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Blues on high note heading into series vs. Blackhawks

Backes good to go as St. Louis looks to erase painful memories of past playoff failures against Chicago

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Given their past shortcomings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the mood and mindset of the St. Louis Blues on the eve of facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round is quite high.

The Central Division foes will play their I-55 series for the second time in three seasons beginning with Game 1 on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET., NBCSN, CSH-CH, FS-MW, SN360, TVA Sports).

Video: Backes says he's good to go for Game 1

It wasn't the Blues' choice to face the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in six games in 2014 after St. Louis won Games 1 and 2, but the Blues finished second in the Central Division to the Dallas Stars, despite having 107 points, the third highest total in the League.

"We've got a heck of a group in here," said captain David Backes, who returned to practice Tuesday after a lower-body injury and is fit for Game 1. "It's our time in here to make a real dent in this tournament."

The Blues' first task of the postseson will be to try and eliminate the franchise that has won the Stanley Cup three times in the past six seasons.

Video: First Round Preview: Blues vs Blackhawks

"Might as well start at the top," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They're the only team in the League, quite frankly, with the knowledge of what it takes. So we get first crack at them. What we're going to have to have, number one, is our best players are going to have to be our best players in this series. Our best players are going to have to outplay their best players and that's going to have to be number one for me. That's a big challenge and I think a lot of our guys are looking forward to that."

The Blues finished with 107 points, the Blackhawks with 103. All five regular-season games were tight and intense.

"It'll be good ... good series," left wing Alexander Steen said. "It's going to be intense games, like they always are. We're dying to get this going.

"... It brings out that rivalry. I think you see it in our regular-season games all the time. There's been a lot of good battles, a lot of intense games. This won't be any different."

There are no signs of mental anguish from the Blues' standpoint.

"Here we go. Play all year for this," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Put yourself in this position to get to this point and get ready for this week. We know what it is. That's our rival. It's been like that for a few years now. Obviously a couple of years ago, a big playoff series there. [United Center is] always a fun building to play in, and I'm sure they're saying the same thing about us."

The Blues did their best to finish first in the Central, winning 14 of their last 18 games. But the Stars were 12-3-2 in their final 17 games to fend off St. Louis.

Video: STL@CHI: Tarasenko ties it late, wins it in overtime

"I think if you looked at the big picture, it was probably going to happen," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said of a Blues-Blackhawks series. "We made a good run at it at the end, won a whole bunch of games, but Dallas sort of did the same thing. We're very familiar with them.

"Bottom line is, you probably have to go through them to get to where you want to go. So, they're a good challenge, always are. ... I think the way we ended the season, we've been going pretty good. We should feel pretty good about ourselves. We know them and they'll be confident with themselves, too. The games are always good. It'll be a good series."

The Blues won three of the five regular season meetings, albeit all needed overtime or a shootout.

But given the Blues have been eliminated in the first round each of the past three seasons, will there be any mental demons to overcome?

"I think everyone in our division looks at the Blackhawks as the team you have to beat to move on, whether it's the first, the second round," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "For us to get a chance now to take them on in the first round, it's going to be pretty special. It's going to be a great series. For those of us who were here a couple years ago, we remember how emotional it was, and we have to start getting ready for that, and it's going to be fun. We're all looking forward to that matchup."

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