"No human can withstand that many hits" -- Ryan Kesler
Even when the St. Louis Blues play well and take a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in their first-round series, they manage to do something that fosters confidence in the latter. This is going to be an incredibly close, challenging series for both teams, one in which small adjustments and bounces could decide who advances.
And I think it's a great sign for Chicago that the Blues' plan apparently revolves around hitting.
The most common sentiment coming out of St. Louis following the team's 1-0 overtime victory over the Hawks on Wednesday has been the need to be more physical. Coach Ken Hitchcock and his players have parroted the same platitudes about "body contact" and finishing checks and all the things we've heard past opponents say when they have no interest in trying to match Chicago's style.
Hitchcock has said that he's aiming for 70 hits by his team each game.
"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."
The Blues have long played this style, but after getting outplayed in terms of possession in Game 1, it seems like they're doubling down.
"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 Kevin Shattenkirk. "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."
Yeah, ask Kesler and the Ducks how that goes.
The thing is, for the Blackhawks, this is pretty much right where they want you. Haven't the Blues seen all the tape from past series of teams that tried to get physical against Chicago, only to find themselves losing the possession battle and playing right into Coach Q's hands? If you want to focus on hitting and let the Hawks play their game, fine, go for it.
None of this is to dismiss the Blues. They're a very good team and already have a one-game advantage in the series. Winning three of the next six games is entirely doable even if they get outplayed. That's just the nature of things in a seven-game series between two teams that match up so closely.
But quotes like Hitchcock's give me reason for optimism that the Blackhawks will prevail in this series. Maybe this will finally be the time that Chicago can't withstand that many hits, but it seems like strategically, this is precisely how the team would've wanted this series to stack up. Speed vs. size. Possession vs. checking. New school vs. old school.
Son of Krypton vs. Bat of Gotham.
You can try a checking strategy against Chicago if you want, Blues. But if you come at the king, you best not miss.