ST. LOUIS -- It was a strange sight on the practice ice on Tuesday -- a healthy St. Louis Blues hockey team.
While other playoff teams are limping into the postseason, the team that was arguably the most banged-up in the NHL during the regular season is getting healthy at just the right time. The newly healthy players included captain David Backes, who confirmed his availability for Wednesday's Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It was nice to see," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're ready to go. Let's play."
With that, Hitchcock cut his post-practice media availability short, walking off. To him, there's not much more to say, and to a coach there's not much more that's important than health this time of year.
ESPN.com: It had to feel really good to look out on the ice and see all of the guys out there ready to go.
Shattenkirk: It's been nice to see everyone coming back at the right time. Usually, at least this year, it seemed like whenever we'd get that way, another guy went down and we were fighting to fill that role again. Now we have guys that are not in the lineup who are going to be pushing for spots. It's going to be good for everyone.
ESPN.com: It's been the opposite around the league. Every day, another major player seems to go down. Does that create a sense of urgency for your guys to try to capitalize while you're healthy?
Shattenkirk: Yeah. I think so. Especially in the games coming. Guys go down because they're sacrificing their bodies. There are unorthodox plays you have to sell out for and put your body on the line. You don't know how you're going to react to that.
ESPN.com: There's a pretty strong argument that the duo of Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane was the best in the NHL this season. When you watch the way they play off each other, as a defenseman, what's the best way to counteract it?
Shattenkirk: It's tough. When you watch them, they're always within 10 or 15 feet of each other. When one guy has the puck in the neutral zone, the other guy is rushing over, not necessarily to get in the offensive zone right away but to support each other and create odd-man opportunities. That's what they do so well ... they move away from the puck.
The reason it's so tough is because it causes confusion on who is covering who, when they're crossing. You have to be in their face as much as possible, not allow that to happen, not allow them to get as close to each other and support each other. When you can't, you have to be patient, sit back and almost let those crosses and misdirections happen and trust you're in a good position.
ESPN.com: It's not easy against Chicago but the answer is to have the puck.
Shattenkirk: That's the key, to keep puck possession against them. The tough part about that is they do a good job of sniffing out when the puck is going to be turned over. They take off, that's why they get so many breakaways and odd-man rushes. Their team seems to know that when they get the puck off a turnover, they fire it up the middle, and those two guys are there. It's on the defensemen not to be sleeping on that. When we seem to possess the puck in the offensive zone against them, that's where we're able to expose them a little bit. We just have to force them to play defense.
ESPN.com: Someone suggested that the last time you faced Chicago in the playoffs, you went after them and played physical but they were able to pass the puck a lot of times before Blues players got there. It led to a lot of chasing for you guys. Do you subscribe to that theory? Is there a lesson to learn there?
Shattenkirk: A little bit. ... We just felt like we didn't want to allow them to skate around their zone as well as they do. You see Patrick Kane cycling the whole zone by himself and waiting for plays to develop, we felt like if we could, [we should] shut the cycle down as soon as possible, get the puck out of his hands, cause a poor pass, something we could converge on. I think we learned how to do it. When is the right time to do it? When is the right time to be patient, sit back and wait for it?
ESPN.com: Is there anything to pull from those close regular season games against Chicago this season?
Shattenkirk: They were all good games. The main thing coming into this series is not really focusing on the games this year, for my perspective, it is going back two years ago in the playoffs and knowing how much these guys just stick with it throughout a playoff series. They don't quit. A lot of that goes to their playoff experience. It's something we can learn from, something we can do ourselves. We can never count them out.
ESPN.com: Considering you know them so well, how much pre-scouting did you do on the Blackhawks leading up to this series? It's not like this is the New York Islanders or some team you never play.
Shattenkirk: Exactly ... we know their tendencies. They haven't changed much this year, let alone the last six years. There are some new faces on their team who add a little depth to their team. Other than that, we know their systems, we know how they're going to play. Really, we just looked back on what we did and how we look successful against them. Watching what works from our standpoint and what kind of puts them back on their heels.
ESPN.com: So, when you're watching what works against the Blackhawks, what's the point of emphasis?
Shattenkirk: I just think what we're really trying to do is just use our physicality, use our size offensively. That's where we think we can take it to them. They have skilled guys, we want to keep the puck as long as we can. We want to keep it out of their hands.