Had this been earlier in the season, some concern would be in order. Now, however, it’s different. With the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues set to renew their rivalry in a first-round series, there are plenty of stories to go around. The Hawks stumbled into the playoffs, while the Blues, who looked to be set to win either the Western Conference or the President’s Trophy, flopped face-first into the postseason.
Usually, the Blues would be the favorites. They took three out of five from the Hawks, finished second in the Central Division and have home-ice advantage. That probably won’t help them. The Hawks have scored eight goals on the Blues in their last two games. Heck, the Hawks peppered the Blues in a December 28 battle which the Blues won. Even worse, Ken Hitchcock‘s club is battered, losing eight players including Olympic hero and superstar T.J. Oshie.
If you would’ve asked a Blues fan if they’d consider themselves underdogs, they’d either give you the dirtiest look imaginable or punch you.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have a different outlook. After losing superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they managed to pull themselves together after a rough start to the 2014 calendar year. Even better, the two superstars will be back for the playoffs. On top of all that, they’ll be rested. The Hawks also have some extra weapons and head coach Joel Quenneville may have a difficult time deciding who to play.
One guy who would love to play is Brandon Bollig, a St. Louis area native. The other guy who would love to play is Jeremy Morin, who has been waiting long enough for his chance.
Because I don’t make predictions, I will talk about the keys to the series. For the Blues, they will have to regain their confidence. They already know they can beat the Blackhawks. Will they do so or not is the hard part. Ryan Miller was brought in to deliver in the playoffs and he’s done it in the Olympics, but the Blues have dropped their last six games. That negative momentum hurts teams. Still, they have until Thursday to get ready.
For the Hawks, it’s simple: play their game. Over the past several games, the Hawks have looked pretty good, save for one recent shutout. With Kane and Toews returning, plus their role players stepping up, this is a team that is on a roll. Granted, they have until Thursday. A lot can change and the Hawks did not beat the Blues in Scottrade Center this season.
Still, a team that is healthy against a team that is banged up has an advantage. The other factor? The Hawks are defending Stanley Cup Champions. They won’t give that up without a fight.
Nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs. The Hawks could sweep the Blues and vice-versa. What is guaranteed is that there will be a lot of intensity and roughness typical of this rivalry. Buckle up, hockey fights. This one could be a doozy.