What a difference a week makes.
When the Chicago Blackhawks returned home last Sunday, they were trailing the St. Louis Blues 0-2 and frustrated by last-second losses. One week later, they’re up 3-2 in the first-round series with a chance to close it out at the United Center.
Welcome to playoff hockey, and all it’s fun, crazy, intense, unpredictable glory.
The Blackhawks have been good in these close-them-out games through the past few seasons. But they’ll be facing a desperate, angry Blues team that will be pulling out all the stops to extend this series.
[MORE: Blackhawks look to close out series on home ice]
So buckle up, folks, because it promises to be another day of thrilling hockey. And while you file down the fingernails you’ll be biting throughout the afternoon, we look at the Five Things to watch for in today’s Blues-Blackhawks game.
1. Get to Ryan Miller early. The Blues’ goaltender has to be feeling the ultimate pressure this afternoon. He was acquired to get the Blues over the top, to get them into the playoff promised land. The Blues will need him to be at his best to keep this series going. In turn, the Blackhawks need to attack him early and often. If they get to him and get in his head early, the Blackhawks should close out this series.
2. Play your game. We’re going to keep saying this until we’re blue in the face, and then we’re going to keep on saying it. The Blues will probably be coming with an even more physical attack today. It’s hard to imagine that, given the amount of hits they had last game (54-17 in Blues’ favor), but expect it anyway. The Blackhawks have been aggravating the Blues with their game. As Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told St. Louis media on Saturday, “(Chicago) plays a game that makes you run around because they're going. They don't care. They fly. So you're chasing and trying to get it slowed down.” Don’t give the Blues a chance to get into their game.
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3. Capitalize on Brent Seabrook’s return. When David Backes came out of the tunnel heading into Friday’s pregame, the Scottrade Center crowd went wild. The Blackhawks silenced that, however, by scoring first. Your suspended defenseman is returning, and the United Center crowd will be thrilled to see him. Build off that extra roster boost.
4. Be strong on both sides of the special teams. Another one that we’ve been through before, but it bears repeating. Neither the Blackhawks nor Blues has been stellar on the power play, but if the Blackhawks get chances today, they need to connect on them. As for that penalty kill, which has nixed 23 of 25 Blues power-play chances, keep on keeping on.
5. Our pick to click is… On a radio interview on Saturday, I said Jonathan Toews would click in this game. I’m sticking with it. These are the games in which he thrives, and don’t be surprised if he does again today.