Lighting the Lamp - With Rick Ackerman
The 1982-83 Norris Division was easily won by a powerhouse Chicago Blackhawk club that finished with 104 points (second in the Campbell Conference to the even more powerful Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers), 39 whopping points ahead of the fourth place St. Louis Blues. Chicago scored 53 more goals than St. Louis in an 80 game schedule and allowed 48 fewer goals against than the Blues. It was a mismatch from the get-go. The Blues certainly did not have a terrible team that season; yet the Kid Line (Sutter-Federko- Babych) and goaltender Mike Liut simply could not compete with the Blackhawks' All-Star center Denis Savard (35 goals, 121 points), 50-goal scorer Al Secord, 40-goal scorer Steve Larmer, 31-goal scorer Darryl Sutter, center Tom Lysiak (61 points in 61 games) defenseman Doug Wilson and goaltenders Murray Bannerman and Tony Esposito.
The Blues stunned a shocked Chicago Stadium sellout crowd in game one. Trailing 2-0 after two periods of play, the Blues scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to win, 4-2. Game two saw Savard take charge and score two goals for the Hawks in a 7-2 blowout. At the Checkerdome, Chicago narrowly won game three, 2-1, scoring two first period goals, depending on Bannerman to make 25 saves for the win. With game four tied 3-3 in the third period, Larmer tallied the winner and Sutter added an empty-net goal to give the Blackhawks the series, 3-1. Chicago would go on to defeat the North Stars in the next round, 4-1, but eventually fell to Gretzky and the Oilers, getting swept, 4-0 in the Campbell Conference Finals.
It would turn out to be five years before St. Louis and Chicago would meet again in the playoffs. The 1987-88 Blues finished second (to Detroit) in the Norris Division with 76 points, four games under .500. They faced the third place Blackhawks, 69 points, nine games under .500. St. Louis was deep offensively, led by centers Doug Gilmour (HHoF 2001), Bernie Federko (HHoF 2002) and Tony Hrkac (six goals in the playoffs). They were complimented by wingers Brett Hull (HHoF 2009) with a team leading seven goals in the playoffs, Brian Sutter, Gino Cavallini, Tony McKegney and Mark Hunter. Greg Millen played all ten games in goal during the playoffs, backed-up by Rick Wamsley and Darrell May. Savard, Larmer and Rick Vaive were the scoring leaders for Chicago, while Darren Pang, the Blues' current television analyst, was the number one goaltender. St. Louis took the first two games at the Arena, winning handily by scores of 4-1 and 3-2. Hull scored the winning goal in game two. Chicago took game three at the Stadium, 6-3, setting the stage for a thrilling Blues' victory in game four, 6-5. Trailing 2-1 after the first period, Hull, Gilmour and Hrkac scored in the second period to match two Hawk goals by Vaive and Everett Sanipass. Vaive scored for Chicago on the power play early in the third period, yet Hrkac matched that and then scored a short-handed goal at 15:15, his third of the game, to seal the victory. Both Millen and Pang made 29 saves. The Blues took game five back at the Arena, 5-3, with Hull scoring the game-winner, his sixth of the series. For the first time in franchise history, the Blues won a playoff series from the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, they would lose to Detroit in the second round.
The following season, within the Norris Division, the second place Blues defeated the third place North Stars while the fourth place Hawks defeated the first place Red Wings in the opening round of the playoffs. This time, Chicago would prevail in five games, defeating the Blues 4-1 in the series. They split the first two games at the Arena, the Blackhawks winning 3-1 and the Blues 5-4. At the Stadium, though, the Hawks dominated, winning both games 5-2 and 3-2. And then Chicago won the series back in St. Louis with a 4-2 victory. They would go on to lose to Calgary in the Campbell Conference Finals.
The 1990 playoffs would once again see St. Louis and Chicago meet in the Norris Division Finals. First place Chicago dispatched Minnesota, while second place St. Louis knocked off Toronto. This time it took the Blackhawks seven games to defeat the Blues.
The two rivals would split the first six games in a see-saw affair, each team winning two at home and one on the road. Game seven at Chicago Stadium turned into a rout as Chicago advanced to the next round with a resounding 8-2 thumping of the Blues. The Blackhawks were in turn defeated by the eventual Cup champion Edmonton Oilers in the Conference Finals.
It was probably very fortunate for both clubs that the Blues and Blackhawks did not meet in the 1991 playoffs. Roughly a month before, the two teams met in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day in what would turn out to be a most memorable night. In that game, two teams fighting for the Presidents' Trophy got into a massive brawl when Blues' defenseman Tony Featherstone shoved the Hawks' star center Jeremy Roenick after his hard hit on Harold Snepsts. Six players on each team were ejected and Blues defenseman Scott Stevens (HHoF 2007) was suspended for two games, while the Hawks' Mike Peluso and the Blues' Kelly Chase were suspended ten games each. It became known as the St. Patrick's Day Massacre and would set the tone for future meetings, both in the regular season and playoffs.