Blues earn early playoff matchup with Blackhawks -

Blues earn early playoff matchup with Blackhawks

(HockeySTL)-- It wasn’t the finish to the regular-season that the Blues wanted, but dwelling is not an option. When the players step back from the disappointment and look at the big picture, they will realize what they have accomplished this season. Furthermore, they will look at the regular-season as an indicator of how high the ceiling for success is.

The Blues finished their regular-season on Sunday afternoon, dropping their sixth straight game, and losing the Central Division title to Colorado. The Blues were essentially three points from earning the title for the second time in three years and facing the Minnesota Wild in postseason play. Instead, the Blues finished with a 52-23-7 record, 111 points, and will face the “big, bad” Chicago Blackhawks in the opening series of the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, the Blues were still the favorites to claim the NHL’s top overall spot, and the Central Division was as good as won.  But a 5-9 run brought the Blues’ momentum to a screeching halt, and left them holding the third spot in the Western Conference, instead of the first. It was a surprise to many, including their first-round opponents.

“I don’t think either team anticipated this, and I don’t think either team really loves playing each other, which should make for a hell of a series,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Blues faced the Blackhawks five times in the regular season, winning the first three matchups and falling in the final two. The series between the two teams will start on Thursday, and will begin at Scottrade Center. The Blues will have the home-ice advantage, in a place where they beat Chicago twice this season. However, the Blues played Sunday’s game without seven of their top forwards. A few are expected back by Thursday, but the lineup is unlikely to be 100-percent recovered by then.

St. Louis is also a team that is struggling to put the biscuit in the basket, scoring two or fewer goals in 12 of their last 14 games. Healthy or not, the team will face adversity early. Either way, it is expected to be a series filled with excitement.

The Blues and Blackhawks have met 10 previous times in the playoffs, but it has been more than a decade since the most recent.

The last time these two teams met in postseason play was in 2002.  The Blues won that series thanks to the help of goaltender Brent Johnson, who stood on his head throughout the round. Overall, Chicago has won seven of the ten playoff series.

The Blackhawks and Blues do, however, meet quite frequently in the regular-season, which always leads to a hard-fought battle and lots of drama. This time, that drama is likely to carry over to the playoff matchup.

"It's going to be fun," said Blues forward Alexander Steen. "We have had a lot of great battles with these guys."

As defending Champions, Chicago is widely seen as the team to beat in this year’s postseason. The Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups in the past four seasons. The Blues aren’t scared, but they do respect the talent of the Blackhawks.

“For us, we need to get back to living in the fear of Chicago and their skill level. They will get our attention right away,” said Hitchcock.

The Blues will have Monday off, and then will get to work preparing for the playoffs. Hitchcock indicated that his club will focus on resting; but the key element will be forgetting what has transpired over the last two weeks.

“The one difference the last ten days has made for us, the only difference, is that we have to adjust our schedule,” Hitchcock said. “We may need more rest than work to get back focused again. That part is what it is.

“From our standpoint, we red-lined for most of the year. But we ran out of gas. It’s not the players’ fault. It’s the scheduling, the Olympics, and we ran out of gas. This gives us a chance to re-tool ourselves, re-focus and get some rest.”

Blues goaltender Ryan Miller will be appearing in his first postseason in four seasons. The goaltender has hit a bit of a rough patch of late, but says he, and the club, are ready for the challenge.

“Everybody starts with zeroes,” said Miller. “We just kind of regroup and remind ourselves what we do well.”

Steen agreed:

"This is what we have been going for the whole season; it's an exciting time."

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