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updated: 10/8/2013 7:57 AM

Blackhawks brace for showdown with Blues

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  • The Blues like to play a physical game, led by captain David Backes. The Blackhawks play their first road game Wednesday night at St. Louis.

      The Blues like to play a physical game, led by captain David Backes. The Blackhawks play their first road game Wednesday night at St. Louis.
    Associated Press

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Division games have always been important, but thanks to NHL realignment they're even bigger now.

The Blackhawks will invade Scottrade Center on Wednesday night for an early-season showdown with the 2-0 St. Louis Blues, a team some have picked to win the Stanley Cup.

The playoffs have been changed to a division-based format, with the top three teams guaranteed spots in the postseason with two wild cards.

So there's a good chance the Hawks and Blues, as Central Division rivals, will face each other in either the first or second round, just as it was back in the days of the old Norris Division.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville agrees that division games have more meaning now.

"I think so," he said. "They're more valuable knowing that standings-wise you position yourselves to what's going to happen in the playoffs, knowing you're playing those teams.

"So you're looking at St. Louis thinking this could be a very important game the way things could set up over the course of a season. They've got off to two big starts in their games there at home, and I'm sure they're excited about playing us."

The Blues are looking at the Stanley Cup champion Hawks as a measuring stick to show where they are as a team. They beat Nashville 4-2 in their opener before routing Florida 7-0 on Saturday.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock doesn't think two games are a good sample size to gauge his team.

"We don't have enough information," Hitchcock told reporters Monday. "There was a list of things that we needed to get better at after game one, and there a bigger list after game two."

The Blues figure their next three opponents -- the Hawks, Rangers and San Jose -- will provide some answers.

"We need these next three opponents to give us a real evaluation," Hitchcock said. "We're going to get three significant teams coming up right now, and we need the information to get better. We have a lot of things to be addressed. It's early in the season.

"The next three teams are going to push us really hard, so we're really going to get a good read. They're going to push us with their skill and determination. I think we're going to get a really, really good idea where we're at."

The Hawks have played two games as well, beating Washington 6-4 and losing 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout.

Quenneville is happy with where the Hawks are despite their struggles on special teams. The Hawks already have allowed 4 power-play goals.

"Our overall game, we like the way we played the first two games," Quenneville said. "Five-on-5 has been fine, our power play has been good and the PK … I think we're more effective playing games. Once we get into more of a routine you get more of a predictability and more of a rhythm and you get to find out more about your team."

The Blues have been strong on special teams, going 11-for-11 in penalty killing and 3-for-8 on the power play.

And, of course, there is the punishing physical aspect of the way the Blues play, led by captain David Backes.

"We all know what they're going to bring; they're going to bring the physical element to the game and try to take you out of the game that way," Hawks winger Patrick Kane said.

"That's fine with us. We'll play that way and try to capitalize on power plays or our scoring chances, whatever it may be."

Kane agrees that the importance of division games is higher than ever.

"It seems that way," he said. "Especially when there are more teams in our division. You're going to see more games where you can get points from opponents and they can take them away from you, too.

"I think division games have always been big, but maybe even more so with this realignment."

•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.

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