Given the circumstances, the St. Louis Blues put up one heck of a fight against the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the 2014 NHL playoffs. Sadly, as if fans in St. Louis needed a second go around with it, the Blues suffered the worst- and yet, still astonishing- kind of déjà vu from a year ago, losing four straight games to lose the series. The Blackhawks will move on to the second round, where they will await the winner of the Colorado Avalanche/Minnesota Wild series.
When it was said that the Blues suffered the worst kind of déjà vu from last year’s playoffs, there was no exaggeration. As if the first round of the 2014 playoffs were almost mirrored by the first round of the 2013 playoffs, both of the six game series’ followed the exact same pattern and storylines. For example: In Game One, Alexander Steen notched the game winning goal in overtime in both series openers; in Game Two of both, Barrett Jackman sealed the deal for the Blues and got the game-winning goal, putting the Blues up two games-to-none; Game Three began the downward spiral of both opening rounds, as St. Louis was shut out by the Kings and Blackhawks; in Game Four, the Blues led both the Kings and Blackhawks by a score of 3-2 in the third period before ultimately losing by an exact score of 4-3; in both of their Game Fives, the Blues lost in overtime by a score of 3-2; and finally, in the final Game Six of both series, the St. Louis offense was shut down, scoring just one goal in both losses.
Chicago fans were happy to see the Blues trend continue from a year ago, as they became the first team in this year’s post-season to comeback from two games down- and they may not be the last. The Blackhawks did not have an easy road to the second round. After having four of their six games go into overtime (including a Game One triple overtime battle), the Blackhawks can only pray that the Avs/Wild series goes to a Game Seven so they can have a little bit of rest after playing nearly an additional two extra games.
Where Do They Go From Here
The Blackhawks will move on to face the winner of the spirited and exciting Avalanche/Wild series. If the Blackhawks go on to play the:
This series would be a first round series rematch from a year ago. The Blackhawks won that series 4-1. However, this season series has gone a little differently, as the Wild won the series 3-2. This series saw a ton of goals scored from both teams, as they averaged nearly six goals scored combined per game. The Blackhawks should be worried if the Wild win because they will be a team playing with supreme confidence after just beating (possibly back-to-back in Games Six and Seven) a Vezina Trophy finalist in Semyon Varlamov and a team that is potentially more offensively explosive than even the powerful Hawks.
If Chicago fans think the firepower of a potential matchup between the Hawks and Wild is amazing, then they should prepare to have their minds-blown as this potential matchup will pin the league’s number one (Blackhawks) and number four (Avalanche) scoring teams against each other. The Avalanche won the season series 4-1 that saw a combined average of just more than six goals scored per game. If the Avalanche win, the Hawks will need to put a couple fires out as two players in particular for the Avs are absolutely red-hot. For the Avs, rookie Nathan MacKinnon is in beast-mode right now, racking up ten points in just five playoff games. Also, center Paul Stastny is proving to be a veteran presence for the young Avs in the lockerroom and on the ice, scoring three goals and totaling eight points in five games. If the Blackhawks stand a chance, they will need to find some quick answers for these two players.
Keys to Victory:
The talent and depth of the Chicago Blackhawks proved to be too much for the injury-laden St. Louis Blues, as the Hawks were able to attack line-after-line-after-line, eventually outlasting the Blues in a series that went into overtime four times. Chicago will need this depth and production from their third and fourth liners to continue if they want to advance to the Western Conference Finals again. Jonathan Toews may not need to score three game winning goals like he did in the first round, but his need- along with fellow star Patrick Kane- to remain healthy and to be able to lead his team on the ice will be something the Hawks cannot live without moving into the second round. The Hawks captain could face two of the best- and hottest- captains in the league in this next series: Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild and Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche.
No matter who the defending Stanley Cup Champions will play, the Avs or Wild will have their hands full with a Hawks team that is finally all healthy and clicking on all cylinders.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles