NHL Playoffs 2014: Round 1 Preview – St Louis Blues vs Chicago Blackhawks

Ice Nation UK’s playoff coverage continues with this almighty clash of Central Division Stanley Cup contenders, the St Louis Blues looking to off defending champions Chicago.

SERIES BEGINS: Wednesday 16th April

PUCK DROP: 19:00 CT (20.00 ET/0100 GMT)

BY THE NUMBERS

ST LOUIS CHICAGO
SEASON RECORD 52-23-7 46-21-15
POINTS 111 107
GOALS FOR/AGAINST 

(DIFFERENTIAL)

248 / 191

(+57)

267 / 220

(+47)

LAST 10 GAMES 3-7-0 5-5-0
TOP POINT SCORER

 

62 PTS

(A. STEEN)

78 PTS

(P. SHARP)

TOP GOAL SCORER

 

33 G

(A. STEEN)

34 G

(P. SHARP)

MOST TOI/G

 

25:21

(A. PIETRANGELO)

24:38

(D. KEITH)

TOTAL 5v5 SV%

 

92.2%

(18th in NHL)

91.5%

(24th in NHL)

ST LOUIS BLUES SEASON LOWDOWN:

The Blues came thundering out of the gate this year, finally appearing to live up to the pre-season hype that (once again) had them as serious contenders. They were their usual defensively-sound, difficult to play against selves, backed up by excellent numbers from goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

However, unlike St Louis teams of years gone by, they were also scoring a lot of goals. Alex Steen‘s insane (and unsustainable) SH% helped to turn an already formidable Blues team into a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut.

Then the year turned and things started to unravel slightly. Steen was injured and has not reached his former scoring heights since his return (he’s still a fine Hockey player: that shooting percentage was a freak). Jaro Halak was discarded in favour of Ryan Miller; brought in, along with Steve Ott, from Buffalo. Things were fine for a while, but then injuries began to happen (Backes, Oshie, Tarasenko) and the goals dried up.

The Blues’ final month has been an unrelenting nightmare that saw them shut out three times in six games and their seeming stranglehold on the Central Division, Western Conference and President’s Trophy just slipped away. The Avalanche, Ducks and Bruins passed them by and they are eyeing up a series against the reigning Champions that promises to be a no-holds-barred beast of a matchup.

ST LOUIS BLUES PLAYER TO WATCH:

Ryan Miller is an excellent goaltender and capable of stealing games on his own, let alone with St Louis’ defense in front of him. However, there have always been questions about his temperament under pressure. Faced with the offensive capabilities of the Hawks, he’s going to need to find his form, and quickly. If Brian Elliott ends up coming in, then things are going badly awry in Missouri.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS SEASON LOWDOWN:

The Hawks seemed to shrug off the idea of a Cup Hangover by getting off to a sharp start that saw them sitting atop the standings for most of the first couple of months of the season. Things began to unravel slightly when injuries put Corey Crawford, Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa on the shelf for a while.

After the Olympics (to which they sent ten players) things have been strangely up & down: the Hawks pulled out great performances against the top-echelon of the league, but tended to lose games to the likes of Nashville, Philadelphia and Ottawa.

The lack of a true 2nd line center has really appeared to sting, with Patrick Kane‘s scoring drying up, due to a dearth of quality on his line, and subsequent injuries to himself and Jonathan Toews leaving the Hawks disinterested for most of the last month of the year, comfortable in 3rd place in the Division.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS PLAYER TO WATCH:

Patrick Sharp is having a career-year on the quiet, scoring goals for fun and blossoming in a leadership role (along with Marian Hossa) while Toews & Kane have been out. I’m one of those Hawks fans who believed that he should have been the Conn Smythe winner last year. If he continues his current form into the Post-Season this year, expect more of the same.

PREDICTION:

I think this is going to be the pick of the 1st Round, whatever Californians might say. These are two evenly-matched teams who absolutely loathe each other. I read very little into the Reg. Season series (two SO wins for the Blues, one game decided with a STL goal in the last 20 seconds and two blowouts in favour of the Hawks.) I would not be surprised if this one goes the distance.

However, trying to be objective, I think the Hawks are the superior team and that will show. There are also doubts, as ever, about the Blues’ ability to deal with pressure (their 120 PIM fiasco with the Avs and Steve Ott taking a Game Misconduct with an already shortened bench against Minnesota spring to mind). But, to be honest, no result would really surprise me.

I’ll say Hawks in six.

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF ICE NATION UK’S NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEWS.

Follow Michael on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk throughout the playoffs!

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