Looking at the numbers this morning, it's nice to see the St. Louis Blues remain atop the Western Conference and that they extended their lead in that spot with a big road win against Phoenix last night. While most fans of most of the other Central Division teams have already given up on their teams catching the Blues, most of us haven't quite written off the possibility the Note could struggle and find themselves in part of that 4-5-6 seed battle.
The Blues, with 103 points and six games remaining, are just three regulation wins away from clinching the Central Division and either the first or second seed in the Conference because Detroit can earn no more than 109 points with the games they have remaining. If the Blues win three more in regulation, they have 109 points and hold the tiebreaker over the Red Wings in Regulation+Overtime Wins. Every point that Detroit forfeits makes that number decrease, of course.
The next discussion Blues fans want to have is about which team they have to face in the first round if they can clinch that coveted first seed. The team they will face, no matter which one it is, will be a tough opponent because they are already accustomed to what a playoff battle game is like. The conventional wisdom is that, No one wants to play a team that got hot and battled into the playoffs at the end of the season.
That may not quite be true.
As we all witnessed when the Blues made a miracle second-half run two years ago, by the time they got to the first round of the playoffs, they just didn't have much life left to take on a better rested Vancouver Canucks team and they were quickly swept out of the playoffs. After that series many fans were wondering what had happened to the team. They didn't look as tough or as fast. T.J. Oshie didn't look like he had that extra gear. I was quick to chalk it up to an extra level of intensity that comes with the playoff atmosphere. A lesson the young Blues needed to learn, I thought.
Knowing we'll be in the playoffs is a great feeling. (But) if you compare us to three years ago when we made the playoffs, it took all of our energy to make the playoffs. Once we clinched against Columbus, it felt like we won the Stanley Cup. It was great, but at the same time, knowing there's a lot more work after you made the playoffs this time around is more our attitude.
Obviously, just reaching the goal of a late-season run and making the playoffs takes a lot out of a team. Once they've, as Perron said, "won the Stanley Cup," how do they re-set and get geared up for a playoff series? It's tough, I'd say.
Reading last night's edition of Chicago's Committed Indian game day paper (produced by our friends over at Second City Hockey) there was a great article by frequent SCH commenter (and GT visitor) ChicagoNativeSon. In it he was making the case for why it is so important for the Blackhawks to not settle for the sixth seed, that they need to pass Detroit and the Predators and win the fourth seed and home-ice advantage for at least one and hopefully two playoff series.
In the article he broke down the number of Stanley Cup winners by seed since the current format was adopted in 1994. The information is pretty interesting:
1st seed: 6 Cup wins
2nd seed: 5
3rd seed: 3
4th seed: 2
5th seed: 1
The lone fifth seed to win was the New Jersey Devils in 1995, though that was a strike-shortened season and the standings after 48 games probably were not indicative of true talent among the teams.The sixth through eighth seeds have zero Cup wins among them.
For Hawks fans (and Preds and Wings fans), history makes that battle for the fourth seed even more important. And why it's important for the Note to stay above the fray and lock down that division championship.
None of this is to say that there's no reason to worry about whatever team the Blues will face in the first round. Historical inability to win a Cup when starting playoff life as a seventh or eighth seed doesn't mean they don't have the ability to pull off first round upsets as they seem to happen every year. It's just that it's always better to have the home-ice advantage and be the team that is better relaxed and rested heading into the playoffs than to be the team that just used up all of it's emotion and effort just to get to the meeting.
It is also better to be in the cat bird seat and not slogging away in the meat of the top eight spots in the conference. Sure, a seven game series against Los Angeles or Phoenix or San Jose or Dallas will be tough. But it beats having to play Detroit or Nashville first. Let those two beat each other up for seven games before having to worry about them. Or let Chicago go on the road for a couple weeks and have to beat a tough team before coming here as the visitor.
The one vs eight seed won't be a cake walk, but it's the most desirable matchup for a reason. The Blues just need to go out and earn the first part and let the chips fall as they may for the second part.