NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong:
The what-if scenario would matter to Doug Armstrong if he actually cared about what-if scenarios.
"I've never been one to get hung up on things you can't control," Armstrong said.
But the St. Louis Blues were first in the Central Division entering April. They had the same number of points as the Dallas Stars (101) and had a game in hand. They lost it and the Stars finished first in the division by two points (109-107).
Had the Blues won the division, they would have played the Minnesota Wild, an 87-point team, in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. By finishing second, the Blues instead have to open the postseason against the Chicago Blackhawks, a 103-point team and the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Game 1 is Wednesday at Scottrade Center (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-MW).
That's quite a what-if scenario. So, is Armstrong disappointed?
"Well, yeah, I'm disappointed we didn't win the division because that's the goal," Armstrong said. "Our goal is to win the division and win the conference in the regular season. Now, they say this is the hardest championship to win for a reason, because you can't pick your opponents. You play and you hope to be good enough to push on. We play Wednesday night at [9:30 p.m. ET]; the Hawks are going to be on one side, and we're going to be on the other, and we've gotta win."
Video: NHL.com First Round Preview: Blues vs Blackhawks
The Blues haven't won a playoff series since 2012; they haven't even gotten to a Game 7. Two years ago, St. Louis had a 2-0 lead on Chicago in the first round but lost the next four games by a combined score of 14-6. The Blues were knocked out by the Wild in six games last season.
Armstrong talked more about the Blues' playoff history and hopes, including what they need to do to get past the Blackhawks, in a phone interview with NHL.com on Monday.
Here are Five Questions (plus a bonus) with…Doug Armstrong:
Where we need to start is the place where everybody is starting with the Blues: the pressure to win. How much greater is the pressure this year knowing what has gone on the past three years? Do you feel it? Does the team feel it? Is it palpable and different from seasons past?
"No, not really different. I think you approach every season as its own season. For people that have been with the Blues organization for a while, there's that history. Obviously, I understand it and [coach] Ken [Hitchcock] understands it, but there are a number of players in their first playoff series with us and an even greater number just entering their second playoff series with us. So, I think when you look at it from a city perspective or an organizational history perspective, it's one thing, but there's a lot of people that weren't part of that. Of course we expect every year to put a team on the ice that's going to be competitive, and this year is no different. We're facing the defending Stanley Cup champions, and our job is to give them a heck of a run."
There is familiarity, obviously, with the Blackhawks. It plays its way on each side. From your team's perspective, how does it help you to have familiarity? Can it even help you? Does it make a difference?
"I don't really think it makes a competitive difference. Any time you're playing a rival, the atmosphere always seems to be up a decimal point or two higher right from the start, but once the competition starts on the ice, I think it just evolves into just another series. But there's no gray area. There's not a lot of pre-scouting that needs to be done when you play a divisional rival. Chicago has had a lot of different roster players, but their core group has been their core group during this run. That's the straw that stirs their drink, and I'm not speaking out of school saying that. [Artemi] Panarin is the one guy that has come in that we don't know a lot about. But even a player like [Andrew] Ladd, he's been there, gone away, came back, but he was playing in our division when he left. So there's not a lot of gray area in the Blackhawks to us. I think also there's not a lot of gray area in us to the Blackhawks. We know them; they know us. I don't think either team is going to be trying to reinvent the wheel. We're just going to go play and hopefully have a great series. Ultimately, the best team will win."
The one thing that has gone on with your team in the playoffs the past three years is a lack of finish. Scoring has been a problem to the point where the Blues have 38 goals in 18 playoff games since 2013. Clearly that's not enough. Is the team this season, especially with three lines you have set, built to score more in the playoffs than the other three teams?
"Yeah. I think when you play the Blackhawks you have to score goals. It's not going to be a 1-0 or 2-1 type of series. I think you have to be prepared to score and I think we are prepared to score at a higher level. A lot of the things about our team now is about maturity. People like [Vladimir] Tarasenko and [Jaden] Schwartz are no longer younger players, but they're NHL players. I think having [Paul] Stastny here for a second season makes a difference, as does having [Jori] Lehtera going through this for a second time. We believe when we were healthy this year we were scoring at a more-than-competitive clip, and it's going to have to continue. We're going to have to get very good goaltending, but I think to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, you know their talent level is going to score, so you have to defend well and score."
On the other side, when the Blackhawks have won, they've had Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and, in the past, Johnny Oduya taking the bulk of the minutes on defense. Your team has Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Carl Gunnarsson. Can your guys do what Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya have done? Do they have it in them to carry the team if need be?
"They have to. That's just the reality of it. If you think you're a championship team, you have to have players that can play to a championship caliber. The great part about Wednesday night is you don't have to talk about it anymore; you either do it or you don't do it. So, do I believe in these guys? I sure do. But you know, we're going to find out on Wednesday night. I'm not trying to be a smart [guy] in these answers, but the reality is I like this team, I think they have the capability to win, and I think the competition is really good. The difference is they know they have the ability to win because they've won. Probably L.A. knows that too. But Anaheim, San Jose, us and Nashville, Dallas, we all believe we're competitive with these teams, but saying it and doing it are two different things. We've gotta get it done."
You mentioned the goaltending, and with Jake Allen's injury down the stretch, does that open the door for Brian Elliott to start Game 1? And what is your confidence like in Brian if that's the case?
"I would say our confidence level in both goaltenders is sky-high just based on what they've done this year. Both guys have been asked to come in in difficult situations with no safety net because the other guy was hurt, and quite honestly we have home ice because of our goaltenders. I hate saying injuries because we're not the only team that's dealt with them, but this year it was the level of player injured for us was different, so we had to win those 1-0 and 2-1 games. We had to win games where we were outshot and our goaltender hung us in there until we could find a power-play goal. These two guys did it. Their numbers speak for themselves when you put their numbers up against all the other goalies in the League. So we believe in our goaltending."
BONUS: Brian Elliott is a guy who at every turn seems to be the guy who is considered the placeholder, and yet he's not a placeholder. Why does Brian Elliott thrive when it seems like everyone assumes he has to be looking over his shoulder, or he always is looking over his shoulder?
"Obviously, the talent level is there. And I don't want to say what separates Brian or what is unique to him, but really what separates him and is unique to him is his team-first approach is second to none. I've never been around a guy that looks at the game from the team back to himself more than himself out to the team like Brian. That's a quality that endears him to the coaches, but honestly he has to endear himself to his teammates, and being around a lot of goaltenders, our guys love playing for him. Our guys love playing for both of our guys. Both of our guys have that attitude of what's good for the team is good for me. That's quite rare and that's what makes these guys special."