It’s always dangerous to try to predict the future, but I like to live dangerously, so here we go. Plus, I’m not being paid for this – I don’t even get a press pass, so I figure I’m safe. At any rate, if the playoffs started today, the Blues would play everyone’s favorite team with a serial predator winger, the Chicago Blackhawks. Now looking past their obviously culturally-appropriated name and to the club as a hockey team, the Hawks are (unfortunately) good. With their having won three Cups since the 2009-10 season, one could reasonably argue they’re the closest thing dynasty the NHL has today. But that doesn’t mean they’re insurmountable.
We all remember the Blues going up two games to none (both wins coming in overtime on home ice, including the triple overtime win in game one) before giving up four in a row and being eliminated by the Hawks in the 2014 playoffs. That, combined with the Blues’ first round exit at the hands of the Minnesota Wild in 2015 left many Note fans (myself included) wondering if the Blues were ever going to advance past the Conference Quarterfinals again, or if seeing that happen in 2012 when the Blues got past San Jose in the first round, only to be bounced by Los Angeles in the Semifinals was the deepest the Blues were going to go for a while.
But then came 2016. The Central Division second place Blues faced off against the third place club from Chicago. And won the first game at 9:04 of overtime off of a David Backes goal. Well, it was really just a pass to Alexander Steen that deflected off of Trevor van Riemsdyk’s foot and past Corey Crawford. But it got the job done. The series then went back and forth with Chicago evening the series in game 6, in what looked like the beginnings of an epic collapse by the Blues. But the Blues came back and won game seven in front of the Scottrade faithful off of a Troy Brouwer (a Cup champion with Chicago in 2010, himself) at 8:31 of the third. And, in the words of Doc Emrick, calling the game for NBC, “the defending champions are defending no more!” The Blues had done it. They killed the beast – they downed the Blackhawks. They didn’t fold, thanks in large part to veteran leadership from the likes of Brouwer (thanks for letting him get away, Doug Armstrong). And interesting side note, by the way. The last time the Blues played a game seven prior to this series was in a losing campaign against Vancouver in 2003. Our coach at the time? Current Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville.
The Blues then went on to take down the best team in the Central, the Dallas Stars in seven games and punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals to face the San Jose Sharks. Ultimately, the fatigue of playing two seven game series in a row got the better of the Notes and they fell in six to the Sharks, who went on to lose to Pittsburgh in the Finals. But the Blues went further than they had ever gone in my lifetime (this series went six games, the 2001 Western Conference Finals, where the Blues lost to the Avalanche only went five).
I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah, I know…I was there” right about now. But the reason I talk about all this is because I want to make my point that the Blues have it in them to go deep into the playoffs. Perhaps they have enough in the tank to give us that illusive summertime parade down Market Street. We’re missing some key players from last season – Backes, Brouwer, Elliot, Fabri (to injury), but that’s not to say it can’t be done. The Blues still have a crap-ton of talent (that’s a technical measurement, by the way).
Getting past Chicago would be tough. The Blackhaws are a good team. They have talent. But we may not have to play them in the first round. We’re two points behind Nashville for the third spot in the West. If we can overtake Nashville, we’d play the skidding Minnesota Wild in the first round. Alternative, the Wild are seven points behind Chicago with a game in hand, which means we’d play the Wild instead of the Hawks in the first round. But, as it stands, if the playoffs started today, the Blues would play the Blackhawks in the first round – again. If we learned anything from last year, it’s that the Blues can win that series.
Also, very much of note, the Blues are only two points behind Nashville, with a game in hand. There’s still quite a bit of hockey to be played, and the Blues look to be hot right now. Plus, the Blues only play two teams (Calgary and Nashville) that are currently in a playoff spot for the rest of the season. So, with focus and continued hard work, there are some easy points to be picked up. Sliding into that third spot in the Central can certainly be done.