ST. LOUIS — Finally, we’re getting ready for Game 1 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues.
That’s the one problem with those few days between the regular season and the start of the playoffs: it just seems like there are too many of them. True, we’re speaking not only as hockey fans, but also as playoff hockey fans. It’s a different game; it’s more dramatic, it’s more fun, it’s livelier and yet it’s tighter. We were reminded of that with Wednesday night’s games, all of which were decided by one goal.
But enough about them: it’s time for a good, old-fashioned physical Blues-Blackhawks series for all the marbles, or at least a first round’s worth of them. So while you get your game-watching plans all set, we look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Game 1 between the Blackhawks and Blues.
1. Start fast and start strong. Oh, we’ve written this so many times we should have it on a save/get key — our old-school media members will know exactly what I mean by that one. We wrote earlier on Thursday how pivotal this Game 1 is for the Blackhawks. The Blues are a little vulnerable right now. They’re still coming off more injuries than the Blackhawks right now. The Blackhawks have to take advantage and tilt the home-ice edge from the Blues, right now.
2. Beware of Backes. Yes, David Backes is coming off a foot injury; he was one of several Blues to miss late regular-season games. Perhaps it affects his game, which is as physical as they come in the NHL. But we’re guessing Backes will be bringing as much of that bruising quality as he can, especially early in this season. The Blackhawks have set up their lines to put some bigger bodies with their stars, especially with Patrick Kane. But they have to be prepared for Backes to hit and hit hard regardless.
3. Second line: find that chemistry again. Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus have played together outside of the postseason, but that’s when the trio really hit its stride in 2013. They all know each other well, be it as former teammates (Sharp and Handzus in Philadelphia) or as countrymen (Handzus and Hossa and their native Slovakia). Handzus had a tough regular season but needs to be the postseason presence he was in 2013.
4. Repeat your last two regular-season games vs. the Blues. Coach Ken Hitchcock talked Thursday about how the Blackhawks hemmed his team in its own zone more in the last two games, both Blackhawks victories. Actually, they were both sizeable Blackhawks victories (4-0 and 4-2). The Blackhawks want to take that blueprint into this series, starting tonight.
5. Our pick to click for tonight is Jonathan Toews. In interviews these past few days, you could see in the captain’s eyes that he’s ready for this. He’s feeling good, he’s gotten some rest and we think it shows in Game 1.