As the NHL regular season winds down, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in a familiar position. For the ninth consecutive year, the Blackhawks are postseason bound and sit comfortably at the top of the Western Conference standings. Despite back-to-back losses, Chicago still holds a sizable lead on the Minnesota Wild in the Central and look set for home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. While the Blackhawks are sitting pretty, the West’s wild card race is still up for grabs. Nashville, Calgary, and St. Louis continue to fight for the two spots, with the Predators and Blues also jostling for the third spot in the Central Division.
Let’s take a look at how each of these teams would match-up against the five-time Stanley Cup champions, beginning north of the border.
Playoff history: The Flames have matched up with the Blackhawks four different times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with each team winning two series. Most recently, in 2009, Chicago defeated Calgary in six games to claim the franchise’s first playoff series victory in nearly a decade.
Impact players: Calgary is led on offense by Johnny Gaudreau, or as many know him, Johnny Hockey. He leads the Flames in points (17 G, 41 A) and has been playing his best hockey down the stretch, helping carry the team to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Goalkeeper Brian Elliot has been a stud in net for the Flames, making it clear why Calgary made a deal for him during the 2016 draft. A slow start left many fans feeling sour, but Elliot has posted a 17-2-1 record since the end of January and turned the Flames into contenders with his performance.
Series outlook: In the hypothetical match-up between these sides, the Blackhawks hold an advantage in both playoff experience and overall talent. The Flames have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the calendar turned to 2017, but Chicago is the class of the Western Conference and has what it takes to extinguish them.
St. Louis Blues
Playoff History: The fierce Midwestern rivalry between these franchises has produced some classic playoff series throughout the years. In total, St. Louis and Chicago have met twelve times in the postseason, with the Blackhawks winning eight of these series. Last season, it was the Blues who knocked the defending champions out of the playoffs in a first round thriller.
Impact players: The Blues are paced by high-scoring Vladimir Tarasenko, whose 35 goals tie him with Auston Matthews for fourth place amongst qualifying players. The Russian has been a thorn in the side of Chicago over the last few seasons, including in two career postseason series (8 goals in 13 total games). Patrik Berglund gives the Blues another offensive weapon, as he sits second on the team in goals with 21.
Series Outlook: If history is any proof, you can usually throw out the records when these teams take the ice. Last year’s first-round series provided one of the best of the postseason, as the Blues won it in seven games. If the Blackhawks could put a lid on Tarasenko’s production, St. Louis would have a hard time making up for the drop-off.
Playoff history: These Central Division foes have met twice in the playoffs with Chicago winning both series in six games. In each of these seasons, 2010 and 2015, the Blackhawks have gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Impact Players: A blockbuster trade in the offseason landed the Predators a big fish in the form of defenseman P.K. Subban. In his first season with the team, Subban has battled injuries but remains a threat (9 G, 27 A). The duo of Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have been key to the Preds offensive attack, as they are tied for the team lead with 29 goals apiece. Nashville also touts a crafty veteran between the pipes with Pekka Rinne (30 wins, .916 save pct).
Series Outlook: Much like their previous playoff matchups, Nashville should provide difficulty for the Blackhawks. They see each other often and have a great home-ice advantage during the playoffs. Chicago might have a tough time in a series with the Preds, but ultimately would be able to overpower them.
Representing the great city of Chicago and contributing for the 6-time Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.