It's funny how expectations can change in just a few weeks. The last time the Blues played the Blackhawks, up in Chicago, my expectation was a good game between two good teams. Of course, the two played a strangely boring game (repeatedly called "workmanlike" by announcers, which is code for "goddamn this is boring") that the Hawks won, with the game winning goal coming on an appropriately lame goal - a freak shot off Backes' skate.
Since then, the Blues have done nothing but answer the bell over and over and over, whether it be a long road stretch, multiple games on short schedule, whatever. The Hawks have been better since recovering from their nine-game losing streak, but the silverware is tarnished in their cabinet. No one fears the thin Blackhawks anymore, least of all these Blues.
Before the game, looking at the sixth-seed Hawks, I was hoping for a mauling. I wanted a 5-0 lead going into the third or an 8-1 win. I didn't get either, but the 5-1 win was satisfying enough. With help from Philadelphia, who beat Detroit, and Los Angeles, who beat Nashville, the Note are now tie-breaker free top of the Central Division and eight points up on those Predators.
If Vancouver would do us the service of losing to Dallas, St. Louis could wake up tomorrow to a Western Conference leading hockey team.
- Speaking of being the top dog in the conference, I think: bleh. I honestly don't care what is going on with the Rangers or the Canucks. The Presidents' Trophy, as we've seen, is a mirage. It seems like an oasis, a promise of good things to come, but in actuality it means nothing. I want the Blues to win the Central Division. That guarantees first or second in the conference, and that's good enough. Get away from a first round matchup against that nightmare in Nashville and I'll be happy. Let the Wings bash their heads in against that defense and that goalie first.
- I try to reserve these bullets for Blues issues, but we were talking about it tonight and I feel like it warrants a couple words: Blackhawk fans keep saying that Nick Leddy isn't great, but he's getting better. Tons of promise, they say. Future of the blueline, I hear. Frankly, I don't think so. I know he's a former first rounder and the big gain from the Cam Barker trade, but that kid always seems to be too small, too out of position and too loose with the puck. You keep saying he has promise, I guess I'll take your word for it. I just don't see it.
- On the other hand, I think the promise on the Blues' blueline is quite apparent. Kevin Shattenkirk is the player we hoped Erik Johnson would become (and likely never will). So what does that make Alex Pietrangelo? We all know Mike Babcock said Pietrangelo was touched by "The wand of God" whatever that is. Lacking a more fantastical description, I'm going to go ahead and agree with that bonehead.
- T.J. Oshie continues to play like he wants us all to go vote for him for mayor again. Skating, shooting, passing, hitting. It is an election year - maybe a couple more votes will come his way if he can keep it going.
- Remember when the Blues traded Doug Weight to Anaheim for Andy McDonald? I have to admit, at the time I didn't think much of it. Now, I can't help but think that Happy Meal is the motor that makes this machine go offensively. His speed is hard to contain and his playmaking is vastly underrated. By the way, did you see that second goal? Ray Emery didn't. Now if the team could just get Charlie Hustle Alex Steen back from the hyperbaric chamber and onto the ice, this team would be really exciting.
- Jaroslav Halak turns in yet another solid performance and gets yet another win, increases his save percentage and lowers his goals against average. Third star. Yawn. Brad Lee mad the point in tonight's paper that dude is the franchise goalie we've wanted here for decades. Agreed.
- David Backes got some love today from Puck Daddy as an underrated Hart Trophy candidate. Nice to see the recognition for the man who does everything, but he might not even win MVP of his team, let alone the NHL. And he is a monster that other teams have no answer for physically.
- Vladimir Sobotka is a lucky little leprechaun. I know he's not Irish and he's not really little, but that guy is good luck. On a team full of hard workers, no one outworks him. On a team full of hard-nosed bastards, no one is harder than him. So when he makes a move like he did to score his goal, making Ray Emery looking like he ran into an invisible wire fence in his own crease, it makes us fans jump extra high and slap hands extra hard.
Back at it on Thursday. For tonight, here is your place to celebrate. Do dat. Blues post-game speech below: