ST. LOUIS - Two gameday blogs ago, we talked about how a regular season game doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday’s Blues / Blackhawks matchup at United Center.
While that was true - the 2-1 Blues’ victory catapulted the club into first place in the Central with three games to go - it’s tonight’s showdown that’s really about as big as regular season games can get.
With a win tonight, the Blues can claim home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a win AND a regulation win from the Minnesota Wild against the Nashville Predators, the Blues would win the Central Division title for the second time in four seasons and guarantee home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.
In addition, the Blues would also pull even with the Anaheim Ducks (107 points) for first in the Western Conference with one game to play.
“You can’t pick who you’re going to play, there’s so many scenarios out there,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “But man, home ice - it’s important and we want to get it. That’s the focus for the players, that’s the focus for us. (Chicago) is thinking the same thing, they want home-ice too. We’d like to win tonight to secure that.
“You’ve got to pour everything into these two (remaining) games,” Hitchcock added. “I think both these teams recognize how much it matters, how important it is.”
Jake Allen will make his third consecutive start tonight and expects another tightly-contested game like Sunday, when he made 38 saves.
“It’s going to be another intense, physical game,” Allen said after the morning skate. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us because they’re fighting for the points like we are.”
“It’s always a fierce battle,” Chris Porter said of the Blues / Blackhawks rivalry. “A lot of physicality, usually good goaltending and low-scoring games. Home ice is huge, that’s what you work all year for. To wrap it up on our home ice would be huge.”
Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Bortuzzo joined the club on the ice for practice this morning. Hitchcock said after practice yesterday though that none of them would be available for tonight’s game. Here are the projected lines for tonight.
Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie
Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott - Jori Lehtera - Ty Rattie
Chris Porter - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
“We’ve brought a guy like Porter in who has got speed, tenacity and fresh legs for us,” Hitchcock said. “He’s hopefully going to help us. That’s the whole focus - pour everything into this game and you can rest in between.”
The Blues have won six of the last eight games at home vs. Chicago (6-2-0), including two of three during last year’s postseason. Tonight’s game will be the 296th all-time meeting between the Blues and Blackhawks.
Since Feb. 1, Allen is 7-2-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average, which is third best in the League in that span.
Since the beginning of last season, Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo leads all players with nine assists against the Blackhawks.
Tickets for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are on sale now. Purchase online at Ticketmaster.com or by visiting the Ford Box Office at Scottrade Center.