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Can Ken Hitchcock's coaching moves give the Blues momentum?

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ken Hitchcock has watched the San Jose Sharks’ last several games and he’s seen a team that’s locked in playing strong, physical, fast hockey up and down the rink. 

“We're playing a team that's got a bead in their game and a focus in their game that's been around for seven games now,” Hitchcock said. “We've got to change the momentum here. They've been dialing in with this game for seven games now.”

Can the Blues do it? Hitchcock said it’s been a while since he’s seen his team with the same poise and focus the Sharks have shown this series.

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“We were like that in (Games) 5 and 7 against Chicago (in the first-round), dialed in at this level,” he said. “So we're capable of it. We can do it.” 

Hitchcock has shown signs panic while relaying messages of calm at this stage of the series with his team down 2-1 to the Sharks.

He’s made multiple lineup changes from Games 1-3 to combat San Jose’s game. He's also shifted around centers, swapping Jori Lehtera and Alexander Steen. And in every contest his team has been considered the less superior group – even though they won Game 1.

Game 4 is Sunday at SAP Center. 

But when asked after the Blues’ Game 3, 3-0 loss about adversity, Hitchcock threw cold water on the question.

“The series is 2-1. You got to win four games. This is nothing,” he said. “When we get down three and three-quarters and we only got a quarter left, you can kind of ask me that question. Right now it's 2-1.” 

Then the next day he said he would insert Jake Allen into the lineup in goal. He replaces Brian Elliott who has started every game this playoff. Allen and Elliott are both excellent goaltenders and really no choice is considered a bad choice – but taking out a veteran who has started every postseason game and putting in a younger player shows a coach clearly pulling every lever possible just to get back into a series, even if Hitchcock tried to deny that notion.  

“I think, quite frankly, we've had two guys all year,” Hitchock said. “It might be a story for people, but for inside the locker room and for us as coaches, it is kind of an easy decision in the fact that, you know, it's probably easier for us than it is for other people because we've just trusted both guys so much.” 

Hitchcock pointed out there are some reasons for optimism. His team only limited the Sharks to 16 shots on goal in Game 3 but still lost. In most cases when an opponent is held under 20 shots on goal the results aren’t in their favor.

“The feeling I have is if we clean up the transition stuff, stop giving up these odd-man rushes like we did, we gave up five odd-man rushes in the first half of the game yesterday, all based on us having the puck, not them having the puck,” he said. “If we can clean that stuff up, I think we're going to really give this a go.”

The Sharks have quickly been able to turn the play back up the ice 5-on-5, which has enabled them to enter the Blues’ zone and set up their offense. Overall San Jose has outscored the Blues 8-2 and shut them out consecutive games.

“It's not necessarily slowing down their breakout, I think it's feeding into their transition that's been a problem for us,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “When we get the puck into their zone, against the end wall, I think we've had success in making it difficult for them. It's maybe when we're getting a little impatient, trying to force things, force plays that aren't there, that feeds into their transition a little bit too much.” 

But so far this series, the Sharks have anticipated every move and decision the Blues have made. Even though Hitchcock pointed out San Jose’s last seven games – really they’ve played consistent hockey since the calendar turned to 2016.

Since Jan. 1 the Sharks have just one losing streak of more than two games. And in order for the Blues to beat San Jose this series they’re going to need to win at least three of the next four games.

“Our team has to play as if our lives are on the line,” forward Kyle Brodziak said. “Nothing has come easy for us so far in the series. I don't think we can expect anything to change. Yeah, our desperation level is going to have to go up, for sure. I think we're recognizing that as a group. Yeah, hopefully we can bring our best, put our best foot forward.”

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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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