The Blues are four points behind the Blackhawks entering Sunday night’s game at the United Center. But regardless of what ensues in the second half of the regular season, coach Ken Hitchcock knows his team will be chasing the Hawks the rest of the way.
“I don’t think anybody catches a championship team until you beat them in a playoff series,” Hitchcock said. “You can talk all you want about regular season … but you have to beat them in a playoff series, because there’s an emotional gear that championship teams go to that not many teams can sustain. And just when you think you’ve got ‘em, they come with another gear. So if you’re ever going to beat them you’re going to have to beat them in a playoff series before you can say anything.”
The Blues have finished first or second in the Central in Hitchcock’s four seasons, but have won only one playoff series — and none in the past three seasons. But Blues forward Troy Brouwer, who played on the Hawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup championship team, thinks this year’s team could get over that hump.
“One thing the Hawks do really well is they never count themselves out of games,” said Brouwer, who has nine goals and 11 assists for the Blues this season. “Whenever they’re down in games, whether it’s on the scoreboard or getting outplayed, they always seem to get themselves in games and win big games and give themselves confidence.
“We’ve had a lot of games like that this year. We’ve come from behind to get some wins, get a lot of points in situations where we probably shouldn’t have. The playoffs is obviously a different beast. But when you can have that confidence in the regular season against good teams it does a lot for your team’s resolve and the character of your team to know you can win in tough situations in the playoffs.”
Prior to joining the Blues in a trade for T.J. Oshie, Brouwer played the previous four seasons with the Washington Capitals — another team that historically has underachieved in the playoffs. It has enhanced his appreciation for Cup he won with the Hawks and the manner in which they won it.
“I realize how difficult it is to get [deeper] in the playoffs,” said Brouwer, who scored 22 goals and 40 points for the Hawks in 2009-10. “I’ve been on some really good hockey teams and we haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
The Blues are hoping Brouwer’s experience on a championship team can help them get over the top.
“When you have that experience, it’s very valuable bringing it in — situational during games but also during [playoff] series, if you lose a game, win a game,” Brouwer said. “It can be very emotional. I know even during the [Stanley Cup] finals here [Game 1 against the Flyers in 2010] and we won 6-5 — that was probably one of the most emotional games I’ve ever played in. And then you’ve got to turn around and play the next day. You’ve got to find ways to disregard things that happen — whether good or bad — and move on to the next game.”