EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - David Backes was grateful the St. Louis Blues were out of their homes and comfort zones Wednesday, practicing in an opponent's practice rink just a few slapshots from the Pacific Ocean.
Still reeling from the shock of two home playoff losses, the St. Louis captain realizes that a strong road trip is the only way to save his team's season.
"It's good to get away from home and all the people that told us how good we were all year," Backes said. "We've had a little trouble dealing with success, with all the talk about Presidents' trophies and Jennings trophies . . . and now we're stumbling on our toes."
Indeed, St. Louis is in an 0-2 hole in its second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings, giving up eight goals at home to the lowest-scoring team that made the NHL playoffs. Game 3 on Thursday night is vital to the Blues, who know that only three teams have overcome an 0-3 deficit and advanced.
After the Blues' stellar regular season and an impressive first-round win over San Jose, Backes can see slippage in the Western Conference semifinal series. St. Louis isn't playing with the precision or the all-out energy necessary to compete with the eighth-seeded Kings, who have extended their late-season surge into the playoffs.
"We've had times in the season where we've all bought in, and we've had times when we're half in, half out," said Backes, who had two assists in the Blues' 5-3 loss in Game 2. "That's where we are right now. ... Enough is enough, and we've got to determine as a group if we're going to attack this thing, or if we're going to tuck tail and run."
Backes' unusual frankness, echoed by coach Ken Hitchcock in more friendly terms, might be just what this gifted team needs to hear.
The Blues were the first team to clinch a playoff berth and a division title this season, so they didn't have to push down the regular-season stretch. St. Louis isn't extraordinarily gifted offensively, and its defense in front of beleaguered goalie Brian Elliott must be much better for the Blues to keep chasing their first Stanley Cup championship.
Hitchcock echoes his captain's thoughts about the Kings, who have been remarkably consistent in their seven playoff games, putting them halfway to their first conference final series since 1993.
"The difference is the resolve in the opponent," Hitchcock said after the Blues' afternoon practice. "L.A. has had to be dug in for a long time. Their commitment is 100, and ours is maybe 85 right now."
Whatever the Kings are doing right on the road, coach Darryl Sutter appears to be going to remarkable lengths to see it in Game 3: His team is staying in a downtown hotel the night before both games, and their pregame skate Thursday will be at Staples Center - a rare opportunity in a building with all three of its pro sports franchises currently in the playoffs.
Sutter wouldn't confirm he made the changes to preserve the Kings' good feelings from the road, where they are 5 for 5 in playoff games this season. Los Angeles has been remarkably inept at home in the past three postseasons, losing six of its last seven - including a potential clinching Game 4 in the first round against Vancouver.