CHICAGO - A few years ago, the St. Louis Blues might have been content to go to Chicago for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and split Games 3 and 4 on the road.
But not these Blues.
After taking a thrilling 3-2 victory against the Blackhawks in Game 3 - their first playoff win in Chicago since 2002 - the Blues are staring at a chance to seize a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series in in tonight’s Game 4 (8:30 p.m., FSMW, Y98 FM).
In fact, several Blues categorized tonight’s game as a must-win, and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock is perfectly fine with that.
“We want to approach it that way,” Hitchcock said before Game 4. “We think in this game right now we’re going to have to be at our absolutely best. We know what the opposition is going to do, we’ve experienced it before. We just need to be ready for it.”
Since Joel Quenneville took over in Chicago back in the 2008-09 season, the Blackhawks have won 10 playoff series in which they've trailed after three games.
“We know Chicago comes back a lot of times. It's not a time to relax,” said forward Vladimir Tarasenko. “We need to play our best game."
“I think every game you go into, you want to win,” said Jaden Schwartz. “(The Blackhawks) are a team that’s done a lot of winning in the last few years, and they know when to up their tempo and know when to bring their A-game… that pushes us even more. That’s why the games are so fast and intense right now.”
Even with the Blues leaving everything on the ice every night, this series has produced three one-goal games, two of which required come-from-behind efforts from the winning club.
The margin of error is so slim, and the Blues know that. They are dead-set on overcoming a history that includes losing to the Blackhawks in the playoffs two years ago.
“I think we’re a completely different team than we have been in the past, especially since we played them a couple years ago,” said Steve Ott, who returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 5 on Sunday. “The mindset is there and I think it translates into the game.”
“We’re trying to start a new trend,” said Alex Pietrangelo. “They’ve had some success in the playoffs the last six years or however many times they’ve won it. It’s time to start a new trend, that’s our goal. It starts right here. We’re going to have to beat them eventually, so why not start in the first round?”
The Blues have only played three games in the series, so maybe it’s too early to talk about how good Brian Elliott has been so far.
But that isn’t stopping his teammates and coach from raving about him.
“He’s been awesome. He’s been like that all year,” Schwartz said. “His consistency’s been great, his focus, he works extremely hard practicing and in games, and he’s a guy that hates to lose. He’s a rock for us back there and gives us a confident feel.”
“Ells is really taking advantage of his situation and we’re very appreciative of it,” Hitchcock said. “We also know we're going to need him to be unbelievable if we expect to win this series. He’s a major factor of where we are at now and he’s going to have to be a major factor moving forward.”
Elliott set a postseason career high with 44 saves in Game 3. Through three games, he ranks third among goalies in the postseason in goals-against average (1.28) and save-percentage (.963). For comparison, Ryan Miller played six games in the postseason against the Blackhawks two seasons ago and posted an .897 save-percentage. That difference could be a big reason why the Blues seem to be trending upward this time around.
“It’s timely saves,” Pietrangelo said of Elliott. “He made a big one there on (Brent) Seabook at the end of (Game 3). He’s just living up to the moment right now, and we’re going to need that going forward. Since he’s came back (from injury), he’s really taken it to another level. He wants it to be his job to lose, and he’s playing like that.
“We have all the confidence in the world in him.”
Hitchcock changed the forward lines a bit in the third period in Game 3, and he is expected to keep those combinations for the start of Game 4.
“We liked the way we played in the third period with these line combinations, so we’ll start that way,” he said. “We’re not stuck on it, either. We won’t hesitate to go back to what we had in the first two games at all.”
Here’s what we expect to see to start Game 4.
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri - Patrik Berglund - David Backes
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
Before Sunday, the Blackhawks had not lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods, going 71-0-5 in their last 76 games.
Robby Fabbri had two assists in Game 3, becoming the first Blues rookie with a multi-assist game in the playoffs since Jochen Hecht had three assists on April 23, 2000.
Colton Parayko scored his first career playoff goal, becoming the first Blues rookie defenseman to score in a playoff game since Bryce Salvador on May 21, 2001.
Elliott’s 44 save performance in Game 3 was the best by a Blues goaltender since Curtis Joseph made 47 saves on April 20, 1994.
Fans can enjoy tonight’s game with others fans at our Blues Bash. Featured locations tonight are Ballpark Village and HotShots St. Charles (1636 Country Club Plaza). Louie and Blue Crew will be in attendance, and fans can get food and drink specials at each location. To learn more, visit stlouisblues.com/playoffs.