LOS ANGELES, Calif. • The Blues won four consecutive games during the regular season seven times, more than any club in the NHL, and already have done it once in the postseason. They'll need to rip off another four-game streak to keep their season going.
The Los Angeles Kings carry a 3-0 lead into Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series Sunday at 2 p.m. (St. Louis time), meaning a Blues loss will bring an abrupt end to a promising season.
The odds of advancement are extreme, as only three teams in NHL history — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers — have recovered from being down three games to none. This marks the ninth time in Blues history they have trailed 3-0, and in dropping the previous eight series the club has been swept seven times.
"They're the hammer, we're the nail," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got to move the nail around a little bit so they miss."
Registering a combined 96 hits in the first three games, LA hasn't missed many times in this series. The key to the Blues climbing back in contention will be rediscovering their forecheck and learning the importance of not retaliating against the opponent.
Hitchcock noted after Friday's practice that the Kings are beating the Blues at their own game. One aspect of that is the Kings' strong forecheck in the series and ability to nullify the Blues' forecheck.
The club has been unable to move pucks deep into the offensive zone and pin defenders in, creating time in the zone. LA has had free will clearing the puck and setting up its own offensive opportunities.
"We just haven't been on the same page with it," Blues forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Our forecheck is about everyone knowing where the puck is going, and for whatever reason, we're playing a little more side-to-side than we do. When everybody has been on that same page, it's been successful. But they've forced us and made us think there's stuff that's not there, kind of like we've done to teams."
Asked how the Blues could reestablish their forecheck, Hitchcock said: "I don't want to comment on that. We know what's going on there. So I'm not commenting."
Hitchcock isn't commenting, but he is making a change to the lineup, adding forechecker extraordinaire Ryan Reaves for Game 4 Sunday.
"If we get the puck deep, I don't think they can handle us," Reaves said. "The last couple of games we really haven't been doing that. If I can get out there and set the tone with that, get every puck deep and go on the forecheck, hopefully the boys will follow suit."
The other area in which the Blues could help their chances is by not retaliating when provoked by LA. Three times in Thursday's Game 3 the Blues tried to settle a score with the Kings' Dustin Brown. Instead, Alex Steen, Andy McDonald and Matt D'Agostini were ushered to the penalty box.
"If they're coming after me, it means (LA forward Anze Kopitar) is going to have a lot of room out there," Brown said. "Let's be honest. We want 'Kopi' to have more ice than I do." Will the Blues get the message?
"You can talk about it all you want, but when it hurts you, it hits home," Hitchcock said. "Reactionary penalties have hurt us in this series. You hope at some period in time that they get the message ...
"Take it to the whistle and then turn it off. I think that is experience that allows you to do that. Our inexperience at times has shown, but it's also been veteran players. It hasn't hurt us on the scoreboard because our (penalty killing unit) has been so good. Where it's hurt us is building momentum. To me, it's a small element of frustration. And if you're going to win in the playoffs, you can't have frustration."
The frustration, however, has been mounting.
"With our team, there's no reason we should be down three games right now," D'Agostini said. "But we're the type of team that's very capable of coming back in this series. There's a lot of promise in this room and we have a lot of belief in our guys and what we can do, so don't count us out just yet."
Even if the odds are against them.
"You can't think about winning four games," Langenbrunner said. "You've got to think about winning one, and that was our focus coming out here, to make sure we get one and bring it back to St. Louis. Obviously (that has) got to be Sunday now. That can be our only focus. Too big a picture, it can be a little daunting."
On the final day before the Blues' season could come to a close, Hitchcock didn't sense the players were ready for summer to begin.
"I don't know if we're naïve and think the season is going to go on forever, but we've got great energy," he said. "We're getting better. Hopefully we get good enough to win a game and take (the series) back to St. Louis.
"I think the shock is if we don't win. That's what happens when you haven't been through this before. The reality, if we don't win, we're out ... we're done ... we don't play anymore. You don't want that to be the shocker."