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Is Ken Hitchcock's Blues future on the line in Game 7?

Ken Hitchcock’s coaching future could be on the line Monday when the St. Louis Blues try to avoid a collapse to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of their first-round series.

Since Hitchcock took over in St. Louis in the 2011-12 season, his teams have followed up strong regular seasons with disappointing flameouts in the playoffs.

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In his first year they were swept by the Los Angeles Kings in the second-round. The following three years they’ve been ousted in six games in the first-round by the Kings, Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild. 

If Chicago wins Monday, they’ll complete a comeback from down 3-1 in the series – and 3-1 in Game 6 – to beat the Blues and cement themselves as playoff survivors. Last year, there was speculation after the Wild series that the team would part ways with Hitchcock and start anew. He came back, but if the Blues lose again will this be the end for Hitchcock?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined on what this means for Hitchcock.

Win Game 7 and you’re the coach who took the Blues to the second round (and perhaps beyond?) of the playoffs, while knocking off the defending champs, who just happened to be the detested Chicago Blackhawks.

Lose Game 7 and you’re the coach who infamously had four consecutive first-round-series losses.

Lose Game 7 and you’re the ex-coach.

Hitchcock has tried his best to find the positives for his team leading into Monday night’s Game 7 matchup.

After Game 6, Hitchcock called Game 7 “the best case scenario we could’ve hoped for” in this particular situation. 

The Blues players have also tried to publicly preach this type of positive message. 

Said forward Troy Brouwer per the Post-Dispatch, “A lot of guys in here haven't played a Game 7 yet in their career, so they're excited for it. We are going to have some fun with it. We worked hard to put ourselves in a good spot this year to hopefully knock off the defending champions in a Game 7." 

But there seems to be some friction that’s been boiling over. Star winger Vladimir Tarasenko and Hitchcock appeared to publicly feud in Game 6 over Tarasenko’s power play ice-time. Hitchcock was asked about this and said he was OK with it because it showed Tarasenko's competitive spirit. 

"That's what happens when you've got a guy like that that wants to make a difference," Hitchcock said. "I love it. I love it in him."

But as St. Louis Game Time points out, Hitchcock has one of the series’ biggest weapons in Tarasenko, who had 40 goals in the regular season, and has failed to use him properly.

They rely too much on the expectation of tenacity. Ken Hitchcock underplayed Tarasenko so much that it became discussion fodder on the postgame show on Sportsnet. I'm sure that Tarasenko blowing off Hitchcock had something to do with that discussion, too. Tarasenko was obviously upset at the end of the second period, and it's difficult to find many who blame him:

The 64-year-old Hitchcock won a Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars, made two Cup Final appearances and went to an Eastern Conference Final in 2003-04 with the Philadelphia Flyers. With the Blues he's finished in first-place in the Central Division twice and in second-place three times. He has a 224-103-36 record in the regular season with the Blues, but a 10-17 playoff record. 

It’s unclear if he’s the problem or if the team personnel, or even management is the issue.  

Added the Post-Dispatch:

(General manager Doug) Armstrong and Hitchcock's careers in St. Louis could be on the line. A loss would force the organization to decide if this regime will be able to turn the playoff corner. There are reasons to think it might. The star power of Tarasenko and the emergence of young stars like Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko suggest optimism.

If the Blues lose, expect the questions about Hitchcock to start right away. If they don’t, they’ll at least be on hold for one more round.  

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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