ST. LOUIS — In a quiet locker room, gruff answers were issued in clipped sentences.
“We lost an important hockey game,” Jaden Schwartz said. “Frustration is definitely part of it. We live to fight another day.”
“That’s playoff hockey, Alex Pietrangelo added. “And we have to keep grinding.”
“We had our chances, and we didn’t bury them,” Alexander Steen concluded. “We go back to LA.”
So went the reaction of a St. Louis Blues team that failed to stop the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings from taking a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals at the Scottrade Center on Wednesday evening.
It was Slava Voynov who spoiled what appeared to be destined for a Blues’ comeback win. After St. Louis tied the game in the final minute of regulation, the LA defenseman scored on an odd-man rush just eight minutes into overtime, blasting the puck past Blues’ goalie Brian Elliot to give his team a 3-2 win, its third straight in this series.
Shortly after, St. Louis addressed the loss, and one thing was clear. This team, which opened the series with back-to-back wins against the Kings, still feels it can pull this thing off. Even if few others do.
“It was our best effort, collectively,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It was our best effort of the year. We played a hell of a hockey game. If we play like that again, I like our chances. All we gotta do is win a road game and get it back here again.”
“This is not over,” he added. “Somebody’s got to win another hockey game. Like I said, if we can raise our spirits again and go at it again like we did, I like our chances.”
The question is, will all this confidence make a difference?
These guys know what they’re up against. In order to keep from adding another chapter in their team’s novel of playoff disappointment, they have to beat the Kings on their home ice Friday.
That’s easier said than done.
The Kings have won nine in a row at home. Seven consecutive times, they’ve beaten the Blues at the Staples Center. Seven consecutive times, the Blues have lost elimination games in the playoffs.
Those entrenched trends will have to be reversed Friday in order for the Blues to send the series back to St. Louis for a seventh and final game. It is the Blues’ only hope of coming out on top of this back-and-forth battle with the Kings — a series that’s been to two overtimes already and is yet to see a game decided by more than one goal.
Impossible, right? Maybe in the eyes of some. But not this team’s.
“They don’t give you any easy ice, so you have to go out and earn it,” Hitchcock said of LA. “You have to fight for your space. If you’re not willing to do it …. That’s why they swept so many teams last year. Over the course of 60 minutes, they wear you down. They’re willing to stay in that space and fight for it. If you’re not, you get pushed out. What’s impressed me is that we’re going in there and fighting like crazy.”
The Blues have fought, and that’s admirable. Even at the brink of this series ending, they continue to say the right things. But in order for everyone else to buy in, they’re going to have to beat some major odds in LA.
You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) and email him at email@example.com