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Blues still feeling good about chances

ST. LOUIS -- If body language and demeanor mean anything, you didn't get the sense Friday the St. Louis Blues were any less confident in their abilities.

Of course, the real answer comes Saturday night in their Game 2 response after the veteran San Jose Sharks walked in and took Game 1 in double overtime.

It's exactly what the seventh-seeded Sharks were hoping to do, steal the first one and see if the second-seeded and playoff-green Blues would squirm at all in the aftermath.

Not a lot of squirming Friday.

"The outsiders are always trying to find some sort of storyline or reason or excuse,'' a confident-sounding David Backes, the Blues' captain, said Friday. "We've got an opponent that's been here before and probably has that experience edge, there's no question about it, but we've got a great group of guys in here with great characters. We're going to play our game hard and continue to ramp it up and climb that mountain we have to climb.''

Perception doesn't seem to have caught up with reality in today's NHL. Look at the eight teams in the four Western Conference series -- any of them, honestly, can end up in the Stanley Cup finals.

Some people don't like hearing that, they prefer the drama that comes with true favorites succumbing to pressure and true underdogs slaying down the big dog, but the factual story is that there's little to choose from between any of these teams that got into the West dance.

I mean, a year ago the Blues were out of the playoffs and the Sharks were the No. 2 seed. How much can change in 12 months to suggest the Sharks are that big an underdog to St. Louis in that short time frame?

The problem with perception, however, is that sometimes the players fall trap to it. As the higher seed, they put the pressure on themselves sometimes to play up to that status. That's where it gets dangerous between the ears after a Game 1 loss to a lower seed.

"It's not the time to panic,'' Blues winger David Perron said Friday. "We know it's a seven-game series and it could go all the way to seven. We just need a bit better effort from everyone.''

The Blues, really, played well enough to win Friday night. They dominated long stretches but ran into a Finnish brick wall named Antti Niemi.

So that's the catch after a game like that. You walk that fine line between making necessary changes following a loss while not overreacting to what was a good effort.

"I think if you live on, 'We did a lot of good things,' that's how you lose,'' Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday. "You have to come to grips with adjustments."

The veteran coach hinted at lineup changes without naming names. But he said Jaroslav Halak would remain in goal.

"We've got to make adjustments,'' Hitchcock said. "Our players came in [Friday] and had a great attitude toward the adjustments. They're hungry to know, they want to see change.''

One specific adjustment will be to create higher-quality scoring chances. The Blues had the puck a lot Thursday night but not where it matters most: near the blue paint of Niemi's net.

"I thought the difference [Thursday] night was that we got a lot of in-zone time but they blocked a lot of shots," Hitchcock said. "We're going to have to find a way to do things a bit different. It just seemed like we had the puck in their zone a lot, but not a lot of quality opportunities.''

Asked how his young team would deal with the specter of possibly going down 2-0 in a series, Hitchcock said he didn't buy that train of thought. He doesn't believe that weighs on teams like it did in the past.

"I don't put any stock until four games are won anymore,'' Hitchcock said. "It was 0-2 and Boston wins [the Cup finals] last year. For whatever reason, the world of hockey has changed since the lockout. I think it's harder almost sometimes to win at home than it is on the road now. The teams are so competitive. There's so much pressure on the home team. There's not a big advantage like there was before. It's so strange. We've played some of the best hockey we've ever played on the road.''

On Saturday, they will need to do it at home.