Blackhawks shouldn't take slumping Blues lightly in first round

Blackhawks shouldn't take slumping Blues lightly in first round
April 13, 2014, 7:00 pm

The St. Louis Blues exited the Scottrade Center ice in disappointment again on Sunday afternoon, their sixth consecutive loss guaranteeing they’ll host the Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL playoffs this coming week.

Here in Chicago, there was almost a little bit of a smile at the thought of the matchup, at least in the Twitter-verse.

“Hey! The Blues are beat up!”

“Hey! The Blues are crashing and burning!”

Hey, tap the brakes. Even if they’re hurt and even if they’re struggling, the Blues are still the Blues. And the Blackhawks would be wise not to take them lightly.

[MORE: Blackhawks will face Blues in first round of playoffs]

Yes, this current installment of St. Louis is not the same team the Blackhawks saw earlier in the season, when the Blues won the first three matchups. The Blues looked unstoppable at that point, picking off opponents at will with a blend of goaltending — yes, their goaltending was just fine before Ryan Miller was acquired, thank you very much — defense and great offense. Everything was clicking, and everything was working. The Blackhawks found that out the hard way.

But the regular-season slump that usually hits every team every season hit the Blues at the worst possible time. It certainly didn’t help that they suffered many key injuries. They lost several players down the stretch, and when they lost to Detroit on Sunday they were minus Brenden Morrow, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Barret Jackman, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko. That’s a pretty good chunk of talent absent, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that, outside of Morrow, Tarasenko and Berglund, the other injured parties will be ready for Game 1.

With that first game not happening until Thursday, the Blues will get a chance to catch their breath.

“This break will do us really a lot of good,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis media on Sunday. “We can get re-energized, refocused and come back and get ready to play. We might need more rest than work to get back focused again. Our work-based part of our practices will be minimal now, but we’ll still have a lot different lineup than what played (on Sunday).”

[RELATED: Marian Hossa feeling motivated as Blackhawks enter playoffs]

Can the Blackhawks eliminate the Blues? Of course they can. You have to be careful to put too much into a regular-season series between two teams, but there’s no doubt the Blackhawks gained confidence beating the Blues in March and April. They played the right way, rolled all four lines and, unlike a few of those earlier games, didn’t give up their lead. This is also the Blackhawks’ time of year. Everyone in that room has experience on this stage and every up, down, unfortunate hop and lucky bounce that comes with it.

This series promises to be tremendous. The history is there; so is the hatred. Despite the Blues’ late-season struggles, the Blackhawks know they’ll have a fight on their hands.

Hey, don’t think it’s going to be a cakewalk. It won’t be.