Not much has gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018, has it? The team’s injury bug has had a ravenous appetite, the puck’s bounces keep going in the wrong direction and every borderline call feels like it ends up going the wrong way.
It’s all adding up to this season being the first Blackhawks one without a postseason in a decade. But there’s still something to play for, you know.
First, look at the Blackhawks’ remaining schedule:
And now look at the wild card standings in the Western Conference after Monday night’s games:
Notice a consistent presence in those two photos? It turns out that there’s a small consolation prize left on the table for the Blackhawks this season. It’s not going to make up for the disappointment of missing the playoffs. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as a Stanley Cup victory. It’s probably a little bit petty. But it’s professional sports. It’s not quite that serious, so let’s get petty:
The Chicago Blackhawks need to knock the St. Louis Blues out of the playoffs.
I’ll let you in on a little Second City Hockey secret: around these parts, especially between Brandon Cain and I, we aren’t huge fans of St. Louis (except for The Hill). We don’t like their stupid zoo. We don’t like their obnoxious baseball team and fans (and one of us is a Chicago White Sox fan with no baseball reason to spite them). We despise their attempt at ... food, because I’m not going to call it pizza.
And the hockey team. Oh, that hockey team. They try so hard, don’t they? Remember back in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Blues got up to a 2-0 lead on Chicago and damn near held raised a banner in the postseason celebration? How’d that one end up?
Sure, the Blues got the better of the Hawks in the most recent postseason meeting between these two franchises. I’m surprised they didn’t have a parade through the streets of St. Louis when the Blues finally slayed that dragon, because it totally cleared the way for the Blues to win that Stanley Cup they’ve been dreaming about for ... forever, actually.
Hell, the Blackhawks may be doing the Blues a favor if they knock them out of the playoffs this year. St. Louis clearly isn’t going for broke anymore. Last season, they dealt top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline and this season it was top-six forward Paul Stastny getting flipped for draft picks. It’s hard to tell what St. Louis is even doing these days. Those trades suggest they’re rebuilding. One writer over at St. Louis Game Time thought they should’ve been rebuilding a few months ago. But this team still hung on to a 34-year-old Alex Steen, a 34-year-old Jay Bouwmeester, a 31-year-old Carl Gunnarsson, and a 30-year-old Vladimir Sobotka. You figure it out.
But the Hawks themselves know about this opportunity. They know they’ve got a chance to play the ultimate spoiler role in the final week of the season: and they’re relishing it.
Erik Gustafsson on the Blues: "It's always fun to drag someone else down."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 2, 2018
I rarely buy the "spoiler" motivation. But it's real when it's the Blackhawks and the Blues.
Five years ago, the Blackhawks banished their arch nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings, to the Eastern Conference with a memorable 3-1 comeback in a Western Conference Quarterfinal series that remains one of the best moments of this hockey era. Few moments from the 2017-18 season are going to make that list, but kicking the Blues out of a playoff spot and forcing them off the cliff of uncertainty and into a total rebuild would offer some solace in a season that hasn’t brought much.
Let’s. Go. Hawks.