They were once friends and teammates in Russia and the St. Louis Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko did everything he could to convince the Blues to sign Artemi Panarin.
“He told us the day he got here about Panarin,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday. “He told us at least once a month about him. They’re best buds, they’ve played together, they played in the World Juniors together, they played on lines together ... he talked about him and everybody looked and said he’s a pretty small guy.
“We all look a little dumb right now.”
Especially after Panarin blossomed as a rookie for the Blues’ biggest rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. Playing on a line with superstar Patrick Kane, Panarin rang up 30 goals and 47 points and is considered the top contender for the NHL’s top rookie honor, the Calder Trophy.
The Blues had plenty of competition to sign Panarin. It’s not like they were the only team to know about his talent, but Tarasenko lobbied on behalf of his friend.
“If they asked me if you want to play with him I said yes, but Chicago signed him — so he’s the enemy right now,” said Tarasenko, who spoke with his friend Thursday on an off day between Game 1 and 2 of the Blues-Blackhawks playoff series. “We played together a long time ago and we were really close friends in a way, but no friends on the ice now.”
He told us at least once a month about him. They’re best buds, they’ve played together, they played in the World Juniors together, they played on lines together ... he talked about him and everybody looked and said he’s a pretty small guy. We all look a little dumb right now.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on Vladimir Tarasenko’s bid to get the team to sign Artemi Panarin
Tarasenko played with Panarin on Russia’s 2011 World Junior team as well as in 2012-13 with St. Petersburg SKA in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Is he surprised with how well Panarin has played for the Blackhawks this season?
“No. I knew him as a player a long time and I think that’s how he can play every year,” said Tarasenko, who scored a goal Friday in Game 2. “I can’t be happy for a Blackhawks guy, but I’m really happy for him as a friend. He decided to come a little bit later than us and has success now. All the guys who have played with him, everybody’s happy for him.”
Hitchcock apparently wants to add a new clause to the eight-year, $60 million contract extension signed by Tarasenko last summer.
“I think instead of giving him $8 million we should have hired him as a scout,” Hitchcock said.
Tarasenko said the Blues’ 1-0 series lead over the Blackhawks only meant Chicago will come at them that much harder the rest of the series.
“We still remember our bad experience two years ago, so it’s not a time to relax,” said Tarasenko, recalling the Blues’ 2-0 series lead over the Blackhawks in 2014 that saw Chicago sweep the next four games. “We need to play our best tonight.”
Tarasenko was credited with only one shot in Game 1, twice passing up other good opportunities trying to set up teammates.
“It’s a big difference between normal games and the playoffs because the tempo’s really high,” he said when asked about trying to find room to operate on the ice. “The mistake price is really high, too. if you make one mistake, you lose a game.”
Game Day Update
The biggest change in Game 2 will be the return of Blackhawks star defenseman Duncan Keith, who sat out Game 1 while serving the final game of a six-game suspension for high sticking.
The Blues will send out the same lines and defense pairs as they used in Game 1, with no expected lineup changes.
Hitchcock tweaked the media a bit Friday for “watching you guys chase the tail” when it came to his postgame comments Wednesday about wanting even more hits than the 41 the Blues had in Game 1. At the time, he spoke of getting into the 70s when it came to the next game hit total.
He also qualified what he considered a “good” hit.
“What’s confusing is when you read a stat package, you see hits and those aren’t relevant for us ,” Hitchcock said. “Finished checks are. There’s a big difference between finished checks and hits. Finished checks means you get the puck back, finished checks mean you win a board battle to retrieve possession or you force mistakes.
“Those are the elements of anybody’s game when you’re playing against skill, you need control that part.”
Hitchcock saying playing an extreme physical game is the best way to deal with Chicago’s high-end skill.
“Anybody can run around and make body contact, but it’s the job of getting the puck back immediately that you need to have if you expect to beat teams like Chicago,” he said, “because if they have the puck all night, you’ve got no chance.
“If we expect to win this series, we’re going to have to have the puck more - and there’s a way to get it back against any good team, especially a good team like Chicago.”
One thing Hitchcock would prefer not to see any more in this series is ‘Hawks star Joanthan Toews breaking in alone as he did twice in Game 1, one time on a 2-on-1 with Kane. Both times Brian Elliott made the save.
“We were fortunate on those two occasions that Ells made big saves because that’s the wrong guy to have the puck on his stick at that time,” Hitchcock said of Toews. “I think you have to respect their transition game the most. They got away on us twice and you’re standing on the bench and watching Jonathan Toews go 2-on-1 on a breakaway ... most nights that’s like money. Those are the things that you have to avoid.”