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Belief in Hitchcock Propels Blues

Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 5:32 PM / St Louis Blues - Features
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Belief in Hitchcock Propels Blues


ST. LOUIS -- When Ken Hitchcock was brought in to right the ship for the Blues in early November, what impressed the 60-year-old was that the team immediately embraced what he was preaching.

Often, it takes time for players to adjust to a new message.

But the Blues, who eliminated the San Jose Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals with a win Saturday night, continue to receive Hitchcock's message well. The Blues always seemed a step ahead of the playoff-hardened Sharks, entering uncharted waters by winning the franchise's first playoff series since 2002.

"We have a buy-in going right now," Hitchcock said after Saturday night's 3-1 victory in Game 5. "We've had a buy-in going since the day the coach arrived. I don't know why. I have no idea why, to be honest with you. But the buy-in is right there. And you can see it. You can see the way we play. You can see the way we compete. You can see the way we grabbed it."

The Blues grabbed it in the third period Saturday in come-from-behind fashon.

"We played a great first period [Saturday]," Hitchcock said. "We got frustrated halfway through the second period when we weren't having success. Left the page and then came right back in the third, right back into the buy-in.

"It wasn't a big speech. It was just a common-sense discussion at the end of the second period with the players. This is who we are, this is how we play, and the buy-in went right back in again and away we went. I think we'll be a tough opponent if the buy-in continues at this pace. Win or lose, we'll be a tough opponent."

But before the Blues -- who can only face Phoenix, Nashville or Los Angeles in the Western Conference Semifinals -- turned to their skill guys, they turned to a pair of veteran guys that have been through the playoff wars.

Scott Nichol, who played for the Sharks the last two seasons, threw a puck at the net that Sharks goalie Antti Niemi struggled to handle. Jamie Langenbrunner, who has the most playoff experience on the Blues' roster, crashed the net and popped home the rebound and suddenly the game was tied. Forty-five seconds later, everything the Sharks had done to get the series back to San Jose for a Game 6 Monday night was virtually gone.

"I think that first one was ... it was very exciting," said veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, who is the lone holdover from the last playoff series win in franchise history. "It's the highest I've jumped off the bench in a long time. To get that second one after that, you just try to keep yourself level-headed and continue to go. We knew they were going to come hard."

And so when they went through the traditional handshakes signifying the end of a series, it was a Blues team without any leading scorers or without guys that will dominate the end-of-season awards. Instead, it's a team that just works hard at what it does from top to bottom, and most importantly, has bought in to what is being preached.

"I think the way we have to play to be successful ...look, our top guys [have] 60 points ... the way we have to play as a team makes you rely on each other," Hitchcock said. "We can't do it by ourselves, we can't rely on one guy. Our top scorer is our top checker [David Backes], so it's a different element here. That's why when I say the buy-in is there, the buy-in is because everybody -- not out of fear, but out of everybody having to trust each other so much that we play the right way ... the way we have to play to win. And everybody is on that page and almost afraid to get off.

"I think that relying on each other kept the stress and the pressure away. There was no difference in our locker room today as there was for Game 4. There was looseness. It's a very unique team in that there are no superstars, there's just a bunch of guys that grew up together, that are having fun together and really count on each other."

The players recognize how big of a moment this is for the franchise, but more importantly, that there's more to accomplish.

"It's a big night. I think you heard it in the excitement from the crowd and how loud it got in here, especially as the last few seconds tick down," Backes said. "These fans have been waiting for it for a long time. We've been waiting for it for a long time. It feels good, but we've got to keep that all in perspective.

"It's a great series win against a great team, but [there's] more work to be done."

For complete Playoff coverage, go to stlouisblues.com/playoffs

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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 NSH 63 41 15 7 191 151 89
2 ANA 63 39 17 7 186 176 85
3 STL 62 40 18 4 192 153 84
4 CHI 63 37 21 5 183 150 79
5 WPG 63 31 20 12 174 170 74
6 VAN 61 35 23 3 174 162 73
7 MIN 62 33 22 7 176 161 73
8 LAK 61 29 20 12 164 157 70
9 CGY 62 33 25 4 175 160 70
10 SJS 63 30 25 8 175 181 68
11 COL 63 27 25 11 167 182 65
12 DAL 62 27 25 10 195 207 64
13 ARI 63 20 36 7 138 214 47
14 EDM 63 18 35 10 143 208 46

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
V. Tarasenko 62 31 29 27 60
A. Steen 60 19 32 4 51
J. Schwartz 55 20 26 16 46
D. Backes 61 20 21 3 41
T. Oshie 54 17 24 12 41
K. Shattenkirk 49 8 32 18 40
P. Stastny 54 12 24 11 36
J. Lehtera 55 9 24 16 33
A. Pietrangelo 62 5 27 -2 32
P. Berglund 58 8 12 -1 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
B. Elliott 20 9 2 .922 2.17
J. Allen 17 6 2 .905 2.50

 
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