Blues’ physical nature could give Blackhawks problems in playoffs
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 19, 2013 11:15PM
St. Louis Blues v Chicago Blackhawks
Updated: May 21, 2013 6:26AM
In the spring of 2000, Joel Quenneville’s St. Louis Blues entered the postseason as the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the league’s top team and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
“Our experience wasn’t very good,” Quenneville said.
Indeed, the Blues were knocked out in the first round by the eighth-seeded Sharks in seven games. The 2006 Red Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy and were bounced in the first round. Just like the 2009 Sharks. And the 2010 Capitals. And the 2012 Canucks.
In fact, only one Presidents’ Trophy winner since the 2002-03 season has won the Stanley Cup (the 2008 Wings). The Hawks haven’t won that seemingly cursed trophy just yet, but with a four-point lead on the Penguins and a game in hand, they have the inside track.
Whether that’s a good thing or not.
“Just look at the playoffs,” Patrick Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter if a team has all kinds of points or if they just snuck into the playoffs. Every matchup is difficult.”
Or as Quenneville put it: “Look at the Western Conference, look at the top eight, you have to think everyone thinks they can win it.”
There are five teams within five points of each other, clustered between sixth place and 10th place. Whoever finishes in eighth will draw the Hawks. With the unnerving recent history of the Presidents’ Trophy in mind, here’s a look at whom the Hawks should be rooting for to finish eighth and who should genuinely scare them.
St. Louis Blues
(6th, 54 points, four games left)
Scare factor (1 the lowest, 10 the highest): 8
Why: The Hawks went 3-0-1 against the Blues this season, but St. Louis could be a nightmare matchup. Brian Elliott has allowed four goals (two to the Hawks) in his last six games, and if Jaroslav Halak returns in time for the playoffs, he gives the Blues two elite goalies. On top of that, the Blues are a very physical team. And while skill tends to beat brute strength, brutality takes its toll during a seven-game series and can have lasting effects on series to come. And one key injury (think Jonathan Toews limping off the ice in St. Louis last week) could greatly alter the Hawks’ postseason trajectory.
(7th, 51 points, four games left)
Scare factor: 4
Why: The Wild is crawling to the finish line, with seven losses in 10 April games. The additions of defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise have made Minnesota better but haven’t transformed the Wild into a contender as the team had hoped this past offseason.
Columbus Blue Jackets
(8th, 49 points, three games left)
Scare factor: 7
Why: Two words: Sergei Bobrovsky. Fear the Bob. The Vezina Trophy candidate has been nothing short of spectacular as the surging Blue Jackets have entered the playoff picture and is the kind of goalie that can steal a series. If the Jackets get in, they’ll be playing free and easy with no expectations, while the Hawks will be shouldering the heaviest of expectations — especially given the last two seasons’ first-round failures. Plus, the Jackets played the Hawks tough all year — four losses, but all by one goal, one in overtime, one in a shootout.
(9th, 47 points, five games left)
Scare factor: 2
Why: The Hawks swept the season series, winning the last two by a combined score of 13-3. The Stars dealt away most of their veteran stars — including Jaromir Jagr and captain Brenden Morrow — and have been a nice story, climbing back into the playoff picture. But they pose little threat.
Detroit Red Wings
(10th, 47 points, five games left)
Scare factor: 4
Why: Corey Crawford (below) owns the Red Wings, with six of the Hawks’ seven straight wins over their longtime rivals. The Hawks swept the season series, albeit with three one-goal games to go along with a 7-1 laugher in Detroit. This would make for great hockey, full of end-to-end action and dazzling play. And it would be a great story line, ending the teams’ conference rivalry (Detroit heads to the East next year) with a bang. But these aren’t your older brother’s Red Wings. Over a seven-game series, they pose a marginal threat at best.