In two March matchups between the Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues outhit the ’Hawks by a combined total of 76-43.
Their reward: two losses by a combined score of 8-2.
The clubs’ first-round playoff series, which begins Thursday, figures to be physical, and naturally so with two rivals, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock says that his team can’t afford to be overly aggressive.
“We have a design to our play, and when we get outside our play, we get beat,” Hitchcock said. “I think winning in the playoffs is all about playing within yourself, but it’s also about playing within yourself as far as the system of play you play. When you start searching out body contact, or you start to think you can intimidate people with body contact, you’re wrong.
“This is a team we’re going to play, if we think we’re going to go out in a seek and destroy mission, like both teams did with LA and us last year, this team will just laugh at you. They’ve had people been running at them for five years; they know how to deal with it. From our standpoint, we have to play the game the right way and hope for good results. But going out and thinking we’re going to intimidate the Chicago Blackhawks is nuts. They’ve seen all of that before and they just play right through it.”
The Blues ranked 17th in the NHL in hits this season with 22.4 a game. Chicago, meanwhile, finished dead last in the league with an average of 16.8.
Despite his club’s overall success, and ability to overcome the Blues’ physicality in two late-season victories, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday he is concerned about the toll it will take to win the series.
“Absolutely, when you look at the way they play, and how they play and the consistency of that being a key part of their game,” Quenneville said. “They’re a physical team, we know that, and we want to make sure we don’t change how we play. I think we look at the five games we played against them, I think we were fine in all the games. And I think that’s the key with our team.
“You can’t forecast what’s going to happen health-wise over the course of a long seven-game series, but when you play St. Louis, you can’t be distracted about where you’ve got to go to be successful.”
Both clubs have to be ready to play the actual game.
“This is different, this is precision, this is exactness, this is execution,” Hitchcock said. “This is skill, skill, skill, finesse, speed, all the elements you need to have your wits about. This is a challenge. Since I’ve been here we really haven’t played a team like this. The two teams we played in my first year here and then last year, they were physical battles. This is a different type of battle. This isn’t going to have near the body contact, but it could have a lot of exciting hockey.”
Defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak were among the healthy Blues players not to skate in Tuesday’s optional practice. ... With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back in the Blackhawks’ lineup, it appears that Jeremy Morin is the odd man out.