Well, here we are again: the Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, returning to their rivalry on the playoff stage.
There are no secrets between these two: you know what you get with each team. So how does each part of each team stack up? Glad you asked. As we’ve done in the past, here are our edges in the first-round playoff matchup between the Blackhawks and Blues.
Each team has its steady captain (Jonathan Toews and David Backes). Each team has its explosive forwards (Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko). The Blackhawks’ second line has been a consistent source of offense throughout the season. Kane finished with a career-high 46 goals and Artemi Panarin had 30, the most for a Blackhawks rookie since Eric Daze (1995-96). The top line has had its moments — Toews finished with 28 goals — but the third and fourth lines haven’t brought offense as they have in the past.
For the Blues, Tarasenko led the Blues with 40 goals. Backes, who is expected to be back from a lower-body injury, is next with 21. After that, the Blues have six players with 10 or more goals this season.
The big question is: will the Blackhawks get the more balanced scoring in the postseason that was so hit and miss in the regular season? Playoff history says they will. This is a close one to call, but...
The Blackhawks know what they’ve got in their top three defensemen (Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson). Finding consistency from 4-6 hasn’t been as easy, and the Blackhawks’ overall defense hasn’t been as strong this season as in the past. Also, the Blackhawks will be without Keith for one more game. The Blues have jumbled up their defensive pairs plenty this season, but that’s been because of injuries, not lack of good play. Despite those injuries, the Blues’ defense has been consistent and strong this season.
We’re not used to saying this entering the playoffs but: the Blackhawks’ power play is good. We mean ranked-second-in-the-league good (22.6 percent). Kane and Panarin have been great on it this season but as Kane said, when the Blackhawks are moving on the power play, it’s worked well. The Blues, meanwhile, aren’t too shabby on this either. They’re sixth in the league, converting 21.5 percent of the time. Both will be threats to penalty kills.
The Blackhawks’ usual bread and butter was not nearly as strong and consistent this season as it’s been previously. Yes, it’s been much better down the stretch (29 of 31 in the last 11 games) and if that continues the Blackhawks will be in good shape. The Blues’ kill, however, has been great throughout this season, ranked third in the league (85.1 percent). As much as the Blackhawks’ improvement lately is a good sign, the confidence for the Blues in this category has been there all season.
Corey Crawford is back after missing nearly a month with an upper-body injury. He was hit and miss in the regular-season finale, where getting the timing back was the toughest part. But said he feels great and is ready for the postseason. Brian Elliott will be the Blues’ starter for Game 1. Elliott was great down the stretch and when the Blues recorded four consecutive shutouts in late March, he was in goal for three of them. Will this be the postseason Elliott proves himself? Perhaps. But to this point, the other guy already has.