The St. Louis Blues will have another chance to close out the defending Stanley Cup champions on Saturday night. The “Mad House on Madison” will be rocking as the Chicago Blackhawks look to apply more pressure on the visiting team. The Blues showed incredible drive and fortitude in Game 5 at home, especially in the final 20-minutes of regulation, scoring two goals to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Just Another Day at the Office
Despite the loss on Thursday, St. Louis is treating Game 6 like any other and are taking away key lessons from the first five games versus a tough Chicago team.
A great start, continue wearing these guys down. We’re putting a lot of pressure on their top guys to play a lot of minutes… it’s been physical and it wears on them. We feel great, we feel fresh. – Scottie Upshall
Once again, it seemed like a solid mix of young talent and veteran leadership helped keep the Blues in the game. Great passes from the back-end from Alex Pietrangelo and fantastic finishes from Jaden, Schwartz, David Backes, and Robby Fabbri, all answered the Blackhawks’ offensive push. Top players played top minutes on both teams. The younger stars came out to shine for St. Louis as Fabbri was another Blue to score his first career playoff goal in the series.
Ken Hitchcock believes in his team, but he’s also a realist. “Hitch” has always been one heck of a soundbite, a head coach with a calm demeanor that just tells it like it is. After the team’s Friday practice before heading to Chicago, Hitchcock had his own version of “we need to weather the storm.” For him, the high-level talent on both sides of the red line causes chaos, and the Blues need to “play within it.”
The chaos begins with faceoffs. No matter what zone it’s in, early possession for the Blues is essential. While the Blackhawks can be a quick-strike team, they garner most of their offensive chances with extended possession in the offensive zone. On Thursday, the home team had most of the goals and overall chances on the rush. While it’s great to convert on those chances, owning the possession game will help keep Chicago’s stars out of sight. Each team has premier centermen that can win big faceoffs. Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera averaged 55% on the draws in Game 5 for St. Louis, while Marcus Kruger and Jonathan Toews averaged 54.5% for the Blackhawks. All four players took no less than 21 draws on the night.
They had sequences where they got a little too much time and space and got creative again… I think we can be a little more assertive in the O-zone but bringing the defensive structure we’ve had is something we’re going to look to continue.” – Alexander Steen
Steen hits the nail on the head. Even though goaltending from Brian Elliott has been as close to lights out as possible, the overall defensive structure has been sound, while also chipping in offensively. Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa each scored in Game 5, which is a positive and negative for the Blues. On one hand, they kept the two clutch players from scoring for 4 games. On the other, they may be heating up just in time.
St. Louis will head into Chicago on Saturday sporting just as much confidence as they did at home on Thursday. Still up 3-2 in the series, they know they also have their hometown crowd right behind them. The NHL and Fox Sports Midwest announced that the last game was the highest rated game on television in the St. Louis area, ever. A structured, defensive game will help stave off the opponent’s need to continue their 2016 Stanley Cup goals. To win, they’ll need to take it one faceoff, pass, shot, and goal at a time. The Blues’ fans want it, the city wants it, and the team needs it.