ST. LOUIS — It was the only regulation loss in a stretch of 10 games by the St. Louis Blues, but the 4-0 defeat to Chicago on Wednesday seemed to carry a lot more weight than usual.
"You're always going to have a tough time against people who have won championships because they're not going to go away easy," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose club has a three-game road trip that kicks off Saturday in Philadelphia and includes a Sunday afternoon game in Pittsburgh before finishing up Tuesday in Toronto. "You're going to have to push them. I thought Chicago played very well and we didn't play well at all. We didn't make them pay for their mistakes, they made us pay."
The Blues have beaten the Blackhawks three times in four games this season.
Hitchcock's club also owns two wins over Eastern Conference leader Boston and three over Western Conference heavyweight Colorado, along with one win apiece against Stanely Cup contenders Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
While it's true the Blues have struggled mightily against California teams, losing a combined eight times to San Jose, Anaheim and the Kings, they still own the best record in the NHL and should be the first team to nail down a playoff berth.
"We're 3-1 against Chicago this year, so people can say what they want," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've outplayed them when we've played them (before), they outplayed us last game. It's going to happen.
"We believe in what we have in this room and we've been playing some really good hockey all year. A loss is a loss, unfortunately it came against them and the way it happened."
Hitchcock gave his players the day off Thursday, then was pleased with what he saw during practice Friday.
"This is not a group that's going to write off that (Chicago) game," he said. "Other people might say well it's just a bad game, but this group doesn't do that. These players are invested in a lot of things this year that are important to them and one of them is playing well in big games.
"They were ticked off, disappointed at the way things turned out. The way they practiced to me showed how much they cared. They care deeply and I think quite frankly that might be the impetus to get us to another level."
Hitchcock said an attention-getting loss like that might actually help the Blues refocus and take their play up a notch or two.
"I think quite frankly we've been sailing along with not a lot of rough water," he said. "It's the first bit of rough water we hit in that game."
Blues veteran goaltender Ryan Miller has been around long enough to know how tough the ups and downs can shake a team.
The good teams remain level-headed instead of falling into a panic.
"If you're going to win in the postseason, not everything's going to go your way," Miller said. "You're going to have things pop up, it's how you handle that kind of thing. You can't panic, you just have to remain calm. We'll see how we respond.
"That's going to be the best lesson we can learn for the first playoffs. When you have something that really falls apart and you have something that doesn't go your way, you're going to have to recover and play well."
Hitchcock liked the way the Blues played early, but turnovers and mistakes helped the deficit snowball to four goals.
"I thought we started to get careless," Hitchcock said. "When we got careless they jumped all over us. When (Patrick) Kane went out I thought they controlled the tempo.
"They competed on every puck, like it meant something every shift. We've done that to them this year at times, but I thought they did it for more minutes (against us)."
Pietrangelo didn't want to overlook what the Blues had done against Chicago earlier this season.
"It was important when we played them the first three games of the year too, to gain points on them in the standings," he said. "We've beaten them three times this year. We don't want to overlook the fact that we didn't play our best game against them.
"But that could have been against anybody and it came against a divisional opponent we have a very good chance of facing in the playoffs."