Blackhawks keeping an eye on free-falling Blues as first-round matchup stays up in the airContinue reading.
Blackhawks draw plummeting Blues in first round
Round 1 schedule (all times Central):
Thursday, April 17 7 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBCSN, CSN
Saturday, April 19 2 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBC
Monday, April 21 7:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago CNBC, CSN
Wednesday, April 23 8:30 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBCSN, CSN
*Friday, April 25 7 p.m. Chicago at St. Louis NBCSN, CSN
*Sunday, April 27 2 p.m. St. Louis at Chicago NBC
*Tuesday, April 29 TBD Chicago at St. Louis CBC, CSN
Blackhawks-Blues season series:
Oct. 9 at St. Louis: Blues 3, Hawks 2
Oct. 17 at Chicago: Blues 3, Hawks 2 (shootout)
Dec. 28 at St. Louis: Blues 6, Hawks 5 (shootout)
March 19 at Chicago: Hawks 4, Blues 0
April 6 at Chicago: Hawks 4, Blues 2
By Mark Lazerus
Less than a month ago, facing the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs was something of a nightmare scenario for the Blackhawks. The Blues play a bruising and battering physical style, were the top team in the league, had just acquired star goaltender Ryan Miller and agitator Steve Ott at the trade deadline, and had won all three meetings with the Hawks up to that point.
It also seemed like a nearly impossible scenario, with the Blues hovering around eight to 10 points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
But things change quickly in hockey.
The Hawks will indeed face the rival Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, beginning Thursday night in St. Louis. Their 3-0 loss to Detroit on Sunday afternoon clinched the Central Division title for the surging Colorado Avalanche, who’ll face the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
And after dominating the league for so much of the season, the Blues suddenly look anything like an unstoppable juggernaut. Or a Stanley Cup favorite. Or even a favorite to get out of the first round.
“I don’t think either team anticipated this,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters Sunday. “And I don’t think either team really loves playing each other, which should make for a hell of a series.”
After dropping three games to St. Louis earlier in the season — one in the last minute, and two in shootouts — the Hawks have beaten the Blues soundly twice in the past month at the United Center. Sunday’s loss was the Blues’ sixth straight defeat to close the season. They have scored five goals in those six games. Miller has given up three or four goals in each of his last five starts.
And St. Louis played Sunday’s game without seven of their top forwards, including Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Brenden Morrow. Of those, only Backes and Oshie are expected back for Game 1.
“It’s all timing,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Everybody has stretches in the year where you’re getting through some tougher things.”
The Hawks, of course, have been without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews down the stretch. Both will be “absolutely” ready to play on Thursday, according to coach Joel Quenneville. And just a couple of weeks ago, the Hawks had dropped three straight and four of five — the last of which saw Toews knocked out by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik. They were banged up. They were struggling to score. They were uncharacteristically sloppy on defense.
Four wins in a row later, followed by two losses in meaningless games, the Hawks are feeling good going into the playoffs. Again, things change quickly in hockey.
“They’re fighting through some injuries, like we are right now,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said. “They just want to make sure everybody’s healthy going into the playoffs I think the slump, what we were in, we’re kind of past it and we’re playing good hockey now. [The Blues] are a couple weeks behind, but I’m sure come playoffs, they’ll turn it on and play good hockey.”
Indeed, with three more days off before Game 1, the Hawks are expecting the Blues to be back on top of their game — even if that seems about as unlikely as this matchup seemed a month ago.
“I know how it works,” Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “Once the drop of the puck [happens] in the first game, everything else is out the window. It’s a whole new season, it’s a new start for everybody. It’s tough. Obviously, you want to have good momentum going in, but that can change either way in the first couple of minutes in the first game.”