Chicago Blackhawks (+109) at St. Louis Blues (-120, 5 o/u)
The fact that the St. Louis Blues (49-24-9, 107 pts) are meeting the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-9, 103 pts) in the first round of the playoffs is a decent argument that the new NHL playoff system isn’t overly fair.
But the reality is that the Western Conference is stacked and, no matter how you organize the postseason, two cup contenders are going to be meeting early. The Hawks will begin their quest to repeat on the road tonight at the Scottrade Center (9:30 PM Eastern).
St. Louis was narrowly edged out by Dallas for first in the Central Division. If they’d taken the division title, a much easier first-round series against Minnesota would await. But the Blues still have the consolation prize of home-ice advantage against Chicago.
Whether they want it is another matter entirely. The Blues finished second in the Western Conference with 107 points, and their road record, 25-11-5, was second only to the Sharks. Indeed, it was better than their home mark of 24-13-4. With the team’s recent playoff struggles, there will be massive pressure to grab Game 1 in front of the home crowd.
But St. Louis will at least have momentum on its side. The team won eight of ten to close the regular season, and won their last two against Chicago.
The Blues have another leg up on many of their playoff brethren, entering the postseason as healthy as they have been all year. Forwards Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny, and Alexander Steen are all back in action, while goalie Jake Allen is available after missing the last week of the regular season with a lower-body injury.
The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t finish the regular season as hot as their counterpart, with a 5-2-3 record over their final ten games. But as they’ve shown time and time again, they were built for the postseason. The Hawks have reached dynastic levels by winning three of the last six Stanley Cups, and they still have the same nucleus in place, including Hart Trophy shoo-in Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews.
The Blues, on the other hand, haven’t managed to get past the first round of the playoffs since 2012, and they’ve only won a single postseason series since 2002.
The oddsmakers have both teams at -110 to win the series. While that looks fair given the Blues’ solid regular season and the Blackhawks’ playoff prowess, I expect a highly motivated – and now healthy – St. Louis team to come out guns-ablazing in Game 1.
Throw in the fact that defenseman Duncan Keith will sit Game 1 due to suspension, and the home team looks like the better play.
Pick: Blues (-120).
(Photo credit: Herkie (dherholz) (flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)