By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock smiled.
Of course he did, because he's 'Hitch.'
He got a rise out of everyone in the media covering this Blues-Blackhawks series when he talked about the need for 70-plus hits.
The Blues, who lead the Western Conference First Round best-of-7 series 1-0 after winning 1-0 in overtime on a David Backes goal on Wednesday, will look to go up 2-0 in the series today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM). But Hitchcock was asked what can the Blues do to improve off of Game 1 to Game 2, and the quotable coach said, "
"More hits ... it's fun on the off-days watching you guys chase the tail, it really was," Hitchcock said, drawing laughs in the press room. "We're going to go for 141. We'll have 71, they'll have 70 and tomorrow you guys can chase the tail again. It was fun yesterday watching it, all the way up to NBC. We've got to have some fun at this stuff too you know. Watching you guys have to write and work, especially those lazy Edmonton (media) guys instead of just party, it's fun."
The Blues spoke of the need for more hitting but in a responsible fashion, as in ways to check through the opponent, finishing checks and create turnovers and win pucks back more.
"I think what's confusing is when you read a stat package and you see hits, those aren't relevant for us," Hitchcock said. "Finished checks are. There's a big difference between finished checks and hits. Finished checks mean you get the puck back, finished checks mean you win a board battle to retrieve possession or you force mistakes. Those are the elements of anybody's game when you're playing against skill, you need to control that part. Anybody can just run around and make body contact, but it's the job of getting the puck back immediately that you need to have if you expect to beat teams like Chicago because if they have the puck all night, you've got no chance. So running around and making body contact does no good at all. Finished checks, creating turnovers, winning the next puck race from there is really important. That's the one element that I was trying to say we didn't do a good job of.
"Our numbers are completely different than what the NHL stat package is. We didn't retrieve enough pucks, we didn't have it enough. If we expect to win this series, we're going to have to have the puck more, and there's a way to get it back against any good team, especially a team like Chicago. We've got to do a better job of that.
"I've said this before, the temperature's going to go up. We just need to know what the temperature's like and be ready for it. You can tell in players' comments, Joel (Quenneville's) comments, our feeling, same thing. The temperature's going to go up, but the execution's going to go up and I think both teams can execute at a higher level and I think you're going to see more and more of that tonight and as the series goes on."
Chicago's Andrew Shaw didn't respond one way or another if he thought the Blues were jerking everyone around.
"If you look at last game, we had the puck a lot of the game," Shaw said. "They’re going to use their body to get the puck back, try to create space for their skill guys as well. We need to do the same. I think we need to get more hits than we did last game, that’s for sure. Overall, it was a good game. 0-0 going into overtime. That’s a playoff type of hockey game right there."
Quenneville laughed when asked if Hitchcock was playing everyone for a fool.
"With us? I don’t know," Quenneville said. "The guys from St. Louis might know better."
So how do the Blues balance between trying to create more scoring opportunities (they had 18 shots on goal, 20 miss the net and 22 more blocked) while being mindful and responsible defending the Blackhawks' transition game?
"You've got to play within the game plan," left wing Patrik Berglund said. "It's how you forecheck and create chances that way. It's two really good teams going at it. You're not going to get that much zone time, either team. But it's the team that can forecheck the right way and pick some pucks off to create some offense that way. I think that's really huge. It's something that we're going to keep working on.
"Absolutely there can be more (offensively). It can be much more. I think we did not get as much zone time as we wanted. It's obviously something that we're going to work on, stay closer to each other. Stay a little tighter with each other and we can create a lot more."
But as Hitchcock said, the Blues need to be mindful of the Blackhawks' transition game.
"I think you have to respect their transition game the most," Hitchcock said. "They got away on us twice and you're standing on the bench and you're watching Jonathan Toews go on a 2-on-1 and a breakaway. Most nights that's like money. Those are the things you have to avoid. It's their quick-strike. You think you're on offense or you think you're on the attack and the next thing you know, they're on an odd-man rush. They have a lot of players who have great anticipation. That's something that we've talked about for the whole season playing them. We've got to find a way to make sure they don't get the easy offense. We were fortunate on those two occasions 'Ells' made big saves because that's the wrong guy to have the puck on his stick at that time."
But do the Blues really need to shoot it more?
"I know this might sound funny, but we were guilty of trying to shoot too much and that's what put us in a bad spot," Hitchcock said. "We didn't show the patience necessary to play this team. We tried to shoot the puck too much, had numerous shots blocked and ended up with ... I think both teams collectively had close to the same scoring chances, almost identical, but we were guilty of not having enough shots because we shoot too much and they got in lanes. We have to find a little different way to play them offensively."
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Vladimir Tarasenko knew about Artemi Panarin all the time.
The Russian natives are best buds, they've been teammates in the past and were almost teammates. If Tarasenko had any say so in the matter.
When Tarasenko came to the United States and play for the Blues in the NHL, one of the first things he did was talk about Panarin at length.
The message: sign this guy. He's good.
"Yeah. If they ask me do you want to play with him, I said yes, but Chicago signed him," Tarasenko said. "But he’s the enemy right now.
"... I know him as a player a long time, and I think that’s how he can play every year. I can’t be happy for Blackhawks guy, but I’m really happy for him as a friend. ... I know one day he’s going to try, and he decided to come a little bit later than us and had success now. All the guys who played with him, everybody’s happy for him."
So the Blues knew about the 5-foot-11, 170-pound left wing from the get-go. What did Chicago get: only 30 goals and 77 points in a rookie season.
"I think instead of giving (Tarasenko) $8 million, we should have hired him as a scout," Hitchcock joked. "He told us the day he got here at least once a month about him. They're best buds, they've played together, they've played in the world junior together, they played on lines together. He talked about him. Everybody looked at him and said he's a pretty small guy ... we all look a little dumb right now."
Tarasenko, who finished with 40 goals and 74 points this season, said this has been fun playing against his pal.
"Yeah. It’s pretty fun to play against a guy who you played (with) a long time ago," Tarasenko said. "We’re really close friends in life, but no friends on the ice now.
"... Yeah, talked yesterday a little bit. It’s pretty fun for us."
Panarin, who said through a translator he's known Tarasenko "about five years," said this challenge is one he takes pride in.
"I am very excited about this," Panarin said. "We will play against each other and I would love to give (Tarasenko) good competition.
"... We played together for a junior national team too. I'm playing not first year, like, in hockey and I've gotten used to (it) ... There's no friends here on ice."
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The Blues, who were outshot 35-18 in Game 1,
"Just little ways," center Paul Stastny said. "Everyone can do that. Game 1, early on, it's always kind of feeling out process. Every game's going to get amped up a little bit. Just have smarter decision-making, try to take less penalties, I think especially early in the game, try to keep it 5-on-5, try and make sure they don't get any momentum off their power plays.
"(Game 2) is always a little different. Every game there's always different factors, whether it's more scoring or more physical or more skating or more skill. There's always something different to it. You're not surprised with anything. We played them enough times throughout the regular season. We know what both teams have. I think we're more worried about what we're going to bring to this game than what they're going to do."
Stastny and his line with Troy Brouwer, who had a maintenance day but will play, and Robby Fabbri drew the assignment of the line with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd and have accepted the challenge.
"It's always tough," Stastny said. "He competes all the time, gets on faceoffs, really good puck protection. When you play against top guys, sometimes they're a little lackadaisical in the 'D' zone, they're more potent in the offensive zone and tougher to defend against. When you have puck possession in the 'O' zone, sometimes they take it easy. But a guy like that who plays a 200-foot game who competes as hard in the 'D' zone as he does in the offensive zone, you can't take a shift off. You can't take seconds off because you've got to be as hungry as he is. It kind of amps up your energy level and raises the bar for whoever plays against him, so it's always fun."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Steve Ott, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Petteri Lindbohm, Robert Bortuzzo and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Andrew Ladd-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Brandon Mashinter-Teuvo Teravainen-Tomas Fleischmann
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include David Rundblad, Richard Panik, Dale Weise, Erik Gustafsson and Christian Ehrhoff.