The Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL, and remain favourites to win the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row. Jonathan Toews and company have done nothing but win games over the last 10 months – destroying the competition all throughout the 2013 regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs. But, as we’ve seen so many times before, doing it twice in a row is no easy task. 1998 was the last time an NHL franchise repeated as champions, and that was a long time ago – different game, with different rules. The Blues are a team people think may be able to outdo the Hawks in 2013-14. Tonight, the two Western Conference juggernauts do battle in St. Louis, providing the Blues a great chance to establish themselves as the team to beat in the Central.
The Hawks 1-0-1 record is 1 point shy of the Blues record, 2-0-0. However, both teams are yet to lose a game in regulation. Goals against have been a problem for Chicago, allowing 7 in their first 2 contests. It’s a small sample size that probably means nothing, but for last year’s best defensive team, you could say the Blackhawks are off to a bad start defensively, by their standards.
The Blues are a defensive powerhouse – they are built that way. After 2 games played, they’ve only allowed 2 goals against. Defence is the strength of this Blues team moving forward. It is the identity they will win with, as they did two seasons ago when they allowed the least amount of goals in the NHL. The Blues finished 2nd in the West back in 2011-12.
The Blues and Hawks have fought in the same division since 1970. They may not feature the rich history of Bruins/Habs, but they certainly possess a similar familiarity over the last four decades. Basically, once you become a St. Louis Blue, you automatically don’t like the Chicago Blackhawks, and vis versa.
Last season was supposed to be St. Louis’ year. They entered the season near the top of everyone’s list, usually ahead of the roster restructuring Blackhawks. To the dismay of many, the Hawks put forth a historical run – the Blues became an afterthought.
Ken Hitchcock’s Missouri based club actually played a strong 2013 season. They finished 6th in the entire NHL. That’s right 6th. But you wouldn’t know they did so well, because 6th in the league represented a failure to meet expectations based on the standards they set for themselves the season before.
The Blues even had a strong 1st round of playoffs last Spring. They lost a closely fought war with the Los Angeles Kings in 6 games, each one decided by a single goal.
Basically, doubters exist. The Blues have to prove them wrong this season and through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tonight’s clash between two of the NHL’s best teams will be intense and hate filled. This isn’t your typical quiet two-point attempt. These boys have something to prove to themselves, each other, and the rest of the NHL. The Blues want to begin the year with a statement game against the reigning champs. A win tonight begins to justify and validate the claim – the St. Louis Blues are a legit Stanley Cup contender in 2013-14.