Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends ...
Well OK, "never" is a strong word, but four overtimes in 2 games sure is a lot of hockey. I was thankful that my seats for Game 2 allowed me to pace a little bit. As is tradition, the Blues have a new intro video and song package for the playoffs. The current one begins with these opening lines and notes, from Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Karn Evil 9 -1st Impression".
We're so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.
You may recall that, in last year's playoffs, the Blues did not (quite) sell out the Scottrade Center. The first round started very quickly on the heels of the season (thanks, lockout!), and short notice combined with a few other factors prevented there being much marketing done. Thankfully, despite the late-season swoon, the DrinkScotch was sold out both nights. Game One's attendance was 19,423, and Game Two was an even more impressive 19,639. Another nice switch from last year was in the promo items. Two games down, and so far no thundersticks.
There's no point in putting an introduction together: you already know our opponents all too well. Frankly, more than you really care to know them. And yet, these rat bastards are going to consume our thoughts for the next few days, at least. The only change to their lineup is with the recently suspended Brent Seabrook. While his hit and the subsequent taunting has already been discussed to death, the key question is how this will affect Games 3, 4, and (if necessary) Game 5.
The likeliest scenario would be Sheldon Brookbank stepping into the lower ranks, and a resulting bump up from a second-pairing to join Duncan Keith. Brookbank has played 48 games this year for the Hawks, and has a stat line that demonstrates why he wasn't already on the playoff roster: 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, +2 , 52 PIM, 64 Hits and 38 Blocked Shots. This is his second year with the team, so they are pretty familiar with him and what he can offer. In fact, from Chicago CSN beat writer Tracey Myers:
It was a costly blow for Seabrook and the Blackhawks, who will have to reconfigure their lineup some. How that shakes up the defensive pairs yet is not clear. Sheldon Brookbank played in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last spring when Duncan Keith was suspended for hitting Jeff Carter in the mouth with his stick. He could be added now.
Duncan Keith? Suspended? My My My, color me shocked. He seemed like such a nice, young man. Furthermore, one of the Chicago defensemen continues:
"We have three guys coming in," Johnny Oduya said prior to the suspension announcement. "We have Brooksie, who’s been great the times he’s played this year. Obviously losing Seabs is not ideal, but we kind of had a game last year where we lost Duncs and the other guys had to step in and play more minutes and bigger roles and do a better job. I think that’s something we have to look at. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we’ll see and we’ll adjust."
I'm sure they will adjust - a team doesn't enjoy the kind of success that Chicago has had these past few years without an ability to adapt to lineup changes. Nonetheless, Seabrook played 38 minutes in the first game, and another 23 minutes in the second game. He's their top pairing, after all. Those are big minutes to fill. And Seabrook also accounted for special teams play - he was on the ice for about half of their power play time, and about a third of their penalty kill time. So, not just in volume, then, but those are some particularly hard minutes to replace.
And what about our dear Captain? There has not been any official statement from the Blues about the condition of David Backes, nor would I expect anything specific from them. On Sunday's media session, the only "official" word was from coach Hitchcock (here via Norm Sanders):
Asked about Backes' condition Sunday following the Blues' optional workout, coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters "All I know is he's upright, and that's about it right now. We don't have any further information and probably won't have until late tomorrow...I know one thing, he couldn't play today."
As the cool kids on twitter say, #NoShit.
While we don't *know* anything yet, the popular perception is concussion. If that is the case, then we obviously have more important things than hockey to worry about. Take care of yourself first, David, the boys can tend shop without you.
In fact, taking care of business is on a few people's minds. From that same article:
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are probably thinking more about getting away
from Reaves from that kind of game. In a really excellent column by Chicago Sun Times beat writer Mark Lazerus:
The Hawks are losing their composure, losing the puck and losing games. They’re jumping into shoving matches after nearly every whistle and running their mouths. They’re running around looking for hits instead of the puck. They’re taking liberties they usually don’t take, getting away with some (Duncan Keith with a few aggressive slashes) and getting tagged on others (Kris Versteeg tackling Derek Roy well after a whistle, Bryan Bickell’s knee-on-knee hit of Vladimir Sobotka, and of course, Brent Seabrook’s devastating hit on David Backes that earned the defenseman a three-game suspension).
They’re playing Blues hockey. Which is exactly what the Blues want. The Blues are doing all those things, too, of course. They’re just better at it.
Yeah ... we probably are. We didn't hire Ott and Lapierre for nothing.
The Blues, who have plenty of talent of their own to go along with their physicality, will look to avenge Backes. They’ll take their usual liberties and play their usual head games. They’ll try to goad the Hawks into more skirmishes, more penalties, more uncharacteristic play. If they succeed, they’ll win this series. And soon.
I have no doubt that this is what will be preached in their dressing room as well. The Hawks have not played to their strengths, yet, and we've been able to dictate terms and pace so far. Now that the venue has changed to their arena, and with their home crowd, there will be a opportunity for the Blackhawks to flip that script. Additionally, coach Quenneville will have the last line change now, which will allow him to get the best match ups.
The Blues are perfectly capable of beating the Hawks on UC ice without David Backes. But, to do so, they have to play smart hockey, and keep out of the box. Discipline.
The only score that needs to be settled is on the Jumbotron.
Everything else is secondary.
Final Verse: Tonight's game will begin at 7:30 PM St Louis time. I guess the one positive to the playoff format, and Chicago as an opponent, is that at least the games are all at reasonable hours. Unless you live in Europe (Hi Guys !!!). The TV broadcast will be on Fox Sports MW locally, as well as on CNBC for the US national coverage, and CBC for the Canadian coverage. Heck, even the French folks at RDS will be showing our game. The radio call will be on KYKY (Y98) FM. The Game Day Thread will drop just before the puck does. Until then, this is your pregame warmup. Gather here, invent more devious and demented ways of punishing Seabrook, and get ready to SEE THE SHOOOOOOOWWWW...