Chicago Blackhawks (-105) at St Louis Blues (-105, 5 o/u)
The St Louis Blues (3-3, 1-2 home) franchise is almost 50 years old, has been to the playoffs 39 times, and has been to two Stanley Cup Finals. So when I say tonight’s Game 7 showdown (8:30 PM Eastern) with the Chicago Blackhawks (3-3, 2-1 road) is the biggest game in franchise history, understand that that statement carries some weight.
The Blues have always been defined by their playoff shortcomings, but this era has taken it to a whole new level. Despite winning 61-percent of their regular season games over the last five seasons, St Louis has mustered just one series win and been knocked out in the first round each of the last three years. Recent history has been made more painful by the fact that, twice, the Blues blew two-game leads, including squandering a 2-0 lead against the Hawks in 2014.
Not only will the Blues be fighting past playoff demons when they take the ice tonight, but they’ll also be playing for the future of this group. If the Blues fall in the first round again, big changes are expected to come, including the axing of head coach Ken Hitchcock. That may be welcome news for star Vladimir Tarasenko, who was disappointed in his ice time during Game 6. Tarasenko leads the Blues with four goals this series.
You can understand the sniper’s frustrations when you look across the ice at Chicago’s star players. With their backs against the wall, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are averaging 24 and 23 minutes of ice time a night, respectively. But the duo had just three points in Chicago’s dominant 6-3 win on Saturday. That has to be what really scares the Blues.
After being frustrated to open the series, Chicago’s shooters finally seem to have solved Brian Elliott. The Blues keeper has allowed 12 goals while posting just an .892 save percentage over the last three games.
With the Blues coughing up not just a 3-1 series lead, but a 3-1 first-period lead in Game 6, momentum would seem fully on the side of Chicago. However, St Louis returns home tonight, where they haven’t lost three straight games all season. And even though the Blackhawks ran their record to 13-4 in elimination games (since 2009), the team is only 2-2 in Game 7s. St Louis hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2003.
At the end of the day, there is so much pressure on this Blues team, it could turn a turd into a diamond. Meanwhile, the defending champs are the ones that come into this game with house money. Given how St Louis has responded in these spots in the past, it seems foolish to side with them tonight.
Rather if you think the Blues can pull this one off, take them at 8/1 odds to win the Cup. Because if this team can finally slay their first round dragon, there’s no telling how far they can go.
Pick: Chicago (-105).
(Photo credit: Jennifer Griggs (Originally uploaded to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/])