On February 9, 2014, the day the NHL suspended operations in order for players to represent their respective countries at the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, the St. Louis Blues were the number four team in the NHL with 82 points. Slightly ahead were Anaheim (85 points), Chicago (84) and Pittsburgh (83). Slightly behind the Blues were San Jose (78) and Colorado (77) and Boston (76).
When the regular season ended Sunday, Boston won the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points (+41), followed by Anaheim (116, +31), Colorado (112, +35), St. Louis (111, +29), San Jose (111, +33), Pittsburgh (109, +26) and Chicago (107, +23).
It is not at all surprising to see the clubs with the lowest points after the Olympics, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Anaheim had a higher number of players attending. The Blues and Hawks had ten players at Sochi, the Penguins and Ducks seven. Even Detroit with ten players in Russia only earned 29 points after the Olympics, the same as the Blues. Boston only had five players selected, while four players represented both Colorado and San Jose, and all three teams garnered more points than those with more representation.
We are all now painfully aware that had the Blues defeated Detroit last Sunday afternoon, they would be facing the Minnesota Wild instead of the Blackhawks under the new format adopted by the NHL for this season. Under the old format last season, the Blues would have faced (you guessed it!) the Los Angeles Kings. So, of course, many would prefer and welcome opening the playoffs against Chicago, figuring the rivalry with the defending Cup champions is much more desirable at this point. A real oddity is that even though the Blues finished ahead of the Blackhawks in the division and have home ice advantage, they are nevertheless considered underdogs due to losing the last six consecutive games of the regular season and injuries, some severe, to many key players. So, bring on the Hawks, and may the hockey gods allow the better team to win.
This will be the 11th post season series for these two divisional rivals. St. Louis and Chicago have been in the same division since 1970, 44 years now, including the Western (1970-74), Smythe (1974-81), Norris (1981-93) and Central (1993-present). They also qualified for the playoffs together every season between 1980 and 1997. In ten previous series, the Blackhawks have won seven, the Blues three. In those ten series, 50 games have been played and Chicago has won 28, St. Louis 22.
Their first post season meeting happened in 1973. The Clarence Campbell Bowl Western Division champion Blackhawks easily dispatched the fourth place Blues, who finished two games under .500. Led by All-Star goaltender Tony Esposito (HHoF 1988), Chicago boasted an offense highlighted by centers Stan Mikita (HHoF 1983), Pit Martin and Ralph Backstrom, flanked by wingers such as Dennis Hull, Jimmy Pappin, Cliff Koroll and Chico Maki. A strong defense corps featured Pat Stapleton, Bill White, Keith Magnuson and Jerry "King Kong" Korab. The Blues were led offensively by youngsters Garry Unger, Phil Roberto, Jack Egers, Mike Murphy and Pierre Plante and veterans Frank St. Marseille, Gary Sabourin, Fran Huck and Danny O'Shea. The defense was led by Barc and Bob Plager, Noel Picard, Steve Durbano, Andre Dupont and rookie Connie Madigan (aged 38). Jacques Caron manned the net along with Wayne Stephenson. Chicago took the series in five games, 4-1, going on to defeat the New York Rangers, 4-1, only to be defeated by the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, 4-2, in the finals.
It would be seven years before the Blues would meet the Hawks again in the playoffs, and 1980 was less memorable than the first meeting. The Smythe Division champion Blackhawks finished seven points ahead of the second place Blues and easily swept them in three games. St. Louis had a pretty good team, led by youngsters Bernie Federko (HHoF 2002), Wayne Babych, Perry Turnbull, Brian Sutter and veterans Larry Patey, Mike Zuke and Chuck Lefley. Esposito and defenseman Doug Wilson provided a stalwart defense for Chicago and Grant Mulvey, Rich Preston and Tom Lysiak led the offense. They would themselves be swept by Buffalo in the next round, 4-0. It would be the last year both Mikita and Magnuson would play in the NHL. Notable rookies that year included Boston's Ray Bourque, Colorado's Rob Ramage, the Islanders' Ken Morrow, the Blues' Mike Liut and Joey Mullen and a couple of guys from Edmonton named Messier and Gretzky.
The 1982 Norris Division Finals featured two teams both eight games under .500. The Blues vanquished the second-place Winnipeg Jets, 3-1, and the Blackhawks defeated the division champion Minnesota North Stars, 3-1. Scoring sensation Denis Savard (HHoF 2000), Lysiak and Wilson led Chicago, while goaltender Murray Bannerman supplanted Esposito and played more games in the post season. The Blues once again had Federko, Sutter, Mullen, and Liut, yet fell to the Hawks in six games, 4-2, the third consecutive playoff series loss to the Blackhawks. Chicago would lose to Vancouver in the next round, 4-1.
I hope you will be back at game two Saturday afternoon to continue reading about the playoff history between the Blues and the Hawks. Upcoming is the 1983 Norris Division semifinals in which the fourth place Blues (15 games under .500) met the division champion Blackhawks, 24 games over .500.