Ken Hitchcock

Hitchcock thinks Backes will return ‘in the next two or three games’

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The St. Louis Blues played a valiant Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks without captain David Backes.

Losing 2-0 and surrendering an empty-net goal in the closing seconds is nothing to get down about, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has all faith they won’t be without Backes for much longer.

Following the loss, Hitchcock told reporters he believes Backes will be back for them soon, and when he does things will pick up for his team in a big way.

“We get (David) Backes back in the next two or three games, we’re going to even go higher,” Hitchcock said.

There hasn’t been a timetable set for when Backes might return from the injury he suffered when he was charged by Chicago’s Brent Seabrook in Game 2. As you know, Seabrook received a three-game suspension for the hit and Backes was knocked out of the game and did not play on Sunday night.

There’s no doubt the Blues are a better team with Backes on the ice, but if he’s dealing with a head injury playing it cool while he gets better is for the best.

PHT Morning Skate: Bouncing back from comebacks Game 2 theme

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Three Game 2s get underway today including a matinee special in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The theme of the day for a pair of teams might be how to hold down a lead.

The Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild each had leads in Game 1 only to see their home-standing opponents storm back to win in overtime. The in-between game of the day features the Columbus Blue Jackets hoping to annoy the Pittsburgh Penguins into losing and giving Columbus the franchise’s first playoff win. The Jackets held a 3-1 lead of their own in Game 1 before losing 4-3 and they’d like their collective inexperience not bite them again.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks [St. Louis leads series 1-0] (3:00 p.m. ET — NBC LiveStream)

The Blackhawks thought they broke through and got into Ryan Miller’s head in Game 1. Getting a 3-2 lead after one period will create a comfort zone. Then the Blues realized it’s the playoffs and that means having to defend and they did just that for the next 80+ minutes shutting down the ‘Hawks.

The Blues would like to keep doing what they did through the rest of Game 1 into Game 2. The problem there: They know the Blackhawks will make adjustments and thus goes the chess match between Joel Quenneville and Ken Hitchcock. Patrick Kane had a nice return to action in Game 1 and Jonathan Toews would no doubt like to pot a goal of his own to match.

The Blues had to like the resolve they showed and the offense they got from guys who helped them all season late in the game. Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen coming up when they were needed most was the exact kind of lift they needed. Game 2 could deliver another instant classic.

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets [Pittsburgh leads series 1-0] (7:00 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Blue Jackets did a lot of things the team liked in Game 1. Brandon Dubinsky pestered Sidney Crosby all game long and the Jackets at one point held a two-goal lead in the second period. If Columbus is going to earn their first ever playoff win, they have to not take penalties.

Matt Niskanen was the burr in the side of the Blue Jackets in Game 1. When you spend time worrying about where Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are on the man-advantage, people are going to get open and Niskanen seized the day.

If there’s a guy the Jackets have to get involved in Game 2 it’s Ryan Johansen. After a breakout season, there’s no hiding a 30-goal guy in the playoffs which means it’ s up to both coach Todd Richards and Johansen himself to find ways to get free of the Pittsburgh defense.

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild [Colorado leads series 1-0] (9:30 p.m. ET — NBCSN LiveStream)

The Wild looked for a while in Game 1 like they were in charge. Giving the Avalanche an opportunity to play to their strengths and open things up a bit was a recipe for a comeback. Wild coach Mike Yeo had parts to a successful game plan going on Thursday night but not the total package.

If the Wild can take solace out of anything in Game 1, it’s that they can hang with the Avs offensively. Charlie Coyle and Ryan Suter showed a deft touch, but they’ll need more from Zach Parise and Jason Pominville if they want to work the Avs more.

Colorado, on the other hand, got a brilliant game out of their “old man” Paul Stastny and steady as he goes work from Semyon Varlamov. The Avs showed how dangerous they can be and that’s what coach Patrick Roy likes to see. Now if they can keep the Wild from getting the jump on them, they’ll be all set.

Discuss: Blackhawks edge Blues 4-2, keep pace with Avalanche

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The Chicago Blackhawks kept their hopes of home ice in the first round of the playoffs alive after beating the rival St. Louis Blues 4-2 at United Center.

Marcus Kruger’s goal 56 seconds into the third period proved to be the game-winner for Chicago. Jeremy Morin had a goal and assisted on Patrick Sharp’s in the second period to lead the way for Chicago. Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots to earn the win. Ben Smith added the empty-net goal to provide the final score.

Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka scored for St. Louis. Brian Elliott made 31 saves.

The win gives the Blackhawks 105 points and moves them to one point behind the second place Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division. Those two teams are destined to face each other in the playoffs and the higher seed will have home ice advantage.

The downside for Chicago? Colorado has two games in hand including their battle tonight in Denver against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A few things to take with you into the comments…

— Sharp’s 33 goals leads the Blackhawks. If Patrick Kane hadn’t gotten hurt, those two would be having quite the battle for the team lead there.

— Morin may not be a prolific scorer, but he was recalled when Kane was injured and provided the spark they needed this afternoon.

— We know Elliott is not Ryan Miller, but it’s tough to put him at fault on the Chicago goals. The Blues defense got a bit outworked at times and they turned into goals. Can’t imagine Blues coach Ken Hitchcock likes seeing that.

— Marian Hossa may not have had a point in the game, but his work shorthanded and at even strength was impressive. Maybe let’s throw his name in the hat for the Selke Trophy?

— How about the season Jaden Schwartz is having. He scored his 24th goal in the first period and is providing a lot of that secondary scoring the Blues have been dying for the past couple seasons. Good stuff from the former Colorado College Tiger.

— How about that fight/hugfest between Brandon Bollig and Ryan Reaves? Have a look at it here.

If you missed the game, here are the highlights of the Blackhawks’ win:

Hitchcock ‘wants to try’ moving Backes to right wing

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Things have been going well for the St. Louis Blues lately, but that won’t stop coach Ken Hitchcock from tinkering.

Hitchcock’s latest idea is to move center and captain David Backes to right wing. As Jeremy Rutherford of The Post-Dispatch shares, the coach wants to take advantage how his players can take faceoffs and how intelligent they are.

“I want to try it,” Hitchcock said. “What’s happened in the (past) is that Backes takes all the faceoffs on the right, but he stayed at center. So now when [Alex] Steen takes the faceoffs on the left, I want him to stay at center. I want to see these guys be able to read off each other more.”

Hitchcock went on to say that he wants to maximize what he can get out of the line of Backes, Alex Steen, and Jaden Schwartz. Meanwhile, the Blues have won six of the past seven games and are scoring just over three goals per game over that span.

Backes’ line with Steen is one that they expect to do damage in the postseason. Getting them more opportunities, and perhaps more a bit more chemistry, ahead of the playoffs is something Hitchcock wants to do.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings and Blues renew hostilities in St. Louis

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Los Angeles Kings at Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Anytime the St. Louis Blues face the Los Angeles Kings it’s anything but nice.

By now we’re familiar with their meetings the past two seasons in the playoffs with the Kings knocking out the Blues in four games in 2012 and six games in 2013. This season has done nothing to quiet things down.

Each team has beaten the other this season with the Kings taking a 3-2 win at home on Dec. 2 and the Blues getting a blowout 5-0 win in St. Louis on Jan. 5. The game tonight in St. Louis is their final meeting of the regular season and should help set the table in case they meet again in the postseason.

The Blues enter the game on a tear having won 10 of their last 12 games. Goaltending has been a big part of that success lately with Brian Elliott doing most of the work instead of Jaroslav Halak. Elliott’s play has helped us remember how strong he was for the Blues two seasons ago.

More impressively, it’s been the offense that’s stood out for the Blues. During that 12 game stretch, St. Louis is averaging exactly four goals per game. T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk have had big seasons already and guys like Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and Vladimir Tarasenko are bringing plentiful scoring depth that brings a smile to coach Ken Hitchcock’s face.

The Blues’ issues against L.A. in the past were always centered around scoring goals. If this kind of output persists, they’ll be terrifying to deal with in the playoffs.

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Things in Los Angeles aren’t as pleasant lately. The Kings have dropped seven of their last 10 games and about the only good news there has been the return of Jonathan Quick in goal.

Since coming back on Jan. 4, Quick is 3-1-1 and has allowed seven goals in five games. He shutout Vancouver on Monday night making 28 saves. While the solid goaltending is all well and good, the offense has struggled.

Over their 10 game stretch, they’ve scored 16 goals. Scoring less than two goals per game is a recipe for frustration and that’s just what Darryl Sutter’s crew is dealing with now.

The offensive talent is there with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams they just have to find ways to produce more. That frustration likely isn’t anything new in L.A. but sending Tyler Toffoli (17 points in 33 games) back to the AHL didn’t do much to instill confidence in what they’re doing