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Blues want to be more physical against Blackhawks

Hitchcock hopes hitting creates scoring opportunities for St. Louis in Game 2

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock looked at his stat sheet from a 1-0 overtime victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round series and decided that more physicality will be needed.

Although the Blues had 41 hits to the Blackhawks' 24, Hitchcock discussed the impact hitting can have in a Stanley Cup Playoff series against a quick team like Chicago, one that thrives off transition and puck control. After the veteran coach, in his postgame remarks, threw out 70 as their goal, he was asked Thursday to clarify how he categorizes 70 hits.

"A lot of it is what people write as hits and what we consider playing through checks," Hitchcock said. "They count it as hits and we count it as playing through checks. [Wednesday], I think the number on the stat sheet was 41 and we were at 57. It's not a big change for us, but we've got to play through the checking a little bit better. That's what we consider to be body contact and things like that. Some people term it different and they see it as something different. It's not just running into people, but it's playing through the checking. I think that's the element of the game that we have to get better at. We have to play through their checking a little bit better than we did yesterday, and I think the body contact will become part of that."

When forward Robby Fabbri, who had an offensive-zone check on Michal Rozsival that temporarily knocked the Blackhawks defenseman out of the game, and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo show up in the hits column for the Blues, it's a sign of an all-in mentality for St. Louis, which will look to take a 2-0 series lead in Game 2 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, CSN-CH, FS-MW).

Video: Elliott, Backes lead Blues to OT victory in Game 1

"We know this is a team we don't want to run around and feel like we're trying to take guys' heads off, but when there's a chance to kind of get a lick in on a guy, you want to do it," said Shattenkirk, who had two hits. "Like they always say, chopping down the tree, you just want to keep trying to wear guys down and maybe it'll pay off later on in the series."

Said Pietrangelo, who also had two hits: "I think everybody's got to bring that element, especially us. We play a pretty big role on the defensive side. We're out there a lot, so if we can lead the charge in terms of the overall game, if that's going to get guys going, we're going to have to do that.

"They've got some pretty creative guys offensively too, so if you chase to get out of position, they're going to make you pay, so it's a balance of picking the right time and being physical."

Hitchcock said that playing through checks will help the Blues create more scoring chances. They had 18 shots on goal Wednesday but missed the net 20 times and had 22 more shots blocked.

"I don't think we had the opportunities," Hitchcock said. "We thought that when we went home until we looked at the tape today; we didn't have the opportunities. They got in lanes. They did a heck of a job. They really hunkered down in there. ... They're so stacked in there, there were no opportunities to shoot the puck. Even when we did, they all got blocked."

Getting the puck in deep and trying to force turnovers can lead to better scoring opportunities.

"As a player, when you're constantly getting bumped into, it can be frustrating if you let it get to you," Shattenkirk said. "Especially guys who like to skate with the puck, who like to join the rush, who just want to really not be touched out there, you find yourself almost like you're in quicksand, you're fighting to get going again.

"I remembered my first playoff series, it was something that really bothered me and something that I got used to. When you're playing against Chicago and the [Los Angeles Kings] of the League, it's just something that's going to be apparent every game. Again, maybe you bruise a guy up and it just affects him a little bit, and that's something we're trying to do."

Which makes that number 70 all the more doable, especially for players like Troy Brouwer, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves, whose five hits in Game 1 were tied for the Blues lead.

"We're going to need it," Hitchcock said. "We've got to be more physical for us on the forecheck. We spent a little bit of time in the second half of the game ... we're reading too much rather than getting in on it. I think it's an area that's part of our game. Part of it is also puck management. They did a really good job of not letting us in the zone with any type of control. Both teams checked really well. They made it hard for us to get the puck deep. We've got to go a better job of that."

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