Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 2/23/12
ST. LOUIS Goalie Brian Elliott stood with both hands on his hips, the sound of blue equipment bags zipping in advance of a six-game road trip around him. He understood distance remains between where the Boston Bruins have been and where the St. Louis Blues want to go. He looked ahead in a mostly cleared locker room and assessed a night to forget. On Wednesday, the defending Stanley Cup champions humbled him for three goals in the first period on their way to a 4-2 victory at the Scottrade Center. Before walking from the room, he was asked if the same Bruins pressure that allowed them to survive three postseason series of seven games last spring forces uncommon mistakes. "We knew that was coming," said Elliott, who watched the Blues' team-record home-point streak end at 21 games. "We knew they were going to come hard off the bat. We wanted to counter that. To a point, we did. But I think we need to be better all the way around." Wednesday's result showed there is room for the Blues to be better, despite a rise under coach Ken Hitchcock that has placed them in position to earn their first postseason berth since 2009. Boston provided a reminder in the lone meeting between the teams this season that championship chemistry matures over time, and St. Louis must grow. Still, the Bruins represent a model for the Blues as the Western Conference contender approaches the regular season's final six weeks. In many ways, St. Louis resembles Boston from a season ago. The Blues are large up front. They attack opponents with a quick, strong style. And they face a long title drought. (The Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972, and the Blues have never claimed one despite 35 postseason appearances in franchise history.) "They're a big, physical team," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "They come, and they try and push you out of your own building. I thought we did a pretty good job of pushing back." Because of the parallels, Jackman and others can draw hope from the Bruins' championship run from a year ago. After games played on Feb. 22, 2011, the Bruins held a 34-19-7 record with 75 points good for a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning for third place in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, after their loss Wednesday, the Blues are 36-17-7 with 79 points good for fourth place in the Western Conference. So history suggests the Blues are on a similar path, but there are reasons beyond the records to believe they can continue following the Bruins' example. All champions share traits of strong focus and confidence, and St. Louis has benefitted from a spark under Hitchcock that will only develop with time. The Blues have reason to assume the play that has led to a 30-10-7 record under the coach will continue as long as major producers such as center David Backes (17 goals and 25 assists) and winger T.J. Oshie (15 goals and 24 assists) stay healthy. "I think every year a team wins the Stanley Cup, you seem to have teams that like what you did and copy some of your style," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I think the St. Louis Blues is one of those teams that competes hard. That's what we've tried to do over the years. It goes to show you sometimes you don't necessarily need superstars, but you need a group of guys that are willing to play and fight hard for each other. That's what our team did last year, and that's what we're trying to do again this year." Confidence is key in that effort, and the Bruins showed why during their postseason run last season. Dramatic seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks tested their resolve after earning the Northeast Division title. The Bruins were seasoned enough to handle those challenges, though, and they made the most of their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1990. Time will reveal whether the Blues can follow a similar pattern. Challenges remain, the largest being the question of how well they will fare on the road. St. Louis has proven to be one of the NHL's best at home the Blues entered Wednesday with a 26-3-4 record at the Scottrade Center, a mark that tied them with the Detroit Red Wings for the most wins at home in the league. But can St. Louis find success away from the Gateway City? In the coming weeks, the schedule will offer a much different experience than the Blues have enjoyed since Jan. 3, a stretch in which 15 of their 22 games were played at the Scottrade Center. After Wednesday, though, all but seven of the Blues' remaining 22 games will be played on the road. On Thursday, they begin the six-game trip with a 10-13-3 record away from the Scottrade Center, a mark that ranks 13th in the Western Conference and tops only the Edmonton Oilers (8-20-2) and Columbus Blue Jackets (7-19-4) in the category. Meanwhile, Boston showed last season what consistent play both at home and on the road can accomplish. The Bruins went 22-13-6 at the TD Garden and 24-12-5 away from the building. As a result, they clinched the Eastern Conference's third seed. "They're a big team up front like ourselves," said Bruins center Chris Kelly, who earned his 15th goal of the season Wednesday. "They work hard. They skate well. They move the puck up well. They've got two good goalies and six good defensemen and four good lines. There aren't many holes in that team." Perhaps the Blues don't have many holes, but there are still areas where they can improve. The Bruins provide a pattern. And if St. Louis continues to evolve under Hitchcock, the distance between where Boston has been and where the Blues want to go will shrink with each victory.
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