The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks have been bitter rivals since the Blues first broke into the NHL in 1967. They’ve had countless battles between the regular and post season, and this year’s 1st round Stanley Cup Playoffs match-up should be no different. Here, fellow THW writers Jeff Ponder (JP) and Franklin Steele (FS), join me (MP) to discuss what fans can expect from their Blues in this 1st round battle royale.
What To Expect from Your Round 1 St. Louis Blues
The Blues may be going through the most adversity in the entire league right now, but it’s playoff time, and excuses aren’t allowed.
What Type of Play Can Fans Expect to See in Round 1?
JP: The Blackhawks play an up-tempo, fast-paced style that puts opposing teams in a hole early. The Blues have to dictate the play to stop any bleeding before it starts. If they can do that in Games 1 & 2, it will set the tone for the rest of the series.
However, the Blackhawks players thrive off their boisterous fan base at the Madness on Madison. I would fully expect a defensive battle in the games at Scottrade Center and a game of trading chances in Chicago.
FS: Chicago and St. Louis are two teams that were built from the ground up to be versatile. The ‘Hawks haven’t won two Stanley Cups in four years because they cram their style of play down the opposition’s throat. They can adjust and still be dangerous.
St Louis Blues have won their last 2 playoff series vs Chicago Blackhawks. 1993 4-0; 2002 4-1 #stlblues
— STL Blues History (@STLBlueshistory) April 13, 2014
What Will Be the Blues Biggest Struggle in Round 1?
JP: The Blues have been known to possess solid team chemistry since Ken Hitchcock took the helm in 2011. This will be the first time this season that the usual core of players will see this part of their game tested. The Blues saw a plethora of injuries before the season ended and struggled mightily just before that (remember that disastrous Colorado and Chicago back-to-back weekend?).
Each player on the roster will instantly need to get back to what made the team so effective earlier in the year: puck control and understanding the tendencies of their teammates. When the team hasn’t played together in awhile, the relearning curve could prove to take longer than a game. St. Louis is hoping it can be regained in practice.
FS: Finding the “on-switch.” St. Louis has struggled with injuries down the stretch here—they were missing eight regulars against the Detroit Red Wings to close the season out this weekend—but that’s just not an excuse that is going to fly during the playoffs.
Of Those injured Players, Who Will Return and What Will Their Impact Be?
JP: It will take much more than a sore foot to keep David Backes off the ice in the playoffs. I fully expect to see the Blues’ captain back in action for Game 1 on Thursday night. He is the team leader in more ways than one and having him in the lineup will greatly increase the Blues’ chances of getting past the Hawks.
FS: As of last week, Tarasenko hasn’t been able to shoot consistently. Berglund’s injury seems serious, so I’m not sure if he’ll be able to bounce back or not. Shoulder issues and collarbone problems can really have a negative impact on players that thrive in the face-off circle like Berglund. If the Blues get either guy back before Game 4, that could be huge.
What to Hope For Out of the Blues Team in Round 1
Though the situation may be far from ideal in this tough series against a bitter rival, the Blues still have plenty of firepower to pull off the win.
Who (Realistically) Needs to Step Up the Most to Give the Blues a 1st Round Victory?
JP: If Blues star players fail to return, the Blues will have to fall back on their goaltender. Management went out and made a splash at the trade deadline for a reason; Miller is a big-game goaltender who has the ability to steal games. If the 2010 Olympic hero shows up this playoff round, the Blackhawks are in a heap of trouble.
As of yesterday TJ Oshie still had not been cleared for contact. #stlblues
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) April 16, 2014
FS: The guy that could really make a difference as a bottom-six forward is Max Lapierre. Mostly because fans are done waiting for Derek Roy to show anything more than random flashes of brilliance while games are either put away or out of reach.
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) April 16, 2014
Can Ryan Miller be the Shutdown Goalie the Blues Need in Order to Advance Past Round 1?
JP: All past history points to yes. The famed goaltender was a key component to the Sabres’ 2006 and 2007 runs, amassing a combined 20-14 record with a 2.39 GAA and a .915 save percentage in both years. He seems to really focus when the game is on the line and comes up big when called upon.
FS: Can he be? Sure. Will he be? That’s the million dollar question right now. The good news for the Blues is that they’ve still been able to win the possession and shot battles despite taking loses. The goals that Miller has typically given up haven’t always been his fault. Fancy stats are one thing, but the fact that Miller hasn’t won in his last five starts is staggering.
Though this series would have been predicted much differently a month ago, that’s what makes the sport so great.
JP: Blackhawks in 5. Even with the injured players making a return, I just do not see this club overcoming its dreadful end to the season. I have never been a believer that any club can just “flip a switch” when the playoffs begin and this year will be no different.
The Blackhawks wrapped the month of April up with a 4-2 record while captain Jonathan Toews and superstar Patrick Kane were shelved; with them in the line-up they will be too powerful for the Blues to endure.
FS: I have a personal vendetta against predictions, and I’m not going to curse the Blues by picking them to win. Instead, I will state that I think this series has seven-game classic written all over it, and it’s going to be can’t-miss hockey over the next two weeks.
MP: As much as I want to go with my Blue Blood on this one, unless the Blues roster can regain it’s missing components, I don’t see the club pulling out a victory over the defending Stanley Cup Playoffs Champs. The Blackhawks will probably close out the series in a max of 6 games, unless the Blues stars really step up, in which case the Blues have an excellent chance in 7.