ST. LOUIS -- If the St. Louis Blues want to play with the big boys, there was a lesson learned Saturday night in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the Scottrade Center.
It's all about coming out prepared and expecting a playoff-type, battle-tested hockey squad each night. The Blues' recent success dictates that type of respect from the opposition.
On a night that was supposed to be for the Blues' David Perron, who returned to the NHL after missing 97 games with a concussion, the Blackhawks put on an quality exhibition of hockey and snatched the thunder of Perron's return to the Blues' lineup.
"We came out with a good effort tonight and really battled for a full 60 (minutes)," Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "(Goalie Ray) Emery played great. Our (power play) stepped up, our (penalty kill) stepped up. It was a great game all around."
The Hawks (16-8-3), who lost here 3-0 in Blues coach Ken Hitchcock's first game on Nov. 8, won the special teams battle, they won the small battles normally not seen on score sheets and they had their big players step up at crucial times.
"I thought we played a real strong game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Right from the outset it was competitive. We had a good first period, excellent second, real good third.
"Across the board we played hard and our special teams were excellent. It was a good night for us. We got contributions from everybody, everybody fulfilled their roll and job expectations were met. We scored some timely goals but that short-handed goal really took us off there."
Jonathan Toews (one goal, one assist), Marian Hossa (two goals), Patrick Sharp (one goal, one assist) and Duncan Keith (two assists) helped key Chicago's offense against Blues netminder Brian Elliott, who came in 10-1 on the season and allowed more than two goals in a game for the first time in 12 starts.
"Chicago sent us a message," Hitchcock said. "They're a veteran, seasoned playoff-ready team. When you're that type of team, you win the dots-to-board battles, and they won the dots to boards. They won those battles. They came up with more loose pucks, they won more stick fights, they won more battles in front of each net ... that's the difference. They knew the sense of urgency. You can see it from the face-off dots to the boards all around the rink.
"Against a team that's dialed up ... they treated it like a playoff game because that's as hard (and) a competitive game as we've had against us since I've been here. They really came to play."
The Blues got two goals, one from Perron 6:21 into the game that blew the roof off the building and gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. Perron had 19:05 ice time in the game and probably played more than expected. But the 23-year-old looked like he didn't miss a beat.
"I thought the tempo was pretty good test today and that was a good test," Perron said. "That's what I expected. I didn't feel that good, but I didn't feel that bad, either.
"The guys made it easier on me, talking to me a lot. Pretty much every shift coming back to the bench, I was talking to (assistant coach Scott Mellanby) asking him what we should do on this or that."
The Hawks were 2-for-3 on the power play, their last-ranked penalty killing team thwarted the Blues on all four attempts and Hossa scored a short-handed goal that tied the game 2-2 in the second period after Chris Stewart had given the Blues a 2-1 lead.
"I think my turnover there on the power play gave them momentum," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Hossa's goal. "I just gave them that pass and they come down and score.
"They get a goal three or four minutes later. It was something that I sucked the life out of the team there."
Sharp would give Chicago a 3-2 lead with a power play goal, and the Hawks would not allow the Blues to breath, and Emery did the rest, stopping 23 shots to win for the fourth time in six starts.
"(The Blues) are a tough team to play against … (with) that disciplined grinding style of hockey," Emery said. "Our big players really stepped up and played that tough, gritty game. That's a big character game for us."
Toews scored his 15th goal in 27 games, and Michael Frolik added an empty-netter for the Hawks, who definitely buried their opportunities when presented.
"I thought one team dug in a little bit deeper collectively than we were in the areas that you win hockey games ... heavy sticks, heavy competitiveness, playing the right way right from 60 minutes," Hitchcock said of the Hawks. "... We played nervous and light in the wrong areas ... under pressure, with the puck, that's when we made nervous, light plays. ... Good teams eat you up, and that's what they did."