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Blues set physical tone early in Game 1

by Louie Korac

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After being pushed out of their element by the Los Angeles Kings en route to being swept in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago, the St. Louis Blues felt like the only way to dictate the tempo in the Western Conference Quarterfinals opener between the two teams Tuesday was to initiate the contact and most importantly, push first.

The Blues, who took Game 1, 2-1 on Alexander Steen's shorthanded overtime goal, came out with an intensity that was packed with the kind of physical element that's suited for their style of play.

"I think last year they did it to us," Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves said of the 2012 sweep. "They came out, all four lines were physical. They pushed us out. We really didn't have a response for them.

"I think this year, it's got to be the opposite. We've got to come out and push them out first and then when they push back, we've got to push harder."

Even though the Blues wound up being out-hit 41-38 in Game 1, their initiation caused quite the stir that resonated to the 17,612 spectators that cheered loudly with every Reaves hit.

Reaves led the charge with nine hits. He was even joking Wednesday afternoon when told he had out-hit the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team 9-7 on the night.

"I think hopefully I led by example," Reaves said. "I think the game kind of got amped up after that. It was a physical game. I think all four lines were playing physical. I think we got them on their toes for most of the game. I think we laid off near the end when we had the lead and a little bit in OT after they scored the goal, but I think we kind of sent a message that it's going to be a tough, physical series."

Add fellow fourth-liner Adam Cracknell and captain David Backes to the list with five hits each, and the Blues dictated tempo, got an early jump and would have run the Kings out of the building had it not been for the stellar play of goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped 40 shots.

"When Reaves goes out and whoever it is gets a big hit and makes the other guys feel like we're taking it to them from a physical standpoint, I thought for the most part we were giving it out a little more last night," Blues veteran forward Andy McDonald said. "[The Kings] didn't seem to be playing as physical as they have been in the past. I don't know if that's us initiating more or whatever. It's a good sign for our team and that's the way we play. We're a physical team; we're on top of teams. We know Reaves is great. He got in there, got some big hits and got the crowd into it. We feed off that.

"It's Game 1 and I think we had the adrenaline going and [were] excited being our home opener in the playoffs and a lot to prove. We just have to make sure that we match that again tomorrow night and maybe even bring it up a notch. We know that they're going to come out a lot harder."

It wasn't just Tuesday night that the Blues lit the fire. This sort of element to their game has been going on throughout April, when they went 13-3-0 including the playoff opener.

"I don't think we focused as much on them as we did ourselves," said Steen, who scored both Blues goals Tuesday. "I think the way that we had played in the last month of the season, the way we started April and kind of got progressing is kind of something that was real positive. Now it's basically just wanting to play the same way, intensifying it ... almost picking it up a little bit, another notch or two. I thought yesterday we came out with a lot of jump and played the way we wanted to play, but being said, that's Game 1 and it's behind us now."

The Blues, known as one of the top-hitting teams in the NHL, understand that as good as they were in the physical department Tuesday, they will have to be even better Thursday.

"I think it has to go to another level," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think the contact was fine. We played physical, they played physical, but that's playoff hockey. There were 80 hits I guess in the game. That's what the stats people said, so for two big teams, that's around average ... 80 to 100, that's around average. Physical play is just part of who it is. ... That's the way it is for playoff hockey."

That's why Kings coach Darryl Sutter realizes his team better come prepared for another physical war Thursday night.

"It was pretty much a matchup situation when you’re on the road when Hitch wants to play Backes against [Anze Kopitar]," Sutter said. "And it pretty much matches up who’s playing against who. And if you try and get away from it, quite honest, when you’re honest on the road, you see it in the first period last night, then your changes become scoring chances against.

"Your matchups are what they are. And how do you counter that? Some of the boys that play on our fourth line have to play like big boys."

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