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Blackhawks Vs Blues Playoff Preview Blog: Chicago Isn't Defending Anything

Last week, when I just thought of the playoffs I got a little tinge of emotion. There’s nothing better than that big game feeling and the NHL does it better than anyone. There’s fear, anticipation, nerves, excitement, and anxiety. I listen to “Stranglehold” on repeat, can’t focus on anything else all day, my butt is constantly clenched and…it’s magnificent. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now, after 82 games of preamble, the Blackhawks are set to chase down another Stanley Cup. That’s what this is. The Blackhawks aren’t defending a title. Nobody ever successfully defended anything. There is only attack, attach, and attack some more. That’s not me talking. That’s General George Patton. So buckle up, get ready for late nights, and nerves that make you feel like you’re going to puke. The Playoffs are back and this time the Hawks are starting with their biggest rival.

I’m glad it’s St. Louis. Not because it will be an easy series or because it’s a good matchup. It’s not, the Blues are a really good team. I’m ready to let the hate flow through me. The type of hate that only playoff hockey can bring. The Hawks and Blues already hate each other a playoff series is just throwing a nuke on a bonfire. St. Louis sucks. Worst city in the Midwest. We’ll let Nelly do a little scouting on his home city. Here’s lyrics from “St. Louie”:

I’m from the home of Red Fox, Ced The Entertainer, jetting off with Brian Cox?

Yo, Nelly…that’s your best crew? An old sitcom dead guy, some short fat Steve Harvey wannabe, and a retired above average linebacker from the 90s? That’s the weakest list I’ve ever seen. Nelly went on to reference some stupid bridge and the Plaza of Chesterfield which I would guess is a strip mall with a Burlington Coat Factory and a TGI Fridays. Nelly didn’t even mention that stupid fucking arch. Even he knows that thing is stupid. Gateway to the West. AKA that place everyone stopped on their way to somewhere better. That’s what the Hawks are doing too. A temporary stop on their way to something bigger and better.

The Basics

Schedule

Blackhawks blues schedule

Regular Season Results(not that it matters)

Blackhawks blues matchup

Blues Lineup

Blues Lineup

Forwards:

I’ve seen people describe the Blues forward group as “deep” and “balanced”, but I just don’t see it. This looks like the same old Blues to me. St Louis finished 15th in the NHL in scoring. Right in that meaty part of the curve. Some of that lack of offensive punch can be blamed on injuries. Steen, Schwartz, Statsny, Berglund, and Fabbri all missed significant time this year. The Blues were so desperate for bodies that Scott Gomez and Marty Havlat actually dressed in regular season games…in 2016..think about that. This is supposedly the healthiest the Blues have been all year, but David Backes is still recovering from an injury that caused him to miss time down the stretch. The “STL” line of Steen-Lehtera-Tarasenko is a legit top unit, but they are going to see a ton of Hjalmarsson, Keith, Toews, and Hossa. If the Hawks can keep the STL line neutralized, then the Blues are going to need to find scoring elsewhere and I just don’t think they have it. Statsny, Fabbri, Berglund, Backes, and Jaden Schwartz are all really nice players, but they aren’t type to blow a game open.

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You could say that similar things about the Blackhawks this year. They too have largely been a one line team. Panarin-Anisimov-Kane has carried the load for the Hawks this year. Last year in the playoffs the Blackhawks had Sharp and Antoine Vermette playing on the 3rd line. This year, its looking like Mashinter-Turbo-Fleischmann. Pretty significant drop off on paper. Toews and Hossa have each had down years offensively as well.

The difference between the two is

1) I think the Blackhawks have several matchups that can neutralize the STL line and it would take a Space Jam alien powers situation to slow down Kane for an entire series. If Hitchcock wants to get Tarasenko away from Toews line then Coach Q can throw Kruger out there to shut them down. If Hitchcock wants to go best on best and have Tarasenko’s line against Kane….good luck.

2) When it comes to secondary scoring, it’s more likely that Toews and Hossa will find their games and do what they always do than Backes and co doing something they’ve never really done. Fleischmann and Teravainen have been really good down the stretch and are capable of finishing the rare chances that happen in the playoffs. Again, that’s something the Blues have always stuggled with in the postseason.

Defense:

Niklas+Hjalmarsson+Valdimir+Tarasenko+St+Louis+DO-g6l7Zk90l

The Blues are really good on the blueline. This is one of the deepest defense corps in the NHL. Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester are a top shut down line that can control the puck and the tempo. Colton Parayko has been a revelation for the Blues. The 6’6″ rookie signed out of Alaska-Fairbanks was so good this year that the Blues were rumored to be shopping Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline because…who needs him. This is the strength of the Blues team. St Louis also trusts their 3rd pair of Gunnerson and Edmundson. The 3rd pair got over 15 mins per game during the regular season and the minutes are fairly evenly distributed among all 6 defense.

The Blackhawks have struggled to fill out their bottom pair all season. It’s been a revolving door with Daley and Rob Scuderi getting trading midseason, rookies Viktor Svedberg and Erik Gustaffson have gotten their chances along with veteran Christian Ehrhoff. The Blackhawks have recalled David Rundblad for the playoffs. No stone left unturned I guess. One of those guys will fill out the bottom pair along with Michael Rozsival, who has actually been pretty solid this year. The Blackhawks as always will lean on Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook. As good as Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, and Shattenkirk are, they still aren’t as good as the Hawks’ best three. TVR is sliding into the 4th D spot vacated by Oduya. It’ll be trial by fire for TVR. He can handle it. I’m tired of defending him to be honest. I’ve done that several times this year. He’s a good player. Makes a good first pass out of the zone, picks his spots well to jump in the play, seldom gets caught out of position, he has a good stick, and gap control is always near perfect. He was just the guy that drew the short straw in terms of internet coverage this year because he’s new and because his metrics aren’t great. There’s a reason the team loves him though. My one criticism of TVR is that he doesn’t play with much bite, which is something I think you need in the playoffs as a top four D. And…I wish he played a little heavier in front of the net. Take this play against the Bruins for example.

Inexcusable. Can’t let Marchand beat him to the front of the net there and get a stick on the puck. The Blues aren’t shy about going to the net and TVR will need to muscle up and have a better stick in those spots.

Similar to the forward group, the Blues have a slight edge in depth, but would anyone in their right mind pick against Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook? No. As long as the Hawks are healthy on the back end they have enough to get it done.

 

Goalies

Normally, this would be a slam dunk for the Blackhawks, but Crawford is a major question mark because of his health. If he finds the game he had for the majority of the year then the Hawks should be set. If not, then the Hawks could be in trouble in this series. It’ll be interesting to see how long the Hawks give Crawford to prove himself. Darling showed he was capable in the first round last year, but the Hawks will need Crawford at his best to win the Cup again.

Brian Elliot is the guy this year because Jake Allen is out with an injury. I’ve always felt bad for Elliot. He’s been a good goalie for a long time and the Blues are always trying to replace him. First it was Jaro Halak, then they made the trade for Ryan Miller, then they gave the reins to Jake Allen. Now Elliott gets his chance in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Like I said, Elliot is a good goalie, but everyone knows the book on him. You can fire pucks by his glove all day long. Last time I checked, the Hawks have a few guys that can do that. As seen here

and here

and here

The Hawks attack East-West better than any team in the league. They’re going to be changing the angle on Elliot constantly and making his life hell. The Hawks have capable scorers on every line and should be able to challenge Elliot in all kinds of ways.

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Again, the goalie matchup will likely be decided by how ready Crawford is after missing significant time down the stretch. If Crawford is 100% this is a major advantage for the Blackhawks.

 

Special Teams:

Blackhawks PP: 22.6%(2nd in NHL)

Blues PK: 85% (2nd in NHL)

Blackhawks PK: 80.3%(22nd)

Blues PP: 21.5%(6th)

 

Special teams are always under a microscope in the playoffs because it’s so hard to score 5 on 5. The Blues special teams have been really good this year, while the Blackhawks struggled on the PK for the majority of the year. Down the stretch(aka, once Kruger came back) the Hawks PK was much improved. The major difference here could just be discipline. The Blues had the 6th most minor penalties in the NHL while the Blackhawks were 28th. A for a team to have the puck as much as the Blues do and still be near the top of the league in minor penalties is a big red flag. Minor penalties are called less during the playoffs, but if the Blues could be in trouble if this trend from the regular season holds true.

Coaching

Ken Hitchcock and Joel Quenneville are two of the very best coaches in the game. Both have won the Cup. Coach Q is obviously a Hall of Famer, and Hitchcock will have a really good argument for the Hall of Fame as well when he’s done. They are very different stylistically though. Coach Q is more of a player’s coach, and Ken Hitchcock is more of a drill sergeant. Hitchcock is similar to Thibs. He drives the guys to win every game. He has his team ready to go for all 82 games. Then when the playoffs come around and the contenders raise their game…the Blues have nowhere to go. They’ve been playing full go all year. If I had to point my finger at one reason why the Blues always struggle in the postseason, it’s that. They are either worn down from the regular season, or they just can’t play any better in April than they did in March. Hitch is great, but his approach may work against his team in the playoffs. Maybe this year will be different because the Blues lost so many games to injury this year, but I would be surprised if they made a deep playoff run. Both coaches like to chase matchups, so the chess game should be interesting to match. I think Coach Q has more options and probably a more fresh team.

 

Final Analysis:

I think this is probably going to be the best series of the first round. These teams mirror each other in a lot of ways and they know each other inside and out. In the end, the Blackhawks are just slightly better at all aspects of the game. Pietrangelo is great, Keith is just a little better. Tarasenko is electric, but he isn’t Patrick Kane. Backes is an ox, but Toews can do everything. If the Blues don’t win Game 1, then they are in BIG trouble and I think a little doubt will creep into their brains and they’ll squeeze their sticks. The Hawks have the talent, the coaching, and they know they can win. It all comes down to Crawford, but if he’s close to 100% I have a hard time envisioning the Blues knocking the Hawks off.

Hawks in 6.