After the Hawks’ loss last night to the Blues they officially can’t have home ice advantage in the first round. The only thing left to be settled is who the Hawks will be playing when the playoffs begin. It will either be the Dallas Stars, who the Hawks haven’t fared well against recently, or the St. Louis Blues, who present a challenging matchup but have the playoff yips. Either way, the first round will not be a cakewalk, just as it never is in the Western Conference.
The Stars have beaten the Hawks four times out of five games during the regular season. Though that doesn’t mean much, the way they won some of the contests was particularly scary. Most teams can’t keep up with the Stars so that wasn’t surprising, but the Hawks seemed to unravel at times when Dallas amped up the pressure. Given that their blue line depth is already in question and Duncan Keith will be out for game one, I don’t see any reason to think they don’t come back to the UC down 0-2. At that point all the Stars need is average goaltending to put the Hawks away. However, goaltending is the most suspect part of their game, and something that can send the Stars spiraling downward if they don’t get enough good efforts out of their average goalies. Because of this, many are discounting the Stars. If they run into a hot opposing goalie, it could be all over…but I don’t think Crawford will be ready to be that guy.
The Hawks have beaten St. Louis in the only two games that finished in regulation. In the three overtime games, the Blues are 3-0 which is surprising because you would think 3 on 3 hockey would play into the Hawks hands against St. Louis. Make no mistake, this Blues team is built to win a Stanley Cup. The problem is they tend to shit the bed when the regular season ends and the games mean a whole lot more. They seem to lose in the first round almost every year, and even when they have the Hawks on the ropes on the playoffs they do something dumb and throw it all away. I can see the Hawks easily frustrating this team again, but I also think this is the best version of the Blues that we’ve seen in recent years. It’s important to remember that these are professional athletes, and they didn’t get to this level by having a fragile psyche.
Whichever team they get, the Hawks will need Corey Crawford to be very good. I don’t trust Scott Darling to come up with another handful of games like he did against the Predators last year. If Crawford doesn’t pick up right where he left off, the Stars will score way too much for the Hawks to keep up. If he is average against the Blues, they will score just enough to be able to play shut down hockey and grind their way to a series victory. Either way, it’s falling on Corey’s shoulders, which is a tall task for a guy coming off a head injury.