Blackhawks

Blues want home-ice advantage, but Stanley Cup is ultimate goal

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Blues want home-ice advantage, but Stanley Cup is ultimate goal

The Blues had one goal in mind entering Thursday's contest against the Blackhawks: Collect two points and force the Stars and themselves to earn home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference on the final game of the regular season.

St. Louis did exactly that, overcoming a one-goal deficit — that felt like more, in a defensive battle — to beat the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime and pick up their 107th point of the season, clinching at least home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Stars (107 points) held up their end as well, cruising past the Avalanche 4-2, meaning both teams may be doing a little scoreboard-watching during their respective games on Saturday.

"For us, the whole focus was home ice and to continue to keep pushing towards first place," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after the game. "Every team has to play (the final game) now; Dallas has to play for points, we've got to keep playing for points and then we'll just see where it goes. But it's nice to know that we're going to have home ice no matter who our opponent is."

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And it could be the Blackhawks, who finished 2-0-3 against the Blues this season. 

In the regular-season finale on Thursday, Jonathan Toews put the Blackhawks up 1-0 during the back-half of the second period, scoring his 28th goal of the year. It had the feeling that that would turn out to be the game-winner, but, like the Blues have done all season long, they displayed the type of resiliency every team serious about contending for a Stanley Cup needs when Vladimir Tarasenko tied things up with 1:16 remaining with the extra attacker on.

In overtime, Tarasenko scored the game-winner for the second time at the United Center this season, sending a sold-out crowd of 22,075 home thinking about the two points they could have gotten in regulation, which would have kept the hopes alive for potentially hosting a first-round matchup.

That's no longer feasible. It is for St. Louis, though.

"It's an important two points," Tarasenko said. "It's always good to win away, it doesn't matter if it's against Chicago or another team. We won a game against a truly good team is really good for our confidence."

Two more points that haven't come easy for the injury-ridden Blues.

[MORE: Late lead erased as Blackhawks fall to Blues in overtime]

The Blues rank No. 13 with 277 man games lost this season, according to mangameslost.com, which doesn't seem too terrible. But that ranking jumps to No. 4 in quality players lost, the highest among any team currently in the playoffs. 

Goaltender Jake Allen and captain David Backes are out with lower-body injuries until at least the start of the playoffs.

Steve Ott, who hasn't played since December due to a hamstring injury, was close to returning to action before being diagnosed with Colitis on Wednesday, and is expected to miss at least two weeks.

Robby Fabbri (ankle injury) and Jay Bouwmeester (upper-body injury) were both game-time decisions heading into Thursday's matchup against the Blackhawks, but only Bouwmeester returned to action. There's a "good chance" Fabbri will play Saturday, according to Hitchock.

Even Elliott suffered a minor scare at practice Wednesday, leaving early after hurting his hand, but, fortunately for the Blues, it wasn't bad enough where he'd miss time as they continue to battle for the No. 1 seed in the West.

[RELATED: Five Things: Good work for Scott Darling vs. Blues]

"That was a big game for us," Elliott, who made 24 saves in the win, said. "We really wanted that one, and to kind of prove a point — a measuring stick at this time of year.

"You go into every season, that's your goal is to finish at the top and get home ice, and march your way through the playoff to the ultimate prize. Just trying to give ourselves a chance."

The Blues are hosting the President's Trophy winner Capitals in the final game of the regular-season on Saturday while the Stars are hosting the Nashville Predators. Certainly no cakewalk for either team.

While the Blues would love to secure home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, they're not losing sight over the bigger goal.

"I think we need to think more about winning a Stanley Cup," Tarasenko said.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."