Originally I had stated that I was going to do a preview of each series, but ran out of time quickly, so now I’ve decided to do a quick preview for each game of the playoffs. Not too in depth, but enough to help you guys find out who is in, who is out, who is in net and who has the advantage.
The final game of the opening night of the playoffs is Game 1 of what could be the most exciting first round matchup. The Blues and Blackhawks have a rich history and tonight’s meeting will be the fifth of the season. They split the season series, but when it comes to playoff success that has been anything but evenly split. The Blues have been knocked out in the first round in four straight years, while the Blackhawks are a postseason beast and come in with a Stanley Cup in three out of the last six years.
The Blues have a boatload of great forwards don’t get me wrong, but it is hard to bet against a team with the NHL’s leading point getter (Patrick Kane) and one of the best playoff performers of his era (Jonathan Toews). The Blackhawks also added Artemi Panarin in the offseason and he will likely win Rookie of the Year, as well as Andrew Ladd, Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise at the trade deadline. This team can easily roll four lines deep and their is quality and playoff experience from top to bottom.
The Blues have a nice mix of grit and skill upfront. Vladimir Tarasenko was their leading point producer and will be for years to come. While this is also a deep group, their lack of playoff success casts a dark cloud over them at this time of year. They have great forwards, but David Backes, Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz…the list goes on, but none of them have had any real playoff success, outside of Tarasenko who has scored 10 goals in 13 career playoff games.
It is easy to see that the Blues have the advantage on the blueline, especially in game one. Duncan Keith is serving the final game of his suspension tonight, so the Blackhawk’s blueline will try to patch things up for a game. St. Louis has a stout back-end with Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester likely drawing the Kane line and Kevin Shattenkirk continuing to emerge as an elite offensive-defenseman.
Without Keith the Blackhawks have to rely on a mix of young and old. Brent Seabrook is a stud on the blueling and Niklas Hjalmarsson is a fearless shutdown guy, but the rest of the blueline is either inexperienced (Trevor van Riemsdyk, Viktor Svedberg) or on their last hockey breathe (Michal Rozsival, Christian Ehrhoff).
Brian Elliott has had a tremendous season for the Blues, but his numbers against the Blackhawks this season and his playoff numbers forecast some difficulty in the first round. He was 1-1-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .892 SV% in three starts vs. the Hawks (was injured in one) and has a career playoff SV% below .900. Corey Crawford’s numbers against the Blues aren’t great but his playoff numbers and success speak for themselves. I would give the edge to the Blackhawks ever so slightly if he was coming in at full health.
I have flip-flopped back and fourth over this series and I ultimately think the Blackhawks are going to win the series in seven games, but I think the Blues take a close one tonight.