CHICAGO - It's been five months since the St. Louis Blues knocked the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs after a thrilling seven-game first-round playoff series. With Game 7 tied 2-2 in the third period, it was Troy Brouwer who banged home a loose puck in the crease with 12:29 remaining to send the Blues onto the second round and the Blackhawks home early.
It was easily one of the most memorable moments in Blues recent history, and one that helped catapult them into the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001.
But that was then. This is now.
Tonight the Blues and Blackhawks will meet again - for the 302nd time in the regular season - in the 2016-17 season opener at United Center (7 p.m., NBCSN, KMOX).
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"It's exciting. It's a good test for us right off the bat, which is what we want," goalie Jake Allen said. "We're looking forward to the challenge. It feels like training camp went on forever. It was a long summer to get to here, and we had this circled on the schedule for awhile. It's going to be tight."
The rivalry and dislike between these teams hasn't changed. If anything, it's intensified after last season's playoff matchup.
"I don't think it was a rivalry until we won last year," Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said after today's morning skate. "I'm hopeful we got their attention by winning last year. Now it becomes more of a playing rivalry than all just talk. We had to win a series for this thing to change a little bit, otherwise it's just two cities playing each other."
One thing that has changed significantly for both teams, as compared to the last meeting in April, is the rosters.
The Blues embark on a new season without veteran leaders like captain David Backes, Steve Ott and the aforementioned Brouwer. Younger players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri are expected to step up and carry the load. David Perron is back and figures to replace some of the offense the Blues lost in Backes and Brouwer. Alex Pietrangelo begins his tenure as the club's new captain, and gone is the 50/50 crease - now, it all belongs to Jake Allen.
For Chicago, youth is the word of the day. Sure, veterans like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford are still around, but the Blackhawks will sport plenty of new faces to start the season, including Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte. In fact, as many as six rookies could be in Chicago's lineup tonight.
"We're both a lot different than we were last year, both teams are going to compare themselves," Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think we're both curious to see how we're built and see where both of our lineups take us. Both teams look quicker than they were last year, a lot of mobility, a lot of young players that everybody's excited by. Ours are homegrown. They've been around for a year already, but there's a lot of those guys we're really excited for and they've got some home grown guys that are just starting out. I think both teams are going to be pretty excited to play."