St. Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks: Stanley Cup 2014 first-round preview

This was supposed to be a conference final series under the old system. Furthermore, the Blackhawks vs the Blues was supposed to be a second-round series under the new NHL realignment system. But somehow, out of nowhere, the Colorado Avalanche – who used their own pick to draft first overall less than twelve months ago – finished first place in the newly formed Central Division.

The Chicago Blackhawks are pretty good, eh? They won the Stanley Cup in 2013 and they won it in 2010 with the same core – a very young core then, and now.

For the St. Louis Blues, this is supposed to be the year. A lot of recent history is on the Blues’ side, for example: the last three NHL franchises to win the Stanley Cup ended lengthy championship droughts that dated back to the early 1970s or ’60s. The St. Louis Blues can continue that trend with a 2014 Stanley Cup title. But, the Blues’ hot season has cooled considerably over the past few weeks.

St. Louis concluded the 2013-14 regular season with six straight regulation losses and several injuries to key players causing a mini-tailspin that resulted in a first-round against the Blackhawks instead of the less imposing Minnesota Wild.

When Ryan Miller was traded to the St. Louis Blues in early March, 2014, general manager Doug Armstrong was praised for upgrading his goaltending situation, recognizing that the looming postseason could be the Blues best opportunity to win a Cup. But, it could be argued that what the Blues also needed to address at the deadline was a lack of high-end goal scorers in the lineup.

As a team the Blues scored the seventh most goals in the NHL this past season. But the playoffs are different, and in recent postseason’s the Blues have had trouble finding the back of the net. Miller between the pipes may ensure that the Blues don’t need to score many goals to win a Cup, but Chicago’s the worst match-up to test that theory against. The Blackhawks led the league in goal scoring and their lineup features several elite offensive players who have repeatedly proven they can score often in the postseason, under pressure, in the most dire situations.

Defence wins in the postseason… usually. The Blues are an impressive defensive team with a great goaltender, legendary defensive head coach Ken Hitchcock, top notch defence corps led by three of the league’s finest (Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk), and their forward depth is superb – arguably the best in the NHL behind the Boston Bruins.

But it’s the Chicago Blackhawks – they have charisma, swagger, ex-factor, experience, killer-instinct, and most importantly: a bunch of game-breakers who can, and have played the part of hero.

Tough matchup for the Blues, unless they can shut the Hawks down.

The Blues need to prove they can become a legit Stanley Cup threat and not just a strong regular season team. And for that reason, getting the Hawks first is a good thing. If the Blues can defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in the first-round they’ll make quite the statement to the rest of the teams in the Cup tournament. And in the second-round the Blues would either play a young Colorado Avalanche or a Minnesota Wild club that is severely lacking in depth. By the time the semis occur, California’s finest may be cooked from having to get through each other.

St. Louis Blues Injuries: RW Vladimir Tarasenko (right hand surgery), C David Backes (lower body), F Vladimir Sobotka (undisclosed), C Patrik Berglund (sprained shoulder), RW T. J. Oshie (upper body), LW Brenden Morrow (bruised foot).

Chicago Blackhawks Injuries: C Jonathan Toews (upper body), RW Patrick Kane (leg).

Injuries courtesy of TSN.

Sal’s Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

With Toews and Kane rested and ready to return to an otherwise healthy Blackhawks’ roster, and the Blues being so banged up, I believe the Hawks will rise to the occasion and do what it takes to win this series. Tough draw for the Blues.

Brett’s Prediction: Blackhawks in 6.

I’ve been on the St.Louis wagon since the start of the year so it’s tough to bail now. They looked so good all year with everyone important being healthy until recently. Backes, Oshie, Berglund, Sobotka, Morrow and Tarasenko are all currently banged up and its unclear how many will be ready for game one. That led to a six-game losing streak to end the year and a horrific match-up against the defending champs. Taking the heart out of it, my money’s on the Hawks.