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St. Louis seeks finishing touch in Game 5

Blues can put recent first-round troubles behind them against Blackhawks

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The road ahead remains daunting.

Yes, the St. Louis Blues have a 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, the Blues host Game 5 at Scottrade Center on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN, FS-MW, CSN-CH) with a chance to clinch the series in front of their home crowd. Yes, the Blackhawks melted down at the end of Game 4 in the face of a second straight loss to the Blues in Chicago.

But, no, the Blues, who have been eliminated in the first round the past three seasons, are not taking anything for granted. They know how hard it will be to close out the series. They acknowledge that, as well as they have coped with the adversity in this series and the bumps and bruises and deflections and bounces, it could just as easily be tied, or over, in their favor or the Blackhawks'.

It is with this knowledge that they head into Game 5.

Video: STL@CHI, Gm4: Schwartz finds puck, pots go-ahead goal

"This is a huge two wins in their building to get us some momentum and confidence," Blues forward Jaden Schwartz said after Game 4. "But we all know that the last one is the hardest one to get. They're going to throw everything at us."

That seems likely, as the Blackhawks try to avoid elimination for one more night, one more game, looking for a way to defend their Stanley Cup championship a little bit longer.

This, though, is a smarter Blues team. They have learned what they know, what they can do, what they're capable of, but also what they don't know, what they can't do, what they shouldn't assume.

"I think we've smartened up to falling into those traps in previous years, of thinking we've accomplished something before we've accomplished anything," captain David Backes said. "In order to win a series, you've got to win four games and we've only won three, so we've got a tall task ahead of us."

So does Chicago, which will be without forward Andrew Shaw in Game 5 because of the one-game suspension the NHL gave him Wednesday for a homophobic slur in Game 4.

But Chicago has the experience, the knowledge that it can come back. Heading into Game 4 on Tuesday, the Blackhawks were 43-14 in Games 4 through 7 under coach Joel Quenneville, including 26-6 in the past three seasons.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm2: Shattenkirk scores in final seconds

"We approach this game a little bit in a different way," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Just knowing that we have to play our best game of the series tomorrow if we want to clinch the series. They're a desperate hockey team, and if we can match that desperation, I think it will only do great things for us, and again they're a team that we don't want to let hang around.

"The faster we can end this series, if it's tomorrow night, good on us because we really don't want to be playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions too often."

That is the fear, really. One win can yield two, can yield three.

It's something that at least one member of the Blues knows well. Troy Brouwer was on the Capitals last season when they were up 3-1 in the second round against the Rangers before losing three straight, including two in overtime.

That was against a team with experience in big games, with the Rangers having played in the Stanley Cup Final the season before. This series is against a team with even more experience winning than that. This is against a team that has raised the Cup three times in the past six seasons.

"When the pressure and the level of the game starts to ramp up, they make plays," Shattenkirk said of the Blackhawks. "They don't give pucks away easily. They force you to play a tougher game and really just a more complete game. I think that's why in years past they've been able to hang around in series and stick it out."

That's what the Blues need to guard against: Giving Chicago a chance to get back in the series, to bring it back to United Center for Game 6 on Saturday, to give the team with the names most recently engraved on the Cup a little bit of life.

The Blues know how close this series is. They know the differences have not been that great. They know that each team, as Blues coach Ken Hitchcock put it, has brought its "A" game. They know that, to close out the series, St. Louis will need to go "A-plus."

They also believe they can do that, that this is a better, smarter team than the one that lost to the Minnesota Wild in the first round last season, and the Blackhawks in the first round the season before, and the Los Angeles Kings in the first round the season before that.

"We're not looking to ease into winning a series or think that anything is going to get easier," Backes said. "It's only going to get harder. And we're prepared for that."

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