(HocketSTL) -- For someone who is the head coach of a NHL team that is underachieving, Ken Hitchcock was in a pleased mood after Tuesday night’s victory over the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues, who are seeded seventh in the Western Conference with just six games to go, had provided the fans with fun, entertaining hockey and secured perhaps the biggest two points of the season.
Tuesday was a special night for Hitchcock. Not only did his team beat one of the tougher Western Conference teams, but it was a night that ‘Hitch’ won’t soon forget. The 61-year old coach began his NHL coaching career in the 1990-91 season as an assistant coach, then Tuesday he became a part of the 600-win club, a club that has only 10 other members.
“It’s basically because I am old,” joked Hitchcock. The coach did not want the spotlight to be on him after a great team victory.
“I’m proud of being able to be a coach in this league,” he said. “But I’m more proud of the way our team is playing right now.”
The Blues had dropped two straight games heading into Tuesday, with a serious risk of losing their playoff spot if they didn’t start to muster out some wins. But Tuesday night, the Blues didn’t give up despite trailing heading into the third period. This represented a huge turnaround in Hitchcock’s eyes.
The Blues’ style of play has been different in the past two games. When the Blues faced Chicago on Sunday, they came out dominating the play, but most of that domination was physical. However, the Blues could not get the puck by Corey Crawford and they were shutout. On Tuesday, it looked like they Blues would be held scoreless until one player stood up and took the lead. That player was none other than team captain David Backes.
It was Backes’ best game of the year. Hitchcock was impressed as well, despite Backes having no points. The captain was the game’s first star, and for one of the few times this year, his leadership sparked the team on the ice.
When Backes came out of the locker room hitting everything in sight, his fellow Blues followed suit, especially other veterans that saw Backes trying to carry the team on his shoulders.
“The older players are starting to lead,” said Hitchcock. “You can see a division on every team between the veteran players, who want to get to the playoffs so badly, and the younger players who are still trying to figure it out. This is not an easy time of year.”
Certainly, the older players on the Blues led on Tuesday evening. The Blues’ game was not great until the team started initiating the play, starting with the physicality. Backes had six recorded hits in the game, but it is likely closer to 15 hits. Backes was a man on the mission. It took the Blues until the third period to follow his lead; luckily, it was just in the nick of time. The team started forechecking, winning puck battles and most importantly, they played the game the right way. Anyone watching the game knows the players woke up today in a lot of pain, but Hitchcock says it is a price the players like to pay.
“The players enjoy playing this way,” said ‘Hitch’. “It is a very difficult, hard way to play but if you talk to them, they enjoyed it. They may be banged up and sore, but they feel like the effort was worth it.”
It’s the first time in a while that the Blues won’t have to go back to the drawing board. The players have seen what it takes to get the win. If the players are as open to playing the hard, physical game as Hitchcock claims, the Blues are in a good position to win. There may not be a lot of time left in the season, but it’s the second season that the Blues are looking towards. The next step towards the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup victory starts on Thursday, where Hitchcock says there will be more positives than negatives to point out to his team.
“We’ve got some building blocks now. Rather than coming back for Thursday’s game and pointing out what’s wrong, we’ve got some things that went right, and we’ve got some great selling points moving forward. We are going to need it.”