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Blackhawks Buzz: April 6, 2014 vs. St. Louis Blues

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks

Sunday’s nationally televised game will be the last of the 2013-14 regular season between the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. Chicago is just 1-1-2 against the Blues this season, but all three losses were one-goal decisions, including two shootouts. The Blackhawks were victorious the last time these two teams met, posting a 4-0 shutout at the United Center; the win was Head Coach Joel Quenneville’s 700th as an NHL bench boss, and Corey Crawford made 23 saves in the win.

Ben Smith enters Sunday’s matchup on a two-game goal-scoring streak, which included the game-winning tally on Friday with less than 4 seconds in regulation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Smith’s goal at 19:56 of the third period is the latest regulation game-winner for the Blackhawks since Kyle Calder scored at 19:59 in a 3-2 win over Vancouver on December 17, 2002. With injuries up front, Quenneville has given Smith more ice time and responsibilities, playing him 15 minutes or more in six of the Blackhawks’ last 10 games.

At just 21 years old, Jaden Schwartz has become a valuable secondary scorer for St. Louis, and looks to have finally grown into his NHL game. The Wilcox, Saskatchewan, native has 23 goals and 31 assists in 74 games this season, all career highs. His 54 points ranks fourth on the Blues, while his 177 shots on net rank second on the team.

Defenseman Duncan Keith continued his superior offensive output on Friday, posting his third three-assist game of the season in Columbus; his 54 helpers lead NHL defensemen and rank fourth among all skaters. He is one assist shy of his career-best, set in 2009-10. Chris Chelios is the only defenseman in Blackhawks history to have recorded more assists in a season (58 in 1992-93 and 1995-96), and with five games to go in the 2013-14 campaign, Keith has a very good chance of topping that total.

Brought in via trade from Buffalo to be the final piece of St. Louis’ puzzle, All-Star netminder Ryan Miller has largely been as good as promised for the Blues. The 33-year-old native of East Lansing, Mich., has gone 10-4-1 with one shutout in 15 starts with the Blues. However, Miller dropped a 4-0 decision against Colorado on Saturday afternoon, stopping just 24 of 28 shots. Whether he or backup Brian Elliott starts on Sunday, the Blackhawks will face a formidable netminder with a goals-against average around two goals per game.

It’s very likely that St. Louis will finish first in the Central Division, meaning that Sunday’s game is a potential second-round playoff series preview. The Blues have played the Blackhawks tough all season long, taking the first three games of the series, but Chicago’s recent 4-0 victory probably still lingers in the Blues’ memories. Without the services of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, look for Chicago to play a tough defensive game and take what the Blues give them to try to gain an advantage on offense. There is no love lost between these two Western Conference hopefuls, so expect hard hits, harsh words and a fast pace.

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