The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t have to wait too long on Sunday to have their travel plans determined. The struggling St. Louis Blues helped figure all that out by the afternoon.
The Blackhawks will face the Blues in the first round of the NHL playoffs later this week after the Blues lost their regular-season finale to the Detroit Red Wings, 3-0. The Colorado Avalanche claim the Central Division title before their Sunday night game against the Anaheim Ducks.
The game schedule has yet to be announced but the two teams could not start before Thursday; a concert is scheduled at Scottrade Center on Wednesday.
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Blues. Between their season-ending, six-game losing streak and the Avs going 8-1-1 over their last 10 games, the Blues’ once sizeable lead in the Central disappeared. It didn’t help they were decimated by injuries. As they closed out the regular season on Sunday, the Blues were without Brenden Morrow, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Barret Jackman, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, all but Morrow, Tarasenko and Berglund are expected to be ready for Game 1.
The Blackhawks will be looking to see how their own injured parties respond when the playoffs commence. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were held out the rest of the regular season with their respective injuries; Kane has been skating for more than a week while Toews returned to skating on Thursday. Asked on Sunday if both would be ready for Game 1 this week, coach Joel Quenneville said, “absolutely.”
The Blues had the edge over the Blackhawks through the first part of the season, winning their first three matchups. The Blackhawks won the last two games, shutting out St. Louis 4-0 on March 19 and beating the Blues 4-2 on April 6. The Blackhawks were without Kane for most of the first victory and minus Kane and Toews for the second.
But regardless of the Blues’ injury situation or late-season swoon, the Blackhawks shouldn’t be taking them lightly.
“The Blues have had an outstanding season,” coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday. “They play a hard game, they play tight, they work hard and they don’t give you any space.”