The Chicago Blackhawks have handled the rest of the league with relatively ease. They sit 5th in the Western Conference, with an overall record of 39-15-15, good for 93 points. However, their record against their own division is a losing one, earning just nine wins in 23 divisional games. The Hawks are hoping to improve on that record on Wednesday night, but they will have their work cut out for them. Tonight, Chicago takes on the St. Louis Blues and their unbelievable 20-0-2 divisional record in what many are considering a preview for the Western Conference Finals.
Just looking at the two teams, it is not hard to see the appeal. Both sides have elite players, considered to be at or near the top of their respective positions. Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith is putting up a good argument for winning the second Norris trophy in his young career, while the Blues goaltender Ryan Miller has his sights set on his second Vezina. The forward corps for both teams contains skilled, shifty scorers and strong, physical grinders. Patrick Kane and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews have been a dynamic one-two punch for the Hawks ever since they were drafted only a few years ago. It was that duo that help the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups over the recent years, one in 2010 and another in 2013. The Blues have a strong first line themselves, as the line of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J Oshie have been almost unstoppable throughout the season. The Blues, from the top of their roster to the bottom, have to be considered one of the deepest teams in the NHL.
“Right now, they’re the best team in the league,” said Keith “They’ve got a lot of depth on that team. It seems like they’ve been building that team, the same group of guys for three or four years now, and you know they’re going to be hungry.”
St. Louis has every right to be hungry. They have yet to win the Stanley Cup in their long, 47-year history, being the longest running franchise to hold that distinction. The organization feels that this year could be the year that all changes, as they have made some serious moves to turn a good team into a top contender. The most important move was the move in goal. While former Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak was “good enough”, he cannot hold a candle to what Ryan Miller brings to the ice. Since being acquired a week before the NHL’s trade deadline, Miller has led the Blues to victory in seven of their past eight games, never allowing more than two goals in their wins. The only loss, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, came at the hands an energized team looking to win a game for a teammate who had collapsed on the bench the night before. The Blackhawks know if they are going to get a win on Wednesday night, they will need to find a way to break through the almost impenetrable Miller.
“Hey, find a way,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville “I see our team responding and being excited about this game.”
The Blackhawks will need to respond better than they have since the calendar turned to 2014. Before the new year, Chicago was near the top of the Western Conference, sitting five points ahead of the St. Louis Blues in the standings. However, a lackluster start to the year has left them with a struggling 4-5-1 record over the past 10 games, falling well behind the Blues and leaving many wondering if the Stanley Cup hangover was finally starting to take its toll.
The St. Louis Blues were the first team to reach 100 points in the standings last night and, with a victory tonight, could become the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. They hope that the guaranteed playoff spot will be just the beginning, as the Stanley Cup is their ultimate goal. In their way stands the Chicago Blackhawks, a young team with a lot of experience, looking to bounce back from a disappointing stretch of games. The two divisional rivals face off tonight for a potential WCF matchup, a meeting that is sure to bring all NHL fans to their feet.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis, and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: