ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ken Hitchcock meant no disrespect when he said Duncan Keith was “just a player on the other team.”
The St. Louis Blues coach knows Keith well, working as an assistant coach on two Olympic gold-medal winning teams that included Chicago’s star defenseman. It’s just that complimenting the opposition has always made him uneasy.
Keith returns from a six-game high-sticking suspension for Game 2 of the first-round playoff series on Friday night. No doubt he’ll be a factor going forward, eating the most minutes on the team and making an impact on transition, too, as Chicago tries to even the series after losing 1-0 in overtime (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
“If I’m going to start oohing and aahing about the opposition, that’s a big mistake,” Hitchcock said Thursday. “We’re certainly not going to talk about what he does well. We’re going to see if we can exploit some things.”
The Blues are well aware what Keith is capable of adding to the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“He’s a calm guy back there, he does a great job of breaking them out of their zone,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I think that’s something he really excels at.”
Well, Keith is calm most of the time.
“If we can get him to react and get him to maybe get suspended another few games, I think it’ll be better for us,” Shattenkirk added. “I’m sure that coming off this little break he’s just ready to play hockey the rest of the way.”
Hitchcock wants more purposeful hitting in Game 2. Keith said the suspension won’t change a thing in his game, and he’s not worried about the physical Blues looking to get under his skin.
“It’s not the first big game I’ve played in,” Keith said. “As far as dealing with somebody trying to get a reaction out of me, I take hits all the time. That’s all a part of it.”
No doubt the Blackhawks are happy to have Keith back in the mix.
“He’s a huge piece of our defense, plays a lot of minutes, plays in a lot of big situations,” forward Patrick Kane said. “Every situation. And you know he’s ready to get back and he’s rarin’ to go.”
The Blues prevailed in Game 1 despite getting outshot 35-18, relying heavily on sharp play from goalie Brian Elliott.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.