ST. LOUIS – They’ll be coming into the playoffs from opposite sides of the spectrum.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been winning at big clips and with everything clinched, rested more than half their usual starters in a 3-1 loss to St. Louis Saturday night. The Minnesota Wild had to scratch and claw their way into the postseason, claiming that eighth and final Western Conference spot in their final regular season game.
But it’s the playoffs. So throw the records out and let the games begin.
The Blackhawks, whose roster was dominated by Rockford IceHogs, lost their regular season finale in St. Louis. But they also found out their first-round postseason opponent with the Wild pulling out a 3-1 decision over the Colorado Avalanche.
Saturday was a day of rest for most of the Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa were among the Blackhawks who didn’t even make the trip to St. Louis. Others were scratched before the game, including Brandon Saad, Michal Handzus and Viktor Stalberg. Their final “dress rehearsal” came Friday against the Calgary Flames. So in their absence, several Rockford players got their opportunities.
Ben Smith, who garnered notice in the Blackhawks’ playoff series vs. Vancouver two seasons ago, scored the team’s lone goal. That goal kept the Blackhawks shutout-free this season. The Blues jumped on the Blackhawks 2-0 in the first period, but all things considered, the IceHogs-turned-Blackhawks put forth a solid effort against a Blues team trying to secure home ice.
“With all the (regular) guys out and new guys in, I thought they did a great job,” Bickell said of the many Rockford players. “We had to change our game a little bit, but there was a lot of hard work out there. (The Blues) were fighting for home ice; bounces here and there and we could’ve had opportunities. But they came out on top.”
[Highlights: Blues 3, Blackhawks 1]
Meanwhile, coach Joel Quenneville was watching that Wild game in its waning seconds, which coincided with the second intermission here in St. Louis. He was told early in the third period that the Wild won. Now the Blackhawks will start preparing for a Wild team that will be itching to knock out the best in the West.
“They work, they play tight and every game’s been close when we’ve faced them,” Quenneville said of the Wild. “We have to find a way.”
The Blackhawks have found a way a lot this season, especially in those one-goal games that can be a trademark of the postseason. And as far as Minnesota goes, the Blackhawks know they can’t judge the Wild by recent results.
It’s the playoffs. There’s no such thing as taking anyone lightly.
“They’ve been struggling as of late, but they’ve got a lot of skill guys,” said Bickell, who didn’t know the Wild took the eighth seed until reporters told him. “It doesn’t matter what team you play in the first round; anything can happen. We’re just going to get some rest the next couple of days and draw up a game plan. We’ll be ready.”