Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks Face Pivotal Contest Against Rival Blues

By Nick Heupel
Nov 14, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) attempts to clear the puck away from St. Louis Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (56) and center Scott Gomez (93) during the third period at Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 14, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) attempts to clear the puck away from St. Louis Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (56) and center Scott Gomez (93) during the third period at Scottrade Center. The Blackhawks won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Get ready for rivalry night, Chicago Blackhawks fans. The puck will drop at 7:30 tonight for the final regular-season meeting between the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. This game is more than just a late-season clash of rivals. It is also a pivotal matchup that will affect the Central Division playoff picture.

The Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues each have 105 points heading into Thursday, with Chicago trailing the leaders by just four points. The wild-card teams are at least seven points out at this point, so there is not much challenge to the Central Division hierarchy. The Blues, Blackhawks and Stars all have two games remaining in the season, with four points up for the winning. St. Louis will face Chicago and then Washington. The Stars are booked to play the Avalanche and Predators. And the Blackhawks travel to Columbus after the game against the Blues.

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Here are possible scenarios:

  1. The Blackhawks win their last two games in regulation, earning four points to finish the season with 105 points. The Blues and the Stars both lose their last two games in regulation, resulting in a three-way tie. This is probably the least-likely scenario considering Dallas has a pretty easy end to its schedule. The Stars should collect two wins. But, it is also the most entertaining scenario because it would launch Chicago into the top seat in the division, setting up a Blackhawks vs. Wild matchup in round one of the postseason.
  2. The Blues and the Stars both pick up at least one point, resulting in no change to the current playoff picture. In this scenario, the Blues would face the Blackhawks in round one, and the Stars would face the Wild.
  3. The Blues surpass the Stars in points, through regulation wins or overtime points, and claim the head of the Central Division table. If St. Louis overthrows Dallas, then the round-one playoff matchups will feature the Stars vs. Chicago Blackhawks, and the Blues vs. the Wild.

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Now, for the Chicago Blackhawks, there are a couple of ways to approach Thursday night’s contest against the St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks could lay everything down on the ice, play hard for 60 minutes and try to beat the snot out the Blues. A win against St. Louis would increase the possibility for the Blackhawks to advance up the standings.

To be honest, the standings don’t matter too much at this point in the season. The probability of the Blackhawks winning the division is not strong because it would require both the Stars and the Blues to drop their next two games in regulation time. If the Blackhawks win twice, the Blues lose twice and the Stars find a point somewhere along the way, the playoff bracket will still pit Chicago against St. Louis, only in this case, Chicago will have home-ice advantage.

But even home-ice advantage lacks great significance in playoff hockey, and the past few Stanley Cup tournaments have proven this to be true. Teams win on the road in the playoffs all the time, so who cares which team has home ice? The main benefit of a win against St. Louis today would be that Chicago would gain momentum. If the Blackhawks beat the Blues — their likely first-round opponents — they will skate into the first round of the playoffs with confidence and energy, riding high on the recent victory over their rivals and knowing they can beat this St. Louis team.

A win would also tip the season series in Chicago’s favor — the teams are currently splitting the series with two wins apiece. The Blackhawks have struggled to beat other Central Division teams all season long, so a 3-2 season series victory over St. Louis would fortify Chicago’s confidence and potentially help the team stay competitive down the stretch. When the road to the Stanley Cup becomes a nightmare, teams often draw from the smallest of victories to jump-start winning streaks. A win against the Blues could inspire the Blackhawks to go on a tear through the Western Conference playoffs on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.

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Another approach the Blackhawks could take to tonight’s game: Forget winning, this is a dress rehearsal. Contrary to what coach Joel Quenneville might think, winning isn’t everything. The game against St. Louis presents a great opportunity for the Blackhawks’ skaters, coaches and staff to scout the Blues, looking for potential matchups, identifying strengths and weaknesses, looking at the opponent’s line composition, etc. Once again, we will most likely see the Blackhawks and Blues battle each other in round one of the playoffs, so Chicago might want to study up for the impending clash.

This would also be the right time to toy with the offensive lines and defensive pairings. Bryan Bickell was just recalled from Rockford. Why not throw him on the ice against St. Louis and see what he can do? Quenneville loves tinkering with Chicago’s lineup, even deep into the playoffs. The Blackhawks’ coaching staff could throw a bunch of different player combinations on the ice and give more minutes to less-experienced players. It would be like an unofficial training camp/preseason competition.

Win or lose, the Blackhawks should take this playoff preview-match against the Blues seriously. It will be an opportunity to try new things, test a different lineup and scout the opposition. It will certainly be one final assessment for the Blackhawks before they take the ice to begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs.