The Chicago Blackhawks will not only be looking to knock off the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon for their fourth consecutive win, but they’ll also be looking to take the next step in their Stanley Cup title defense as they try to advance to the second round of the postseason.
If the Hawks are able to win on Sunday, they would face either the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild in the next round. The Avalanche hold a 3-2 lead in that series after a thrilling come from behind overtime win in Denver on Saturday night, and the Wild will look to hold serve on home ice again when the two teams battle in St. Paul on Monday.
As for the Hawks, their quest to knock off their bitter rivals will get a nice boost on Sunday when defenseman Brent Seabrook returns to the lineup. The veteran blue liner was suspended for three games by the NHL for his hit on David Backes in Game 2 of the series, and despite his absence his team ended up winning all three games he wasn’t on the ice for. While Seabrook was in the press box for games, Sheldon Brookbank took his place alongside Duncan Keith and played some really effective hockey. With two assists, a plus-2 rating, and an average of just over 17 minutes of ice time per game, Brookbank gave the Hawks nice production and didn’t make some of the tactical errors that he was prone to making during the regular season.
Getting Seabrook back means that the Hawks will get back one of their most physical defensemen, and that is a good thing because of the way the Blues are going to have to play in Game 6 in order to stay alive in the series. In Game 5, the Blues were chasing the Hawks all over the ice during the game, racking up hits in order to try to win the puck back. That formula will not work again in this one, because if the Hawks are dominating possession, especially on home ice, then that means the Blues won’t have enough chances to score and force the series back to St. Louis for a pivotal Game 7.
Having a guy like Seabrook on the ice will do the Hawks a big favor in that regard, because he can turn the physical tables in the team’s favor if need be. He’ll join Bryan Bickell, whose 31 hits in the playoffs lead the league, and others as the Hawks try to make sure that the Blues can’t get their offense going.
Even if the Blues aren’t able to ratchet up their intensity on offense (a hard scenario to envision given the significance of the game), Seabrook is still going to give the Hawks a lift. With a penchant for clutch goals and a booming slapshot that is hard for goalies to locate through traffic, Seabrook has several weapons that can pay dividends on the offensive side of things too, and it adds a great extra element for the Hawks when they have the puck.
The blue line corps has definitely been playing better in recent games, and adding Seabrook back into the mix gives them even more flexibility. With his offensive talent, his penchant for hard hits, and the fact that he can eat up more ice time and keep guys like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya a bit fresher, Seabrook’s return is going to help the Hawks in a big way, and it could end up being the deciding factor in Game 6.