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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

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
A. Steen 68 33 29 17 62
T. Oshie 79 21 39 19 60
D. Backes 74 27 30 14 57
J. Schwartz 80 25 31 28 56
A. Pietrangelo 81 8 43 20 51
K. Shattenkirk 81 10 35 1 45
V. Tarasenko 64 21 22 20 43
D. Roy 75 9 28 -1 37
J. Bouwmeester 82 4 33 26 37
V. Sobotka 61 9 24 14 33
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
B. Elliott 18 6 2 .922 1.96
R. Miller 25 30 4 .918 2.64

 
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