Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2-0 Blues relishing challenge of facing defending champs

Chicago Blackhawks pose biggest threat to Blues in newly formed
Central Division; foes to battle on Wednesday night Rivalry Night on national TV

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's only natural if you're a team on the rise and want to use the Chicago Blackhawks as a measuring stick.

The Blues (2-0-0), who host the Blackhawks (1-0-1) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night's Rivalry Night on NBCSN (also on Y-98 FM), are one of those teams on the rise that would like to get to the level the Hawks have been on. Chicago is owner of two Stanley Cup titles in the last four seasons, including last season's six-game series win over Boston.

But instead of following in the footsteps of Chicago or anyone else, the Blues are trying to carve an identity of their own after two straight strong regular seasons but little playoff success.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) and Chicago's Jonathan Toews (19) were once
college teammates at North Dakota. They resume the Blues-Blackhawks
rivalry Wednesday night in St. Louis.
"I don't think we're going to try and measure up to anyone this year," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "I think we're trying to be ourselves, we're going to try and win every game, and we're going to go into every building hoping to get the two points and knowing that we can if we play the right way.

"I don't think we really want to measure up to anyone. We just want to go out there and win and keep winning."

The Blackhawks will pose a challenge for the Blues in the newly created Central Division. With the playoff format going back to the old ways of 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 within the division, it creates new rivalries, or in this case, recreates an old one dating back to the days of the Norris Division.

"I think what creates the rivalry is they have the Cup and everyone wants a piece of it back," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They're a measuring stick for everyone that plays them, but I think the next three games are going to give us the information we need moving forward; what we're good at, what we like, what we need to improve.

"I think the next three games (against Chicago, New York Rangers and San Jose) are going to challenge our players at a very high level. Chicago obviously gets your attention for how good they've been for the last four years, but I think for us, the next three games are going to tell us where we're at as a group this time of the year. I don't think we've had a good read yet, but I think we're going to get it quickly now."

The Blues and Blackhawks, who will face one another five times this season (the rematch will be Oct. 17 in Chicago), are picked as favorites to be among the top teams in the Western Conference this season and an early-season test certainly can benefit both.

"It is a good way to kind of see how we're progressing as a team," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Still it's only three games in, but it's good to get tests like this early, start to face a little adversity and start building that up into our game as well.

"With Detroit our of the division now, I think it's going to become even more so of a rivalry for them. We always have hard-fought battles. The cities are so close. There's a lot of transplants in each city. That's what kind of creates those good rivalries and that great competition, having fans at each game. It's just a fun atmosphere to play in every time."

The NBC Sports Network is pumping up the game on its network, using a skit with captains David Backes and Jonathan Toews each skating towards one another from their own nets until they reach center ice in the ultimate stare-down and a bolt of lightning separating the two. Of course it wasn't done in live action together but with the hands of modern technology, it sends a definite purpose.

"That's the magic of video, but they did a pretty good job on it if you ask me," Backes said Tuesday after practice. "They dialed it right in. A rivalry, a game that we look forward to, I'm sure they look forward to it. It tends to bring out a lot of good, physical play from both teams.

"It kind of pumps up the rivalry and shows that these are two teams that love to play against each other, play as hard as can be and it's a valuable two points that's up for grabs tomorrow night. We're going to put everything we have into it, just like they will."

The Blues were 2-3 against the Hawks a season ago, with the recent matchup being a 3-1 Blues win on home ice the final night of the regular season last year that secured home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The matchups are typically close, and an early-season test here should be no exception for a Blues team trying to create something and fortifying their stance as one of the NHL's best.

"It's very true, but there's going to be measuring sticks along the way and a team that's won two Stanley Cups in the last four years is a good team to measure yourself against," Backes said. "They've earned it, so we've got to do everything we can to try to knock them off and try to gain on them.

"It's not going to be an easy task, but we feel we've got a great group of guys in here that's ready to make steps and commit to that team game where we can play just about anyone in the league as hard as we can."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (right) will see plenty of the Blackhawks' Brent
Seabrook when the Blues and Blackhawks meet Wednesday.
The Blues own wins over Nashville (4-2) and most recently Florida (7-0) and have gotten 11 goals from 10 different players (only Alexander Steen has two goals). The Blues typically rise to the occasion and play well against successful teams, and this Chicago team is no exception.

"Yeah, it's going to be a good test early on, obviously the defending champs," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Whenever we play them, it's an emotional game from the crowd and from us, obviously being a big rival. It's going to be a real good test for us and it's probably going to be a good test for them, too, early in the season. We've had a couple of days off to review film of our last couple of games and get ready for them.

"Whether we win or they win, it's always seems to be a one- or two-goal game. When there's two good teams going at it, it's always going to be like that. We're familiar with them, they're familiar with us. It's going to be an entertaining game."

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