ST. LOUIS - With just over five weeks remaining in the regular season, tonight’s 7 p.m. game (NBCSN, KMOX) between the Blues and Blackhawks won’t decide the division or lock up any playoff spots.
But, aside from that, it is about as big as regular season games can get.
Each with 67 games played in an 82-game schedule, the Blues and the long-time rival Blackhawks are separated by just two points in the standings. A Blues win would move them into a tie with Chicago in second place in the Central Division, just one point behind the Dallas Stars for the top spot.
A win by Chicago would move them into first place in the Central and put some distance between them and St. Louis.
“It’s a big rivalry,” Blues forward Ryan Reaves said after the morning skate. “These games are always amped up. Division games down the stretch are always high-energy, so that’s not going to change.”
“I think for the rest of the season, every game is going to be the biggest game of the season. This is a potential playoff matchup in the first round or second round. I think you’re going to see a playoff atmosphere out there, with both teams putting their best out.”
The Blues have won three straight games entering tonight’s contest and are 10-4-1 in their last 15. The Blackhawks have won two of their last three games and are 8-5-1 since the All-Star break. And as an added boost, Chicago is likely to get forward Marian Hossa back from injury tonight. Hossa has missed eight games with a lower-body injury.
“The way they’ve built their team now, with the additions they’ve got and Hossa coming back in, they’re a four-line team,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’re going to have to get substantial play from our third and fourth lines tonight. That’s the challenge. You’re going to have to keep up to a high-level of play. I don’t think there are going to be any rest periods. They’ve got transition on all four lines and that’s going to be a challenge for us.”
“It’s something everyone talks about it,” rookie Colton Parayko said of Blues/Blackhawks rivalry. “It’s a fun rivalry - obviously they have a very good hockey team and we have a very good hockey team. They’re always competitive games, they’re really close - that’s the fun of it. The closer the game, the harder the competition, the more fun it is and the better it feels to get a win. It’s something everyone’s been talking about and I’m looking forward to it.”
THE VIEW FROM BOTH SIDES
Troy Brouwer has played on both sides of the Blues / Blackhawks rivalry and will let you in on a little secret: the intensity hasn’t changed a bit over the years.
“There’s been a lot of turnover with guys over the past couple years, but the core of both teams is still intact and for that reason, the rivalry and competitiveness gets rubbed off on everyone else,” Brouwer said. “There’s not a whole lot of fighting, but there is a whole lot of animosity between the two teams and it makes for exciting games.”
Brouwer played 238 games with the Blackhawks from 2006 until 2011. He’s played his last 67 NHL games with the Blues.
And although he’s played against Chicago three times already this season, the “big game” excitement of playing his old teammates hasn’t worn off.
“We’re trying to catch them. They’re trying to put distance between us,” Brouwer said. “These are big points and if you can’t get wins against those teams when you have the opportunities, it puts you behind. For us, we’re treating this as a very big game, trying to get into first place, trying to catch them and trying to put ourselves in a position to capture the division.”
Wednesday’s morning skate was optional, but we wouldn’t imagine many changes to the lineup. Here is the lineup we expect tonight against the Blackhawks, subject to change, of course:
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson - Colton Parayko
Tonight’s game marks the 300th all-time regular season meeting between the Blues and Blackhawks. St. Louis has won five of the last seven games at Scottrade Center, although Chicago leads the season series 2-1.
Excluding empty-net goals, five of the last six games in this series have been decided by one-goal.
The Blues are riding a season-high six-game power-play scoring streak at Scottrade Center, going 9 for 26 in that stretch.
With 451 points, David Backes is one point shy of tying Al MacInnis for sixth on the Blues’ all-time list.
Ken Hitchcock watched the morning skate today with legendary coach Scotty Bowman. Between them, Hitchcock and Bowman have combined for 10 Stanley Cups and 1,990 regular season wins. “The two of us together - we might re-invent the whole dang wheel,” Hitchcock joked.