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updated: 4/15/2014 8:32 PM

Blackhawks have to flip switch faster this time

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  • If Blues goalie Ryan Miller isn't brilliant, St. Louis will have a hard time scoring enough to match the Blackhawks' offense.

      If Blues goalie Ryan Miller isn't brilliant, St. Louis will have a hard time scoring enough to match the Blackhawks' offense.

 
 

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This is the NHL postseason, where matchups play a huge role in determining how far you go -- or how quickly you go home.

The Blackhawks had great fortune last year when they drew the two least physical teams the first two rounds, while St. Louis put a beating on Los Angeles, San Jose and Los Angeles pounded each other senseless, Anaheim hit Detroit up and down the ice, and by the time the Hawks got the Wings and Kings, they were beat up and worn down.

It was a major factor in the Hawks advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and bringing home the title for a second time in four seasons.

So with all due respect to the Blues, who were the best team in hockey for a couple months earlier this season, the Hawks are better off facing slumping St. Louis right now than red-hot Colorado, which will also have its hands full with a suddenly improved Minnesota club.

And saying it out loud doesn't change the fact that the Blues limped home with a horrid losing streak and a spate of injuries, while a Colorado team that had the Hawks' number all season -- with a goaltender who stoned them repeatedly -- caught fire and streaked to the finish, capturing the Central Division and the second-most points in the Western Conference.

This is reality.

In no way does it mean the Blues are an easy out. St. Louis is a very physical team that will try to take apart the visitors starting with the first shift of the first game Thursday.

Still, the Hawks were 1-3-1 against Colorado this year, the Aves finished the season with more hits than St. Louis, and the Hawks won the last two against the Blues in convincing fashion, both in the last month.

The big trade for Ryan Miller -- which looked like it could be a game-changer in the West -- has not worked out the way St. Louis had hoped.

At least, not yet. They postseason has not begun, and the postseason is why Miller was acquired.

But if Miller isn't brilliant, the Blues will have a hard time scoring enough to match the Hawks' offense. That, combined with the St. Louis injuries, makes this a favorable matchup.

The Hawks have their issues as well, with Jonathan Toews coming off a shoulder injury and Patrick Kane a knee injury. Both are healthy enough to play and well rested, but game shape and timing will not return instantly. It may take them a game or two to get it going.

The Hawks will also need depth of scoring beyond Toews, Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Last year Bryan Bickell took on a bigger role. Who will it be this year? Kris Versteeg was brought in for that reason, but he's only a year removed from an ACL injury and has yet to find his stride.

The Hawks will need someone outside The Big Four to come up big.

And though the Blues crawled to the finish line, since the first of the year the Hawks have also had difficulty finding their spark. Last spring, after a slumbering series against Minnesota and a wretched start vs. Detroit -- trailing 3-1 -- the Hawks finally flipped the switch.

If the Hawks start that slowly again, they'll be golfing early.

"We had an ordinary start in the Minnesota series (a year ago) and I think we gotta be ready to hit the ground running against (St. Louis)," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "We have to be ready for a playoff pace right away."

So here we go. No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cups since Detroit in 1998. The odds are against a repeat, but the Hawks have a way of defying the odds.

It says here, Hawks over the Blues in six.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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