With the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway, CSNWashington.com is previewing each of the eight first round matchups.
ST. LOUIS (C2) VS. CHICAGO (C3)
An argument can be made that a 2014 postseason series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks would be a perfect second round meeting or even an ideal Western Conference Finals matchup.
Instead, one of these elite clubs will head into the offseason after Round 1 as the Blues and Blackhawks meet in the Central Division semifinals beginning Thursday in St. Louis. The Blues-Blackhawks matchup marks the second time in NHL history that two teams with at least 107 points will meet in a first round series.
The Blues won a franchise-record 52 games and finished with 111 points- fourth most in the NHL. St. Louis spent much calendar year 2014 atop the Central Division, but ended the regular season on a season-high six game losing streak, ultimately finishing one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the Central Division title.
The Blues’ six-game skid was their only losing streak of more than two games all season and it came just as their offense dried up. St. Louis went 2-7-0 down the stretch and scored just nine goals in their final nine games of the regular season.
INJURIES & RETURNS: Much of the explanation for the Blues’ lack of scoring down the stretch came in the form of a laundry list of injuries. The Blues were without six forwards in their regular season finale Sunday (with a division title at stake), including captain David Backes as well as T.J. Oshie, Derek Roy, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko .
While Backes, Roy, Sobotka and Tarasenko are set to return for Game 1 against Chicago, Oshie and Berglund remain out. Oshie finished second on the team in scoring this season with a career-high 21 goals and 60 points in 79 games. Both players could return later in the series.
“This is the playoffs,” Backes told reporters in St. Louis. “This is what we play all year for. Getting up for these games shouldn't be an issue. Fighting through a few bumps and bruises for guys really makes that pain subside. We'll roll out 20 good bodies out there and we're going to stick together and play great hockey.”
The Blackhawks also dealt with injuries down the stretch as Patrick Kane missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a leg injury, while captain Jonathan Toews missed the final six games with an upper-body injury. Both Kane and Toews are expected to play in Game 1.
CONTRASTING STYLES: The Blues don’t typically rely on their offense to do the heavy lifting, thanks to a dedicated group of forwards that can hit and play a physical game, and a combination of solid goaltending and a well structured defensive game.
The Blues allowed 2.29 goals per game, third fewest in the NHL, while the Blackhawks, who rely on speed and more of an up-tempo game, finished second in the NHL offensively, scoring 3.18 goals per game.
This series could also be a big test for Blues goalie Ryan Miller who began in his stint in St. Louis with a 7-0-1 record, but has since gone 3-7-0.
CHUCK GORMLEY: ST. LOUIS IN 7
BEN RABY: ST. LOUIS IN 7