They’ll kick off their series against the Blues tonight in St. Louis. I don’t feel too badly about the Blackhawks, despite some scuffling at the end. For one, the Blackhawks’ slide was nothing compared to the Pacers’. Two, the big guns* are finally back on the ice and (presumably) healthy. That ought to be a heck of a lift for any team. That said, I do have my worries. Namely, the Blues are a hell of a team. They slid at the end, too, but I still am afraid of them for all the same reasons I still have faith in the Pacers.
*That would be Toews and Kane, if you’re unaware.
As a Blackhawk fan, though, I am just thankful to avoid the Avalanche. Of all the teams in hockey, Colorado seemed to be the one that Chicago was just absolutely unable to figure out. To put that confrontation off for a round is fine by me, even if it means welcoming in the Blues. And for all the talk about the Blackhawks getting healthy, the Blues seem to be trending the other way. Amongst others, I don’t believe the Blues will not have TJ Oshie* or David Backes available for at least the first game. That should give Blues fans plenty of reason to pause, especially knowing that their playoff history is not stellar to begin with.** The Blues might have home ice in this one, and they certainly earned it. But I’m not overly worried. With the injury situation on both sides, I’m thinking the Blackhawks will win this one fairly easily.
*Who you may remember almost single-handedly beating the Russians in the Olympics in the shootout.
**And that absolutely makes a difference. Watch Cubs playoff games. You can just feel the pressure crushing down on every pitch. It was especially bad in 2008, and the Cubs quickly found themselves swept by a Dodger team they seemingly had no trouble with during the regular season. The Blues, while not as tortured as the Cubs, have similarly never been able to break through, and last year’s first round collapse isn’t going to help matters.
Of course, Pittsburgh fans probably thought their Penguins would steamroll the Blue Jackets, and that turned out to be a little tougher than expected last night. Granted, the Penguins found a way, but Columbus sure seemed to make the point that they cannot be taken lightly.
On a somewhat related note, I do like this new playoff setup, but I have to wonder, how is this really any different than the rejected four conference alignment? So far as I can tell, the only real difference is it still sets in stone what the final four will be. The only real difference a four conference setup would make is to give the NHL more flexibility in how the playoffs can shake out. I wrote about it in some detail at the time it was proposed, and I stand by it. I can’t really see any downside, and I can certainly see a great upside, as you would gain more loyalty to your conference* in much the same way that college sports enjoy. The “SEC” chant springs to mind. What’s not to love about that?
*Baseball certainly has this in the NL/AL split, but for whatever reason, the powers that be seem hellbent on destroying it. Again, MLB, I am available to step in when Bud steps out. And do you really think George Will is the answer? He wasn’t in 1997, but the idea hasn’t died. As a bit of sidenote to the sidenote: as much as I have a hard time listening to George Will go on about much of anything, I did really enjoy Men at Work, which makes me want to pick up his new book about Wrigley.
I suppose I shouldn’t rock the boat too much, though. Whatever keeps the NHL actually, you know, playing hockey should be fine for me. There’s a reason they have a reputation for being the “labor issue” league.