(HockeySTL) -- As injuries heal, the feeling of despair subsides, and the playoffs race towards St. Louis, the regular-season is becoming a thing of the past. But for the Blues, who finished with a six-game losing streak, it’s imperative not to dwell on that past.
Overall, the Blues finished with a 52-23-7 record and 111 points. This club had the franchise’s highest win total, and the second-best point total in franchise history. If anything is remembered about the regular-season, it has to be that this team was one of the best to have ever graced St. Louis ice.
"Obviously you want to win all the time," forward Alexander Steen said. "You go through ups and downs during the season and ours came toward the end. But you've got to look over the course of an 82-game season. (We had) 52 wins and we had a real strong season, played extremely solid. We really found our niche and our calling card, how we play. It's key for us to get into that battle mode right off the bat."
Hitchcock wants his team to learn from the final stretch of play, but also to look ahead at the challenge that lies just over 24 hours away.
“To me, it’s a new season,” Hitchcock said. “We saw what happens when we take our foot off the gas, even a little bit. Other teams can do it a different way. Other teams can play at 75 percent, but we have to be close to red-line to win. My job is to find a way to get the foot back on the gas pedal.”
The Blues’ foot has been off the “gas pedal” since the Olympic break. Prior to that, they were seen as the NHL’s best club. Now they are a team that many around the league question their ability to make it out of the first round. After all, the Blues are playing the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, who will have league-wide stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in their lineup for the first time in weeks.
“For us, what we need to do to get back and living in the fear of Chicago and their skill level will get our attention right away,” Hitchcock said. “I don't think either team anticipated this. I don't think either team loves playing each other, which should make for a hell of a series."
For the Blues, their goal is to become a team unaltered by emotions. No matter what happens in Game 1, Game 2, etc. the Blues’ focus will be to keep pushing forward, remembering how quickly a playoff series can shift directions.
“To me, the playoffs are just keep going,” said Hitchcock. “You’ve got to win four games. Momentum is a big part of the playoffs and we are going to need to dislodge any of the negative momentum from the last ten days. We are going to need to get our players back up and running that haven’t played the last few days. A series can change quickly and it can evolve quickly.”
But anyone watching the Blues over the past few weeks knows that this will be a heavy task, which is why the team is thankful that it has had four-plus days to rest, and prepare, for the grind to come. Mostly, though, the team needs time to forget all that transpired at the end of the season.
“The one difference the last ten days has made for us, the only difference, is that we have to adjust our schedule,” Hitchcock said. “We may need more rest than work to get back focused again. That part is what it is.
The Blues have gotten plenty of the much-needed rest, taking Monday off completely, and holding only an optional skate on Tuesday. Wednesday is the first and only time during the series that the Blues will hold a full-fledged practice.
“From our standpoint, we red-lined for most of the year,” said Hitchcock. “But we ran out of gas. It’s not the players’ fault. It’s the scheduling, the Olympics, and we ran out of gas. This (break) gives us a chance to re-tool ourselves, re-focus and get some rest.”
The adversity that the Blues faced after the Olympic break, and more noticeably in the final six games of the regular season, was real and it was a wakeup call for the players. Several times, players were booed off of their home ice, as fans expelled their frustrations. This was the year that the Blues were supposed to win it all, and despite the playoffs having yet to start, some have already condemned the struggling St. Louis team. But there was a reason that the second half presented a much bigger challenge.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we took everyone’s best licks,” Hitchcock said. “This is a new world for this franchise. When we had the big record two years ago, we surprised everybody and teams weren’t ready for our level. But we got everybody’s A-game after the Olympic break and that wore on our team.
“There were so many times players would ask why a team was playing like this against us. That’s what happens when you are a top dog and you have to get used to playing like that.”
Little can impact a team like the adversity that Hitchcock is referring to. However, that adversity doesn’t have to have a negative effect.
“(The second half of the season) was our very first experience at playing in that atmosphere and our guys are going to be better for it,” said Hitchcock.
The talk of the losing streak, of the possible disappointment is becoming monotonous to players. They are just looking forward to putting the regular-season behind them and proving that this is their season. It won’t be an easy task.
“Everybody starts with zeroes,” said Blues goaltender Ryan Miller. “We just kind of regroup and remind ourselves what we do well.”
"What's done is done," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "We have to remind ourselves that we're in the playoffs. There are a lot of teams that aren't and would really like to be in our position. So, regardless of what happened the last five, six games, turn the page. It's over. It's not going to get us anywhere dwelling on it."