Thanks to another solid effort from Brian Elliott and a pair of goals from Jaden Schwartz, the St. Louis Blues took down the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1 Saturday night at Scottrade Center. It was the 6th win in a row at home for the Blues, and gave them 60 points to guarantee them the 4th seed in the playoffs. That gives them home-ice advantage throughout Round One and a big wave of confidence to ride in on in front of the home fans. Patrik Berglund added a goal for St. Louis, his 17th of the season. Elliott made 22 saves.
The Blues jumped out to another early lead Saturday, Berglund’s goal coming at 4:33 of the 1st period. He banged a puck into an open net while St. Louis had, legally for a change, 6 skaters on the ice due to a delayed penalty call.
The Blues played a very tightly controlled defensive game and basically dominated a Chicago team that was without many of its star skaters. A number of top-line Blackhawks didn’t even make the trip to St. Louis and rookie Carter Hutton started in goal for Chicago. It doesn’t change anything in my mind about the quality of the game by the Blues, though many detractors cry foul about Chicago coach Joel Quinnville’s decision to go with so many AHL guys in his lineup. I say, why risk injuries to your stars with the playoffs a week away when you don’t have to.
Schwartz scored his first of the night late in the 1st period, putting the Blues up 2-0. He’d been playing so well of late Coach Hitchcock had him up on the “top” line for the Blues, skating with David Backes and Alex Steen. It paid big dividends Saturday night and bodes very well for the playoff run. St. Louis scored 10 goals in their final three games with six different forwards netting those goals. With the goaltending and defense looking rock solid again, a hot offense gives the Blues just what they need to prepare for a deep run in the post-season.
St. Louis was once again very good in the face-off circle, winning 56% of the draws Saturday night, a trend this month and a big improvement over their mid-season form. Controlling the puck and making good decisions with it has made a world of difference for the Blues in going 12-3 in April with the 6 game win-streak at Scottrade Center. The Blues were not nearly as dominant at home over the course of the season compared to last year, and with home-ice in the first round, their recent success is huge. Another area St. Louis had been much stronger in has been their willingness to play in the “hard areas” of the ice, including in front of the opposition’s net. Schwartz scored both of his goals Saturday in close on Hutton. His second made it 3-0 Blues.
While Elliott didn’t get the shutout- Ben Smith scored his first of the season at 8:23 of the 3rd period- he did make some outstanding saves Saturday night, continuing to show the confidence that rejuvenated his game, and the entire team in this last month of the season. With Jaroslav Halak seemingly healthy again, Hitchcock will have an interesting choice to make as the Blues roll into the playoffs.
Late Saturday night, the Blues found out who they’d be facing in Round One when the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks to lock up the 5th spot. LA will visit Scottrade this coming week and I think we all remember what happened in last year’s playoffs. Elliott essentially unraveled after an award-winning regular season as the Kings swept the Blues in Round Two, en route to earning the Stanley Cup. Will this play into Hitchcock’s decision on who to start in goal for St. Louis this year? Ells has been red-hot this month, will the past haunt him?
The playoff schedule hasn’t been released yet, but as soon as it is you can bet you’ll find reference to it here on the Bleedin’ Blue site. Stay tuned, Blues fanes, Playoff Hockey is back in St. Louis. Get your beards growing and LET’S GO BLUES!
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!