It's that time of year where all sanity goes out the window. Game 1, let's go!
GAME 1 NOTES: Beat the traffic and head downtown early for our Game 1 Rally, which begins at 5 p.m. and features live music from Whiskey Dixon, appearances by Louie, Angella and the Blue Crew and prize giveaways. Head inside by 6:45 p.m. for our pregame show. In addition, all fans are encouraged to wear blue and will receive a "It's Time to Bleed Blue" T-shirt courtesy of Dobbs Tire & Auto, Enterprise, Ford and BMO Harris Bank.
BLACKHAWKS (46-21-15) at BLUES (52-23-7)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, CSN-CH, FS-MW
Last 10: Chicago 5-5-0; St. Louis 3-7-0
Season series: The St. Louis Blues won the first three games in the regular season and the Chicago Blackhawks prevailed in the final two, which were both at United Center. Chicago's wins were by scores of 4-0 on March 19 and 4-2 on April 6. The Blues won twice in shootouts and beat Chicago 3-2 on Oct. 9 at Scottrade Center on Alexander Steen's goal at 19:38 of the third period.
Big story: The Blackhawks played their final six games of the regular season without captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury) and right wing Patrick Kane (lower body) in the lineup, but the Blues dealt with more key injuries down the stretch.
St. Louis had eight regulars out of the lineup in its 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings that concluded the regular season and that finalized this matchup of longtime rivals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blues should have some of their injured players back for Game 1 of this Western Conference First Round series Thursday in St. Louis (7 p.m. CT) and the Blackhawks will have Toews and Kane.
Much of the pre-series talk focuses on the physicality of the Blues against the speed and skill of the Blackhawks, but there will also be two highly successful, driven coaches matching wits in Chicago's Joel Quenneville and St. Louis' Ken Hitchcock.
"We're both very much tilted toward the analytical side of coaching, so we study things that we feel are important, that are kind of advanced stats and stuff like that," Hitchcock said. "[Quenneville] uses that in a big way, the way he plays his players, the way he coordinates his lines, the way he sends guys out there gives them the best chance for success, and we do the same with our guys. It's important for us to have the right players on the ice at the right time."
Blackhawks: The Blues will definitely try to establish a punishing, physical style against Chicago. It's what they do best against any opponent. It will be no surprise to the Blackhawks, who are aware that any penalties assessed for retaliation could be costly.
"Sometimes you go into these series and you think a little too much about the physical play or what's going to happen and it throws you off," said Kane, who could start the series playing right wing on the third line. "We've just got to go out there, play hockey, play the way we know how to play and not worry about all that other stuff, whether it happens after the whistle or during the play."
Blues: St. Louis had just one full practice between the end of the regular season and the series opener. The time off was used primarily for rest and recovery. Hampered by a growing number of missing players, the Blues went into a tailspin to end the regular season, losing six straight games and scoring less than two goals in the last nine in a row.
"I think we're OK," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "There's a certain way we have to play, obviously, and just lately maybe we've gotten away from that a little bit. The last two games against [the Blackhawks] weren't our best effort, for sure. I think we just have to go back and remind ourselves what we did to have success and go from there."
Who's hot: Blackhawks forward Ben Smith scored four goals in the season's final six games and forward Marian Hossa scored five goals in the last 10 contests. … Blues forward Jaden Schwartz scored two goals in the final five games of the regular season.
Injury report: Chicago is fully stocked heading into the postseason. … St. Louis forwards David Backes (lower-body), T.J. Oshie (upper-body), Vladimir Sobotka (lower-body), Derek Roy (upper-body) and Brenden Morrow (lower-body) and defensemen Barret Jackman (undisclosed) and Alex Pietrangelo (undisclosed) are all dealing with various issues. They're all expected back at some point, along with forwards Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) and Patrik Berglund (upper body).