Blues keep focus on the positives — not the past — following Game 3 loss in Chicago
CHICAGO — The St. Louis Blues don’t want to hear about last year.
Yes, they are well aware of the similarities between last year’s first-round playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Kings and this year’s first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Defending Stanley Cup champions. Alexander Steen overtime winner in Game 1 at Scottrade Center. Then a Barret Jackman game-winner in Game 2 on home ice. Then a shutout loss in Game 3 on the road when they played well enough to win the game.
The Blues’ 2-0 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 3 at the United Center is sure to stir up plenty of memories, but they don’t want to hear about that. They all say, to a man, that this time it is different.
"Last year is last year and this year is this year," Steen said. "Different teams. We’re playing a different team. We’re focused on what we’re doing now and not what we’ve done in the past. Tonight was a good effort but not good enough. That’s the bottom line."
It didn’t end well last year, of course. Everybody remembers that all too well.
Those two wins against the Kings to open the series in St. Louis were quickly erased by four straight losses, including three in Los Angeles. It was a cruel conclusion to a season filled with promise.
"We’ve kind of looked back at that," Alex Pietrangelo said. "We have to use that as an opportunity to learn from it. We feel like we’ve matured from that. We’ve got a group of guys here who have learned from that. That’s all you can really do. It’s not easy to come in here and win a hockey game, but I thought we played real well."
The Blues did play well on Monday night.
Ryan Miller allowed a soft goal just four minutes and 10 seconds in to Jonathan Toews, but St. Louis was the better team from then on.
The Blues out-shot the Blackhawks 34 to 25, out-hit them 41 to 27 and were able to kill off every power-play advantage Chicago had, including a brief five-on-three late in the second period.
The sellout crowd of 22,112 seemed to sense it, too.
After back-to-back losses in which the Blues scored in the final two minutes, that one-goal advantage seemed tenuous at best until Marcus Kruger’s empty-net goal in the final seconds secured the victory.
With that, the city of Chicago — already dealing with the Blackhawks’ first two losses in the series, the Bulls losing Game 1 against the Wizards one night earlier, the White Sox playing .500 ball and the Cubs just being the Cubs — breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. Then the fans serenaded goalie Corey Crawford with chants of "COR-EY! COR-EY! COR-EY!" as a show of gratitude.
But the Blues walked off to their locker room feeling good, if not fulfilled.
"I thought we played a lot of the game in their zone," Pietrangelo said. "We carried the tempo of the game, especially the second half of the game. Early on they had some opportunities, obviously. Anytime you get in front of these fans you’re going to be playing with a little extra step. But second half of the game we really turned it in our favor. We put pucks deep. We played the way we want to play and got them on their heels."
The Blues played great on the penalty kill, Kevin Shattenkirk said.
"We got a lot of momentum from our penalty kill and at crucial times," he said. "And we were able to really just establish a great forecheck, get a lot of shots, get a lot of chances. He seemed to play a little more aggressive tonight and challenge a lot of shots. We have to kind of find some plays off the net and go from there. It’s definitely a step forward. We can’t look at it as a step back."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was certainly encouraged.
Hitch called the performance the best game of the series his team has played, one of the best road games he’s ever seen them play.
"They’re a good team," he said. "We knew this was going to be a long series, but we really played hard and we really played well. We did a lot of things that we needed to do to win the hockey game, but you have to give their goaler credit. He was good, especially late."
But Hitch expressed confidence that if his players can continue to play at a similar pace and level, they’d have a chance to win Game 4 on Wednesday night. The Blues aren’t scheduled to practice Tuesday, which gives them another day to rest up and re-energize. Their captain, David Backes, could still return to action this series.
So don’t try to compare the Kings’ and Blackhawks’ series with the coach.
He’s not having any of that talk.
"They are new seasons," Hitchcock said. "When you’re knocking off just a team in the league, it’s a different animal. When you’re knocking off a defending champion, they’re not a defending champion because they have skill. It’s because they’ve got resolve. You’re trying to beat their resolve. You’re not trying to beat their skill. Everybody’s got skill. It is one hell of a challenge. Sometimes you do it and sometimes you don’t. But every time we play like we play, we get better as a team and better as an organization and we get closer and closer.
The coach wasn’t finished quite yet. He was just getting going.
"They know that we’re not going away easy," he added. "If we’re not good enough at the end of the day, that’s fine. Because we’re not going away in any game. This is the level we’re going to play at. We get Backes back in the next two or three games, we’re going to even go higher. And if that isn’t good enough, that’s not good enough … There’s a certain resolve that is required to win a championship. That team over there has got it and we’re trying to take it back from them."
This is a new year.
This is a new team.
And they are not going away easily.