The Sharks trail St. Louis 2-1 in the series and desperately want to avoid digging themselves into a 3-1 hole. But Hitchcock said Wednesday that the last thing he or his players want is to let the Sharks pull even and turn this series into a long, brutal battle filled with travel nightmares and little time for rest.
"If this thing goes 2-2 then it's, 'Who's got the best bus and who's got the best plane?' -- and that's not good for either team," Hitchcock said after the Blues' practice at HP Pavilion. "We're looking at this the same way they are. They want this thing going where they could start taking it over and we're looking at it as it gets scary after tomorrow. You're talking long flights, not much sleep, [a game] every other day, and who's got the best plane and who's got the best bus will be a big factor here. So we're looking at it like they are too. It's a big factor.
"I was in a lot of these [series] coming in and out of Dallas and they were not easy series. When it got to Games 5, 6 and 7 they were not easy for players, for coaches, for sleep patterns and they really impacted the next series."
After splitting the first two games in St. Louis, the Blues beat the Sharks 4-3 on Monday night at HP Pavilion. St. Louis took a 4-1 lead early in the third period before the Sharks rallied for two late goals.
'The biggest thing for us is knowing that we could win a playoff game on the road," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We have a lot of young guys who haven't had that much experience. We know we can win in this barn; we did it in the regular season. But it's a tough place to win in the playoffs."
Hitchcock said he's still not sure when injured goaltender Jaroslav Halak will be healthy enough to play. Halak hasn't played since suffering a lower-body injury early in the second period of Game 2 when Blues defenseman Barret Jackman accidentally knocked him to the ice. Halak skated Tuesday for the first time since being injured but didn't skate or practice Wednesday, and he will miss Game 4. Brian Elliott will make his second straight start.
"We'll keep him working toward getting back at some time," Hitchcock said of Halak, "but right now he's not available so Brian is the guy."
Elliott went 23-10-4 during the regular season with nine shutouts and led the NHL with a 1.56 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
"We've had confidence in him since Day 1," Hitchcock said. "For us it just feels like one guy is playing a few more games than the other one. I think if it lasts, if it ever went where you stayed with the same guy for a month then it would seem different. I think most teams have this scenario going where they just stay with one guy. It's still early in the picture and we're fully expecting Halak to be a player, hopefully."
Hitchcock said that Elliott impressed him earlier in the season by how competitive he was in practice. Now that Elliott is carrying the full load, Hitchcock is trying to rein him in.
"We're constantly having to [do] like we did today -- stop him, kick him off the ice," Hitchcock said. "He has to get in the mindset that the games are everything, less is more, get enough of your practice in and once your reps are done, get off the ice. He's one of those guys that wants to hang out there until the last shot."
I was surprised. I knew I got it. It's tough. You never know how hard it is until it registers on the gun. I got pretty much all I could into and you just hope for the best.