ST. LOUIS - Enough with the talk.
“Let’s play,” says Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock.
We agree, Hitch. The wait for Game 1 has been excruciating. Yes, it’s only been three days since the Blues learned who their first-round opponent would be, but it’s been a full year since the club has had a chance to get back on the big stage for another shot at the Stanley Cup.
That wait ends tonight.
The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will meet for the 12th time in the postseason beginning with tonight’s Game 1 at Scottrade Center (8:30 p.m. - FSMW, NBCSN, Y98 FM).
And here’s the best part: every player on the Blues roster is ready and available to play.
That includes captain David Backes and goalie Jake Allen, who both missed the final three regular season games. It also includes Steve Ott, who has been out of the lineup since December with a hamstring injury.
This will be the first time all season that the entire roster is available for the coaches.
“Impeccable timing,” Blues captain David Backes said. “This is when you want all of your weapons on hand, and we have that. We’ll have plenty of depth and ability to go and do whatever we need to with all the people available for the first time… Now it’s a coaching decision on who gets to wear the jersey for the game and give us success.”
Of course, it’s playoff time, so Hitchcock is likely to be a little more reserved with who those players are. Today’s morning skate was optional, so things could change, but here is the projected lineup based on Tuesday’s lines in practice:
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
“It’s something we’ve been waiting for all year. I think we’re excited about it,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of being healthy. “It looks like a lineup that doesn’t have many cracks in it, and from our standpoint, it gives us a lot of confidence going into Game 1.”
BY THE NUMBERS: BLUES VS. BLACKHAWKS
After 82 games, the Blues finished with a 49-24-9 record, good for 107 points. That’s only four points better than the Blackhawks, who went 47-26-9 (103 points). To say the least, this first-round matchup will likely be extremely tight.
Here’s the good news if you’re a Blues fan: St. Louis went 13-4 in their final 17 games, which includes a 7-1 record against playoff teams. Chicago, on the other hand, went 8-10 in the final 18 games, going 2-8 against playoff-bound teams.
But, it’s a new season. Throw that out the window.
“Every year is new, every year is different,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve made a lot of in-house changes that maybe go unnoticed to the general public, but adding all the kids into this group, there’s a high-level of excitement. For a lot of these guys, it’s their first playoff series. I think adversity could have broke us, but it’s created a spirt that’s here. I think all of us are really excited to see how we do.”
Here are some more interesting numbers for the Blues / Blackhawks:
The Blues have won four of their last five home playoff games against Chicago.
Shattenkirk leads the Blues in career playoff points against the Blackhawks (one goal, four assists).
Vladimir Tarasenko scored four goals in six games against Chicago in their last playoff series in 2014. In the regular season, Tarasenko lead the NHL with five goals against the Blackhawks.
“We probably couldn’t have drawn a tougher opponent, but the feeling in the locker room with the coaching staff is we’ve overcome so much all year, this is just another obstacle,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve battled back from some pretty adverse situations, and it’s created a bond within that dressing room, created a bond with the coaches and players, and it’s pretty strong. We want to test it out.”
Fans excited for the start of the playoffs can get the party started early during Playoff Plaza Parties at the Clark Avenue Plaza at Scottrade Center. Tonight’s rally begins at 5 p.m., with live music from Bitter Pill beginning at 6 p.m. Enjoy drinks at the Bud Light bar, get Blues merchandise and win prizes from Louie and Blue Crew. Plus, you never know who might show up!
All fans in attendance at tonight’s game will receive an Alex Pietrangelo rally towel tonight.
Tonight’s game will be available on FOX Sports Midwest and Y98 FM in St. Louis. Fans outside the St. Louis area can tune in on FOX Sports Midwest Plus or NBC Sports Network. Check stlouisblues.com for FOX Sports Midwest channel numbers.