Either the Blues or Sharks will erase several years of painful playoff memories with a win in the Western Conference Finals, a series currently tied 1-1. Both coaches have experienced deep playoff runs. The Blues are led by Ken Hitchcock, who led the Stars to the Stanley Cup title in 1999, and back to the Finals in 2000.
“I said two words today. You go from furious to curious right away,” Hitchcock said. “The quicker you can get to curious, the better you’re going to be. I’ve learned that over time. You’re always disappointed and angry when you lose, you’re driving home. The next morning you better be curious and looking for things you can fix.”
Hitchcock also took the Flyers to game seven of the conference finals in 2004. A lot of coaching during the regular season concerns control of the locker room, managing egos, and dealing with the media. Not every game is coached like game seven of the finals. Once the playoffs come around, feelings take a backseat.
“I also find this time of the year direct coaching works a lot better,” Hitchcock said. “If you’re worried about future relationships, you’re in the wrong business at this time of year. So direct coaching, eye-to-eye coaching works. We did some of that today also.”
St. Louis has seen its last three seasons end with a game six loss in the first round. It looked like disaster again when the Blues squandered a 3-1 lead against the Blackhawks in the first round, but St. Louis won game seven and then defeated Dallas in the second round.
The Blues have been bouncing back well from tough losses. “It’s helping them understand what took place so they get rid of the emotion, get into the tactics of it, then let them play tomorrow, turn them loose,” Hitchcock said.
Blues players have respect for the championship winning coach. “He’s been good,” said St. Louis center Robby Fabbri. “We’ve been over what we’ve got to do. Everyone’s sort of watched our last game and are ready to move on. I think that’s the biggest thing going into these next two games.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks are looking to erase nearly a decade of bitter playoff defeats and get to the finals for the first time in franchise history. The 2009 team won the Presidents’ Trophy but was stunned in the first round. The 2010 and 2011 seasons ended with conference finals losses. Then a loss to the Blues in 2012. Then game seven losses to the Kings in 2013 and 2014, one in the second round, one in the first.
The team parted ways with coach Todd McLellan after missing the 2015 playoffs. In came Peter DeBoer, who led the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, winning the east as a six-seed. Now he’s trying to get San Jose over the hump. “I wasn’t here in previous years,” DeBoer said. “I know there’s always been some disappointments. I think the fact that last year there was a little bit of a come-to moment with the team missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, coaches moving on. It was a little bit of rock bottom.”
Veterans like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, as well as the rest of the Sharks, wanted to show that missing the playoffs last year was a one-time thing and not the beginning of the end. “I think there’s probably some soul searching over the summer,” DeBoer said. “I think the guys came back renewed and excited, wanted to show they’re an elite team, not the team that missed the playoffs last year.”
St. Louis took game one 2-1 but the Sharks took the home-ice with a 4-0 win in game two. The series moves to San Jose tonight, with both teams just three wins away from the finals.