It’s been a long time since a game between the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings mattered this much. So long in fact, that Wings coach Mike Babcock recently said that there wasn’t really a rivalry until the Blues emerged as a real threat in the West this season.
Clearly Babcock is forgetting the 1990’s and early 200 and how intense it was when both teams made the playoffs every year. But he is to be forgiven given how dismal the Blues have been in the last half a dozen years. But this year promises more and through the first four match-ups the rivalry has been renewed.
No team has stolen home ice, tonight is the last chance for the Blues to do so, and all of the games have been tight, competitive, and low scoring. The Note has won 2-1 and 3-2 at Scottrade Center; the Wings 3-2 and 3-0 at Joe Louis Arena.
When the puck drops tonight it will be no different. This game is huge for both teams. A win (in regulation) for St. Louis would propel them a point ahead of the Detroit with a game in hand and would make them only the fourth team to win in Joe Louis (one of those wins was in overtime). In a division that features the three toughest teams to beat at home (hint the other isn’t Columbus) even a point gained on Red Wing ice would go a long way towards hopes at a division title as well as the Western Conference title.
Because of the current playoff seeding format, whoever fails to win the division out of St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, and Nashville will do no better than a four seed, something that could very well mean traveling to face a division opponent on the road in the second round of the playoffs. That’s as big of a reason as any that every point matters in the regular season.
Expect a lot of hitting tonight, both teams like to anyways, but I wouldn’t bet on a lot of fights. If the Blues are to have a chance they NEED to find a way to convert their often huge shots-on-goal advantages into actual goals. The best way to beat the Wings in Joe Louis is to get a couple of early ones and hold on.
Keys for the Blues tonight-
The David Backes line needs to have another stellar game. They were spectacular against Buffalo, Backes himself leading the way with four points. They need another game where they consistently outplay their opponent, because they are going to be charged with shutting down the Zetterberg and/Franzen line. So even if they don’t register a point, a good enough performance would be taking at least one of those lines out of the game.
Goal-tending needs to continue– Obviously one of the most pleasant surprises this season has been the play of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. Whoever starts, likely Elliot, has no room for an off-night tonight. And the starter needs to be mindful of more than usual, there are no boards that are more live than those at Joe Louis Arena.
Score Early– As I touched upon, the Blues need an early goal for confidence, something in the first period. The longer the Wings are allowed to hang around and the longer the crowd is in full voice behind them, this game becomes more and more difficult to win. Here is looking at you T.J. Oshie and David Perron for an early offensive spark.
In all honesty I would be ecstatic with a point out of this, that’s how tough Joe Louis is, but a win would go a long way to helping the Blues to a division title. And maybe, just maybe, it will wake Babcock up to the fact that this IS a real rivalry and it’s here to stay.