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Luckily for Blackhawks, Blues seem to be fading before playoffs

hawks-blues schedule

G1: 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Louis, CSN

G2: 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Louis, Ch. 5

G3: 7:30 p.m. next Monday at United Center, CSN

G4: 8:30 p.m. April 23 at United Center, CSN

G5: 7 p.m. April 25 at St. Louis*, CSN

G6: 2 p.m. April 27 at United Center*, Ch. 5

G7: TBD April 29 at St. Louis*, CSN

Best of seven; *-if necessary

a look back

Oct. 9: At Blues 3, Hawks 2;
(First star: G Jaroslav Halak)

Oct. 17: Blues 3, at Hawks 2 (SO); (First star: D Jay Bouwmeester)

Dec. 28: At Blues 6, Hawks 5 (SO); (First star: F Vladimir Tarasenko)

March 19: At Hawks 4, Blues 0; (First star: D Duncan Keith)

April 6: At Hawks 4, Blues 2; (First star: F Jeremy Morin)

first-round pairings

Western Conference

Central Division

(1) Avalanche vs. (4) Wild

(2) Blues vs. (3) Blackhawks

Pacific Division

(1) Ducks vs. (4) Stars

(2) Sharks vs. (3) Kings

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

(1) Penguins vs. (4) Blue Jackets

(2) Rangers vs. (3) Flyers

Atlantic Division

(1) Bruins vs. (4) Red Wings

(2) Lightning vs. (3) Canadiens

Full schedule, Page 55

Updated: April 16, 2014 5:40PM

Less than a month ago, facing the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs was something of a nightmare scenario for the Blackhawks. The Blues play a bruising and battering physical style, were the top team in the league, had just acquired star goaltender Ryan Miller and agitator Steve Ott at the trade deadline and had won all three meetings with the Hawks up to that point.

It also seemed like a nearly impossible scenario, with the Blues hovering around eight to 10 points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.

But things change quickly in hockey.

The Hawks will indeed face the rival Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, beginning Thursday night in St. Louis. The Blues’ 3-0 loss Sunday to the Detroit Red Wings clinched the Central Division title for the surging Avalanche, who will face the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

After dominating the league for so much of the season, the Blues suddenly look anything like a juggernaut. Or a Stanley Cup favorite. Or even a favorite to get out of the first round.

“I don’t think either team anticipated this,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters. “And I don’t think either team really loves playing each other, which should make for a hell of a series.”

After dropping three games to the Blues earlier in the season — one in the last minute and two in a shootout — the Hawks have beaten the Blues soundly twice in the last month at the United Center. Sunday’s loss was the Blues’ sixth in a row to close the season. They have scored five goals in those six games. Miller has given up three or four goals in each of his last five starts.

And the Blues played Sunday without seven of their top forwards, including Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund and Brenden Morrow. Of those, only Backes and Oshie are expected back for Game 1.

“It’s all timing,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Everybody has stretches in the year where you’re getting through some tougher things.’’

The Hawks, of course, have been without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews down the stretch. Both will be “absolutely” ready to play Thursday, according to Quenneville. And just a couple of weeks ago, the Hawks had dropped three in a row and four of five — the last of which saw Toews knocked out by the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik. They were banged up. They were struggling to score. They were uncharacteristically sloppy on defense.

Four wins in a row later, followed by two losses in meaningless games, the Hawks are feeling good going into the playoffs. Again, things change quickly in hockey.

“They’re fighting through some injuries, like we are right now,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said. “They just want to make sure everybody’s healthy going into the playoffs. I think the slump, what we were in, we’re kind of past it, and we’re playing good hockey now. [The Blues] are a couple of weeks behind, but I’m sure come the playoffs, they’ll turn it on and play good hockey.”

Indeed, with three more days off before Game 1, the Hawks are expecting the Blues to be back on top of their game — even if that seems as unlikely as this matchup seemed a month ago.

“I know how it works,” Hawks defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “Once the drop of the puck [happens] in the first game, everything else is out the window. It’s a whole new season; it’s a new start for everybody. It’s tough. Obviously, you want to have good momentum going in, but that can change either way in the first couple of minutes in the first game.”


Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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