Chicago, IL – Last night the Chicago Blackhawks’ divisional foe the St. Louis Blues made a serious push towards Lord Stanley’s cup when they acquired both goaltender Ryan Miller and antagonistic forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres. The Blues sent goalie Jaroslav Halak and forward Chris Stewart to Buffalo in exchange along with draft pick. What every Blackhawks and Blues fan wants to know is how this will affect their respective teams.
With the NHL realignment of the league it seems the Blackhawks and the Blues have been on a collision course all year long. They are destined to face each other in the playoffs with the new structure of inner divisional play in the first rounds of the playoffs. The likelihood of these teams facing each other in the first round are minimal as they are currently 1 & 2 in the division but probably will need to face each other to get to the conference finals.
Ryan Miller will no doubt help the Blues and the thought of such a top notch goalie behind a top notch defense had twitter buzzing yesterday with some practically handing the Blues the Stanley Cup. Before we all go handing them any silverware the games still must be played.
The St. Louis Blues are definitely going all in for the Cup this year but then again this should not be a surprise. In all honesty if they don’t make a push now they are destined to see their window close soon and suffer the same fate as the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators. They could become a pretty good team that is irrelevant if they don’t push now as the Blackhawks are only getting better with skilled youth coming up through the ranks.
The Blues have been chasing the Blackhawks for some time and while they have closed the gap it remains to be seen if they in fact have elevated themselves to the next level. Ryan Miller has never won a Stanley Cup and really has not faced playoff action with his being on such an abysmal Sabres team. For how good Miller is we all know playoff hockey is a different animal and one you cannot prepare for until you are there. We are all about to find out in the next couple of months if Miller and Ott were indeed enough.
The Blues will win the regular season series against the Hawks but two of their three wins have been in shoot –outs which won’t be there in the playoffs. Thanks to the Olympics we all know T. J. Oshie is lights out in shoot outs but he will have less of an impact in the playoffs unless he along with the rest of the Blues elevate their 5 on 5 play which is not to say they can’t the Blues are a talented hockey team.
The Blackhawks player’s reaction to the Miller trade was that they still have to focus on what they’re doing and not worry about other teams and truer words have never been spoken.
The Hawks prior to the Olympic break have not looked that good and since the break against the NY Rangers looked like they were jet lagged. They need to get back to winning fine tune their games and just stay focused and stay the course. They also can’t overlook the Colorado Avalanche who as it stands today would be who they would face in the first round of the playoffs and are significantly better than the Minnesota Wild were last year.
The Hawks are schedule to play the Blues two more times both at the United Center with the first being on 3/19 which will no doubt be their first introduction to Miller time Blues style. It is imperative that the final two games against the Blues the Hawks do well in regulation and also take the opportunity to take notes on Miller. Miller most certainly will be taking notes on the Blackhawks as well.
The onus is still on Miller and the Blues to prove they do indeed belong with the NHL elite and even if the Blues can get past the Hawks they will need to get past either their playoff nemeses the LA Kings who have a pretty good goalie of their own in Jonathan Quick or San Jose or Anaheim. And then face in most likelihood either the Penguins or the Bruins in the east. If they can accomplish this they will deserve to wear the crown.
The Blues have improved but is it enough? Ryan Miller is betting it is while most hockey fans like Ryan Miller and want him to get a Stanley Cup he will face the biggest challenges of his career to date in the tough Western Conference. It has become a whole lot more interesting in the west that is for sure and as a hockey fan you have to love the stretch to the playoff run and how it is shaping up. The NHL has to be pleased with this.
As for the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to them. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best as they did last year when they won their 2nd Cup in four years and had to face former Cup Champs Detroit, Los Angeles and Boston. The Hawks have yet to beat the Blues this year and will need to before entering the playoffs. Now they will have to go through Ryan Miller as well.
For those saying that the Blackhawks need to make their own big move that is not necessarily the case they are already Stanley Cup contenders without any moves being made. If Stan Bowman can make a trade that makes sense he will be it really is not needed.
The Blackhawks have never backed away from any challenge and there is nothing to indicate that they will now either. The Hawks play their best against the best and if St. Louis has upped their game that will only improve the Hawks and really every team in the Central Division. The Hawks love to challenge themselves and be challenged they will be as the defending champs have been facing other teams best game all year long.The playoffs will only amp up the compete level for all including the Hawks.
Who’s ready for Miller time? Who isn’t?