By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) The game will be played on their home ice in St. Louis, but it’s all too easy to imagine that much of it is already underway inside the heads of the star-crossed Blues.
The team known more for disappointment than success has had every chance to dismiss a tired narrative in their first-round series against the Blackhawks but instead has taken every step to reinforce it. Their coach, a Charles Durning character named Ken Hitchcock, began the series by invoking the “resolve” required to win championships, and it merely served to highlight the perception that the Blues lack it. They seem to be out to prove true exactly what he meant when he used that word to distinguish great teams from also-rans.
The Blues took a 3-1 lead in the series but couldn’t put the Blackhawks away in game five. Then that ominous 3-1 lead came again Saturday night in Game 6, only to be met with a five-unanswered-goal onslaught when the defending Stanley Cup winners stared down elimination and responded.
Hitchcock has already complained about unfavorable officiating and most recently claimed that facing a deciding game at home was “the best-case scenario.” Nobody believes him outside his locker room — and probably not in there, either.
To his credit, counterpart Joel Quenneville is sounding like Phil Jackson when he wryly tweaks a Blues team that has never won anything and has established a well-earned reputation for letting opportunities slip from their grasp.
“When we were down 3-1, we had nothing to lose and the pressure was on them,” he said, referring to Saturday’s score but just as appropriately describing the larger series picture. “And now it’s even more so. It’s one game. I know that we’ve got momentum, that’s what we’re looking to get. Let’s go in there, have some fun.”
Quenneville and the Blackhawks are in there, all right, in the minds of Blues fans and, he hopes, the coach and players. There’s no such thing as the game-to-game “momentum” of which he speaks, of course, but he knows his teams are 9-1 in their last 10 elimination games and that his record in Games 5-7 of playoff series is 32-7. Even better than voodoo like “momentum” is being really good at hockey when it matters most.
The Blues choked away one of those series two years ago, winning the first two games and then losing four in a row as the Blackhawks reeled them in. It is happening again, until they prove otherwise.
St. Louis feels that obdurate sense of inevitability now, and it will only increase as the seconds tick by.
Hockey’s a great sport in which strange things happen. Pucks hit legs and carom at odd angles, people slip and fall and rules can be inscrutable and arbitrarily applied. In that way it can often seem unfair.
But those things are less important over large swaths of time that reveal resolve. The Blues haven’t prevailed in a Game 7 in 17 years, last doing so in 1999 — which is reason enough to let Prince speak for Quenneville and the Blackhawks to their opponent for Monday night:
… when I woke up this morning, I thought it was Judgment Day …
Party over. Oops, out of time.