Make no mistake, the Chicago Blackhawks realize the difference.
When Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals between the Hawks and the Blues is over tonight, they will be either delighted or desperate.
If they win, the series will be 2-2 and they will back to square one, i.e. delightful.
If they lose, they will trail 3-1 with the series going back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Friday, i.e. desperate.
“It's huge for both teams, every game is big for both teams but it's a big difference between being 2-2 going back to St. Louis and it being 3-1 going to St. Louis,” Blackhawks forward Ben Smith said. “We know that. I think both teams are preparing for an intense battle tonight.”
Smith added, Monday's 2-0 victory notwithstanding, the Blackhawks feel they have to play better tonight than they played in Game 3. They were out-shot by the Blues 34-25 in that game, and they spent more time in their zone than in the Blues' end.
“I thought we progressed in Game 1 and 2 where we were at the right level,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “In Game 3, I thought we were OK. I think playing with the lead, we got to a little bit where we didn't hit that next level. Tonight, we have to hit that next level.”
Smith added: “We know as a team we have to better, we have to keep it simple, play our game. As I said, it's going to be intense.”
Bryan Billick, who had eight hits in Game 3 and has 21 hits in the series, echoed the sentiments.
“If we win this game, it's a lot of pressure on them,” Bickell said. “We have all the momentum going back to their building. If they win it, they have a great opportunity to close the series, so it's a huge game.”
Quenneville has been animated behind the Chicago bench throughout the series. He's not likely to get any calmer as the series goes on.
“It's got to be all out,” Quenneville said of his team's effort tonight. “It's an important game and as you progress in the series, they each become bigger and more important. The challenge becomes hotter and higher, so let's welcome it and meet it head on.”
Since the 2009 postseason, Patrick Sharp has scored the most playoff goals (32) of any NHL player. However, Sharp is still looking for his first point of this series coming into Game 4. Chicago forwards have scored only three goals overall, with one being an empty-net marker by Marcus Kruger in Game 3.
One reason is that both teams are struggling on the power play. The Blues one for 16, while the Blackhawks are one for 14. In a postseason series, teams get a good read on what the opposition is trying to do on the power play. Sharp said the Blackhawks just have to stick with the basics.
“It's same old answer - getting good hard shots to the net with some traffic, look for second and third rebounds,” Sharp said. “They have a good goaltender in there and four guys on the ice every time who are sacrificing and blocking a lot of shots. So it's on our guys to move the puck around and get some good hard shots through.”
With his usual playing partner Brent Seabrook serving a suspension, Duncan Keith has been logging some 33 minutes per game through the first three games. Quenneville said that is not a concern.
“In big games, sometimes he gets into the mid-25s and low 20s, and we don't mind,” Quenneville said. “He's got a high capability as far as big minutes, and he doesn't have the wear and tear on him (yet) over the course of a playoffs.
“I think with a lot defensemen, the more you play the better you play and the better you feel. A lot of guys who play 10-12 minutes, it's not really fair to get a really good assessment of them. You really get into the game more (with more minutes) and I'm sure Dunc would rather play more, as well.”
BLACKHAWKS' PROJECTED LINEUP
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg-Andrew Shaw-Brandon Saad
Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
Duncan Keith-Sheldon Brookbank
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
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