CHICAGO - There will be plenty on the line when the Blues and Blackhawks meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight (FSMW, KMOX) at United Center in Chicago for a potential first-round playoff preview.
If the Blues are unable to claim the top spot in the Western Conference, they’ll meet the Blackhawks next week. But whether Game 1 would be held at Scottrade Center or the United Center could depend on the results of the next two games.
Of course, the Blues can end that uncertainty tonight by collecting just one point against the Blackhawks - one point guarantees St. Louis home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But if the Blues lose their last two games in regulation and Chicago wins their last two (tonight vs. St. Louis and Saturday at Columbus), the Blackhawks would secure home-ice advantage for the first round.
So, in the 300th regular-season meeting between these division rivals, there’s a lot to play for.
“Every time we play them, we know that it’s a possible playoff matchup, especially with the way that our division has looked the entire season,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “But we have to know that this is a team that starts to get hot around this time of year. Anything we can do to stop that momentum, to frustrate them and lead them into a possible series overthinking things, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
“It’s a tough thing to do against them because they’re such a well-seasoned team.”
Aside from home-ice advantage, the Blues can still win the Western Conference if they earn one more point than the Dallas Stars in the final two games. If both the Blues and Stars win out, Dallas would own first place due to the tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins.
“It’s that time of year, you never know what’s going to happen,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We want to go in and get two points (tonight) and keep putting pressure on the people above us. We’re not even thinking about Saturday’s game (vs. Washington). (Tonight) is going to be a really good game for both teams, it’s going to be a good test and I’m looking forward to it. I think our are players are, too.”
Considering there’s a good chance that these two teams will meet again next week, Hitchcock mentioned the importance of not showing all of his cards.
“You’ve got two pretty savvy coaching staffs who don’t really want to show their cards yet,” Hitchcock said of tonight’s game. “We’re going to play our game, and the way we play… we’ll put our best game out there hopefully and see what happens.”
AN UNCERTAIN LINEUP
Blues forward Robby Fabbri and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester have been getting closer to returning, and both players skated today in Chicago, but Hitchcock couldn’t give an answer on their availability for tonight.
He also indicated that a few other unnamed players could be game-time decisions.
"We'll have 20, that's about all I can say right now,” Hitchcock said. “Some guys we thought maybe were in yesterday might not be in today.”
As has been the case all season, adversity is nothing new for the Blues, who are also without David Backes (lower-body), Jake Allen (lower-body) and Steve Ott (hamstring, colitis).
“If you were going to question this team with what it’s gone through, you might have done it six months ago, but you can’t do it now. It’s been through everything and we’re still here,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve shown beyond anybody’s dreams what our fight is like, because a lot of teams have gone through exactly what we’ve gone through, and they’re not playing in mid-April. They’re done. We’re not. We’re still fighting.”
The Blues and Blackhawks have split the season series this year, with each team winning once at home and once on the road. The Blues have won two of their last three games overall at United Center.
As part of Fan Appreciation Week, fans are invited to join our Blues Bash at Ballpark Village for tonight's game. Enjoy the broadcast at FOX Sports Midwest Live while also have chances to win great prizes from Louie, Blue Crew and Angella.
The Blackhawks are expected to be without injured players Marian Hossa (lower-body), Andrew Shaw (upper-body), Corey Crawford (upper-body) and Artem Anisimov (upper-body) tonight. Scott Darling is expected to make his 11th consecutive start between the pipes.
Brian Elliott is 11-0-1 over his last 14 appearances with a 1.77 goals-against average, a .939 save-percentage and three shutouts. He also is on a career-high six-game road win streak.
Vladimir Tarasenko has points in six straight games and has tied his career high with 37 goals.