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Blues aiming to 'bring this thing back to St. Louis'

by Louie Korac

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In every Stanley Cup Playoff series as tight as the one between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, there always seems to be a fine line between a winner and a loser.

When the Blues won Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference First Round series, the fine line was getting a big goal late then winning in overtime.

In Games 3, 4 and 5, all victories by the Blackhawks, that fine line seems to come from the same pen, but in different variances.

The Blackhawks, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), had goalie Corey Crawford steal a win to get the defending Stanley Cup champions on the board in Game 3. In Game 4, it was a clutch tying goal late before an overtime winner. Friday in St. Louis, it came down to a fortuitous bounce.

Those are the small details that separate the two teams, who wound up the regular season four points apart in the Central Division standings.

"It’s tight out there, it really is," Blues left wing Steve Ott said. "Both teams are extremely even in the sense of power plays, penalty killing, stuff that's been going on. It's who's going to continue to stick to that structure the best.

"I know from being in that dressing room, the character we have in this room is by far the most I've ever been part of."

With the Blues facing another disappointing early playoff exit after a rousing regular season of 111 points, they hope to draw from past experiences as a measuring stick for how far they've come heading into United Center, a building that's been tough on opponents all season.

"I think it's just the resiliency that it takes," Blues right wing T.J. Oshie said. "It seems like whatever you can do to win a game in playoffs, you've got to do a little more than that. Whether it be guys step back and maybe try a little bit less because we're really focused on getting a lot of energy, getting a lot of hits. Maybe we need to step back a little bit and just calm down and play within ourselves and within our system. If it seems like they're getting rid of the puck a little bit, they can have a little bit more confidence in themselves to hold onto it and make the right play.

"It's tough. It's a tough time right now, but we don't feel like we're going to be coming home [Sunday] and getting the golf clubs out either. We're confident that we're going to go in [Sunday] and get the win and bring this thing back to St. Louis."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blues' biggest obstacle is trying to push through the Blackhawks' resolve, not their skill. With Chicago getting a chance to end the series in front of their home fans, that will be an even greater challenge.

"Yeah. They're going to try and knock us out," said Hitchcock, whose team has dropped seven straight road playoff games back to 2012. "They don't want to come back to St. Louis. Not a fun building for them to play in. So they're going to try and knock us out, and we're going to have to be ready for it. But I don't want us going in there absorbing. That's not the way we play. We've got to play on our toes, we've got to play smart.

"We're capable. We've shown the ability to really play in that building the last two games. We've really played well in that building, but again, it's hard to dig yourself out of a hole every game, and we've been chasing every game for the last three or four games. That wears you down after a while. For us, you like our spirit, you love our heart, you love everything that goes on with it, but I want to see us playing better early and then that gives us a real fighting chance to win the hockey game."

The Blues are fighting through the same lack of scoring that haunted them against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round last season, when they had 10 goals in six games. They had eight in the first two games of this series, five in the past three.

"This is time to park [Game 5]," Ott said. "We’ve got a game here in less than 24 hours to get ready for. There's a reason why it's the first to win four games and not the first to win three.

"These are the type of game you dream of as a kid, to have these opportunities, to play for your lives. Right now that's what we're going to have to do."

Hitchcock's message to his players before they boarded a plane Saturday afternoon was simple.

"We have a chance to write our own legacy," Hitchcock said. "Everybody is probably writing, 'Here they go again. They're challenging the top teams, but can they get through the top teams?' Everybody is going to write that stuff. But we have a chance to write the message that you guys have to print, so it's in our control. It's not in 'What's going to get printed' control, it's in our control. And I want to see us embrace this.

"Yeah, we're knocking on the door and we're knocking hard, but we've got to push through. Just can't keep pushing up against the wall. We've got a real opportunity to push through the wall here. I want to see our players take advantage of this. I really want to see us play a [heck] of a hockey game. I want to see us really, really go at this thing, and like I said, I want to see us with a little more composure in the right areas. I think we're going to eliminate some of their scoring chances because of it and maybe even get a few more ourselves."

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