(HockeyStL) -- The St. Louis Blues clinched the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs after beating the complacent Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 on Saturday night.
With only one game remaining in the season, the Blackhawks decided to rest most of its starters with the top-seed and the Presidents’ Trophy locked up ahead of the playoffs, which begin Tuesday.
Chicago sported a lineup that consisted of five players who made their season debut on Saturday, including three players who made their NHL debut. To put it in a better perspective, the Blackhawks’ starting roster combined for only 410 games played this season compared to the Blues’ 775 games (prior to Saturday).
Some of the notable Chicago players rested were Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane.
The Blues took advantage of their inexperienced foes from the start.
The Blues greeted rookie goalie Carter Hutton with an early goal when Patrik Berglund scored off a rebound save on a delayed penalty call. Hutton was able to make the initial save off a shot by Andy McDonald, but the puck bounced to Berglund, who put it away for his 17th goal of the season.
Jaden Schwartz would give St. Louis a two-goal lead late in the first period after scoring at the doorstep of the Chicago net. The initial shot from David Backes trickled off a couple Blackhawks defenders before Schwartz was able to beat a sprawling Hutton for his sixth goal of the season.
Schwartz would get the better of Hutton again in the second period. The Blues took a 3-0 lead when Schwartz was able to slide the puck between the legs of Hutton as he was crashing towards the net. It was the first multi-goal game of his career.
Chicago stuck with their game plan to rest the team’s main starters, including goalie Corey Crawford, after allowing three goals on St. Louis’ first 13 shots of the game.
Midway through the third period, Ben Smith, who appeared in his first game of the season, sent a wrist shot past Brian Elliott for Chicago’s first goal of the game. It was his first goal scored since January 10, 2012 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Elliott stopped 22-of-23 shots en route to his league-best eleventh win of the month and sixth consecutive win at home.
“It was a good month, but we’re looking forward to the next month being even better,” Elliott said.
For the second time in franchise history, the Blues finished back-to-back seasons with a .600 or better point-percentage (2013: .625, 2011-12: .665). The previous occurred during the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons.
More importantly for the Blues, the win over Chicago on Saturday clinched the fourth seed in the playoffs and guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s an exciting time for sure. Spring is in the air, it’s starting to heat up outside and now is when the fun starts,” Alexander Steen said.
The Blues will enter the playoffs as one of the hotter teams in the league after winning 12 of their last 15 games.
The only thing the Blues didn’t know when they skated off the ice was who they would play between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
“We got two really difficult opponents,” Ken Hitchcock said. “We know it’s pretty much (Los Angeles) and San Jose, obviously. Either one is going to be a very difficult matchup for us.”
Hitchcock believes his team will need to do better than they did in April if they plan on making it past the first round.
“We’re in a great frame of mind, but we are going to have to play better,” Hitchcock said. “We’re going to have to play better than we have ever played to beat these two teams.”