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Blues, Blackhawks improve heading into rivalry game

by Kevin Weekes

I'm really looking forward to the Wednesday Night Rivalry game this week between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN2). These are two elite teams that have somehow managed to get even better as we approach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues have been red-hot and goaltender Ryan Miller has made a seamless transition since being acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28. He's been excellent. In talking to general manager Doug Armstrong, he mentioned the fact that the Blues weren't necessarily in the market to get a goalie. They put themselves in the market to get Ryan Miller. That's a very big difference. They weren't just looking to add any goalie.

In getting Miller, the Blues have positioned themselves as a team to make a run. You now have a goalie in the same conversation as Jonathan Quick or Tuukka Rask or Jonas Hiller. Now you get your own super-elite, world-class player, and there aren't a lot of those players out there.

Miller has made a great transition to that team in terms of his familiarity with the defensemen; how they defend, how they box out, their in-zone coverage and all those things. It looks like he's been playing there for years.

Don't forget that the Blues also got forward Steve Ott; he's almost the forgotten guy in that trade, but Ott is definitely a guy you want on your team. He can play, he's a shift-disturber and he can skate. He gets in on the forecheck and is able to disrupt the opposing players. He's a player who adds to their top three lines and is a versatile skater who can take draws. He'll be a pretty hot commodity if he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Losing forward Vladimir Tarasenko to a hand injury is tough. He's an electric player, and the Blues don't have too many game-breakers; they score by committee. He has that ability to get separation and a quick release. You can use a player like that any time, but especially when you're the Blues. I think that loss may end up hurting them, but they've been playing great hockey.

The Blues have owned the Central Division lately, but the Blackhawks are still the kings of the Central because they have two Stanley Cups in four seasons. However, the Blues have definitely narrowed the gap. I'm interested to see how they match up against Chicago with Miller in net.

You have to give the Blackhawks a lot of credit. They have the game-breakers that the Blues are lacking. But their explosive players are willing to play through traffic, and not every skill player is willing to do that. In the playoffs, the dimensions of the rink technically stay the same, but they definitely feel smaller as the postseason heats up. Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to do some things that you otherwise wouldn't have to do in the regular season?

Chicago may also make a major addition by bringing in 19-year-old forward Teuvo Teravainen, whose club in Finland, Jokerit, was eliminated from the playoffs.

You saw how dominant he was at World Juniors. The best thing is that if he does join the Blackhawks, expectations won't be through the roof. Why? They already have Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and the rest of that gang. There's no real reason for him to be under any high scrutiny or pressure.

Chicago is one of the best hockey markets in the world, but I think Teravainen is also insulated by that talented lineup. He's not going to have to light it up right away. That's a great thing. Yes, there is going to be a little pressure, but Teravainen will have a lot of cushion there. It's not like he's going to a team where they expect him to star right away and put points on the board.

Look at a player like Marcus Kruger. He's skilled and would probably be a second-line forward on a lot of teams. The fact of the matter is Chicago is flush with riches and Kruger is slotted where he is. If Teravainen approaches it the right way, in the long run it could make him a better player, much as it did for Michael Frolik. Dave Bolland was a big scorer in the Ontario Hockey League, but in that group he was willing to do things that other players didn't have to do. It helped him become a heck of a player.

If you want to win a championship, you need guys who can make those plays. You obviously want Teravainen to play to his strengths, but if he's able to enhance his 200-foot game to complement what he already does it will only serve his development well with Chicago.

These are just some of the reasons this matchup Wednesday night should be so exciting.

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