Welcome back! It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years last June. Just think, they were thisclose to winning three championships in a row and now defending for a fourth. Alas, the Blackhawks have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since 1998 and repeat as champions, a feat that would cement their status as the team of the decade.
So much has happened since last June. First, there was the shitstorm that surrounded Patrick Kane last summer. I’m not gonna get into it here and, honestly, I wish that we could all just shut up about it. Then, the Blackhawks got off to a decent enough start to the season, overcoming a stint on injured reserve by last season’s playoff MVP Duncan Keith, until a 12-gamer to start 2016 put them in first place in the conference by mid-January.
The Blackhawks seemed to run out of gas at that point, sputtering on fumes before the all-star break. After coming out of the break looking refreshed, Marian Hossa suffered a knee injury and the Hawks went into hibernation mode. They tend to do this every season as they assimilate new players from the trade deadline into the lineup and get ready for the playoffs.
April came and it looked like the Blackhawks woke up as the playoffs got closer. They seem to turn the GAF-meter back up around the same time every year. That momentum slowed with a suspension for Keith and injuries to several regulars in the lineup, but once Keith comes back in Game 2 of this series the Hawks should be firing on all cylinders.
That brings us to this opening round series against the hated St. Louis Blues. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the entire city of St. Louis can eat my shorts. Ryan Reaves eats garbage and their captain David Backes plays with an intent to injure. They also employ serial nose-picker Steve Ott, and their coach Ted Hitchcock looks like Paul Bearer from the old WWF.
Despite having plenty to hate about them, the Blues also have plenty of talent. Vladimir Tarasenko is a threat to score every time he is on the ice. Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz provide more scoring punch while St. Louis maintains solid depth at center, defense, and in goal. Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester are solid veteran d-men who should be able to stand the heat of playoff hockey.
Where the Blackhawks hopefully have an advantage on the ice in this series is in net. Corey Crawford is a two-time champ while Blues goalie Brian Elliott is getting his first crack at playoff hockey. I said hopefully because Crawford has only played one game in the past month due to a supposed head injury and could show some rust while Elliott had a hot run through the second half of the season.
The Blackhawks should also have an advantage between their ears with coach Joel Quenneville playing the matchup game against Hitchcock, who is coaching for his job. The Hawks are battle tested and have every reason to believe they can win another championship while the Blues are trying to make it out of the first round following three consecutive first round exits.
St. Louis might be vulnerable to a meltdown if things don’t go their way through the first two games of this series, but don’t expect the Blackhawks to go for the knockout early. They tend to play conservative through the first four games of a series while trying to figure their opponent out, and with Keith missing Game 1, I predict the Hawks in 7.