Mar 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wingBen Smith
(28) plays the puck against St. Louis Blues centerPatrik Berglund
(21) during the first period at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Blues 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
The last time our beloved Chicago Blackhawks took on the powerhouse St. Louis Blues, they played arguably their best game of the season. Having gone 0-1-2 in the previous three meetings against the Blues, the Hawks turned in a dominant performance against the Central-Division leaders, shutting down their potent offense and blanking 4 goals past the newly acquired and much touted Ryan Miller to walk away with a 4-0 victory and a watermark of what they are truly capable of as a team.
This time around things are a bit different. In their last match-up of the season, the Blues and the Blackhawks are playing for somewhat different stakes.
Going into today’s game the St. Louis Blues sit comfortably atop the Western Conference standing and have all but guaranteed themselves a wildcard match-up in the first round of the playoffs. They are currently two points behind the Boston Bruins in the Presidents’ Trophy race for best record in the regular season. However I doubt any NHL team actively strives for the Presidents’ Trophy considering it can turn out to be quite a worthless piece of metal if it’s not complimenting a Stanley Cup. So suffice it to say, the Blues don’t have much other than pride on the line this morning.
The Blackhawks on the other hand have a bit more riding on today’s outcome. The Hawks are currently down by three points in the Central Division standings to the Colorado Avalanche and are currently looking at the prospect of being the visitors in the open round of the post season. While we can debate how important having home ice advantage in the playoffs really is, in the post season you certainly need to take every advantage you can get and thus the Hawks need to grab every point they can get in the final week of the regular season. Statistically speaking however, the Blackhawks probably know that ship has all but already sailed, and Coach Joel Quenneville (if he’s smart) isn’t going to grind his team down simply to gain an extra game at the Madhouse on Madison.
So stats and standings aside, what’s really at stake for the Blackhawks this morning is more intangible. As we know, the Blackhawks are sans their two franchise fixtures Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. We also know that the Blackhawks are coming into today’s match-up on a two game winning streak; the first consecutive wins the Hawks have been able to string together since they lost Kaner and Tazer.
Thus, while the Hawks are certainly playing for pride against their Central Division rival this morning, they are also playing for true grit. It’s been discussed in multiple circles that with their two star players sidelined with injuries, now is the time for the Hawks’ second, third, and fourth tier players to stand and deliver. Until recently the results have been mixed, but after their last two victories things may be looking to take a turn for the better.
More important however than other Hawks players rising to the occasion in Kane and Toews’ absence is building momentum going into the playoffs. Considering how the Blackhawks have sputtered into the post season this year, many are worried if they’ll be able to “turn on” their playoff mode in time. While you can argue that the Hawks’ now considerable playoff experience will aid them so well in the playoffs that regular season momentum isn’t that important, I’d personally prefer not to have to make that argument at all.
Thus a win against a top tier team like St. Louis would provide the duel benefits of providing regular season momentum heading into the playoffs as well as bolster the confidence of the Blackhawks’ bench.
One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is yesterday the Colorado Avalanche trounced the Blues 4-0 without their star player Matt Duchene. Take this for what you will, but I think that makes today’s game against St. Louis a very important measuring stick for the Blackhawks’ caliber against their first round opponent in the post season. To play on the Avs motto a bit, if the Avalanche can beat the Blues without one of their stars, why not the Blackhawks?
FOR THE DAGGER!