The St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Star are not only sitting at the top of the Central Division in the National Hockey League with 101 points, but with only five games to play, the winner of the division grabs the top seed in the Western Conference, which would give that team home ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Usually something a team would strive for. This year, that’s not the best case scenario for the Blues.
I said at the beginning of the season, this was a make or break season for head coach Ken Hitchcock and GM Doug Armstrong. Management could not take another first round exit from the playoffs and expect to keep their jobs. I’m not even sure what the expectations are, or what the results need to be in this Stanley Cup playoff run, but the team needs to make a deep run if Hitch and Army want to stick around.
The way to do that is to let Dallas take first place. Yes, tank the final five games. Do just enough to come up short.
The blog, HockeyNews.com is reporting that the Chicago Blackhawks may be without their stellar goaltender Corey Crawford for the playoffs. He’s been sidelined with an undisclosed upper body injury and rumors are he’s suffering from vertigo. Even if Crawford gets back on the ice, how effective would he be in a first round playoff series? If he can’t go, the Hawks would turn the duties over the Scott Darling. No slouch of a goalie, but he’s no Crawford. When the Hawks struggled early in their playoff series with Nashville last season, Darling came in relief of a shaky Crawford and saved the team for a couple of games until Crawford righted himself. Before the injury, Crawford’s 2.32 goals-against average and .926 save percentage put him among the best goalies in the NHL this season. His seven shutouts are tops in the league and his 35 wins rank fourth overall.
Assuming the struggling Hawks can hold onto third place in the Central Division, (up four points on Nashville) that would set up a matchup between the Blues and Hawks. However, if St. Louis decides to overachieve the final five games and passes Dallas, that would most likely set them up in a first round matchup against the Minnesota Wild.
Yes, the same Wild that trashed the Blues in the first round of last year’s playoffs. This year’s Minnesota team was left for dead, but made a coaching change and have charged into a playoff spot…most likely the eighth position. (The Wild trail Nashville for the 7th seed by four points).
I’m not saying the Blues avoid the Wild because of last year, I’m saying avoid them because the Wild have won six in a row…the only team hotter than the Blues (five game win streak).
The Wild are on a roll. The Hawks are tumbling. Why would the Blues get into a knock down drag out with the Wild in the first round, when they can face a struggling Hawks team that is just 3-5-2 in their last ten games?