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Five keys for Blackhawks vs. Blues Game 1

St. Louis has chance to take advantage of Chicago defense missing Duncan Keith

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks begin their Western Conference First Round Series on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN360, CSN-CH, FS-MW). Here are five keys for Game 1:

1. Can the Blues take advantage?

It would appear that everything is set up for a Blues win in Game 1. The Blackhawks are without defenseman Duncan Keith, who is serving the final game of his six-game suspension. They might be without forward Andrew Ladd, who is a game-time decision after returning to Chicago to be with his wife for the birth of their child. And goaltender Corey Crawford looked rusty against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the final game of the regular season Saturday, his first game after missing 11 because of an upper-body injury (More on that point later).

So given all that, the Blues should win, right? We'll see.

Not beating the Blackhawks in Game 1 at home wouldn't be fatal to the Blues, but a win certainly would be a big boost for a team that has lost in the first round three straight seasons, including to Chicago in 2014 after winning the first two games.

Video: CHI@CBJ: Crawford denies Atkinson and Bourque

2. Net presence

There always seem to be questions about Crawford. Not this season, though, or at least not until he sustained the injury that kept him out for a month. Crawford put together a season that could be Vezina Trophy-worthy, going 35-18-5 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. In fact, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Wednesday that he would be voting for Crawford; the 30 League general managers vote for the Vezina Trophy.

"You look at what Corey's done this year and it's something we've seen for a long time," Bowman said. "I think it's nice he's finally getting the recognition from the fans and the media for his performance. People say, 'Has he taken that next step?' I think the only next step he's taken for me is maybe in the recognition department. He's been doing this for the last few years."

But can Crawford regain that form by the time the puck drops Wednesday?

He did not play particularly well against the Blue Jackets on Saturday, allowing five goals on 25 shots in an overtime loss, so his Game 1 performance could be telling in terms of how the Blackhawks will fare in the series.

Video: CHI@DAL: Van Riemsdyk scores on rebound off goalie

3. Chicago defense

The Blackhawks' defense corps is a little on the thin side, and it's even thinner without Keith, who was suspended six games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for a high-sticking incident with Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle on March 29.

Without Keith the Blackhawks allowed 17 goals in their past five games, and not having him certainly won't help in Game 1 against the Blues.

That means that the rest of the Blackhawks defense, especially Trevor van Riemsdyk, will need to step up Wednesday.

The Blackhawks went 8-4-3 without Keith this season. Two of those games happened to be overtime losses to the Blues, including one April 7.

"You can never replace a guy like Duncan Keith; he's an unbelievable defenseman in all zones of the rink," Chicago forward Andrew Shaw said.

The Blackhawks, for at least one game, will need to find a way to make do without him.

Video: CHI@CBJ: Kane scores a pair on Bobrovsky

4. Keeping up with Kane

Few teams have been able to contain Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who had 46 goals and a League-best 106 points, and could add the Hart Trophy to the Art Ross Trophy he's already won.

His line, with left wing Artemi Panarin and center Artem Anisimov, nearly has been unstoppable. But to win, the Blues need to figure out how to slow those three players.

"It's not just Kane; it's that line," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You have to be able to count. If you can count, you can be successful. If you can't count, you're going to be in trouble. So it's real simple. Hard to do, but it's real simple. You better be able to count. For me, any success we've had against that line is we've been able to count on the ice where the players are, how many are below, how many are above. You get a chance. But if you can't count, you can't sort it out, you're going to be in trouble."

Video: VAN@STL: Fabbri snipes Stastny's great feed

5. Coming of age

For Blues rookies Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, this is their first shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs. How they handle the pressure could be telling as the Blues benefitted significantly from the roles they've played this season.

Though the nerves hadn't kicked in after the morning skate, at least, not for Fabbri, working through anxiety is something the three will have to do before and during Game 1.

"Woke up with a lot of energy," Fabbri said. "It was a lot fun coming to the rink and getting ready and getting prepared for the game. It's going to be a great experience for myself and it's going to be a lot of fun."

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