ST. LOUIS — On Friday morning, following his team’s morning skate, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Game 5 "the advantage game" of this rugged, back-and-forth, tighter-than-a-necktie Western Conference first-round playoff series with the rival Blackhawks.
Hitchcock cautioned that it would not be an elimination game for either team. The Blues wanted to take advantage of their opportunity, he said, but it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world for whoever lost.
But by late Friday night, after a David Backes shot in overtime turned into a Jonathan Toews breakaway, game-winning goal on the other end of the Scottrade Center ice, the Blues’ 3-2 loss — which gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead in the seven-game series — seemed much bigger than all of that. It felt like another missed opportunity in a series that might end up being defined by them and, for St. Louis, haunted by them.
"Yeah. Again. I think same story," Alexander Steen said of the team’s missed scoring opportunities. "We had plenty of chances to take bigger leads and didn’t and it cost us. Power play again in the first period. A couple we didn’t convert on. If you want to win in the playoffs, you have to score on your chances."
Just 48 hours earlier the Blues had a chance to change the course of this series in Chicago, rallying for a lead late in the third period in Game 4 on Vladimir Tarasenko’s second goal of the night. But they couldn’t add to their advantage and the Blackhawks took it away with a late goal and then won it in overtime.
Friday’s game was the fourth decided in overtime, but the first time that the visiting team emerged victorious.
"We felt like we deserved to win that game," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It’s tough when you have that many good looks and you don’t capitalize on them. But get back into Chicago and hopefully bring it back here for (Game) 7."
CLICK HERE to check out some action shots from Game 5 in St. Louis.
St. Louis had 27 of their 29 shots on goal stopped by Corey Crawford, including just one shot on net in two power-play tries, and 15 shots that missed the goal altogether, a recurring theme at times this winter.
The Blues had several golden scoring chances that they just couldn’t finish. T.J. Oshie and Tarasenko both had looks at wide-open nets in the third period after Pietrangelo tied the game early in the third.
St. Louis had 13 shots after Petro’s goal, but none found the back of the net. The last one, from Backes on the right wing 7:29 into the overtime period, turned into the game-winner from Toews on the other end — spoiling the Blues captain’s remarkable return from injury.
"We had some opportunities for sure," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "We had chances we didn’t bury. We’ve got to bury opportunities. We had a couple looks at open nets there. Unfortunately, the puck didn’t roll the way we needed it to. Here we are, next game do or die. We’ve got to bring our best game."
The Blues know what’s in front of them as they head back to Chicago for Game 6 on Sunday.
Win the game and force a Game 7 on Tuesday back at Scottrade Center.
Or else it will be a long summer of wondering what if.
"We’ve gotta win a hockey game on the road," Hitchcock said. "We’ve done it all year. We’ve gotta do everything in our power to bring this thing back for Game 7. Everybody is a little discouraged, a little down, but tomorrow we’ll get ourselves ready. …
"We would have had to win two games anyway to win this series. Now we have to win them in Chicago and in our building, but it’s very doable. If we can avoid the big error and continue to play with passion and energy that we’re playing with, and continue to keep pressing the issue like we are, good things can happen."
So far this series has been deja vu for the bad-luck Blues, with so many similarities to last year’s first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in six games it is downright eerie.
The Blues are well aware of them, even though they’ve insisted that this is a new year and everything will be different. The St. Louis fans, including those who helped fill out the standing-room-only crowd of 19,796, are also well aware.
But Game 6 will give the Blues one more opportunity to change all of that.
"What’s pouting gonna do?" Steen said. "You just get back on the horse. It’s a game. You have to win four. They have three, we have two. Off to Chicago we go. See you there."