DENVER, CO - MARCH 12: Marcus Kruger #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Nick Holden #2 of the Colorado Avalanche as goalie Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche defends the goal at Pepsi Center on March 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks don’t know who their first round opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs will be, but whichever team ends up prevailing between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche in the battle for the top seed in the Central Division, they will come into the postseason heading in opposite directions.
The Avalanche have amassed a nine game point streak in recent weeks, and thanks to that run of good play they are currently in the driver’s seat in the division race. If they win their game on Friday night against the San Jose Sharks, and the Blues lose to the Dallas Stars, the Avs would clinch the division title and guarantee themselves a matchup with one of the two Western Conference wild card teams.
As for the Blues, they certainly are not heating up as the postseason approaches. They’ve lost their last four games in a row, have had to play games without David Backes, have gotten little to no scoring punch from Derek Roy, and they might be without TJ Oshie for a spell after he was taken out by a Mike Rupp hit to the head in Thursday night’s loss to the Minnesota Wild.
The polar opposite finishes to the season for the Blues and Avalanche have led some Blackhawks fans and pundits to say that they feel more comfortable with the defending champions beginning their quest to defend their title by heading down to St. Louis next week, but all of the talk of momentum seemingly ignores one fact about the NHL (and sports in general): momentum is meaningless once the postseason begins.
Yes, the Blackhawks of last season romped through the regular season and rode a wave of momentum into the playoffs as they dispatched the Wild in five games, but that momentum did them a fat load of good once they ran into the Detroit Red Wings in the second round. Yes, the Hawks ultimately prevailed, but they came perilously close to blowing a series against a team that had barely escaped the first round after beating the Anaheim Ducks, so even within the framework of a postseason series, momentum is fleeting.
The Los Angeles Kings of 2012 vintage provide an even clearer example. They came into the postseason as the eighth seed in the West, having lost five of their final eight games before the playoffs began, and thanks to a red hot Jonathan Quick, they romped all the way to a Stanley Cup in dispatching all three of the Western Conference division champions.
History is littered with other examples of teams going in like a lamb and coming out like a lion when it comes to the playoffs, so Blackhawks fans shouldn’t invest too much energy into wishing for a matchup with the Blues. Yes, the Hawks have won two straight games against their Arch rivals (all puns intended), but those results get thrown out the window as soon as the first puck drops next week. With a Stanley Cup on the line, all bets are off, and the only thing that matters is which team is able to outduel the other, no matter how they finished the regular season.