experience in this locker room that we can kind of look back to and rely on.”
That includes coming back to win a playoff series.
“Going forward Game 4 has always a big one when the series is 2-1,” Kane said. “It’s seems like a totally different series whether it’s 3-1 or 2-2. The next game is huge.”