We all knew this was going to happen. We could pray to the gods, sacrifice what ever was needed, even sabotage a team bus if we felt so inclined but it was still going to happen. The St. Louis Blues will play the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to start the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night.
Fans will be drowning their fears from two years ago in barrels of St. Louis' finest and hoping against hope we don't have a repeat of last year as well.
As for me, I am completely optimistic as to what this series will bring for us. Not only will it allow us to excorcise demons from the last few years but it will also give us the confidence and experience to advance to the teams first Finals trip since 1970. Are you crazy you may ask? No, I have just seen what this team has done this year and feel like there is something different this year as opposed to previous seasons.
The reasons why I am so confident can be traced to 3 factors; one is the way the season series played out, the second takes us back to a dark time in the Blues minds (the playoffs), and finally the main players who will affect this series.
The Blues and Hawks met 5 times this season and all five games were must watch affairs. The fact that these games were so intense and close bodes well for the Blues because it shows that this team can compete with Chicago no matter the circumstances. Start with the very first match-up this year in Chicago, what we have loving dubbed the Roar Bacon game; due to a mistype by our lovely Blues social media team.
The game started off as a back and forth affair with the two teams trading goals before Chicago blew up for a 5-2 lead after the first period. Fans switched off the game in droves because it was a nationally televised game and no one wants to hear their team bashed by East Coast talking heads. But something funny happened, the Blues didn't turn tail like they normally would have and stormed back to tie the game late in the third period before Vladimir Tarasenko ended it in overtime.
Yes it was early in the season but for a team like the Blues to show the resiliency to button it down after dropping behind by so much shows a significant growth in leadership and maturity. It also shows us that we can win in Chicago which is what cost us in years previously, but we get to that later.
Unfortunately, the next two games would be losses for the Blues but they still provide a glimpse as to what this team is all about. After the 4-2 loss mid November the Blues didn't get down on themselves like in years past. While they didn't go on a significant win streak, they did manage to collect points in 6 of their next 7 games to maintain pace in the Central instead of going into a tailspin.
After getting shutout in January the Blues went on a 7-3 run, scoring 27 goals during that streak. This team that lacked secondary goal scoring seemed to find it this year even among all of the injuries that plagued our star players this year. Our one constant was Tarasenko but players like Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko picked the team up when it was down never letting the team go to long between wins.
The Blues would wrap up the season series with back to back thrilling victories against Chicago, 3-2 in a shoot-out and a 2-1 OT come from behind victory, i.e. Roar Bacon Again game.
So when it comes down to it, the Blues took 3 of 5 from Chicago including winning two big time games in Chicago when they really shouldn't have. Obviously the playoff atmosphere will be a lot different than regular season games but just knowing that they can win in that building means a whole heck of a lot.
Now lets take an acid trip back down "memory" lane, the 2014 Playoffs
2014 Playoff Matchup
The Blues were riding high entering the playoffs this year, confident that they could beat the big bad Blackhawks. After two games a lot of people were beginning to believe that as well.
Game 1 was an intense affair with the scoring going back and forth. Adam Cracknell opened the scoring before Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrook responded. Tarasenko knotted things up late in the first and Blues fans were content with a tie score but Jonathon Toews had other ideas, netting an even later goal to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.
The Blues would find trouble getting anything past Corey Crawford the rest of the game until Jaden Schwartz tied the game with just under two minutes to go. Two overtimes later and this game was becoming an epic duel that stretched late into the night. Thankfully Alex Steen ended things with a wonderful triple overtime winner sending fans into a frenzy.
Two days later an unsung Blues hero would complete another furious comeback. After opening up a 2-0 lead the Blues would surrender the next three goals to fall behind in the third with two big games in Chicago looming. Once again a young gun would provide late second heroics when Tarasenko fired the puck past Crawford. Than in overtime, Barret Jackman of all players would score the game winning goal off a face off win in the Hawks zone. Unfortunately it would be the last time Blues fans would celebrate a Blues win.
The series seemed to turn earlier in Game 2 when David Backes was destroyed behind the Hawks net. It seemed to change the complexion of the series and even though the Blues won the game this series didn't seem the same. The Blues turned into a shell of what they were and the Hawks took advantage.
For the second time in two years, the Blues would blow a 2-0 lead by losing four straight games and being bounced. Game 3 was an unreal game for goalies Corey Crawford and Ryan Miller. Jonathon Toews would put the Hawks up early in the first and than the goalies put on clinics keeping it an intense battle for the next 55 minutes. But the Blues just couldn't get that goal to tie it up.
Game 4 was in the Blues hands to win as they held a late third period lead but when Brian Bickell tied it up you just knew the game was over. Patrick Kane would score the OT game winner and just like that this series was tied 2-2 but it didn't feel like it was tied.
Game 5 was the Blues chance to get the series turned back around and the script was playing out just like the previous two games at home. The Blues were down entering the third, a timely goal ties the game up and low and behold we go to overtime again. This time the Hawks got the break and it turned into a breakaway. Duncan Keith's zone-clearing attempt found Toews off the bench and allowed him to just walk in on Ryan Miller to put Chicago up 3 games to 2.
Game 6 seemed to not even exist to the Blues, its like losing game 5 was the series ender for them. TJ Oshie would score and the Blues would be tied heading to the 3rd period but the zip and the energy just wasn't there and the floodgates opened in the third. The Hawks would score 4 straight goals and end the Blues season with a whimper.
I hate bringing up such a painful recent memory, but it serves to remind us how far this team has come. The immaturity of two years ago coupled with the lack of caring last year has given way to a renewed effort from most of the same guys. Your not going to see the same utter lack of caring or stupid plays from this years team and seeing that they learned lessons from the last two years is a positive sign heading into this years playoff match-up.
Also helping is the talent leading this group of Blues.
We start with the Man in St. Louis, Vladimir Tarasenko. Not only did he set career highs in goals (40) and points (74), he also stepped up in the big games against Chicago. In the five games this year Vlad netted 5 goals and had 2 assists against the Hawks. Two of those goals were overtime winners in Chicago so he isn't afraid to score in the opponents building.
Thankfully Tarasenko isn't the only scoring threat we have this year. Alex Steen saw success against Chicago this year, in four games Steen had two goals and two assists. While Steen has produced in the playoffs, this will be the first year he hasn't been the one to be relied on which may take some pressure off of him, opening his game up even more.
How about Robby Fabbri? 18 goals and 19 assists for the rookie despite playing third line minutes and little overtime. He may not be as prolific as the Hawks rookie Panarin, Fabbri was just the right guy to salve the Blues wounds when stars like Steen and Schwartz were out of the lineup. His maturity is not going to be questioned when the playoffs roll around and he should be a force to be reckoned with this year.
Finally we can't talk top players without mentioning Brian Elliott. Not only has he continued his steady play in net for his Blues career, he has also fought threw injury and some pretty crappy stretches of play. His 2.07 GAA was second in the league this year and his ..930 save percentage is tops in the league. While his career win/loss record against Chicago isn't great, his GAA and Save percentage show that he kept his team in it until the end.
With Hitchcock finally naming him the starter for game 1, Elliott gets his chance to show the country what we have known all year, this guy is damn good. The Blues will be in every game this postseason because of Elliott and the defense. He will have his hands full with Kane, Towes, Panarin, and Marian Hossa among others but he has shown this year that it doesn't matter who is shooting at him, he will stop it.
The Blues are able to roll out multiple scoring lines this year which is not something they could say even as soon as last season. Adding Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak only boosts this teams veteran leadership and gives them even more playoff experience which is something we have lacked in previous years.
So when can we expect to see us dominate the Hawks?
Game 1 is Wednesday at 8:30 pm in St. Louis
Game 2 is Friday at 7 pm in St. Louis
Game 3 is Sunday at 2 pm in Chicago
Game 4 is Tie 4/19 at 8:30 pm in Chicago
Game 5 and 7 are back home in St. Louis while Game 6 is in Chicago, all to be determined and if necessary.
Well I am Mr. Optimist so I am totally going to be picking the Blues. With Duncan Keith out Game 1 it sets up for us to really put forth our best effort and force our game down their throats. If we can blowout them in game 1 it may set a tone that Chicago can't recover from. I still think this series goes 6 games with the Blues exacting redemption with a 4-2 series win.
Tell me what you think and look for our counter argument tomorrow.