Folks, online the NHL playoffs are finally here; let the quest for the repeat begin. After an incredible, healing season, it’s time for our beloved Blackhawks to get down to business, and bring Lord Stanley back to Chicago once again. Let’s face it, Stanley likes to party in Chicago.
Yes, the Blackhawks had another exciting season going 46-21-15 and finishing third in the Central Division. However, as the saying goes, it isn’t how you start but how you finish. As we have seen many times before in the NHL playoffs, regular season records will get you good seeding in the playoffs, but do not guarantee a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Blackhawks are the third seed in the Central Conference and unfortunately don’t have first round home ice advantage; that goes to the Blues. Their first round opponent is the second seeded St. Louis Blues, who the Blackhawks went 2-1-2 versus during the regular season.
Continue on for the must know details and players of this first round matchup.
What You Need to Know:
- The Blues lost their final six regular-season games. They were outscored 22-5 during that span, #woof. They had a seven-point lead on the Colorado Avalanche in the Central as of April 7. They wound up finishing second in the Central and many aren’t even taking the Blues as a threat.
In the Blues defense they were without EVERYONE… David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Patrick Berglund, Barret Jackman, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Sobotka all sat out due to injuries in their regular-season finale. The Blues are expected to return some of their stars for Game 1 Backes, Oshie, Jackman, Pietrangelo and Sobotka are all listed as a go.
- The Blackhawks will welcome back both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane…Can you say YAHOO?! Both have been out due to injuries the last few weeks of the season. Kane has been skating for more than a week while Toews returned to skating on Thursday. The whole city of Chicago is excited for these two to be back.
When everyone is out there, the Blackhawks are loaded. Toews and Marian Hossa are as good as they come in terms of two-way forward play. Patrick Sharp had one of the best seasons of his career. And you know guys like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell will score big goals at some point in this postseason.
- Blues goaltender Ryan Miller has lost his last five starts. He had a 3.60 goals-against average and stopped 107 of 125 shots for a .856 save percentage in that span. He was on fire when he was first traded to the Blues from the Sabres. Blues fans are hoping he returns to prime form.
- We all know the story… Goaltender gets hot and grows bigger in his net. Once a team gains energy, it can tilt the ice against their rival and skate to the crapper. Corey Crawford had a solid season going 32-16-10. His goals-against average was an impressive 2.26. If Crawford can get in the zone early. He is one of the hardest goalies to beat in the league.
Key Players to Watch on the Blues:
Center; David Backes: Backes has been missed by the Blues. He is a dominating force on the ice. Frankly, no Hawks fan can stand Backes. You hate playing him, but would love to have him on your team. He is a big defensive-forward and he makes his presence known with some serious hits. Note to our guys… Keep your head up when Backes is on the ice.
- Right Winger; T.J. Oshie: The Sochi Olympic sweetheart is
another Blues player that has been bitten by the injury bug. He is listed as day-to-day. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock is confident that Oshie will play in game 1. The Blues are better with Oshie on the ice. This season he had 21 goals and 39 assists. He is one of the most skilled right wingers in the league. He can create space and make a shot happen when you think there isn’t one. Look for the Blackhawks to try and get Oshie off balance with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Left Winger; Jaden Schwartz: One of the many reasons the Blues were so lethal when they were healthy was the depth of their offensive ability. The upsurge of Jaden Schwartz as rapid scoring threat off the wing gave them a element they did not have in last spring’s first-round exit against the Los Angeles Kings. Schwartz must continue his strong sophomore play against the Blackhawks. If he can, he is going to be one you need to watch in this series.
Key Players to Watch on the Blackhawks:
Left Winger; Patrick Sharp: We have come to expect the clutch performances from Patrick Sharp; he has once again proved how valuable he is. He led the team with 34 goals during the regular season, including 10 power-play markers, and 78 points. His play elevated down the stretch when Kane and Toews went down. Look for Sharpie to elevate his game this series and be a one not to miss on the ice.
- Defenseman; Duncan Keith:
Keith is having another fantastic year. He is once again in the conversations for Norris Trophy winner (best defenseman) and he should be. Six goals, 55 assists and a +22. Keith is crucial to the Hawks repeating. There is no better assist man in the league and he is dangerous when he has the puck. The Blues need to be worried if Keith gets hot.
Right Winger; Patrick Kane: We can finally say that Kaner is back! Kaner, one of the two franchise forwards is integral to getting past the Blues. We all know the Hawks have depth, however when Kaner went down. The Hawks defiantly were in a funk. Kane loves the big games and series, weather the NHL Playoffs or Olympics. If he finds his grove, the Blues better watch out.
First Round Schedule:
Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m.; Blackhawks at Blues (CSN)
Game 2: Saturday, 2 p.m.; Blackhawks at Blues (NBC)
Game 3: Monday, April 21, 7:30 p.m.; Blues at Blackhawks (CSN)
Game 4: Wednesday, April 23, 8:30 p.m.; Blues at Blackhawks (CSN)
Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, April 25, 7 p.m.; Blackhawks at Blues (CSN)
Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, April 27, 2 p.m.; Blues at Blackhawks (NBC)
Game 7 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 29, TBD; Blackhawks at Blues (CSN)
Get ready for playoff beards to pop up all over our city and the Blackhawks bandwagon to get very crowded once again. It’s time for the Hawks to put together another magical Stanley Cup run just like last season.
The injury situation makes predicting this series difficult. On paper the Blackhawks have the upper hand versus the Blues who are coming into the playoffs with a mental block. However, playoff hockey goes to another level, and if there is anything to get a team out of their funk it is a chance at hoisting Stanley. This series is going to be a good one; I mean a knock down drag out one. Full of physical battles left and right. I predict the Blackhawks will win this series in seven games. Let’s get rowdy again Chicago… because it’s the Cup! Go Hawks!