(The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us. The good news for NBC: There are no Canadian teams to bring down the ratings. The bad news for Sportsnet: There are no Canadian teams to bring up the ratings. Such is life. Who wins the Cup? Read our insightful and informative playoff previews!)
How’d They Get Here?
The Blackhawks had a very Blackhawks-esque season. They just kind of drifted along and did their thing, which included a 12 game win streak from the end of December to the middle of January. The team came in third place in the highly competitive Central Division. It’s no big deal. They came in third last season and skated away with the Stanley Cup.
The Blues were exactly what we’ve come to expect a good regular season Blues team come to be. Dallas jumped out to a fast start, and steadily St. Louis gained ground on them. In the final 26 games of the season, the Blues collected 19 wins, all on win streaks upwards of 6 games, before finally dropping the conference title to the Stars.
In five meetings this season, the St. Louis Blues took 3 games and the Blackhawks had 2. All of the Blues wins came in either overtime or the shootout.
Their Last Playoff Meeting
Remember when the St. Louis Blues acquired Ryan Miller as part of their master plan to win the Stanley Cup, and then fizzled out in the first round? That was the 2013-14 season, and the team they lost to were the lower seeded reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues won the first two games in the series before the Blackhawks stormed back to win the next four. The series was close the entire way with four of the six games going to overtime.
Wednesday, April 13 at 9:30pm ET | NBCSN, Sportsnet 360, TVA Sports
Friday, April 15 at 8:00pm ET | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 17 at 3:00pm ET | NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, April 19 at 9:30pm ET | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Thursday, April 21 at TBD
*Saturday, April 23 at TBD
*Monday, April 25 at TBD
Chicago scored 235 goals-for, good enough for ninth in the NHL, with about 20% of those goals coming from Patrick Kane.
Kane won his first career Art Ross Trophy finishing the season with 106 points (46-60=106). Linemates Artemi Panarin (77 points) and Artem Anisimov (42 points) have benefited from being on a line with the team’s best offensive performer. Kane and Panarin combined for 71 points on the power play.
Jonathan Toews was third on the Blackhawks in scoring with 58 points. Marian Hossa was limited to 64 games this season due to various injuries and managed only 33 points. Andrew Laad was re-acquired at the trade deadline. Since coming over to Chicago, he has 12 points in 19 games with his new-old team.
Andrew Shaw had his best offensive season since 2013-14 with 33 points. Teuvo Teravainen logged a career high 13 goals and 22 assist in his sophomore season.
The defense chipped in as well. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith lead all defensemen in scoring with 49 and 43 points, respectively. 25 of Seabrook’s 49 points came on the power play.
For the first time, in a long time, the St. Louis Blues appear to be healthy for the playoffs. In a practice before the first game, all outstanding players took the ice.
If you like goals, then you’ll love Vladimir Tarasenko. The flashy forward is so much fun to watch play. He topped his career best in goals hitting 40 this year. Flanking Tarasenk-goal (get it?!) are Jaden Schwartz (22 points) and Jori Lehtera (34 points).
Aside from Tarasenko himself, the most dangerous line of the Blues is that of Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny, and Troy Brouwer who combined for 125 points. Follow that up with Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen, and David Backes. Steen contributed 21 of his 52 points on the power play.
Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (37 points), Kevin Shattenkirk (44 points), and rookie Colton Parayko (33 points) are the offensive parts of the three defensive parings ready to join the rush.
As a team, the Blackhawks were tenth overall with 209 goals against in the season.
For Game 1 of the series, the Blackhawks will be without defenseman Duncan Keith, who is serving the final game of his six game suspension for using Charlie Coyle’s face as batting practice. Earlier in the season he was placed on LTIR after undergoing successful knee surgery, but missed just shy of a month between games. Perhaps this NHL-imposed rest will leave the Conn Smythe winning defenseman refreshed, and ready to shine where he always does.
Where Keith drives possession on the blue line, Brent Seabrook, well, doesn’t. Seabrook’s 5-on-5 score adjusted CF% Rel is -5.13 meaning the Blackhawks are 5.13% better Corsi-wise when the defenseman is off the ice. To put this in perspective, Keith’s 5-on-5 score adjusted CF% Rel is 3.05. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, and Michal Rozsival are all positive possession players back on defense.
Lucky for the Blackhawks, a majority of their forwards are also positive possession players at 5-on-5.
Corey Crawford had a span of 25 days between his final two starts of the season due to injury. There was some speculation the netminder was faced with vertigo. Overall, he had a great year for the Blackhawks going 35-18-5 in 58 games played with 7 shutouts.
St. Louis allowed the fourth fewest goals against with 201 during the regular season.
The biggest surprise on defense has been the emergence of rookie Colton Parayko. According to War-on-Ice, his 5-on-5 score adjusted CF%Rel is 4.09 and 247.5 Corsi plus-minus, one of the highest on the team.
With the exception of noted enforcer Ryan Reaves, the Blues are a pretty responsible puck handling team. Based on War-on-Ice’s 5-on-5 score adjusted CF%, St. Louis is seventh in the league at 52.5%.
Now how about Brian Elliott. The Blues have rotated in between Elliott and Jake Allen out of necessity more than anything. Both have missed parts of the season with minor bumps, bruises and pulled muscles. Elliott had three different win streaks in the regular season that have lasted four games or longer. He closes out the year with an impressive 23-8-6 record with 2.07 goals against and .924 save-percentage.
Chicago’s special teams are going in opposite directions. The power play is second overall, and the best at home, at 22.6%. They are tied with St. Louis for the third most power play goals for at 57. The penalty kill is No. 22 in the league at 80.3%. On the road, the Blackhawks are fourth worst in the NHL at 77.9%. The bright spot is they are tied for third in shorthanded goals for at 10.
St. Louis’s special teams are right on part with each other. The Blues have the sixth best power play at 21.5%; however, they are the fifth least penalized team in the league, and have the least amount of road power play opportunities overall. The penalty kill is third in the NHL at 85.1%, and the team is the sixth most penalized team in league.
Count Coach Joel Quenneville’s Stanley Cup rings, and then go count Ken Hitchcock’s.
Five Key Questions
1. How healthy is Corey Crawford?
2. Is Ken Hitchcock coaching for his job?
3. Will Duncan Keith turn into a robot and save the Blackhawks defense?
4. Could this seriously be the Blues year?
5. If Steve Ott and Andrew Shaw hit the ice at the same time, will a vortex appear?
Best Fantasy Options
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. The guy does everything. It’s the mutton chops he grows during the playoffs. It gives him strength.
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues. The kid logs major minutes on defense, and is always a scoring threat. He, not Tarasenko, led the team in power play points with 26.
Chicago in 7. Like Los Angeles, the Blackhawks play for the post-season, and then they kick it into overdrive. Yes, their defense is shakier than in years past, but the offensive power can make up for it. That is, as long as Crawford stays healthy.
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